Tuesday, December 6, 2016

25 Songs About Addiction (and Recovery): MEMORIES CAN'T WAIT, Talking Heads

There doesn't seem to be a lot of current love out there for the Talking Heads, possibly because they is not any way possible that they could ever get airplay in any current radio format today, even alternative. Even people of my generation tend to recall the period in the 1980's when they were more or less a pop band, when David Byrne had taken over (or hogged, depending on your view) the spotlight and there was a three-year string of quirky songs that were better than standard pop but were also quite a distance removed from their New Wave roots in the late 1970's. Memories Can't Wait definitely belongs to the early period. The first few Heads albums were known more for songs with somewhat bouncy rhythms with odd lyrical subjects, interspersed with the occasional Psycho Killer foray into the darker areas of Byrne's soul. Memories was several years into the band's career, and the lyrics are a rather pointed look at the drug scene that had already wreaked havoc among their peers in the New York punk/New Wave scene.
The beginning of the song is a pretty straightforward description of someone that is high pretty much out of their mind--or is it? The first two lines seem to be spoken to the singer, and he admits to being out of it, lost in the "party in his mind." But as the song progresses, there are disturbing hints that the singer may be, in fact, dead. "Never woke up, had no regrets." "Other people can go home/...I'll be here all the time." And even if the singer isn't dead, he's stuck, in the thrall of something he can't control. "There's a party in my mind, and I hope it never stops"
What makes this song a real ambiguous classic is the second set of verses, which can be taken as 1) an indictment of a bad trip, 2) an acknowledgement of the horrid truth every addict faces, when their drug of choice no longer is having the effect on the user that it used to, or 3) something that hit me hard in early recovery, as an indictment of getting clean, a mocking of someone who has walked away from the "party." Judge for yourself:

Take a walk through the land of shadows
Take a walk through the peaceful meadows
Don't look so disappointed
It isn't what you hoped for, is it?

The language is evocative of the 23rd Psalm--"The valley of the shadow of death." "He maketh me lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me to still waters." And every addict, at some point, in early recovery, has felt a sense of emptiness and disappointment at how dull their life seems to have become after they get clean. It doesn't last, but it does happen. Often.
And the change in the second chorus--"I'm stuck here in this seat; I might not ever stand up" again seems to be a reference to getting so messed up that death is on the table, and the plaintative "I can never stop, I can never quit" is a cry that every active and recovering addict can sorely identify with.
And the end verses, with the singer wide awake while everyone else is sleeping "on memories" that can't wait, is another thing very familiar to addicts in early recovery--but also possibly to the addict that cannot just stop when the money runs out or when it's time to be a responsible citizen again. Addiction, on a very simple level, is the inability to let go of the memory of how good it felt to get high. And a huge factor in relapses is the memory of the high overwhelming all the logical reasons that you shouldn't start again.
I've been hearing this song for nearly 40 years. I've been hearing clean for nearly 20 now. And I still am not sure whether it is about someone caught in the grips of addiction, or someone trying to keep it down and not relapse. The original Talking Heads version is harder-edged than most Heads songs--but it's soft rock compared to the cover by Living Color that came ten years after the original. The Living Color version is an absolute assault on the senses, and I have believed for years that that band's take on the song was that it was a song of the active addict--and they play it that way, with the pauses and fade out like that which occurs as the high fades.
And it's possible that all the interpretations are correct. A great work of literature appeals to the readers on many different levels, and great songs also can arouse differing perspectives. This song was never widely known, but it should be; it's actually one of the better songs about this aspect of life that exists. I'm including videos of both versions that I wrote of , and also the full lyrics after the videos:




And the link to the Living Color version:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoOvbNv-XxU


And the lyrics:

Do you remember anyone here?
No you don't remember anything at all
I'm sleeping, I'm flat on my back
Never woke up, had no regrets
There's a party in my mind
And I hope it never stops
There's a party up there all the time
And they'll party till they drop
Other people can go home
Everybody else can split
I'll be here all the time
No, I can never quit
Take a walk through the land of shadows
Take a walk through the peaceful meadows
Don't look so disappointed
It isn't what you hoped for, is it?
There's a party in my mind
And I hope it never stops
I'm stuck here in this seat
I might not stand up
Other people can go home
Other people they will split
I'll be here all the time
No, I can never quit
Everything is very quiet
Everyone has gone to sleep
I'm wide awake on memories
These memories can't wait
These memories can't wait
These memories can't wait
These memories can't wait
These memories can't wait
These memories can't wait
These memories can't wait

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