Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Talking Heads – "Girlfriend Is Better" (1983)

I got a girlfriend that’s better than that
And she goes wherever she likes
(There she goes!)

Earlier this year, I was flipping through my copy of the Rice University alumni magazine when I came across an article about an artist named Kathryn Dunlevie.

Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute, I said to myself.  There was a woman in my Rice class named Kathryn Dunlevie.

Sure enough, the artist who was the subject of that magazine story and my college classmate were one and the same.  (You can click here to read that article, which was titled “The Art of the Enigmatic.”)

Kathryn Dunlevie
(photo by Louise Williams)

I e-mailed Kathryn to congratulate her on being featured in the magazine, and sent her links to a few 2 or 3 lines posts that I thought might interest her.

When she complimented my wildly successful little blog, I asked her if she would contribute a guest post.  She graciously agreed to do so, and I was very pleased that she chose to write about “Girlfriend Is Better,” a great song by one of my all-time favorite groups, the Talking Heads.  (She also sent along photos of a number of her striking photo-collages, which you will see below.)

Kathryn, the floor is yours.

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The first I ever heard of the Talking Heads was 1979, at one of my openings in Houston, when a friend told me he’d just heard “some punk band’s cover of an Al Green song.” 

Manhattan Falconer

A few months later I was living in Madrid, making do with a local radio station that featured the music of groups like Alaska y los Pegamoides and Ejecutivos Agresivos, when the same friend showed up with a copy of the Talking Heads’ third album, Fear of Music.  It was my introduction to the Talking Heads, and it was life changing.


My drawings immediately shifted to undulating rhythmic patterns of dash-like broken brushstrokes. 

Tipping Point

The next thing I knew, I was back in Houston and expecting my first child.  (What a year in a Catholic country will do.)  I immediately bought a copy of the newest Talking Heads album, Remain in Light, which had just been released.  

The famous line from that album’s first single, “Once in a Lifetime”  – “How did I get here?” – resonated with me. 

Touching Down

I had my baby and a year later, with my own “Houses in Motion,” I moved to the Bay Area.

The Long Goodbye

My best friend from college lived in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, and my toddler and I spent a lot of time with her.  I did more rhythmic pattern drawings, and tried to get used to the cold and damp.  


When the next Talking Heads album, Speaking in Tongues, came out in 1983, it was something of a deliverance.  Though my days were divided between “This Must Be the Place” and “Burning Down the House,” everyone who came to my house ended up dancing. 


That’s when I started making my first serious mixed-media work.  And I got to see the Talking Heads at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, on their “Stop Making Sense” tour.  It was cinematic.

And nothing is better than that – is it?

Dr. Who’s Girlfriend

All these years later, I still find myself inspired by the Talking Heads.  My latest series, Women of Wonder, harkens back specifically to “Girlfriend is Better.”
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In case you didn’t figure it out, the friend who told Kathryn about hearing “some punk band’s cover of an Al Green song” was referring to the famous Talking Heads cover of “Take Me to the River,” which David Byrne later described as “a song that combines teenage lust with baptism.”  

The two Spanish bands that Kathryn remembers hearing on the radio when she lived in Spain in 1980 – Alaska y los Pegamoides and Ejecutivos Agresivos – released some very interesting records back in the day.  I plan to feature songs by both of them on 2 or 3 lines in the near future.

Kathryn heard the Talking Heads at the Greek Theatre on the UC-Berkeley campus in September 1983.  Here’s a poster advertising their Berkeley appearances:

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The photos that accompany Kathryn’s account of how she came to know and love the music of the Talking Heads depict eight pieces from her most recent series of collages, which she has titled Women of Wonder.  (Note: the collage titled “The Long Goodbye” was inspired by the 1973 Robert Altman-directed movie of the same name – a favorite of mine since I saw it when I was in college, and a favorite of Kathryn’s as well.  Click here to watch the opening credit sequence from this very idiosyncratic movie.) 

Kathryn was planning to show that series this spring at the Hooks-Epstein Gallery in Houston as part of the FotoFest Biennial 2020.  But the gallery could only exhibit Women of Wonder virtually due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Here’s a brief description of Women of Wonder written by the artist, along with photos of a few more collages from that series:

Intermixing my own photographs with elements from popular as well as historical sources conjures up unsettling entities and strange scenarios.  

Marlowe’s Mistake

The characters that emerge from this process find themselves in locales ranging from Rome’s Fiumicino in “Touching Down,” to Turkey’s western Aegean coast in “Hitchhiker's Guide to Kusadasi.”

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Kusadasi

“Khidr” harkens back to ancient times, while “Dr. Who’s Girlfriend” has arrived from outside of time.  


“Our Lady of the Harbor” has escaped pre-disaster Pompeii and is on a mission to contemporary Los Angeles, while the denizen of “Tipping Point” floats above it all in a tent that has no floor and  apparently no gravity.

Our Lady of the Harbor

As diverse images converge and give rise to outlandish creatures and enigmatic situations, the Women of Wonder inspire us to go, unabashedly, wherever we like – and to proceed, without constraint, as we choose.

And nothing is better than that – is it?

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“And nothing is better than that – is it?” is a slightly paraphrased version of the last line of “Girlfriend Is Better.   But you knew that, right?

Click here to go to Kathryn's website, which includes a biography, links to a number of articles about her art, and photos of hundreds of her collages.  (I was especially intrigued by the collages in her “Cover Versions” series, each of which incorporates a vintage album cover.)

Click here to see the Talking Heads performing “Girlfriend Is Better” in perhaps the greatest rock concert movie ever made, Stop Making Sense.  (The performances that were filmed for that movie took place shortly after the group’s Berkeley appearances, so what you see and hear in that video is very close to what Kathryn saw and heard back in 1983.)

The Speaking In Tongues album cover

Click here to listen to the version of “Girlfriend Is Better” that was released on the Speaking In Tongues album.

Finally, you can click on the link below to buy the studio version of “Girlfriend Is Better” from Amazon:

(All the photographs of Kathryn Dunlevie’s art that are included in this post are © 2020 by the artist.  All rights reserved.)

1 comment:

  1. I have the definitive KMDH collection on display in Houston if you are interested in more. Mike Alsup malsup@gimmal.com.