Saturday, October 9, 2010

Talking Heads - “Burning Down the House”

  Fair Disclosure: I love a lot of the Talking Heads songs, but at times they were just a little too out there for me, as if there were some magnificent inside joke that I never really got. But I’ll try to be nice…

  Things start off rather innocently, with a lovely shot of a nice suburban home where people mow the lawn and none of the paint seems to be peeling. Then they do some fast-motion time-lapse thing where it gets dark and we know the oddities are about to come a knockin’. To confirm this, the eerie music signals the start of the song.

  Cut to a close-up of David Byrne’s face, and the camera pulls back to show that he and the rest of the band are all dressed in white as they perform in front of some pretty ironworks in the background. The camera keeps rolling backwards, as if there was some type of braking issue, until we can see that the band doesn’t actually have an audience, but this doesn’t matter because there’s a very nice chandelier to distract us from the absence of crowd-surfing.

  And now we have another close-up of David Byrne’s face, with everything around him blacked out.  (Budget issues?) Then this same image is suddenly being displayed on the side of the previously peaceful suburban house. (I’m sure this won’t disturb the neighbors at all.) It does appear that someone in a pink, fuzzy housecoat suddenly runs out the front door, but the image only lasts for 0.2 seconds so I might be mistaken.

  Back to the band performing in that empty Nouvelle Art place, with the camera zooming back toward them from wherever it rolled the last time we were visiting. Trouble is, the band members have been replaced by other people, folks who look nothing like the actual band members. For instance, David Byrne is now a small boy sporting too much hair product. (This is where I start with the “what am I missing?” business.) This goes on for a while, then suddenly the real members pop back into place.

  Now we have an image of David floating downward on the screen. When the camera finally gets to his head, he’s got one of those smirky expressions that are indecipherable. Does he know something that we don’t, or does he just have gas? Cut to David playing his guitar while staring at a giant video of flames burning. He wiggles his butt to show that perhaps his pants are a bit too tight, because we have crack definition.

  Cut to some more of that “faces without bodies” mess, with the editor super-imposing the faces of the imposter Talking Heads onto the faces of the real deal. This is probably supposed to mean something really significant, but it just reminds me of cheesy slasher movies where D-List actors have random sex and then get killed by troubled individuals with access to grappling hooks.

  Now we’re back at the suburban house, with video on that one outside wall showing consumptive flames. If the neighbors ignored the giant image of David Byrne and kept playing Scrabble, you know they can’t ignore this. Somebody named Gladys is on the phone right now with local emergency personnel.

  More of David Byrne shaking his butt, this time in front of a video showing a large crowd. Less crack this time, so I guess somebody got the memo. Whoops, David just turned into the little imposter of himself, and there’s something completely wrong about seeing a small child shake his booty, especially a child that has no rhythm whatsoever.

  Back to the empty ballroom, where the band (without instruments) is doing some type of dance that requires them to keep their feet still but rock their body from side to side. They end the choreography by moving their shoulders up and down. Next up, the imposters do the same thing.

  Totally not getting this.

  Now things start really going to hell. David and his imposter roll down the screen, then the imposter acts like he’s in a toothpaste commercial. Then another image of David, with flames being superimposed on his non-smiling face. (What is this obsession with fire? What happened to these people at a crucial formative time in their lives?) The flames take over the entire screen, and not in a relaxing “hey, let’s make S’mores!” kind of way. More like “grab Aunt Sally’s urn and run like the wind!”

  Shots of David performing with the band, shots of David’s face on the side of that house. David, David, David. Who needs this much David? Luckily, David’s imposter suddenly jumps on his back while David is playing with the band, so maybe David will be killed and we won’t see him anymore. This doesn’t immediately happen. Turns out that the David imposter just wants to play David’s guitar with him. So they do. And the other imposters play instruments with the other real band members.

  I’m starting to get a headache.

  Cut to tiny, rhythm-less David Imposter standing in front of a fuzzy video screen and taking off his miniature guitar. Then we have Big David watching the video as well, but it kind of ends, so he doesn’t take anything off and just wanders away.

  And we wrap things up with that iconic image of David’s face imposed on a roadway, with the lane-divider lines going into his mouth. I’m sure, once again, that this trippy, arty band meant something really meaningful by having David swallow the nation’s highways. But it really looks like something in a bad soft-porn gay film.

  If anybody out there can explain what the last four minutes really meant, please send me an email. But if no one does, that’s fine, too. Because, after all, this is a band that entitled their career retrospective “Sand in the Vaseline”.

  I really don’t need to know any more.

Click Here to Watch the Video on YouTube.

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