This song — written in 1979 — imagines war in the US. Though war is not happening in the US (at the time of this writing, anyway), war is always happening somewhere. After Russia attacked Ukraine this week, Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” — with its images of urban warfare, urgent insurgency, limited food — has been ringing in my mind. So, here’s my version.
More on the song, below. First, here’s how you can help the people of Ukraine.
- The International Rescue Committee does outstanding work in support of refugees. I’ve seen estimates that the war will create a million refugees. (Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe. The largest is Russia.)
- Médecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders already has several efforts underway in Ukraine and initiating new efforts to help.
- CARE has established a Ukraine crisis fund.
- National Public Radio has assembled this list of organizations to support.
- Global Citizen has created an even more thorough page of ways to help Ukraine.
- Other resources I should add here? Please let me know. Thanks.
Second, to counter propagandists and fools out there, no, the former US president and long-time Putin fan would not have deterred Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This invasion is the direct result of one of the most successful intelligence operations in world history — Russia’s interference in the 2016 US Presidential elections, the result of which was elevating a useful idiot to the office of the presidency. During the career criminal’s term in office, he looked away from NATO and even withheld necessary military aid in an effort to blackmail Ukraine’s president into manufacturing some scandal about Joe Biden’s son.
So, while President Biden could be doing more than he is, let’s remember that his predecessor is currently applauding Putin for waging war on his neighbor. Indeed, Mar-a-Lago’s most famous resident called Putin’s plan to kill Ukrainians “genius.” In contrast, Biden is sending aid, coordinating sanctions with other countries, and condemning this war.
Third,… the song. (Remember the song?) It first appears on Talking Heads’ Fear of Music (1979), reappearing on the live albums The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads (1982) and Stop Making Sense (1984). Remarkably, each recording of it is better than the previous version. That’s why I modeled my own performance (such as it is) on the Stop Making Sense arrangement.
Another amazing thing about this song: it’s only two chords: Am and E. The funky rhythms and the bass riff propel it forward. In the live version above, the arrangement also keeps it interesting, as do the outstanding musicians joining the already excellent core band of Byrne, Frantz, Harrison, and Weymouth. And, well, you really need to watch the entire performance — Byrne and co. running in place, and Byrne acting out some of the lyrics. It’s riveting.
One final thing here. Have you heard the Staple Singers’ cover version? No? Well, give yourself a treat.
Looking for more music thematically connected to the Corona Era? Well,… OK. The playlist below offers a lot of music. Likely more than you need.
- Plague Songs
- Sing. Sing a Song. #PlagueSongs, no. 1 (17 Mar. 2020). Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
- Do Not Touch Your Face. #PlagueSongs, no. 2 (24 Mar. 2020). The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face.”
- The Bright Side. #PlagueSongs, no. 3 (31 Mar. 2020). Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Also the first post where I began my practice of using a lyric as the title.
- It’s later than you think. #PlagueSongs, no. 4 (7 Apr. 2020). Prince Buster’s “Enjoy Yourself.” (Also, in recording this, I discovered that I cannot play ska. Musically, my rendition of this is easily the worst #PlagueSong.)
- There doesn’t seem to be anyone around. #PlagueSongs, no. 5 (14 Apr. 2020). Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now.”
- Be an optimist instead. #PlagueSongs, no. 6 (21 Apr. 2020). The Kinks’ “Better Things.”
- Kick at the darkness. #PlagueSongs, no. 7 (28 Apr. 2020). Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.”
- So far away, but still so near. #PlagueSongs, no. 8 (5 May 2020). Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.”
- If you just call me. #PlagueSongs, no. 9 (12 May 2020). Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.”
- In the end, they’ll be the only ones there. #PlagueSongs, no. 10 (19 May 2020). Hanson’s “MMMBop,” and a few chords from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
- No matter how I struggle and strive. #PlagueSongs, no. 11 (25 May 2020). Hank Williams’ “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”
- Love. #PlagueSongs, no. 12 (1 June 2020). Medley of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love, and Understanding” and the O’Jays’ “Love Train,” with brief snippets of the Staple Singers’ “This Train” and the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”
- This is the time. #PlagueSongs, no. 13 (9 June 2020). Lou Reed’s “There Is No Time.”
- My neighbor and my friend. #PlagueSongs, no. 14 (16 June 2020). Fred Rogers’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.”
- If you’re lost, I’m right behind. #PlagueSongs, no. 15 (23 June 2020). Everything But the Girl’s “We Walk the Same Line.”
