Stacks: Talking Heads


Talking Heads
“Artists Only”
The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, 1982

Back to the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey, we go, only it’s a year later and this time it’s Talking Heads not Bruce Springsteen on the stage. Recorded in December of 1979, this is the small band Talking Heads, not the expanded band that accompanied their rise to international stardom in the ’80s. The core foursome of Byrne, Frantz, Weymouth and Harrison still have that edge that made them fit alongside the other downtown habitués of New York City in the mid-1970s. This is the Talking Heads material I return to again and again, its chittering energy a draw the bigger band never had.

“Artists Only” is full of that twitching, stuttering fire. Byrne’s guitar slices the mid-range like a knife, while Harrison’s keyboard echo and distort that same melody above. It’s a little eerie, as the keys bend out of pitch, the trilling line dropping and drooping. Frantz and Weymouth are their usual rock solid back line, the changes clear and precise, never falling out of unison nor off the beat. And Byrne absolutely crushes on his vocal delivery. Every moment of angst, frustration, and despair at the process of creation is palpable, visceral. The lyrics are short, simple, and straightforward:

I’m painting, I’m painting again
I’m painting, I’m painting again
I’m cleaning, I’m cleaning again
I’m cleaning, I’m cleaning my brain

Pretty soon now, I will be bitter
Pretty soon now, will be a quitter
Pretty soon now, I will be bitter
You can’t see it ‘til it’s finished

I don’t have to prove that I am creative
I don’t have to prove that I am creative
All my pictures are confused
And now I’m going to take me to you

But it isn’t the performance nor the lyrics that made me post it. It’s that I noticed something I hadn’t in all the previous times I listened; around the 1:55 mark there is a wonderful little nod to Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam”. There are audio allusions to it earlier in the song, particularly in the descending bass line throughout that is reminiscent of the same line in the Floyd tune. It’s not anything they added for this performance, as it’s on the album version and on every live bootleg rendition I’ve heard. I just never connected the dots between the two.

It also makes me wonder whether there is any connection between the lyrics and the unfortunate story of Syd Barrett, the composer of “Lucifer Sam”. My chance of finding that out are probably nil. But it sure is fun to speculate.


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