Once In A Lifetime

We were not prepared for "Take Me To The River".

Although KROQ ultimately played "Psycho Killer", I bought "Talking Heads: 77" because of the reviews.  Does anybody trust reviews anymore?  And I liked the album, but it did not have the rich production of the English discs, it seemed an artifact, a document as opposed to an artwork.

"More Songs About Buildings And Food" was completely different.  It didn’t sound like Eno’s Roxy Music, it didn’t even sound like "Another Green World", it sounded like something UNDER the streets of New York, a cavern, a special club, where what was happening was not only important, you wanted to be there.

The breathy drums, the creepy synths, David Byrne’s ethereal voice.  The song had a completely different feeling from the Memphis original.  It was one of the rare instances, like Joe Cocker’s cover of "Feelin’ Alright", where the remake was every bit as good as the original.

Needless to say, I had to see the band at the Roxy.

This was when the venue still had seats.  We got there early so we could be dead center on the riser, across the alley from the Rainbow.  And when they played "Take Me To The River" I bonded with the music and the mood.  This was why I was living in Los Angeles, not to go to law school.

"Fear Of Music" had the anthemic "Life During Wartime".  Shit, I still sing "This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around!"  Hell no Mudd Club, no CBGB’s, we ain’t got time for that now.

Funny how there was no time for partying during this fictional war, but almost thirty years later when kids, music fans, are dying in Iraq, our nation is dancing the night away.

Still, after hearing "More Songs About Buildings And Food", one could understand "Fear Of Music".  One couldn’t understand "Remain In Light".  I still don’t completely understand "Remain In Light", but I do know that all these years later, "Once In A Lifetime" still sounds edgy, still penetrates my suburban mentality after decades more of life.

I was driving up 20th Street, with the sunroof open, contemplating the approach of April, when I heard that bubbly intro, barely a step removed from "Monster Mash".

I was brought back to October 1980, splitting up with my girlfriend, on a lost weekend.  Finishing off a bottle of cheap vodka and driving to Pasadena, and back, to visit an old college buddy.

Funny when you lose control.  You think you have a grip on reality, you think you’re anchored, but then the knot holding your boat to the dock slips, your vessel starts to drift into the sea.  And at first you don’t notice it, and then you think you can handle the situation, but then you get into rough water and you’re just hanging on, for dear life.

Life is tough.  Many choose to end it.  It’s so scary, we don’t want to talk about it.  Because as Joni Mitchell sang, we all live so close to that line and so far from satisfaction.

And what keeps us going, what gets us through, is music.  It speaks to us.  If suddenly the music doesn’t sound good, if you don’t want to hear it, then you’re truly fucked.  Check into a mental hospital.  That’s what William Styron did.

But I wasn’t that far gone.  What kept me together, to the degree I was, was this unique song on this bizarre album.

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

First thing you have to do when you break up is find a new apartment.

This turned out to be easy.  A friend hipped me to a rent controlled apartment in Santa Monica, a baby house.  I had to say yes.

It flipped her out.  She wanted me to give up the lease.

But I realized this was life or death.  I had to move on, as scary as that was.

And when I moved in I found plumbing issues, and electrical problems, and there were no common walls, but I yearned for our old apartment in West L.A.

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

Mine wasn’t that big.  But I found myself behind the wheel under the influence too much.  But when you don’t care, when you’re just searching for satisfaction, you don’t throw caution to the wind, you don’t even THINK about being careful!

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

How do you get anywhere?  You don’t anticipate these life decisions will lead you there.  You look back and realize that your whole life is dependent on choices made decades before.  You’d still be the same person, but you’d be in a completely different place, under completely different circumstances.  If I hadn’t mistaken her for a girl in the liftline at Snowbird would this four year adventure have even started?

But now it had ended.

And there are people who finish and start again with gusto.

Me, I lick my wounds.  No, me, I crash.  I have a hard time beginning again.  Not only in love, but life.  You’re free, but suddenly everything is meaningless.

You may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
You may ask yourself
Am I right, am I wrong?
And you may say to yourself
My god, what have I done?

Maybe George Bush will feel this way when his term is over.

But too many of today’s worldbeaters show no chink in their armor, no doubt.  They’re on a direct route to their destination, there are no obstacles in their way, they’re winners!

But what if you’re a loser?

Can you contemplate being a loser?  Does that fuck with your self-image?  To bathe yourself in the cold water of doubt, to wonder whether you’ve fucked it all up?

"Once In A Lifetime" isn’t mopey.  And it’s not mindless drivel.  It’s not even brooding.  It’s dark, and it’s MANIC!

And then, three and a half minutes in, this synth-fest takes a turn, there’s a slashing electric guitar, changing the tonality, the meaning of the record.  And David Byrne keeps singing that it’s the same as it ever was.

Do you ever change?  Do people always disappoint you?  Is life preordained?  This is your very life, do you get to steer that large automobile?  Or is it all a fiction, even if you pierce your ear and tattoo your torso are you still a cog in the machine?  Is someone just offstage laughing?

You can’t turn "Once In A Lifetime" off.  It’s a mini-symphony.  With movements, elements that are embedded in your DNA.  It’s a contradiction of despair and hope.  Your lips move along to the sing-songy chorus, yet David Byrne keeps creeping back, warning you.  About what?

Time isn’t holding us
Time isn’t after us
Same as it ever was

But how was it?  Are we free of constraint, do we have free will, or are we just fucked?

Eventually Talking Heads imploded.  David Byrne went on to make music to less commercial success.  But he’s never stopped searching.  U2 went out to the edge with Eno, resulting in their "Remain In Light", "Achtung Baby".  But they could no longer live outside the law, they had to come back to the mainstream, to survive.

But what is survival?  Living, breathing, or continuing to experiment, following your own muse, FEEDING YOUR OWN MUSE!

I could say "Once In A Lifetime" is a masterpiece, but that would give you the wrong impression.  It’s more akin to Picasso’s "Demoisselles D’Avignon", or "Guernica".  Not beautiful, not a joy to look at, but something you can’t take your eyes off of.  Something that seems to have no ancestor, and no descendant.  Something that exists in its own space, off the horizon, that you’re drawn to as if by magnetism.

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.