- Live to see another day. #PlagueSongs, no. 16 (30 June 2020). The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”
- Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives, and I decline. #PlagueSongs, no. 17 (7 July 2020). R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine).”
- Someday we’ll find it. #PlagueSongs, no. 18 (14 July 2020). Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection.”
- Can’t control my brain. #PlagueSongs, no. 19 (21 July 2020). Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
- 4’33” #PlagueSongs, no. 20. AND 43 notes on silence, time, and the corona era (28 July 2020). John Cage’s 4’33”, plus an essay inspired by the piece.
- Mann, wer hÃ¤tte das gedacht, dass es einmal soweit kommt #PlagueSongs, no. 21 (4 Aug. 2020). Nena’s “99 Luftballons.”
- Banish sadness and strife. #PlagueSongs, no. 22 (11 Aug. 2020). “Look for the Silver Lining,” composed by Jerome Kern and Buddy DeSylva. My version is based on the Chet Baker recording. The final weekly #PlagueSong.
- Don’t write yourself off yet. #PlagueSongs, no. 23 (27 Oct. 2020). Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle.” With this song, #PlagueSongs return at irregular intervals – roughly once a month.
- What’s that sound? #PlagueSongs, no. 24 (3 Nov. 2020). The Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”
- Go tell that long-tongued liar. #PlagueSongs, no. 25 (17 Nov. 2020). A song known variously as “Run on for a Long Time” and “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.”
- I got the medicine. So, you should keep your eyes on the ball. #PlagueSongs, no. 26 (21 Dec. 2020). BTS’ “Dynamite.”
- I’m lucky to be here. #PlagueSongs, no. 27 (5 Jan. 2021). Warren Zevon’s “Don’t Let Us Get Sick.”
- Don’t run. #PlagueSongs, no. 28 (9 Feb. 2021). The Ventures’ “Walk – Don’t Run.”
- Don’t worry that it’s not good enough. #PlagueSongs, no. 29 (1 Mar. 2021). “Sing,” written by Joe Raposo for Sesame Street.
- Still worthwhile. #PlagueSongs, no. 30 (16 Mar. 2021). “Smile,” written by Charlie Chaplin, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons. The best-known recording is by Nat King Cole.
- Give Love. #PlagueSongs, no. 31 (2 Apr. 2021). “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen.
- That’s what storms were made for. #PlagueSongs, no. 32 (4 May 2021). “Pennies from Heaven,” written by Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke. Made famous by Bing Crosby and Billie Holiday.
- Situation’s tolerable. #PlaugeSongs, no. 33 (3 June 2021). The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle with Care.”
- Get back up again. #PlagueSongs, no. 34 (2 July 2021). Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.”
- Don’t weaken. #PlagueSongs, no. 35 (30 Aug. 2021). “It’s a Great Life (If You Don’t Weaken),” written by Leo Robin, Richard A. Whiting, and Newell Chase. Popularized by Maurice Chevalier.
- I guess this might well be it. #PlagueSongs, no. 36 (11 Oct. 2021). Marcus Mumford and Tom Hove’s theme to Ted Lasso.
- I remember when you were here. #PlagueSongs, no. 37 AND Seven Xmas Playlists (6 Dec. 2021). Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” plus 7 holiday playlists.
- Our skulls are smiling still. #PlagueSongs, no. 38 AND my Best of 2021 music playlist (31 Dec. 2021). They Might Be Giants’ “By the Time You Get This.”
- Traveled down the road and back again. #PlagueSongs, no. 39 (8 Jan. 2022). Cynthia Fee’s “Thank You for Being a Friend” (written by Andrew Gold).
- What Is Your COVID-19 Routine? & related
- What Is Your COVID-19 Routine? (22 Mar. 2020)
- What Is Your COVID-19 Routine? Part 2 (5 Apr. 2020)
- What Is Your COVID-19 Routine? Part 3 (19 Apr. 2020)
- What Is Your COVID-19 Routine? Part 4 (16 May 2020)
- What Is Your COVID-19 Routine? Part 5 (29 June 2020)
- Plague Is Halfway Over (If You Want It) (18 Nov. 2020). Reflections on the first 250 days of the pandemic.
- A Shot in the Arm (10 Mar. 2021). In which I get the first shot of Pfizer’s covid vaccine.
- A 2nd Shot in the Arm (29 Mar. 2021). In which I get the second shot of Pfizer’s covid vaccine.
- “a nest of trying”: the pandemic at 500 days (26 July 2021).
- “With Pleasant Swab in the Anterior Nasal Region”; or, Traveling in Europe During Omicron (23 Dec. 2021)