Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

The Talking Heads Speak to Me

By Cam Mather

There is always a soundtrack playing in my head. Music has been such a big part of my life that I can always seem to find a lyric to suit the moment. There are just so many great lyrics out there.

I’ve always liked the Talking Heads and this past Christmas my awesome daughter Nicole bought me their greatest hits. That’s right, a CD, all legal, royalties paid, the works! The thing with the Talking Heads is that they were one of those cerebral bands you actually had to pay attention to. You had to try and figure out the lyrics. They had a song called “Once in a Lifetime” with lyrics like “Any you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife,  And you may ask yourself – Well…. how did I get here?”


I can remember having lunch with my friend David Sudbury when we worked at Computerland and he was talking about our sales manager and how the guy was in the middle of mid-life crisis like “Once in a Lifetime.” Suddenly I got it. It was a song about a mid-life crisis’! How cool is that!

Another song on the CD is called “Nothing But Flowers.” It’s a great song and talks about turning suburbia back into the farm fields and forests it started out as.

“There was a factory

Now there are mountains and rivers

There was shopping mall

Now it’s all covered with flowers

Once there were parkin’ lots

Now it’s a peaceful oasis

I miss the honky tonks

Dairy queens and 7-Elevens

This was a discount store

Now it’s turned into a cornfield.”

This really is a brilliant song on so many levels. It’s from their album “Naked” released in 1988.

In 1988 no one was talking about peak oil. Very few people, other than James Kunstler, were talking about what a massive waste of capital that suburban development is. Gas was cheap, Ronald Reagan was taking solar panels off the roof of the White House and Americans were on the verge of starting their love affair with SUVs.

And there were the Talking Heads singing about the end of oil.  They nailed it. How did they know?

Another song of theirs from 1979 on Fear of Music is called “Life During Wartime.” You might know it from the lyrics “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around.” It’s basically a song about urban warfare, apparently urban warfare in America.

“The sound of gunfire off in the distance, I’m getting used to it now”

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons, packed up and ready to go

You oughta know not to stand by the window, somebody see you up there.”

I usually don’t understand modern art, but I get song lyrics. Artists often recognize things those of us immersed in a culture miss. David Byrne and The Talking Heads nailed peak oil and it’s ultimate effect on the American landscape in 1988 with “Nothing But Flowers.” I just I hope that they’re way off base with “Life During Wartime.”

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