41: Making Sense
The Talking Heads, and a teenage psycho pigeon breeder
Stop Making Sense
This isn’t a hot take or anything. Stop Making Sense - the film and the album - are among the all-time greatest moments in rock history. The live versions of these songs are, in my opinion, the best versions, and the film adds a level of creativity that pushes it all through the roof. If you haven’t seen it, you ought to.
When Bob, the Doctor Moreau of Pigeons, put on the record back in '‘86, it was only nine songs long. The full show - 16 songs - wasn’t released as an LP until the late '90s. That’s the one you want to hear.
I heard about the film long, long before I saw it. There was once a time when you couldn’t see everything you wanted, and you had to keep your eyes peeled. It played a the Bloor Theatre as a dance party, but we kept missing it. Finally Marjan and I walked through a snowstorm to see it at the Revue on Roncesvalles - but when the film started, it was upside down. When they fixed that, there was no sound. When they fixed that, we learned that the Revue was the only remaining mono theatre in the city. It was fun to finally see it, but not great to hear it muddied. I was pretty glad when it came out on DVD.
The filmed concert (by Jonathan Demme), fully choreographed and perfectly stage-crafted, was a peak for the band AND a sort of ending. The original Talking Heads - a four piece - had been built up to be a nine piece by then so as to achieve the big sounds they’d found in the studio, and at least one member - Tina Weymouth - was pretty pissed off about the whole thing. David Byrne had come into his own and was having his way, and this rift would eventually blow up the band. They never recorded another great record, and never toured again, although they lingered for another seven years.
The show is amazing. The build-up and Byrne’s choreography make it: he jogs for an entire song, dances beautifully with a lamp, bobs and grooves in his famous Big Suit, performs one song as a zombie - he owns the stage. The general omission of audience shots allows viewers to imagine they’re in the first row. Tom Tom Club are sadly allowed to play their Whitest Music Ever in the middle, but this allows Byrne to change clothes, so there’s a use.
I didn’t go through a big Talking Heads phase until the '90s. If you’re new, I’d start with this film, then the album of this film, then everything before it (all gold) and nothing after it. It’s a better story that way, and you won’t miss anything important.
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