Thursday, April 7, 2011

Talking Heads -- "The Big Country" (1978)

A baseball diamond, nice weather down there.
I see the school and the houses where the kids are. . .
I guess it's healthy, I guess the air is clean.
I guess those people have fun with their neighbors and friends.
I wouldn't live there if you paid me.
I couldn't live like that, no siree!
I couldn't do the things the way those people do.
I wouldn't live there if you paid me to.

The Talking Heads are one of my favorite groups of all time, but this song really rubs me the wrong way.  It is just a bit condescending, n'est-ce pas?  "I guess it's healthy," and "the air is clean" -- but "I wouldn't live there if you paid me."

I'm probably overreacting, but when I hear this song, I can't help but think that singer/songwriter David Byrne is talking about my hometown, which is Joplin, Missouri.

Having grown up in Joplin, it's not surprising that -- like the character in Montgomery Gentry's song, "Hell Yeah" -- I've "got a redneck side when you get [me] agitated."  So I say f*** David Byrne and the horse he rode on.

Armie Hammer
Sure, I moved away from Joplin several decades ago, and have never seriously considered moving back there.  And yes, like the singer of this song, I'm constantly flying high above Joplin and the rest of "flyover country," looking down my nose at middle America as I fly from one coast to the other and back again, taking meetings with all the Silicon Valley types who want to buy my wildly popular blog and all the Hollywood types who want to make a movie about it.  (I think Armie Hammer -- the tall guy who played the rich, preppy Harvard twins who rowed in the Olympics in The Social Network -- should play me.)

But that doesn't mean it's OK for Byrne to make fun of Joplin.  He has a lot of nerve.  After all, Byrne spent his teenage years in Arbutus, Maryland (an unincorporated area just outside the Baltimore city limits).  As anyone who lives around here knows, Arbutus is a REALLY hurting place.  Talk about a place where "I wouldn't live there if they paid me."

"I was a peculiar young man -- borderline Asperger's, I would guess," Byrne once wrote about himself.  I don't know Asperger's from shinola, but Byrne's peculiarity is anything but "borderline."  If you've seen him in the "big suit" in the Talking Heads' concert movie, Stop Making Sense, you know what I mean.

After high school, Byrne left Arbutus for the Rhode Island School of Design, which is in Providence (God give us strength), Rhode Island.  I've been to Providence many, many times, and it is only marginally less hurting than Arbutus.  

Yes, Providence may have Brown University, which is purportedly an Ivy League school.  Brown is an Ivy League school in the same sense that the Yugo was a car.  Here are a few of Brown's more famous alums:

1.  Amy Carter -- the least attractive Presidential daughter ever.  (There have been Presidential sons I'd rather kiss than her.)  We saw her in a local ice-cream place once many years ago, and she was showing off for her friends and making a lot of trouble for the waitress -- what a jerk.  Her greatest achievement as an adult seems to have been illustrating her annoying father's 1995 children's book, The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer.  To give Brown credit, they kicked her out for academic reasons after her sophomore year.

Amy Carter's wedding picture

Ted Turner
2.  Ted Turner -- a spoiled little rich kid who grew up to be a spoiled rich guy who still acts like a spoiled little rich kid.  He initially majored in classics at Brown, but his daddy said that he "almost puked" when he heard the news and made him switch to economics.  Ted never graduated either -- he had a woman in his dorm room, which was apparently frowned upon back in the day.  Brown later gave him an honorary degree in recognition of his many accomplishments, which have included calling observers of Ash Wednesday "Jesus freaks," telling Charlie Rose in 2008 that within ten years "most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals" due to global warming, and colorizing many classic black-and-white movies.  He also has opined that Americans should have no more than two children.  (Turner has five children, by the way.)

3.  Chris Berman -- veteran ESPN announcer.  I am shocked that Chris Berman graduated from any college.  He was a pretty funny guy about 100 years ago, but so were Moe, Larry, and Curly, and none of them were ever mistaken for Ivy Leaguers.

4.  The current governors of Rhode Island, Delaware, and Louisiana.  You'd be hard-pressed to find three more hurting states.

Anyway, my point is that Byrne has a lot of nerve making fun of Joplin.  

Tina Weymouth
Byrne is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.  When he and fellow Rhode Island School of Design student Chris Frantz were forming the Talking Heads, they persuaded Frantz's girlfriend (Tina Weymouth) to learn to play bass guitar because they couldn't find a bass player.

They were living in New York City at the time.  I'm guessing there were thousands of unemployed bass guitarists in New York City in 1975.  But Byrne and Frantz decided the best thing to do was have Frantz's girlfriend learn how to play the bass from scratch.  (Frantz must have wanted to cry after the Talking Heads became major stars.  Can you imagine, all of a sudden you are a major rock star and your girlfriend is in the band, so she's around when you are on tour?)  

One final note.  Byrne is a cycling activist, and has a regular cycling column in the New York Times.  He rides a Montague folding bike.  I like nothing more than riding my bikes, but you would not catch me dead on a bike named "Montague."

Gould as Marlowe
One of my favorite movies of all times is Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye -- Altman's take on Raymond Chandler, starring a very confused Elliott Gould as the iconic private eye, Philip Marlowe.

There's a scene in the movie where a gangster named Marty Augustine and several of his thugs visit Marlowe, whom Augustine believes has knowledge of the whereabouts of a large sum of money that has been stolen from Augustine.  Augustine's girlfriend -- a sweet, innocent young woman -- is in the group.  After demonstrating to Marlowe how much he cares for this woman -- "I sleep with a lot of girls," he says to her," but I make love to you" -- he picks up an 1970's-style glass Coke bottle and brutally smashes her in the face with it.  It is perhaps the most shocking and appalling thing I've ever seen in a movie.

As the girlfriend writhes on the floor, screaming in pain, Augustine speaks to Marlowe. "That's someone I love, and you I don't even like," he says.  "Find my money!"

So what is my point?  My point is that I love the Talking Heads.  Imagine what I would write about a band that I didn't even like.

Here's "The Big Country":

Here's a link you can use to order the song on iTunes:

The Big Country - More Songs About Buildings and Food (Remastered)

Here's a link you can use to order it from Amazon:

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