Album: The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
. . .
In the summer of 1980, at around the same time Talking Heads were working on Remain in Light, they decided that they would add more musicians for their live performances. And while a couple of them — guitarist Adrian Belew and vocalist Nona Hendryx — were on the album, the rest were not. Those rest were singer Dolette McDonald, percussionist Steve Scales, bassist Busta “Cherry” Jones — most notably — Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell. From the start, the sound this band made was incredible, and as captured on The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, is some of the greatest live music ever recorded full stop.
Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some gravesites out by the highway
A place where nobody knows
The sound of gunfire off in the distance
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in the ghetto
I’ve lived all over this town
It’s hard to pick a definitive version of “Life During Wartime.” But the reason I choose this one is two-fold: the original album version fades out before the final verse, and the original Stop Making Sense album version originally shaved an entire minute from it, leading me to fixate on this version, taken from the second show the expanded (which I keep thinking I read as “exploded” somewhere, maybe Creem) line-up ever did: at an ice skating rink in New York City’s Central Park. Because why not?
Transmit the message, to the receiver
Hope for an answer some day
I got three passports, a couple of visas
You don’t even know my real name
High on a hillside, the trucks are loading
Everything’s ready to roll
I sleep in the daytime and I work in the nighttime
I might not ever get home
“Life During Wartime” is of course a travelogue through a post-apocalyptic hellscape. A hilariously witty travelogue through a post-apocalyptic hellscape. I’m still wondering if I’m going to somehow figure out how to fit all of the lyrics into this post, because it’s definitely Byrne at his most cinematic: it could almost be a film pitch.
A film pitch with an all-time great chorus, that is. Everybody sing!!
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
Of course, that’s the most famous version of the chorus. But there’s also a version where instead of the name-dropping, he sings “no time for dancing / or lovey-dovey”. Either way one of the things about his version is that you can hear what the extended line-up brings to the table: while Belew is just sticking to rhythm guitar (though check out the Dortmund or New Jersey version below for some typical Belew magic, meaning that they made changes to the arrangements), Worrell’s funky keyboards, the ever-driving congas of Scales, and — most especially — the backing vocals of Hendryx & McDonald, who leave Byrne on his own during the verses but come in full force on every chorus, all make this version next-level. Those backing vocals are also how you know that there is an even-longer version of the chorus:
Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time
Can’t write a letter, can’t send no postcard
I can’t write nothing at all
This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t fooling around
I’d love to hold you
I’d love to kiss you
Ain’t got time for that now
Finally, a reason for David Byrne to not be in love!!
“I mean, sure, I would interact with you in a way that normal human beings interact with each other, but we’re at war! Have you heard about the shit going on in Houston, Detroit and Pittsburgh!?! Sure, we gotta eat, even if it’s just peanut butter, but I don’t even have any records to play or any way to play them. So how could we possibly dance, or kiss or fuck?!?!?”
Kinda like Byrne’s equivalent of “You’re using this conspiracy theory to avoid having sex with me.”
Trouble in transit, got through the roadblock
We blended in with the crowd
We got computers, we’re tapping phone lines
I know that that ain’t allowed
We dress like students, we dress like housewives
Or in a suit and a tie
I changed my hairstyle so many times now
I don’t know what I look like
You make me shiver, I feel so tender
We make a pretty good team
Don’t get exhausted, I’ll do some driving
You ought to get you some sleep
Burned all my notebooks, what good are notebooks?
They won’t help me survive
My chest is aching, burns like a furnace
The burning keeps me alive
I only ever saw Talking Heads one time. It was at US Festival in 1982, where they were the penultimate band in a day that had already featured Gang of Four, Ramones, (English) Beat, and The B-52’s, and would culminate with The Police. I went with Tim, and a guy Mike, I think, from high school, who I don’t think I’ve seen ever again. The high got up to 110 degrees and I lived for three days hot dogs and Coca-cola and like six hours of sleep. Total. I was also 19 and utterly indestructible, so that was in my favor, though I’ll admit that the seven hour drive home to Fresno after Fleetwood Mac’s Sunday night closing set was a bit harrowing.
Anyways my favorite act of that first day — and for the whole fucking US Festival — was Talking Heads.
And my favorite part of their performance was after the last verse of “Life During Wartime,” when the rest of the band just played that fucking groove and David Byrne ran in circles around that ginormous stage — it was probably still 100 degrees — for what seemed like a couple of minutes. It. Was. Fantastic. And I wonder if it was the spur for the highly-athletic version that’s in Stop Making Sense, where Byrne also runs around the Pantages stage a couple of times. But, of course, the stage at the US Festival was much much bigger, and it was much much hotter. And it kills me that there is a video of that performance on YouTube, but it just cuts off before that ending. The full thing is out there somewhere, isn’t it?
“Life During Wartime (Central Park 08-27-1980)”
“Life During Wartime” Live in Dortmund, 1980
“Life During Wartime” Live in New Jersey, 1980
“Life During Wartime” from Stop Making Sense, 1983
“Life During Wartime” at the R&R HOF Ceremony, 2002
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Love it. They had an amazing stage show. I always wondered how those added players were picked and what the relationship was like with the band. The Brothers Johnson guitarist Alex Weir was apart of that lineup for awhile and just seemed like a great fit but you never hear from him and what his experience was like. Just my thoughts. Love the stories !
Jim Connelly says
Thanks Dew, I really appreciate that. I know that Belew had already played on REMAIN IN LIGHT, and Jerry Harrison had been working with Nona Nendryx, so that’s a couple of them!