Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Talking Heads - This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

Original Promo Clip

From Stop Making Sense

Talking Heads - This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).mp3


This is a song with which I have been familiar for most of my life, but I've only recently really listened to and loved it. But the past week or so, I've been absolutely enamored of it, and I've listened to it dozens upon dozens of times (as any of my Last FM friends may have seen).

For some reason, I feel like starting with a line from near the end of the song, because it is the one that is most enduring for me:

"Out of all those kinds of people, you've got a face with a view."

It is this kind of awkward, obscure but incredibly poignant phrase that defines this song; everything about it could be described in the same terms, but it all adds up to a golden goose that is truly beautiful and heartbreakingly tender and sincere. I mean, I guess Talking Heads are inherently this way; weird, wild and always off-center, but they manage to hit the heart of just about everyone.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about love. What is it? Why do we love? How do we love? How do I want to love? Do I have a choice in how to love? Is the way we traditionally think of love an accurate way of thinking about it? When we say love, what do we mean? To what are we referring? Aren't there like a million things that people can and do call love? What is love, in essence? These are the questions Depeche Mode has asked and will continue to ask with such tracks as "Love, In Itself". Stay tuned.

And how is love expressed in pop songs? It's strange, because most of my favorite songs are actually not direct love songs. And it's not because I don't like straightforward love songs; I guess that a lot of them are just so histrionic and self-centered; they are about expressing longing and desire. That's not always a bad thing, but I am usually not as turned on by it. I tend more toward weird, kind of cryptic love songs like Peter Murphy's "I'll Fall With Your Knife" and "Yummy Yummy Yummy I've Got Love In My Tummy". I guess I often feel like the songs that are most imbued with love actually don't really refer directly to it at all, or they don't even have vocals.

But in terms of a song that is almost without question a love song, no matter how weird, I think that This Must Be The Place is maybe the best I've ever heard. The more I listen to it, the more I love it and the more it opens my eyes.

First of all, the whole song seems kind of childlike. It's naive (hence the title, perhaps). It's small and silly and quirky, like it's still learning the language of music. I think that with some people, this might cause its immediate dismissal. It is an easy song to dismiss for these reasons. It almost seems a little stupid at first - let's be honest. But it's absolutely anything but. Good lord, it's anything but. And that naivety is precisely why it's so brilliant. It's a return to naivety; a wise return to origin. And that's what the song is about, and that is what, I've realized in the past 72 hours, love is about.

Love is everywhere; it is inherent and omnipresent. All that is, is love. I talked about this in my Being It post. Life is about learning to recognize this, to find the love that is already there, and always has been there. And there are certain people with whom we connect so very deeply and love so very much, and it just feels differently than it does with other people. I mean, I think that there are certainly people we are just meant to love, and meant to feel a certain way about. I think most people actually think this, but they feel reluctant to make a firm commitment to the belief because it sounds strange and spiritual or something. Well, I am going to come right out and say that we are absolutely meant to love the people we love, and that it is never accidental. In fact, I will say that we are born loving these people, before we even meet them. I think that feeling or falling in love for someone is merely recognizing this and discovering who it is that we already inherently love on a spiritual, essential level. All the world, in reality, is light, and love is essentially about finding the lights that reflect our own; perhaps finding our own light in another place. But falling in love is merely returning to a love that was already there; it is a recognition of and a return to what already was, has been and will always be. A return to that which is most naive and simplistic; light, and nothing more. It is forgetting what we have learned, and remembering what we already knew.

This idea of return has been on my mind a great deal. I really think that more or less everything essential about me was there, in full, when I was a little kid. And so many things I dismissed as I grew older have been back in my mind again as being something very valuable and true. Of course, they all now must be incorporated and understood quite differently now, because I am no longer a small child. But all the groundwork was there, and I am constantly returning to where I was so long ago, and moved away from for so long. We are all prodigal sons, and there is a reason that for the entirety of human literature and storytelling, the idea of being in one place, leaving, and returning to it again (with a different perspective) is so crucial. It is the pattern of life, right along there with the Hegelian dialectic. The essence of the world and the way it always will be is right in front of us and has always been there, and the essence of who we are in ourselves is always there, sitting and waiting to be discovered. I like to think that life is really just about trying to clear away all obstruction from who we really are, from the light of our souls. This is what people talk about when they refer to the "light in your eyes" or "your shine" or something. Once again; people already kind of think this way, it's just been covered up quite a bit. But we can find it there, buried in language and phrases we use constantly. We just need to forget what we've learned and look at things laid bare.

The more I listen to this song, the more I love it. Every time, there is something new that hits me and amazes me. It's musically loaded with different melodies and noodlings, and it all adds up to a majestic, beautiful beast. It makes me think of a moose; awkward but gorgeous and with every reason to be proud.

