Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sibling Assignment #76: This Ain't No Party, This Ain't No Disco

InlandEmpireGirl posed the following assignment to Silver Valley Girl and me:

Think of a movie theme song that stayed with you long after you saw the film. Share an experience about that movie or the theme.
Silver Valley Girl draws a surprise connection between HP's original laptop computer and "The Way We Were", here and InlandEmpireGirl explores her emotional history with waters and "A River Runs Through It", here.

Few movies inspire joy and nostalgia in me quite like Jonathan Demme's concert film of the Talking Heads, "Stop Making Sense".

Since the movie is a series of songs performed live in concert, it doesn't have a single theme song. Or does it? Is it"Psycho Killer", when the elastic David Byrne puts a cassette player on stage with a rhythm thump playing, hypnotizes his audience with an oddly joyous acoustic version of his homage to urban paranoia and 70's anxiety; or is it "Life During Wartime", an oddly upbeat and joyous homage to urban paranoia with war as a metaphor for the way Byrne saw life in Regan's America, and listening to the song today, well, is the theme that the Reagan years would last forever?

I don't know.

The movie's title "Stop Making Sense" comes from lines in the song "Girlfriend is Better", performed by the wiry Byrne in a huge business suit, making him look twice his size.

The concert and its music is all about multiple identities, lost identities, unknown identities, about the absurdity of living in a world so alien to what sustains life that we find ourselve not knowing who we are, constantly changing identities to try to adapt. We end up, as Byrne performs, as creatures whose gestures are disconnected from the words we say/sing and whose emotional responses are so confused that we dance joyously during war time and while someone is burning down the house.

This past summer, I attended a concert by the Pink Floyd tribute band "TheFloydian Slips" and as I listened to song after Pink Floyd song, exploring themes of death, alienation, numbness, hypocrisy, materialism, etc., I watched as audience members rocked out, cried "Whoo-Hoo", waved their arms deleriously over their heads, smoked pot, got drunk, and partied on.

It was absurd.

Merrymakers were partying while listening to songs evoking the most troublesome elements of modern life.

But it fits.

We do it all the time.

We live in a world defined by alienation, dehumanization, war, anxiety, displacement, loss of identity, wide gulfs ripped between language and reality and we party on.

We have to.

That's why I love "Stop Making Sense". The movie's a dance party soundtrack, with joyous dancers and singers, upbeat world beat rhythms, aerobic exercise, Byrne trotting around the stage, flailing about mirthfully, tirelessly.

But running counter to this joyous sound is the verbal substance of the songs as they portray the absurdity and alientation of modern life.

What else can we do in such a world? Mope? Despair? Turn off the music? Stop the dancing? Quit laughing?


All co-exists. And "Stop Making Sense" makes the simultaneous existence of our anxiety and mirth an evening of sobering uplift.

I'm trying to think how many "Stop Making Sense" dance parties I attended in the mid-eighties.

Three. Maybe four. Five? We were all in on the joke. I remember with deep nostalgia how at Doug's apartment, in Kathleen's living room, at a political activist retreat, and elsewhere all of us at these parties laughed, danced hard, tried to imitate David Byrne, and opened our throats and sang hoarsely, with happy disconnect, the paranoid and chilling words of David Byrne:

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco
this ain't no fooling around
This ain't no mudd club, or C. B. G. B.
I ain't got time for that now

Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit?
Heard about Pittsburgh, PA?
You oughta know not to stand by the window
somebody might see you up there
I got some groceries, some peanut butter
to last a couple of days
But I ain't got no speakers
ain't got no headphones
ain't got no records to play

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time?
Can't write a letter, can't send a postcard
I can't write nothing at all
This ain't no party, this ain't no disco
this ain't no fooling around
I'd love you hold you, I'd like to kiss you
I ain't got no time for that now

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