Song of the Day #566: ‘Sad Song’ – David Byrne

On his third solo album, 1994’s David Byrne, Byrne retreated from the world music flavorings of his previous releases in favor of a more spare, somber sound.

Many artists choose to self-title an album when it contains their most personal work, a glimpse into their inner workings. Byrne isn’t going down that road here. The lyrics are his typical opaque explorations of the human condition, following his usual obsessions with the minutiae and ugly-beautiful details of life.

The most intimate lyric on the album is probably this one, from ‘My Love Is You’:

Sometimes dear
You tell me I’m an asshole
Sometimes you’re an asshole too
Even though we’re filled with
I don’t think any less of you

What a lovely wedding song that would make.

Today’s SOTD, ‘Sad Song,’ has always impressed me musically, and the lyrics are compelling. Is it a satirical jab at people (and artists) who mope through life? Or is it the opposite, an argument that the happy-go-lucky are missing out on some deeper meaning in life? And what should we make of the first verse (repeated at the end of the song) about dreaming?

You may think I look sad
But I am just sleeping
It’s my facial expression
I’m probably dreaming

Would you like to be sad?
Would you like me to teach you?
Well, you can learn to be sad
But you must practice like I do

Na na na, na na na na …

You must follow directions
And learn it right from the start
There isn’t a short cut
It must come from your heart

Well there are those who are happy
And there are those who are wise
But it’s the truly sad people
Who get the most out of life

Na na na, na na na na …

You may think I look sad
But I am just sleeping
It’s my facial expression
I’m probably dreaming


2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #566: ‘Sad Song’ – David Byrne

  1. Amy says:

    Just reading the lyrics, I’m thinking it’s a jab at those who mope through life. The premise is so ludicrous that it’s difficult to imagine it could mean anything else. Unless it’s almost threatening – the relationship between the speaker/singer and the “you” more personal so the lesson all the more disturbing.

    No, I can’t imagine he’s arguing for the “sad people” having a deeper appreciation of life, as nothing in the song, save the one line that claims just that, would support such a reading. As for the dream verse, perhaps he’s poking fun at the fact that even his dreams are sad ones?

    Regardless, I’ve got a chill. I’m going to get a sweater 🙂

  2. Dana says:

    I’m confounded by the lyrics, but I don’t really think he is being ironic. I think he is equating being sad with dreaming, and then extolling the virtue and benefits of dreaming. Psychiatrists say that dreaming is the way in which one deals with and resolves those issues and emotions that are unresolved in your conscious state. So, by learning to be sad (and therefore learning to dream), I think Byrne is suggesting that one can obtain a deeper meaning to one’s life and learn more about themselves and their world.

    By the way, this song continues to borrow from world music influences. the verses clearly have an Indian/middle eastern melody line, and the chorus (na, na’s) bring in that South American vibe. The world influences may be less overt than in other albums, but it’s still there.

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