Let's look at the lyrics. Immediately the idea of returning home is alluded to:

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me 'round

If home is where he wants to be, and then he asks to be turned around, then wasn't he heading away from home, and he's asking to be pointed back toward it? It's the whole prodigal son thing, straight away, and he refers to it again later. And already, we are musically placed in a place mysterious, yet strangely familiar and safe.

I feel numb - born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's ok, I know nothing's wrong . . nothing

Here, there is a continued sense of naivety, of not knowing - "I guess I must be having fun", etc. The first line is so interesting to me, too. Is numbness the symptom of a weak heart? What exactly IS a weak heart? Is a weak heart a good thing, soft like the living and enduring, as explained by Lao Tzu? "The less we say about it the better / Make it up as we go along". This is gorgeous too, and it's something I can relate to. We can tend to want name things too quickly, or to name them at all, when really we need to just know that they are what they are. There is no set way that a relationship should look, and sometimes unusual or unexpected arrangements are what work best for two people. Or is this about a relationship at all? Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. Maybe he's just talking about not talking about the journey he's going on with another.

Oh, the beauty and mystery of this verse, though. The image of the final three lines, with the assertion of the final. I picture a sky with clouds serving only to highlight the blueness beneath them, the beams of light crafting extraordinary shapes in their shadows on a stretched mountainside, with a figure standing tall within the beams. And the statement that he knows nothing is wrong; it's like we are experiencing a strange new drug for the first time, and despite our still panic, we know to trust the voice we hear within...

And then, a shout.

"I got plenty of tiiiime!"

We notice the music shift; we are moving upwards, guiding by padded bursts of light, rising from our feet.

And another.

"You got light in your eyyyyyes!"

I feel a tingle, the space beneath my eyes fills with feeling.

"And you're standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money, Always for love
Cover up and say goodnight
Say goodnight"

This part is one of the most beautiful things ever recorded by any band, ever. It is executed and describes what, when you feel it, is undoubtedly the greatest epiphany you've ever had. It is so simple, and says so little, but it reveals all. It is the recognition of youth, and of the eternal, and of the wisdom we gain with age. But it is, at once, the recognition of the light in the eyes of the one next to you, of your partner, and that they are, in fact, beside you as you are on your journey.

And isn't any journey through reality done in time, even as it transcends it? It is that passing of time which slowly burns away all facades and illuminates your secrets. And the further away you are from birth, the closer you are to returning. And when you find the light in someone's eyes, when you recognize their connection to that home, to that return, a whole new journey begins, whether you like it or not. Sometimes the passing of time and the movement through space is meaningful in and of itself, and it is its own glorious action of profound personal meaning (see the work of artist Richard Long). And in all finite time, we find the infinite, for where else do we exist?

The song returns to modesty, with a cutesy little melody. Then the strange, sighing sounds return to flutter. The break is nice, but we are still charged, naively along for the ride.

Is where I want to be
But I guess I'm already there"

Of course! Aren't we all already home, no matter where we are? Aren't we our own home, and doesn't our own home exist eternally within ourselves? Again, he "guesses" that he is already there; knowledge tells us we are nowhere, our hearts tell us we are home. Unlearning is the real teacher here, going backwards is the greatest step forward. Of course, there is also a sense of resignation in what he says, like he is merely along for the ride, his return to himself guided by a will not entirely his own.

"I come home
She lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place"

Again, we have a golden goose. Like an angel, she welcomes him home, and it is her lifting her wings that coincides with his supposing that home is the place. Home is where she is found, and vice versa. They go hand in hand. Have you ever been in love? Doesn't it feel like a return home when you truly love someone?

"I can't tell one from the other
Did I find you or you find me?"

Here, we are given a sense of unity of all things, of a melding together. And that question: "Did I find you or you find me?" What a beauty. Perhaps they both found each other without even looking. There is a sense, too, that they were simply destined to come together, that perhaps it wasn't a question of finding anything at all because it was already there.

"There was a time before we were born
If someone asks,
This is where I'll be
Where I'll be"

Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. And what is this time before they were born? Is this the home where they found each other? Did they know each other before they were born? Is it simply amazement at the idea that things existed before they did? Is it all of these things? Am I just a blithering idiot? Is he simply saying in the following lines that he is returning to that time, before they were born?

