Saruwatari Ayumi (junglemonkee) wrote,
Saruwatari Ayumi

Wherein the Monkey Exposes Her Soft Foreign Underbelly

I know that this will engender much tsk-tsking among some of my friends, but I went ahead and bought the "True Stories" album from iTunes. When you buy stuff in the iTunes music store, the page from which you purchase the whole album has a review of said album on it.

I was saddened by the particular review given "True Stories." I'm quoting it here in full, because this person went to a lot of trouble to write a lot of not very nice stuff:

Time hasn't been kind to Talking Heads' ancillary soundtrack to David Byrne's oddball directorial debut. Though it generated one of the bands biggest radio hits ("Wild, Wild Life"), both the film and its songs were dismissed as self-consciously quirky retreads of other, better material; and it's well-known the quartet was beginning to splinter apart around the time of the sessions. Byrne himself has said that he regretted the whole notion of releasing True Stories with his own vocals, a decision made at the behest of the film's financial backers. All along, he intended for the lyrics to be sung in character by Pops Staples, John Goodman and the rest of the cast. (Some of these alternate-vocal versions were eventually released as B sides.). Despite its perfuctory nature, nowever, True Stories is not without its charms. Though an obvious swipe at consumerism, "Love for Sale" boats one of the band's best hooks, and it's easily their hardest rocking tune since the "Fear of Music" days. "Radio Head" is a successful conginuation of the some of the regional American motifs Byrne explored on "Little Creatures" (and bears the distinction of inspiring Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood and company to name their band after it). Free from the movie's weird patina of irony, "Dream Operator" is one of the most affecting tunes Talking Heads ever recorded; the closing credits theme "City of Dreams" is similarly touching. Elsewhere, there is filler - touching upon gospel, country-western, zydeco and sundry other Byrne influences - but the band's skill at arranging an album and maintaining a mood remains intact. So, while True Stories may remain a regrettable chapter in the band's history, it's certainly not an embarrassing one.

I seriously want to seek that person out and punch him right in the neck. What kind of pretentious, preachy, patronizing, other insulting words that begin with P kind of person writes that kind of shit? Americans, that's who.

When I was a kid, my favorite cookie was the rose leaf tea cookie. It was sort of like a sugar cookie, except that it was made with essence-of-rose and, if eaten slowly with plenty of deep-breathing, one could just taste the subtle rose taste - just like a fresh rose smelled, but a little sweeter, and every bit as delicate. Later, as an adult, I made them for a group of people who had been raised on chocolate chip. Store-bought chocolate chip made with HFCS for EXTRA sweetness. They told me that I made nice sugar cookies, but they liked chocolate chip better. Or maybe peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips in them.

There have been a few movies that I've seen first the foreign version of, then the American, and in every case, subtlety and ambiguity was stomped flat and squashed by the big, fat, polyester-clad ass of the American intellect. It seems as though Americans won't get the joke unless it ends with somebody getting a pie in the face, preferably while passing explosive gas. "La Cage aux Folles" is a wonderful example. In French, it's witty and cute and fun and a little naughty. But with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, it's like running your eyes over a cheese grater (although Hank Azaria did save every scene in which he performed). "Wings of Desire" is another lovely case in point. Wim Wenders' film is poignant and beautiful and Peter Falk adds just the right touch of earthiness to his role - the whole thing was luscious and sad. As opposed to "City of Angels," which was just sad. Painful and illogical and idiotic. The angels in the German version longed for the complex human sensations that come with everyday life - joy only appreciated after it's gone, the shivery deliciousness of the first bite of food after a long fast, the heartrending beauty of a child who will be a child for such a brief time. Whereas the disgusting "angel" in the American version wanted to eat and fuck. As though nothing in Heaven could compare with bagels and lox. Pathetic.

True Stories, it is true, was not quite this oblique - but neither was it as oblique as this review. "Both the film and its songs were dismissed..." By whom? And even if someone else dismissed them, what did YOU think? Not "they," not your good buddies Thom and Johnny, but YOU, Mr. Reviewer. What did YOU think? And why? "Love For Sale" has a "good hook," but do you like it?

Here's the part that made me the saddest: the phrase "the movie's weird patina of irony." Granted, I saw the movie one time twenty years ago, but what I remember is that it was sweet. Just that. Just sweet. It didn't need anything else. John Goodman, a regular guy, is trying to find love. And he lives in a town full of nice enough folks, and they're just fine.

The film that comes to mind for me is one that the Pirate introduced me to early in our relationship. It's called The Castle and is about a guy who's trying to keep his house from being bought by the government. The guy is quirky in the same way the characters in "True Stories" are quirky, and during much of the movie, I was kind of internally flinching, waiting for it to get mean - to turn on the main character and make him into the butt of some cruel joke, but it never happened. The few times that someone in the movie does point at him and say "Oh, puh-lease!" they're firmly slapped down. That's no way to treat people. It's become one of my favorite movies.

Another example: a few years back The New Yorker published a fiction edition with all Indian authors. Most of the fiction was unexceptional, but one story has stuck with me. It's about a man who goes back to India after living in the US for a few years, so that he can get married. He meets his wife the week before the wedding, and on their wedding night, she cries herself to sleep because she misses her parents. The story follows them back to the US where he notices her things around the house - her soap in the soap dish, her mug next to his on the drainboard. And he sees them as welcome objects in his house. One day, she comes running after him after he's left for work, asking him to give her some money. It turns out that she wants to buy a chicken for his dinner. They build a life together the way everyone does - looking for the cheap gas stations and finding the best place to buy good takeout food and trying different ice cream places within walking distance of their house. And at the end of the story she cries herself to sleep again, but now it's because her son has just left home for college, and she misses him. Every word of the story built the layers of gentle, gradual affection this man came to feel for his wife, until you knew that no woman was ever more loved than she. And no American would have written that story.

But David Byrne (who's not American) directed True Stories, and the songs weren't terrible. They weren't regrettable, they weren't bad at all. What's bad is when everyone who's not beautiful is automatically the butt of the joke. What's bad is "humor" being all about taking away people's dignity. What's bad is the cynicism that says that if it doesn't come out of the box and grab me by the lapels, it's not enough. Well, it is enough.

  • Drinking Like a Writer

    In the 1940 classic “The Philadelphia Story,” C.K. Dexter Haven tells Macaulay Connor “I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives.…

  • Equality of Choice

    It's official. I've made my choice of grad schools. Of the ten I applied to, I chose Antioch University, Los Angeles. Of the programs to which I…

  • Nobody Loves US Anymore!

    Look, America, I'm gonna play it straight with you. I know that you and I haven't seen eye to eye about things. I know I'm not the most popular kid…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 1 comment