On a December night in 1983, a gawky, thin man walked alone onto a stage in Hollywood with a boombox and an acoustic guitar and said “Hi. I’ve got a tape I want to play.”
That awkward, seemingly nervous man was David Byrne, then-leader of the band Talking Heads, and what followed was a groundbreaking, evolving concert experience of subverted expectations and musical collaboration that quickly became one of the most highly-regarded and influential music films in history: “Stop Making Sense.”
On August 22nd, Rodeo Cinema in the Stockyards will be hosting a FREE public screening of the legendary concert movie, presented by Oklahoma City University, and followed by a Q&A session with OKCU’s Tracy Floreani, Ph.D.
Music and FilmBy Brett Fieldcamp
Sponsored by True Sky Credit Union
In our strange, anxious post-2020 world, there might be no better performance film to see and discuss than “Stop Making Sense.” Conceptualized by Byrne personally as a way to visualize and communicate his own feelings of isolation, distance, and anxiety, he designed the concert to be consistently growing and evolving, adding more and more people to the stage as the show progresses.
The result is a performance that seems to create itself, not just musically, but also with such a gradual expansion of members, and such a slow unfolding of the stage set, that by the time the performance reaches its climax, it’s easy to forget just how sparsely it began.
“The music is topically serious in ways that can help us process our recent experiences,” says Floreani, “but also help us release through the joy of being in a communal space with music and performance.”
It’s difficult to tell at times if Byrne’s intention is to slowly open up his own singular and vulnerable bubble to allow for friends and companionship, or if he’s dramatizing the paranoia of more and more people crowding into his personal space.
Either of those feelings seems more relevant than ever before after a year and a half of quarantines and distancing. We all want company and friends and parties, and simultaneously we’re all afraid of crowds and strangers and gatherings.
That kind of duality is at the heart of “Stop Making Sense,” and indeed at the heart of Talking Heads’ music, as well as Byrne’s later solo work.
His entire songwriting career has made him an unlikely guiding social beacon for our isolated-yet-constantly-connected world, a major theme explored in his most recent album/tour/Broadway production, “American Utopia.”
Anyone that was lucky enough to see Byrne bring his energetic and experimental “American Utopia” stage show to The Criterion in 2018 should know how much it is clearly a continuation of themes and ideas first examined in “Stop Making Sense.”
The issues at play in 1983 are still just as relevant now. Same as it ever was.
The lingering influence of “Stop Making Sense,” as well as the band and the man responsible for it, can be seen easily all across modern music and culture but is particularly visible in OKC’s own Evan Jarvicks, founder of underground OK music resource Make Oklahoma Weirder, and himself a creator of weirdo, left-field pop music under the name Jarvix. He is openly a massive fan of Byrne and Talking Heads and has especially connected to the explorations of social anxiety on display in the film.
“As someone who typically gets anxiety at house parties, I don’t cherish the idea of being surrounded by an onslaught of people, but I do like finding my tribe,” Jarvicks told me. “David Byrne is a total weirdo in most contexts, but through an unbound medium like music, he still finds his tribe from great distances.”
So now, as we are all faced with re-evaluating everything from our past through the new pandemic lens of distancing and personal bubbles, how does a lifelong fan of the band like Jarvicks view the encroaching musical crowd slowly building around Byrne on stage?
Optimistically, as it turns out.
“I would probably interpret the expanding cast as an online friend group, engaging in life together beyond the solitude of the physical circumstances,” he said. “As it goes on and grows into this whole crowded band of music performers and dancers adding on to this meticulously designed stage show, it strikes me as a release of that anxiety. That speaks to me as a celebration.”
Witness that celebration for yourself, and remind yourself what it’s like to dance and sing with your friends, when Rodeo Cinema and OKCU present “Stop Making Sense” on August 22nd at 7:00 p.m., and add your own opinions and thoughts of the film’s legacy, both paranoid and celebratory, during the discussion and Q&A afterward.
And … this!
Norman Music Festival is working on getting back on their feet and bringing live music (finally!) back to Downtown Norman as they kick off NMF Soundchecks this weekend, August 13th and 14th.
Featuring a diverse lineup including Sativa Prophets, Josh Sallee, Kat Lock, Mad Honey, Helen Kelter Skelter, Blushing, and Stepmom, the weekend is set to help raise funding for the festival’s return next year, and to help raise awareness that Norman still knows how to party!
The music gets underway at 9:00 p.m. on Friday outside of The Depot on Main Street in Norman and continues Saturday evening starting at 5:00.