Song 256: Talking Heads, “Heaven” (1979)

talkingheadsfearofmusic

You guys, I have had the hardest time choosing a Talking Heads song.

They have so many good songs. And it’s funny, I wouldn’t call Talking Heads one of my favorite bands, yet whenever I look over their songs, I mentally check off the ones that are flat-out great. Between his solo work and his years with Talking Heads, I think David Byrne has an incredible musical mind.

I eventually settled on “Heaven” to write about, because as much as I love so many of their other songs—“Once in a Lifetime,” “Don’t Worry About the Government,” and the signature song of my mediocre high school rock band, “And She Was”—“Heaven” is the one that I come back to, time and time again.

Compared to other Talking Heads songs, “Heaven” is stark and seemingly uninteresting. This is fitting, however, for a song about how boring beautiful things can be. Byrne uses a bar called Heaven as a metaphor for the actual heaven, itself a symbol of virtue, happiness, and general perfection. It’s also, Byrne notes, “nothing at all.” He adds, “It’s hard to imagine that nothing at all could be so exciting, could be this much fun.”

I’m not sure how to interpret that last line: Byrne could mean that “nothing at all” really is exciting, and he’s just wondering how that could be; he could also mean that he’s having a hard time understanding why others think heaven is more fun than this, the chaotic, unpredictable everyday life. My hunch is the latter.

“Heaven” closes out the mesmerizing 30 For 30 documentary June 17, 1994, as the backdrop for a summing-up montage about the day that included the NBA playoffs, Arnold Palmer’s final U.S. Open appearance, a New York Rangers homecoming parade, Ken Griffey, Jr. tying Babe Ruth’s home run record, and the O.J. Simpson car chase. As the movie builds its narration-free, footage-only case that June 17, 1994 was one crazy day, David Byrne sings about how heaven, the place where Simpson insisted he’d go if he killed himself in that Bronco, was really not worth the hype. It’s here, and it’s now, that the wins, losses, disappointments and rewards happen. It’s here that everything happens.

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