I love the casual use of "If someone asks, this is where I'll be", as if he's slipping her a note with the name of a local hardware store on it. But isn't he saying that not only is he going to be in this time before they were born, but that THIS is precisely where THAT exists? The ambiguous use of pronouns here is absolutely genius. THERE was a time before we were born...THIS is where I'll be. He isn't saying that they are one and the same, but it sure seems like it, without us ever knowing for sure. But how could something like that really be described with language anyway? Can't one individual space/location/thing/place be both "this" AND "there/that", simultaneously? Isn't this whole idea of returning home by going away from it the same thing? Isn't the prodigal son both "this" and "there/that"? Isn't returning home by meeting someone you've never met in the reality of your life both, as well? With the use of "this", Byrne is tugging quickly at that time before they were born, pulling it snugly to his chest and our consciousness. Isn't "this" an interesting word? Forgive me here, because I know nothing about language and how to write about it. But it implies possession of something while maintaining that it is something to be possessed, as it is not intrinsic. It can also refer to an ethereal space, a physical object or a state that can be objectified. "There" implies a lack of possession altogether. In its use here, it is a vague term referring to something abstract; it is floating in ether. Here, the use of both is doubly brilliant in that the whole song is about an abstract space/idea becoming and/or being reflected in both a space, a state and an object. The idea of home - which is something mysterious - is being gradually uncovered (or quickly revealed in the course of this few-minute pop song) and manifested in the space of the here and now, the state of love and feeling at home, and the object of the woman.

Was that a trainwreck? Be honest.

But the song goes on. A yell.

"We drift in and out!"

Another. The beauty of this weird song is just so unbearable!

"Sing into my mouth!"

More and more, the song just ascends into something that is so hard to understand with our minds, but so easy to understand with the naivety within us. "Sing into my mouth"...This reminds me of some sort of eternal loop of communication of joy, in which it is so seamless, the mouth becomes the ear, the giver becoming the receiver. "I can't tell one from the other!"

"Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view"

Oh man. As I mentioned earlier, I fucking love this goddamn line. Isn't this like saying "You have vision unlike any other, You see so much more than anyone, You see so deeply into life"? But isn't it such a weird way to say it? I guess for me, this just makes me think about how many gorgeous, sexy, incredible women there are in the world, but so few (if not only one) with the kind of vision that I am in love with.

"I'm just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you'll love me 'til my heart stops
Love me 'til I'm dead
Eyes that light up
Eyes see through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head

Just how gorgeous is this goose? And the way it just rises when he says, "And you'll love me 'til my heart stops!" This is male urgency here. This is being hit on the head like Andy Capp by his lovely wife. Byrne even says, "Hit me on the head!", for chrissakes! The way it just rises and rises; I really feel like I am feeling something new that I've never felt...or haven't felt in a long time.

I realize that this is one of the loosest, weirdest and most rambling entries I've written on this blog, but bear with me as if you were a bear I could call my own. This song has been changing me over the past several months, and it has coincided with that idea of returning. More and more, I really think that we are born who we are, and life is simply learning what that essence is, and then choosing whether to manifest it. Recently I've been realizing more and more things that were true about me as a young child that I eventually dismissed as I grew older, but have learned to embrace again. For instance, I was a really intense kid, and I felt way more than I was really prepared to handle. I experienced a great deal of self-loathing starting at the unusually young age of two, and I of course learned to think of that self-loathing as bad, and positive self-esteem as good. But I've realized recently that that self-loathing was actually borne of something very real and very positive: the desire to get beyond the self. When I was young, I feel like I - as so many children are - was very cognizant of the illusions of the Self and I really wanted my Self to be destroyed. But you see, people thinking of self-loathing as bad and unhappy aren't, in my opinion, really seeing the big picture. Our culture has this strange notion that self-esteem is happiness, that feeling validated and content is everything, that feelings of pain and frustration equate to unhappiness. This is largely bullshit. While it's true that I think it is important for people to feel good about who they are and what brings them joy, they must recognize that there is so much more to who we are than what we want and the emotions we feel.

Nowadays, I have no desire for my Self to be destroyed, because I feel great about being alive and learning what I can with a Self intact. I enjoy life a great deal. I mean, my favorite song is Bill Drummond's "The King Of Joy", for the sake of Christmas! But I will never look at those early years of depression as depression again; I look at them as a naive reception of exactly what I perceive now. I returned to where I was, and the further I was from the beginning, the more I have returned. There became this, while retaining its thereness. Man, that Byrne line is fucking brilliant. But anyway, the thing is: I returned to where I was, and I had to move away from it to get there.

I had to journey. I had to completely change my perception of the world, and unlearn what our culture has taught me about happiness. And sometimes going backward is going forward. "For just letting it go is what makes it stay."

St. Augustine thought of the soul as a living light that comes to earth that it might better see its own reflection. In my experience, the ultimate mirror is the one we love, the one with whom we resonate on such an innate level. And I think that love is the most innate state of being, and when we discover it in life, we return to where we are originally from, where we are in essence, and what we are in essence. This song's celebration of that phenomenon is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard, and one that I will undoubtedly continue to find inspiring for the rest of my life. I hope you enjoy.

1 comment:

The Flip Flop Girl said...

I love your comments, Ben. They really move me. I love your references to Hegel, Lao Tzu, St. Augustine. What's best, of course, are your own heart-felt comments.