Thursday, June 8, 2006
“Burning Down the House” by the Talking Heads from the album Speaking in Tongues
Second Week in June, 1983
I really wanted to like the Talking Heads. I tried damn hard to like them, if only to get in good with Roger Gibble, the high school ingrate and Talking Heads devotee whom I loved very much, mainly for his gorilla eyebrows and for calling Mrs. Stonger a “colostomy pillow.” I also enjoyed reading the suggestive Post-it notes he stuck to his girlfriend’s locker, but I wasn’t alone on that one. What Roger did for fun was throw Everclear parties in his basement with “Burning Down the House” playing on interminable repeat. His friends jumped up and down like a herd of cracked-out kangaroos and Billy Reever crouched in the corner drawing pictures of leading man Byrne in a wizard costume. I pressed up against the human-sized speaker, desperate for my body to feel something my mind didn’t get.
The song’s asinine lyrics and tinny, Eurotrash whine were bad enough. The baffling thing to me was that, as far as I knew, Roger’s friends all had nice houses in Lakepoint and Sunnyside Park overlooking clear-water ponds where frog families and baby ducks splashed around. Roger had the entire basement to himself, not to mention a wet bar, wide screen TV, and laser-disc player that froze every five seconds. Why was “Burning down the house” their rebel yell? Was Mom sleeping with the tennis instructor again?
The following year, when Roger’s class graduated, I’d think fondly of those “Burning Down the House” parties and wish I hadn’t been so critical. The new senior class was a clan of preppie loons who stunk of perm solution. Their party anthem was that other “house” tune: “Our House.” Now that song was really miserable.
— Elizabeth Koch