High on the list of historical periods I regret having missed, I would place Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the seventies. Despite being something less than a shining time for major cities, especially American major cities, and especially New York City, that era’s seemingly hollowed-out downtowns offered cradles to many a cultural movement. David Byrne‘s band the Talking Heads count as a major one unto themselves. Generation X author Douglas Coupland memorably asked only one question to determine whether one belongs to that particular cohort: do you like the Talking Heads? In an entire book he wrote about the band’s 1979 album Fear of Music, novelist Jonatham Lethem remembers this of his own enthusiasm: “At the peak, in 1980 or 81, my identification was so complete that I might have wished to wear the album Fear of Music in place of my head so as to be more clearly seen by those around me.”
Talking about the origin of the Talking Heads, we must talk about CBGB, the Bowery nightclub that hosted formative shows for such punk, new wave, and culturally proximate but difficult to categorize acts like Television, the Cramps, Blondie, the Patti Smith Group, and the B-52s. Byrne and company began playing there in the mid-seventies, and would eventually drop the place’s name in the track “Life During Wartime.” (“This ain’t no Mudd Club or CBGB…”) At the top of this post, you’ll see Byrne’s 1985 acoustic performance of “Psycho Killer” at CBGB, contextualized by Seymour Stein of Sire Records. Though CBGB shut down in 2006, its essence lives on in the influential music it shaped. “It is the venue that makes the music scene happen just as much as the creativity of the musicians,” wrote Byrne himself in CBGB and OMFUG: Thirty Years from the Home of Underground Rock. “There is continually and forever a pool of talent, energy, and expression waiting to be tapped—it simply needs the right place in which to express itself.” In the second video above, you can watch the full seven song set from the December 1975 show.