Song of the Day #192: ‘Miss America’ – David Byrne

byrneDavid Byrne is one of the most talented and eccentric artists in my collection, and I own about 15 of his albums by now (including his work with Talking Heads). And yet I can’t say that I love his music the way I love stuff by, say, Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, and on and on.

I certainly appreciate his music, and when I listen to it I enjoy just about every minute. But I don’t find myself reaching for his CDs when loading up my car stereo.

So you’re probably wondering… why do you own 15 albums by somebody whose music you aren’t compelled to listen to very often? And that’s a fair question for which I don’t have a great answer.

I suppose it’s because when I do reach for one of his albums, I almost always feel rewarded by the result. Take the album Feelings, which features today’s song, ‘Miss America.’ It’s a brilliant piece of work and every time I play it I wonder why I don’t play it all the time. I could say the same for Rei Momo, Remain in Light, Naked and Stop Making Sense.

Not sure what the lesson is here. That I have too much music to properly appreciate all of it? Or maybe just that there’s some magic chemistry in our brains that makes us need to listen to some things but not others. What do you think?

Note: I originally had the official album version posted below but YouTube killed it off for copyright infringement. So I found a live version from ‘Sessions at West 54th’ that’s kind of close to the original and also features Byrne dancing in a kilt.

I love America, her secret’s safe with me
And I know her wicked ways
The parts you never see

Oh super-girl, you’ll be my super-model
Although you have a reputation
Can I afford to move above my station
I’m not the only heart you’ve conquered

And I love America, but boy can she be cruel
And I know how tall she is
Without her platform shoes

Oh super-girl, you’ll be my super-model
Although at times it might seem awkward
Don’t run away, oh don’t you recognize me
I’m not the only heart you’ve conquered

And I kissed America, when she was fleecing me
She knows I understand that she needs to be free
And I miss America and sometimes she does too
And sometimes I think of her
When she is fucking you

I love America
Yo siempre he confiado en ti [=I have always trusted you]
I love America
Por que me tratas asi? [=Why do you treat me like this?]

Oh super-girl, you’ll be my super-model
Although your pants are round your ankles
And when you’re down, I’ll be your Dirty Harry
It will be just like in the movies

Oh super-girl, you’ll be my super-model
Although at times it might seem awkward
Don’t look away, I’ll be your teenage fanclub
I’m not the only heart you’ve conquered

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #192: ‘Miss America’ – David Byrne

  1. Dana says:

    Okay, first of all, I LOVE this video. Byrne dancing in a kilt–truly wonderful!

    I place Byrne in that rarified air of musical genuises–along with the likes of Costello, Sting, Joe Jackson, Paul Simon, etc…. It is rare that I hear a Byrne song that I don’t love, like or at least appreciate.

    So, to your question, I think that the breadth and diversity of your music collection is, in part, to blame for not reaching for Byrne more often. Then you have the general tendency to favor the new over the old. But if you are really reaching for Paul Simon and Costello over Byrne, then that theory takes a hit.

    Perhaps it is that Byrne’s music requires more attention and effort as a listener, at least for some of it. This reminds me of the conversations Amy and I often have when we watch documentaries or foreign language films. More often than not, we come out loving the films, and commenting that we need to seek them out more, but the truth is we don’t always live up to our best intentions. And I think part of it has to do with the fact that it requires a bit more effort to watch these films. With foreign language films, you have the reading of subtitles, and with documentaries, you often go into the experience knowing that you are likely to come out feeling more educated than entertained. Also, while this applies less to CDs in your collection, these films are usually a bit harder to access, being in only a few theaters some further distance than the multiplex.

    Anyway, to the extent any of these theories apply, I think it explains what you are going through in that you don’t naturally reach for the Byrne CDs because you have some perception that it is not the “easy” music to reach for, but when you do reach for it, you realize all over again how wonderful it is and make a mental note to listen more often, but then you go back to old habits. And old habits die hard.

  2. pegclifton says:

    what a great song and video; just love the beat and the kilt!

  3. Clay says:

    Interesting points. I think your point about new vs. old is probably a key one. I definitely like to load up my CD case with stuff I’m getting to know better (whether it’s truly new or just new to me).

    And then I’ll go through phases where I listen to all of an artist’s work, whether its Paul Simon, Fiona Apple, Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, etc. I think I just haven’t gotten around to the David Byrne cycle in awhile, but I’m going to do just that now.

  4. Amy says:

    I think it’s the same as a movie collection. You want to own films you consider great, but you’re not necessarily going to reach for some of those great films again and again. Regardless, you want them in your collection.

    Byrne is a genius, and you likely know you should own his music, regardless of whether you naturally gravitate towards it. His voice always reminds me of a slightly (or maybe not so slightly) disturbed individual. He comes across as very much on edge. That would keep me from listening to tons of his music, despite the fact that I appreciate and enjoy it.

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