Strangely, after yesterday’s morning music, I’ve had “The Book I Read” going through my mind. Catchy tune. Anyway, let’s just move on to the first truly great Talking Heads album, More Songs About Buildings and Food. It’s the one that had a reasonably big hit: their cover Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” I like it, but I think it succeeds more because of Brian Eno’s production than anything else.
Yesterday, I avoided “Don’t Worry About the Government” — a song that is widely misinterpreted. Today, I want to highlight another song that is widely misinterpreted, “The Big Country.” On it’s surface, it is an attack on rural and suburban America with the chorus, “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.” But if that were the point of the song, it would be trivial — and offensive. It is the view from seven miles up from an elitist who really knows nothing of the people he is — literally and figuratively — looking down on.
It’s only in the third verse that the song gets to the point. The singer lacks a community. His attitude about the way “those people” live their lives has caused him to be cut off. His life lacks meaning. The song is ultimately, an attack on that kind of adolescent rejection of everything that is “normal.” And the singer makes a breakthrough, “I’m tired of traveling; I want to be somewhere.”
It speaks to Byrne’s weakness as a writer that he doesn’t manage to rework the chorus of “The Big Country” to integrate his epiphany. But far worse would have been to simply repeat the chorus. So instead, they go into a coda where he sings, “Goo goo ga ga ga” — which I believe means nothing at all. Still, the song works and the music is beautiful.