In their 1984 movie, Stop Making Sense, The Talking Heads turned in one of their greatest performances with their song, “Life During Wartime.” The song is dark in subject, but hopeful in spirit, set facing perhaps an apocalypse. The speaker frantically runs through strategies and copes, while refraining to hopes which are dashed by the chorus of “I ain’t got time for that now!!!” Through it all singer David Byrne’s impish and charming gyrations flood the performance with masterful frantic energy. I remember well seeing this movie in the theater as a teenager, after my  good friend Todd told me I’d love and so we went. He was right! It makes a big impression!

If we in America are not facing an apocalypse of sorts right, that would be hard to tell from here in the Washington, DC area. A metamorphosis has occurred! We have gone from a sleeply, cliquey town filled with villainy to an occupied camp filled with villainy! Our world of roadblock, suspect vehicles, and the sense that things just might run off the rails fit nicely with the lyrics:

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway
A place where nobody knows
The sound of gunfire, off in the distance
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto
I’ve lived all over this town

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey
I ain’t got time for that now

Transmit the message, to the receiver
Hope for an answer some day
I got three passports, a couple of visas

You don’t even know my real name
High on a hillside, the trucks are loading
Everything’s ready to roll
I sleep in the daytime, I work in the nighttime
I might not ever get home

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no Mudd Club, or C. B. G. B.
I ain’t got time for that now

Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit?
Heard about Pittsburgh, P. A.?
You oughta know not to stand by the window
Somebody see you up there
I got some groceries, some peanut butter
To last a couple of days
But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got no headphones
Ain’t got no records to play

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time
Can’t write a letter, can’t send a postcard,
I can’t write nothing at all
This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
I’d like to kiss you, I’d love you hold you
I ain’t got no time for that now

Trouble in transit, got through the roadblock
we blended with the crowd
We got computer, we’re tapping phone lines
I know that ain’t allowed
We dress like students, we dress like housewives
or in a suit and a tie
I changed my hairstyle, so many times now
I don’t know what I look like!

You make me shiver, I feel so tender
We make a pretty good team
Don’t get exhausted, I’ll do some driving
you ought to get some sleep
Get you instructions, follow directions
Then you should change your address
Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day
whatever you think is best

Burned all my notebooks, what good are
Notebooks? They won’t help me survive
My chest is aching, burns like a furnace
The burning keeps me alive
Try to stay healthy, physical fitness
Don’t want to catch no disease
Try to be careful, don’t take no chances
You better watch what you say

That last part about not wanting to “catch no disease” and “You better watch what you say” really hit home in these times of COVID and of all the thought-policing going down!

With this tension in the air here one thing gnaws at us, imparting in most the sense that our status quo will change this week. Believing as he may for whomever or whatever force, with dread or wonder, each citizen perceives a paradigm shift in our lives and a divisive one. It’s arriving this week, with a bow tied on it!

This inauguration is unlike any that we have ever had. These affairs have been grafted to the civic and social life of the city. These are grand, celebratory occasions, modeled as a triumphant procession down Pennsylvania Avenue in throng-lined parade and viewing stands. Hundreds of thousands of celebrants line these things. Each state delegation among fifty throw their own ceremonial formal balls, and there are others, and tickets to each are coveted. Washingtonians spare no expense in preparation, in the planning, in the execution of the effort to get out there and put themselves forward in all this. O but not this time!!! This event is markedly not one “of the people” nor does it involve the life of the city.

This is comparatively a secret ceremony within an armed camp with patrols, with only a select few deemed privy. Why, a cynical alien might appear before you here, and as a stranger to Washington reasonably ask you this: “What happened, did they steal an election or something?”

48 thoughts on “This Week’s Anthem: Life During Wartime

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