Saturday, June 28, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 179): "HOME" (2008) David Byrne and Brian Eno

The other year on the Songs of the Day post not yet represented that should be is 2008. Granted, it wasn’t that much of a year for new music, for me. Looking at the stuff I acquired that year, it’s clear I was mainly picking up on things I’d missed from previous years. But my favorite album of 2008 should be represented: Brian Eno and David Byrne’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Isn’t the title’s absolutism enough to suck you in? If you’re in the “aging” percentile of the population, the idea that anything that’s going to happen better happen soon—“today”—is pretty compelling.

For me, the album came along as a hat-trick to two LPs I’ve already included here: Byrne’s Look into the Eyeball (2001) and Eno’s Another Day on Earth (2005). These were “late” appearances by both that showed them still cognizant of the kinds of things that attracted me to the work of both in their heydays. Joining forces on Everything was most welcome and today’s song, “Home,” is the lead-off track that set the tone for the whole. A bit nostalgic, a bit wistful, a bit hopeful, a bit melancholic, even elegiac, full of a measured sense of purpose that was tonic if, like me, you were looking down the barrel at 50 round about then. If “youth doesn’t here have end” with one’s forties, then I guess it never will.

Apparently, the collaboration occurred mostly long-distance, via email, which also adds a contemporary charm to the whole. It was around then that it became a foregone conclusion that many of us were living more involving lives online than in person. Or at least that most of our entertainment, food for thought, guilty pleasures, and major concerns had a very definite online component. Leave it to Byrne and Eno, the savants of my youth (when Eno teamed up with Talking Heads for three of their albums, and those three LPs are still lasting reference points), who collaborated on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981) and showed everyone what avant-garde “rock” was all about, to come up with an album that would resonate through and through for me as a calling card from my own past. “The dimming of the light makes the picture clearer / It’s just an old photograph / There’s nothing to hide / When the world was just beginning.” That’s where we were, alright.

And with a title like “Home,” the song is gonna hit you where you live.*  Byrne, remember, was the guy who brought us, with Talking Heads, “Home is where I want to be / Lift me up and turn me round / I come home, she’s lifted up her wings / I guess that this must be the place.” Finding “the place” is what it was all about. How could you be happy or even productive in this world unless you find “the place”? And that place, once found, is home. That was back in 1983. Now it’s 25 years later and “Home – will infect whatever you do.” That’s how it is. Wherever we spent the time, at home, is now part of who we are.

Byrne, the lyricist, gives a litany of ripostes to the notion “home.” Some, “were my parents telling the truth,” take us back to home as the place we started from; others, “where my world is breaking in two,” suggest the broken home that so many have experienced. Others, like “why I keep returning,” make us aware of what a provisional thing “home” always is.

But the part of the song that always lifts my spirits—Eno’s tunes for the most part go for big gestures on this album, but then I felt that about Another Day in some ways—is the part that functions musically as the chorus, even though its lyrics change. The first time: “Heaven knows / What keeps mankind alive / Ev'ry hand / Goes searching for its part-/ ner in crime / Under chairs and behind tables / Connect-/ ing to places we have known.” That bit about “partner in crime,” which Byrne draws out over the enjambment, speaks not only of hands working together for something but of people making a home together. “Partners in crime” is one way to think of the drawing aside into an intimate world that others don’t share. That very withdrawal making that space “home.”

And maybe that’s what keeps mankind alive. The ability to—as the Gang of Four song says—“include ourselves out.” If we had to be “at large” all the time, always public (as the people who keep insisting privacy is a thing of the past would have us acknowledge), then we might really have lost any notion of home by now. Byrne even slides that into the mix with “Home – and the camera's watching.” Yes, it is, to broadcast us at home.

The second time the chorus part sounds it takes this idea to a more communal aspect than I tend to do, and so, in a way, I’m still learning from Byrne and Eno just as I did back there in my twenties.  Here the singer says he can “hear those people saying / That the eye / Is the measure of the man,” a seeing-is-believing credo that also suggests that all the stuff we look at online is what we really are. Then maybe a change in focus: “You can fly / From the stuff that still sur- / Rounds you.” Which would support my idea of home as a place of withdrawal, but then: “We’re home, and the band keeps marching on / Connect-/ ing to every living soul / Compassion for things I’ll never know.”

That’s the up side of it. The online connection to everyone everywhere that opens us up to things we’ll never know, otherwise. More even than the “global village” of television, the internet brings us into private realms, individual spaces, making communal everything we have to show for ourselves. It’s not exactly a “brave new world,” but is a brave viewed world perhaps, this Home we all share.

*(Those following this series of posts carefully will note that this is the second time a song with this title has appeared; first time was at the end of the first month of 2014, now again at the end of the sixth month.)

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