Cities – Talking Heads
…there’s good points ! and bad points !
it all works out…..sometimes I’m a little freaked out…
August 1979 I was a Batchelor of Law with a 2:2. It was ‘only’ a 2:2 because I didn’t do any work. I didn’t do any work because I wasn’t motivated. I wasn’t motivated because I wasn’t going to be a lawyer. I wasn’t going to be a lawyer because I was going to be an actor – but not yet. Not yet because I was saving up to go to Latin America with brother Paul for a whole year. I was going out with Mumtaz, but I was going, I was leaving, I was going to Mexico! To Bogota ! To Lima ! Rio ! Ten dollars a day. That’s $3650 I needed to make, on top of the plane fare to Mexico City. I had a plan, and I’d already started to carry it out. At the end of my last year at LSE I’d seen a notice on the ubiquitous noticeboard – it’s what we did before the internet – saying “Student wanted to paint exterior of house for cash” – and I’d answered it. It was a guy in Pinner – I can’t remember his connection to the LSE – and I met him and he agreed that I was the chap for the job. He provided all the paint, brushes and scaffolding and all I had to do was turn up every day and paint those damn windows and doors.
West Hampstead Jubilee Line to Wembley, then Metropolitan line to Pinner. If you’ve never been there, well it’s very English in a certain suburban kind of way. Did Elton John come from there? It’s a suburb of North West London, part of Harrow in fact. It was actually a really pleasant summer holiday’s work, his wife was sweet, she made me tea at intervals and I had a radio like all British workmen.
This is the sort of wanker I was in those days : one day at lunch I was chatting about this and that with his wife – they were in their 50s I guess, I was 22, and I asked her what he did for a living? She said he was in business and left it at that. I demurred. I didn’t like business I said. I didn’t believe in business. She was quite shocked but too polite to be annoyed. She simply said that business was necessary. I remember that conversation quite clearly. funny the things you remember and the things you don’t. But I was clearly a wanker who thought he was Elvis Costello “I wanna bite the hand that feeds me“. Anyway. I also had blues – amphetamine sulphate in tablet form, otherwise known as speed, powder blue in colour, which I was then dealing from behind the bar at the Scala All-Nighter on Saturdays (see My Pop Life #23) and eating the proceeds. Literally. Come lunchtime on the scaffold outside the Pinner house I was starting to flag, so I’d pop a couple of blues and hi-dippetty-dee, whistle while you work. Sing-alonga radio one. Of course then the comedown would come crashing in around 6pm or so, because I couldn’t take two more or I’d be up all night so I would start to slump and frazzle just after I’d got back to Tower Mansions in West End Lane where I lived with Pete, Sali and Nick (see My Pop Life #59) and to soften the deadening empty slump of a blues comedown what do you do? Yes. You roll a joint. And then another. And listen to music with your mates.
Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, David Byrne 1979
Reggae mainly, but also everything else : soul, jazz, Emmylou Harris, Frank Zappa, and some classic post-punk singles in picture sleeves : Spizz Energi, The Slits, Buzzcocks, Shoes For Industry, Gang Of Four, PiL and so on. Albums on the turntable that summer were Neil Young’s “Rust Never Sleeps“, Robert Fripp’s “Exposure“, The Gang Of Four’s “Entertainment!“, Ry Cooder’s “Bop ‘Til You Drop“, and Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ “Do It Yourself“. Punk had been pronounced dead by the critics – Sid Vicious had died in January, but The Clash released London Calling and Stiff Little Fingers produced a couple of classic singles – and pop was alive and kicking in the UK in the shape of Squeeze, Elvis Costello and the two-tone explosion – Madness, The Special and The Selector all broke through. Disco was king though, Jackson’s Off The Wall and Chic’s Good Times and Donna Summer’s Bad Girls were ubiquitous records.
But for me personally the LP that was head and shoulders above all the rest in 1979 was Talking Heads’ 3rd album “Fear Of Music“.
I’d already seen them twice by then when they toured England with the first LP “77” and the amazing second LP “More Songs About Building And Food” which I still love to death. How could their third LP be better than THAT? Well it was, and is. “Fear Of Music” is a giant concept album, a jittering funk-rock classic with jagged edges, bouncing bass lines and hooks and riffs and clever lyrics galore. Most of the songs have single-word titles : Air, Paper, Drugs, Mind and my favourite : Cities.
The first line of the single was completely awesome: as the music fades up :
Think of London : small city…
Is he kidding ? London is huge. I’d been living there three years and got to know it a bit – the West End, Honor Oak SE23 for my final year at LSE, West Hampstead, Hammersmith, Pinner ! – and Camden Town where I’d seen Talking Heads play in the Roundhouse, supported by Slaughter & The Dogs.
Later in 1979 they would tour again with this album, this time playing Hammersmith Palais where everyone played that year : The B52s supported them this time I think. They were so exciting, so poppy, so funky, so urgent, David Byrne would sing a line then skitter across the stage and they were as tight as any band I’ve seen. Married couple Chris Frantz on the kit and Tina Weymouth on the bass, Jerry Harrison completing the line-up on keyboards. They would go on to even greater success with “This is not my beautiful house” and “Road to Nowhere”, album producer Brian Eno would do a weird sampled-collage LP with David Byrne called My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, but this LP was just them at their pop peak, or maybe just before it.
dark… dark in the daytime…
people sleep… sleep in the daytime
if they want to – if they want to !
It had a black sleeve with raised dashes on it like a weird manhole cover and neon green lettering : Fear Of Music. Jerry Harrison designed the sleeve and came up with the title. It was art-pop, it was post-punk, it was music for head, hands and feet. We loved that band.
..did I forget to mention, forget to mention Memphis ?
home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks…