Nightmare visions of America.
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If you are one of those music aficionados who prefers their lyrics to be on the cerebral side of things without compromising too much foot-stomping danceability, you could also count on the Talking Heads to deliver both.
And you never had to worry about them not making sense.
Take their 1979 hit, “Life during Wartime” that might have seemed to tap into the punk rock/new wave Zeitgeist, but instead comes across as more of a “funky cautionary tale” about foreign terrorists living in American suburbs.
I still remember when I picked up a copy of Fear of Music and slapped it on my turntable. First of all the album itself was really hip-all black and embossed with a pattern that resembled the appearance and texture of diamond plate metal flooring. Then there were such tracks as “I Zimbra,” “Air,” “Electric Guitar,” “Cities” and Mind”- songs for a generation and all creatively produced by Brian Eno.
However it was “Life during Wartime’s” nightmare visions of civil insurrection (and perhaps terrorism) in the United States as well as allusions to an apparent guerilla movement (”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”) that really grabbed me the first time I heard the song. Without question, these were some powerful lyrics jolted listeners in the waning disco era. And when the singer laments that he can’t go to night clubs anymore because he has to live underground, he sings “this ain’t no party/this ain’t no disco/this ain’t no fooling around” which became a catchphrase for punk and new wave.
At the dawn of the Reagan era, “Life during Wartime” might have seemed like a post-punk apocalyptic paranoid nightmare; today, in a post 9-11 world though, it had tragically become a reality.
On a personal note, it was one of those albums that when I listen to now reminds me of a defining moment of my life, not to mention the direction that my musical tastes would be taking me. It was early 1980 and I was debating whether or not to get out of the Air Force. At the time I was stationed at George Air Force in the high desert of California (just outside of Victorville) and I was thinking about reenlisting for another four years or perhaps going to college.
One day, while I was in CBPO-an administrative building for the base-I happened to see an advertisement for Southern Illinois University (SIU). The Air Force and SIU had some program called Students in Uniform for military personnel who wanted to study aerodynamics and even had a recruiter/advisor on base. I was interested in film and having already done some checking on SIU’s cinema and photography department, I stopped in to see the SIU advisor who put me in touch with SIU and helped me with the admission process.
Two months later, I got my acceptance from SIU-one week before my orders were cut for helicopter mechanic school at Shepard Air Force Base-and decided it was time to get out. Had I received my orders first, who knows what would have happened-I might have ended up making a career out of the Air Force.
Instead it was off to SIU.
And the rest is history.