Kiran’s MetaPrimer #1 — N is for Naive Melody.
N is for Naïve Melody. If I were to assign one song as my “life anthem”, it would be Naïve Melody by the Talking Heads. The lyrics remind me of the cyclical nature of life, and how things often come full circle. The melody is optimistic and strangely sad. It just seems like one of those timeless tunes. While I have enjoyed other bands’ covers of Naïve Melody (some favorites being The Daylights’s synth-filled cover and Arcade Fire’s equally unique version)—I always come back to the original. It’s just so perfect.
Find the lyrics to Naïve Melody here: http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/54806/
In terms of covers, it is really interesting to see how each group of musicians changes the same song. Here is a video of MGMT—one of their first performances from when they were still undergraduates at Wesleyan University: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTiFNQBRwwU
Despite the fact that they did not compose the song, the musicians are still completely engaged.
I think the Arcade Fire’s cover is my favorite. It’s a recording of a live concert, and David Byrne of the Talking Heads actually sang. This is my favorite recording of the cover: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caTrrfNbntw
To truly appreciate the covers of Naïve Melody, one must watch the original Talking Heads video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFeforW2ycI&feature=kp
“Byrne sings “This Must Be the Place” with the same amount of passion with which he delivered songs like “Life During Wartime,” though now he is not singing as a survivalist or anti-government operative, but apparently, as himself — in love and happy to be home, though not without a certain measure of insecurity and guardedness. He seems to be reluctant to give himself up completely, disbelieving that he has found such joy…” (Source: http://www.allmusic.com/song/this-must-be-the-place-naive-melody-mt0011947688)
…How cool is that? David Byrne says that the lyrics are formed completely of non-sequiturs. He said that he didn’t really write them to have a cohesive meaning—instead, they are distinct and full of emotion. He doesn’t say much about the song, except that it is a “real honest love song”.
Regardless of who is singing Naïve Melody, the lyrics stay virtually the same. I love that the lyrics can be interpreted in so many different ways.
“Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me around
I feel numb, burn with a weak heart
Guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground, head in the sky
It’s okay, I know nothing’s wrong, nothing
I got plenty of time
You got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money, always for love
Cover up and say goodnight, say goodnight
Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from the other
I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be
We drift in and out
Sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home
And share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead
Eyes that light up
Eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head”
Everyone has a home…so we can all relate to this first line. Reading further, the ambiguity of all of the lines is partially what makes them so relatable and touching. Despite knowing it is a love song, it makes me think about life and death. It makes me think about times when I know I should be having fun, but I’m not. I also think about the connection between memory and meaning (“cover up the blank spots hit me on the head”) and the pressure to get the “most” out of life. I am reminded of how many people travel far and wide in search of meaning. It seems to me as though Byrne is saying that the true way to find contentment is to return to “home”, which can only be defined as the people one loves. Perhaps the song is about finding love and contentment in simplicity—a notion amplified by the simple, repetitive (or, as Byrne calls it, “naïve”) melody.
“It is still my favorite song. The song I want played at my wedding- if I ever have one- and the song I want played at my funeral- if I ever die. If I get a tattoo, it would be simply of the first line in this song- “Home, is where I want to be pick me up and turn me ’round.” This song has been played over 10,000 times between my laptop, iPod, and car stereo. I instantly freeze and lose complete cognitive functions when “This Must be the Place” plays anywhere. It’s hard to understand what exactly about a song strikes a listener and then lingers in their psyche for a year, ten years, or maybe forever. Truthfully, “This Must be the Place” is simple. No surprises, no punches. Just the same four chords for 4 minutes and 56 seconds. So why does anyone who hears it instantly like it? Why does this woman have a tattoo of it? Why have bands like Arcade Fire, MGMT, Counting Crows, and a plethora of other artists it? Maybe it’s because of lyrics like, “Love me ’til my heart stops, love me ’til I’m dead” resonates with anyone who listens. Maybe it’s because, having been used to eccentric songs about intimate objects, the listeners are treated to a rare vulnerability to the seemingly cold and odd front man. Maybe it’s the breeziness of the keyboards. Maybe there is something comfortable in the sweet and unadulterated combination of it all. Whatever it is, “This Must be the Place” holds a special place for many of us.”
I think the song can also be interpreted as being about acceptance and self-love. While it has been used in a variety of films to evoke all kinds of effects, in the film Lars and the Real Girl its use perfectly exemplifies the union of happiness and melancholy I have come to associate with Naïve Melody. In a 2012 post from the New Yorker entitled “THE TALKING HEADS SONG THAT EXPLAINS TALKING HEADS”, journalist James Verini cites the use of Naïve Melody in an intensely memorable scene: “It comes on in the film’s crucial scene, in which Lars (Ryan Gosling) brings the life-size doll he’s been claiming is his girlfriend to a party. Rather than laugh, everyone graciously pretends she is a real person. (“The best thing is, man, she doesn’t even know how hot she is,” one partygoer says to Lars.) He feels accepted, welcomed for the first time in the story, maybe in his life. Then someone puts “Speaking in Tongues” on a record player, and lays the needle down on “This Must Be The Place.” Instead of dancing with the doll, Lars begins to dance by himself—or, rather, to sway, almost imperceptibly, his fists clenched, one arm tentatively outstretched, chin on his chest. He is holding back tears and smiling. He’s ecstatic and in agony. He’s never been so happy, or so sad. Finally, there’s a party in his mind. He doesn’t know if he wants it to stop.” (Source: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/06/the-talking-heads-song-that-explains-talking-heads.html)
See the scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0G3-Z6PewA
In closing, I think the best thing about all forms of art (in this case, music and lyrics) is that the works can be wide-reaching and at the same time incredibly individual. Each person’s lived experience with a work of art is highly personal, and multiple experiences with the same work of art can each be exceedingly different. I chose to write about Naïve Melody because it is a song that I will never forget. Every time the song comes on, my memory and emotions are immediately activated. I’m thinking about the past and the future. I’m elated and despairing. I’m grateful and I’m dissatisfied. I’m all of these things, all at the same time. And somehow, I feel like Naïve Melody makes that okay.