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Television Man: David Byrne on the Couch

September 5, 2012 | by

I was born in a house with the television always on. The lyric comes from “Love For Sale,” a song penned by David Byrne and recorded on the Talking Heads album True Stories, but the same could be said for where I grew up, in suburban Philadelphia. My dad watched television even when cooking dinner, which seemed crazy to me, minding an open flame while keeping one eye on some “reality” courtroom drama—not sure you can rightfully call those staged scream-fests real. Judge Judy was such a constant presence, she feels like a family friend. I hear her gravelly voice chewing some idiot out and smell Dad's stir-fry.

Our house was small enough that, unless I played music, I couldn't escape the tube's empty murmuring, not even in my room, which abutted my parents'. As a teenager, then, it made sense that I'd fall in love with Talking Heads' song “Found A Job,” from their 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food. David Byrne, the band's vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter, doesn't so much sing as sing-narrates the story of a couple, Bob and Judy, frustrated watching television because “nothing's on tonight.” Byrne as narrator intrudes upon this domestic scene like one of those omniscient charlatans on infomercials—But wait! There's a solution to their problem!—suggesting they “might be better off... making up their own shows, which might be better than TV.”

By the song's end, Bob and Judy are collaborating, creating their own TV program, a show that “gets real high ratings.” They've saved their relationship and turned their whole lives around. “Bob never yells about the picture now, he's having too much fun,” the narrator tells us. He wraps it up like a fable, inviting the listener to “think about this little scene; apply it to your life. If your work isn't what you love, then something isn't right.” While Byrne tells the story, his guitar noodles on the edges of a funky, bass-driven rhythm, until, at the end, a six note melody emerges like an epiphany over the groove. Bob and Judy have learned to sing a new tune.

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