Remain in Light / Music for the Knee Plays / Remain in Light

Talking Heads, 1980 / David Byrne, 1985 / Angélique Kidjo, 2018

There are mountains of text on Talking Heads—whole books written even on individual albums. They’re a band of truly classic status, loved both very personally by multiple generations. To this day, when David Byrne plays This Must Be the Place, there’s hardly a dry eye in the house ( but each person is crying for individual, associative reasons).

The trio of records Talking Heads made with Brian Eno , More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light are generally accepted as the cornerstone of their canon. Remain overlaps not just my undying love all things Byrne but also my obsession with all things Eno—plus you can throw in my later in life love African musics, which this album under the sway of.

Remain is the height of Talking Heads as ‘big tent.’ They had more support musicians than official members, and trusted Eno enough to give him wide berth, as producer. It’s a dense album, from the outset. Swirls of percussion and guitars, backup singers and effects jostle for your attention. Little wonder Once in a Lifetime was the hit single here: it’s more pared back than anything else on the album.

More than just an album, thought, Remain was a roadmap for future revelations. Brian Eno is a pandora’s box. You could dig into it’s afrobeat influences and discover Fela Kuti. You could follow the guesting lead guitarist, Adrian Belew into the 80s incarnation of King Crimson. Or, alternately, you might just check out more by the Talking Heads, and maybe explore David Byrne’s first forays into solo projects that immediately followed Remain.

What stands as my favorite solo record by David Byrne (Look into the Eyeball) has yet to be released on vinyl. Even if it gets reissue treatment I don’t think I could part with my copy of Music for the Knee Plays. Talking Heads and David Byrne were one of my first musical obsessions, and Knee Plays was, quite literally the first LP I ever bought. At the time I couldn’t find it on any other format—but I was obsessed, and needed to have it all.

The work is a soundtrack (of sorts) written for a Robert Wilson play (or, more accurately, the interludes of a larger play). The album is scored entirely for brass band, with about half the tracks overlain with David Byrne’s clipped speaking voice. He dictates little prose poems that are imminently Byrne-ian. He ruminates on metamorphosizing into someone else (after stealing their groceries). A character agonizes about what to wear for a big occasion. In the Future is a list of often contradictory predictions for what lays ahead. It would be wrong to say Knee Plays is an oddity in Byrne’s catalog, it was just the first one.

Returning to Remain in Light: Angélique Kidjo said she knew it was an African album on first listen. In her hands, it’s a truth made plain. She re-colonizes the songs, but in truth, they don’t sound all too different. What really transforms is her voice: where Byrne is all nerves, Kidjo is gutsy swagger. When she bellows 'Some 'a you people just about missed it!’, she’s more preacher than snake-oil salesman. The force of her presence managed to return Remain in Light to me, as new, despite knowing every nook and cranny of it.

It’s so rare to enjoy a cover of a song or album you already have a deep relationship with. They’re something that fairs better if you like the covering artist more than the covered. She can’t unseat the Talking Heads for me, but she puts up a hell of a fight.

confessions of an archivist

Librarian. Enthusiast. Collector. Hoarder. The lines of distinction between these things can be fuzzy at best. I certainly sit in some nexus between all of them. How can I deny it? I own over 1200 records—even while limiting my vinyl collection to one-per-artist. The real crazy comes through in my digital catalog.

I am 100% certain I have things in my cloud of mp3's I have never listened to. I have every intention of getting to them, believe me. I listen to a shit ton of music. My day job lets me keep my headphones on, all-the-livelong day, but there are simply times when my rate of acquisition outpaces the sheer time it takes to listen—even once—to everything. Things are bound to fall through the cracks.

Pavement Brain Candy

If I'm honest, though, listening isn't the only point of my collecting—which is sort of weird to say. What's the point of buying music if not to listen to it?

I've come to find sorting and filing music has become an ancillary hobby unto itself. I sincerely find it fun simply pawing through my collection. I make sure it has the best quality cover images, individual songs on compilations have the proper date stamped on them, and that bands with unruly discographies are sorted, good and proper.

There is some purpose to this—beyond just dicking around in my pile of music. It's proven useful in understanding the chronology things. In our era of reissues and bonus tracks, I'm now obsessed with separating the album—as it was originally conceived and released—from the odds and sods. It gives me a more accurate image of the artists. You'd have a very different concept of the Beatles if you listened to the band's albums in order than if you slogged through all three double-CD Anthology sets from the mid-90s. Of course, being who I am, I want to listen to the wheat and the chaff, but I prefer to be keenly aware of which is which.

A weird side effect of this habit is I haven't truly dug into certain artists yet, expressly because their discographies are hopelessly muddled. Elvis, for one. You'd think a self-proclaimed music snob like myself would be well-steeped in the king of rock-n-roll; but, no. Sure, I've heard plenty, but not dived into his catalog with any zeal—as I haven't yet managed to get the whole of it into any order that makes a lick of sense to my chronology-obsessed mind.

Conversely, some bands I was deep into when before this sickness set in are now borderline obsessions. It's a full-time fucking job trying to make heads-or-tails of the Fall's discography, but I like to think I've done about as good a job of it as any US-based fan could aspire to.

I feel I must defensively note here: I've listened to every piece of vinyl under my roof. There's no point in cluttering your life with a physical object if you don't use it. In fact, I have an official policy that no record is filed (alphabetically—regardless of genre) until it has been played twice.

So, if you've ever caught a glimpse of my collection, and wondered to yourself, "Has he listened to all of that?" The short answer is: no. The long answer is: no, but lord-willing, I fully intend to—but without even hearing it, I can tell you where it belongs.