David Byrne Frank Rose - Essay

Frank Rose

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Talking Heads: 77] comes in on an artfully oblique plane.

[What] do you make of a band that delivers lines like "My building has every convenience / It's going to make life easy for me" with the same fervor the Who always reserved for "My Generation"? Those lines are from "Don't Worry About the Government," by far the strangest song on this album. The other tunes are mostly about love and problems and decision-making (heavy emphasis on decision-making), or else they seem like fractured images from some kind of drug experience. "Don't Worry About the Government" is about two things that don't have to do with any of this. It's about how nice it is to move into a new building with all the modern conveniences, and how nice all the civil servants are in Washington, D.C. Somehow the two become confused, and at the end you hear Byrne singing "Don't you worry 'bout ME!" in a way that suggests "me" and the government are identical.

There's something reminiscent of the '50s about this song in particular and Talking Heads: 77 in general: a faith in know-how and the basic rightness of things that's as characteristically American as it is naive. Yet somehow it doesn't come out very American with Talking Heads; theirs is a romantic, lyrical faith—an intellectual glorification, and an artistic rendering, of innocence that seems both simple-minded and complex and is never quite what it seems.

Frank Rose, "Babytalking Heads" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1977), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXII, No. 45, November 7, 1977, p. 53 [the excerpt from David Byrne's lyrics used here was taken from "Don't Worry About the Government" (© 1977 Bleu Disque Music Co., Inc. & Index Music, Inc.; all rights reserved; used by permission of Warner Bros. Music)].