To me, the feeling of nostalgia radiates many shades of pink. It’s like that first bite into a ripe peach on a hot summer’s day. It’s the sentimental nature of a light flush to the cheeks. It’s something that you hold close to your heart.
The tricky thing about nostalgia is how we confine the colour it brings to the past. This is especially true of music. Too often is an artist’s work romanticized as something “before your time” to a younger listener; as if it is something they will never be able to fully understand. The truth is, when we reminisce about music, it reinvents itself from listener to listener, and from generation to generation. In my mind, a great artist invites audiences to challenge nostalgia to rediscover meaning in their music, regardless of age. The way I perceive nostalgia was forever changed when I got to see David Byrne, (aka the lead singer of the Talking Heads), live in concert.
For context, I never thought I would hear Talking Heads songs performed live for two reasons.
1. They disbanded fully in 1991 before I was born.
2. I’m from Ottawa, Ontario.
Even though Ottawa is the capital of Canada, we compete with Montreal and Toronto for big concerts. So, even if by some miracle a Talking Heads reunion happened during my adult life, it probably wouldn't come through town. From this, you can probably imagine why I was electrocuted with excitement when I found out that a friend of mine had an extra pass to David Byrne’s show at Ottawa’s Folkfest. Even better was that he would be willing to give it to me in exchange for a drink. Basically, I was one overpriced cider away from seeing on of my all-time favourite musical icons. Holy shit.
I’ll admit, I didn’t become a proper fan of the Talking Heads until I watched the movie “20th Century Women.” That movie stood out to me for so many reasons, but for your sake, I will spare you my Greta-Gerwig-Fan-Letter review that won’t give it much justice, and just urge you to watch it. Being the giant music nerd that I am, I deeply appreciated the role of the Talking Heads’ music as a tool for social commentary throughout the film. With this, my on-going obsession with the band began. Watching the opening acts for David Byrne, it occurred to me that I wasn’t at all prepared for what I was about to see. I was too preoccupied wading in that, “Pinch me I’m dreaming!” state. I truly don’t think that feeling has worn off since.
At 69 years old, David Byrne still has a spring in his step, and brought the heat with choreography the left the crowd wide-eyed and dancing along. For the die-hard day-one fans in the crowd, the Talking Heads spark was reignited. For those who could only dream of the band’s early days, the experience was fully realized between every member on stage bringing iconic rhythm and dance moves. Looking to my right in the front row, I noticed an elderly couple nodding along to Byrne’s funkiest love ballad “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody),” and felt overcome with a sense of complete awe. There is nothing more impressive than a song inspiring intergenerational appreciation of a love song. However, David Byrne managed to bring the audience even closer together on his final note.
To close the show, Byrne and his band covered Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout” to commemorate the lives of victims of police brutality. Talking a moment to lament, Byrne remarked how moved he was by Monáe’s performance of the song at a women’s march in 2016. He expressed how important it is for him to dedicate part of his set to the efforts of Black Lives Matter to show his support. The concert ended on an uplifting note, with the audience chanting names of victims until the final drum beat was sounded.
David Byrne’s concert filled me with a child-like sense of wonder that I can only describe as the after-shock of a close encounter with a hero. As cheesy as it is to say, hearing songs I would never thought I would hear live in an entirely different context changed how I think about music. I believe that watching the ongoing use of these songs to fuel conversations on contemporary social issues has left an everlasting impression on how I will perceive nostalgia. I used to think it was fair to cast music from a former generation aside as a relic of the past. Now, I realize that with an artist’s cooperation, pushback against stifling music’s meaning for the sake of nostalgia and reinvent its purpose as an audience. With this, I invite you to get even more excited about the music that you hold close, because you never know how much it will mean in ten, twenty or thirty years time.