Midweek Music Break: David Byrne and Brian Eno, “Home”

Several of Running After My Hat‘s regular commenthood are overhauling what “home” means to them:

Nance — and Mr. Mature, of course — are caught up in readying their house for a (dearly longed-for) sale. Marta — amongst writing a flash-fiction story every day this month, and competitive skating, and teaching, and the gods know what else — has moved with her family into their first house, with all the attendant packing and unpacking, inspections, signings of documents, painting, arranging and re-arranging, and re-assessment of what counts (and how much). And in a turn almost unimaginable, at least to me — having followed his blog for four years — Brit ex-pat Froog prepares to leave China altogether, bound for… Lithuania? Uruguay? parts unknown (but presumably with no shortage of watering holes)?

From At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson:

Houses are amazingly complex repositories. What I found, to my great surprise, is that whatever happens in the world — whatever is discovered or created or bitterly fought over — eventually ends up, in one way or another, in your house. Wars, famines, the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment — they are all there in your sofas and chests of drawers, tucked into the folds of your curtains, in the downy softness of your pillows, in the paint on your walls and the water in your pipes. So the history of household life isn’t just a history of beds and sofas and kitchen stoves, as I had vaguely supposed it would be, but of scurvy and guano and the Eiffel Tower and bedbugs and body-snatching and just about everything else that has happened. Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.

From Brian Eno, writing on davidbyrne.com (speaking of 2008’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today album):

This record was born as a dinner conversation. While dining in New York with David and some other friends, I mentioned that I had accumulated a lot of music, which, despite my intentions, I had never formed into songs. David volunteered to give them a try…

Upon starting this project, we quickly realized we were making something like electronic gospel, music in which singing becomes the central event, but whose sonic landscapes are atypical of such vocal-centered tracks.

David Byrne himself adds:

The challenge was more emotional than technical: to write simple, heartfelt tunes without drawing on cliché. The results, in many cases, are uplifting, hopeful, and positive, even though some lyrics describe cars exploding, war, and similarly dark scenarios.

These songs have elements of our previous work — no surprise there — but something new has emerged here as well. Where does the sanguine and heartening tone come from, particularly in these troubled times? …some of my lyrics and melodies were a response to what I sensed lay buried in the music. My task was to bring forth into language what was originally non-verbal. In the end, we have made something together that neither of us could have made on our own.

This particular number, I think, doesn’t fall quite into the “electronic gospel” genre. There’s a nearly martial, rolling-snare-drum effect which plays well behind Byrne’s vocals, and that voice verges on strident. But the lyrics speak of both the universal and the deeply personal meanings of home. Especially when the song is overlaid (as here) by dozens of still photos of dozens of types of houses, it’s easy to imagine an utterly different performance: solo, acoustic, nothing at all electronic — a plucked string fastened at one end in the present day and at the other, deep in history.

[Lyrics]

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  1. Well, it’s the most overtly “architectural” video I’ve seen associated with Byrne, but not the first indulgence for at least David in the subject matter: Naive Melody (This Must Be the Place), or more famously – Burning Down the House. I guess once you’ve started down that road to hell called Architectural School, you can’t escape it forever.

    The “Everything That Happens….” collection is interesting to me, related to their prior collaborations just for the reasons described by Byrne – there’s a lightness or even sweetness, much different than say Fear of Music or Remain in Light or “…Bush of Ghosts”. Damned near hopeful. In concert at the Count Basie it was similar in feel, too. Byrne was surrounded by several musicians and gymnastic performers all dressed in white veritably bounding joyously around the stage in really “sweet” choreography. A little like watching some twenty-somethings reliving childhood outdoor play with a favorite white haired uncle. Touching and light. While the Stop Making Sense tour was really the ultimate rock concert for me, the feel in much of the show – was quite literally dark, partly because of the focus on the light show aspect of Light/Dark. But also because the rock intensity made the songs feel more subversive. You expected to see/feel a house burning down on stage. Naive Melody became the exception, and therefore stood out in the show all the more, to me.

    Once again, another nice “Midweek”. Thanks.

    • On some visit, someday, I really need to see something — maybe anything — at the Basie Theatre. You’ve told me of so many performances I would’ve loved!

      About “This Must Be the Place/Naive Melody,” Wikipedia quotes Byrne:

      That’s a love song made up almost completely of non sequiturs, phrases that may have a strong emotional resonance but don’t have any narrative qualities. It’s a real honest kind of love song. I don’t think I’ve ever done a real love song before. Mine always had a sort of reservation, or a twist. I tried to write one that wasn’t corny, that didn’t sound stupid or lame the way many do. I think I succeeded; I was pretty happy with that.

      • Oh, and lest we forget (I can’t) you ain’t heard nothin’ live from Talking Heads until you’ve heard “Love/Buildings on Fire” live. Another “building” song, and it captures their chaos/sweetness combo, I think. Just came on my iTunes and had to send it along. I do believe that the best live recording of this is “The Name of This Band is Talking Heads”. Joe Bob says check it out.

  2. Thanks for the interest and concern, JES. Don’t forget Bolivia. I’ve had Butch dinning in my head the last few days. It is starting to feel like I have Lefors dogging my tail and I really ought to consider going someplace like Bolivia.

    John Banville in ‘The Book Of Evidence‘:
    Surely this is a universal, this involuntary spasm of recognition which comes with the first whiff of that humble, drab, brownish smell, which is hardly a smell at all, more of an emanation, a sort of sigh exhaled by the thousands of known but unacknowledged tiny things that collectively constitute what is called home.

    • Oh, right — Bolivia, not Uruguay. I think I was remembering a commenter at your place who suggested the latter, but I forgot that you’d pretty soundly rejected that option!

      Naturally, your mentioning Butch and Lefors sent me off, bounding over the Internet’s moors and baying every time I picked up the scent. (Er, but not a humble, drab, brownish one.)

      I haven’t laid any odds with anyone about where you might wind up. But I’m thinking Lithuania might be the way to go.

  3. You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house… or You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house? Just the whisper of David Byrne’s voice makes me smile, and it’s impossible to not think about his wild Once in a Lifetime song, which, I remember thinking, upon its release (after my initial shock at first listen), was brilliant. I still think it’s pretty brilliant, shot-gun shack and all.

    This is a little bonus here today–a bit of Friday wrapped into Wednesday. All this moving–makes want to ratchet up my search for the perfect city bungalow.

    • You may appreciate the performance of “Once in a Lifetime” which I included in this old whiskey river Fridays post — the song as covered by… The Muppets!

      You and brudder, above, both picked up on the architectural subtext running through DB’s music (which I myself completely missed). I guess you can take the boy (regrettably, haha) out of RISD, but not vice-versa. :)

      Hmm… I’ve got another version of “Lifetime” floating around here — let me see…

      • Okay, here’s that other version of “Once in a Lifetime.” The band covering it is (or I guess was) called Big Daddy; they specialized in re-interpreting more or less contemporary music in the style of older hits. This is “Lifetime,” à la Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)”:

  4. …and, while I’m thinking about other songs: I was trying to remember what other rock song I was sure I’d heard make use of a rolling rhythm like this one.

    The song I was trying to remember was by The Beatles, on the White Album: “Don’t Pass Me By” (not as much of the drum as I’d thought, at least through the body of the song, but the rhythm and “feel” are right):

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