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Life During Wartime


Talking Heads

Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Punk music is very much about going against the mainstream and disrupting life as we know it, and while the Sex Pistols sang vengefully about destroying the government in "Anarchy In The U.K.," this song has a similar sentiment with a different tone. Here, David Byrne sings from the point of view of an insurgent who is a bit paranoid and has a problem giving up the creature comforts you lose when you enter into guerilla warfare, not the least of which is giving up music.

The song is remarkably prescient in its theme of technology leading to a society where information is exploited. Corporations and governments were using computers in 1979, and hackers found the flaws. David Byrne drew inspiration from a book he read about computer crimes, which included a story about a guy who forged deposit slips with his bank account number and got patrons to inadvertently put money into his account. Another story was about someone who used a touch-tone phone to break into the General Electric computer network and steal supplies. With the big boys owning this technology but having trouble controlling it, Byrne saw a bleak future. He told NME in 1979: "There will be chronic food shortages and gas shortages and people will live in hovels. Paradoxically, they'll be surrounded by computers the size of wrist watches. Calculators will be cheap. It'll be as easy to hook up your computer with a central television bank as it is to get the week's groceries. I think we'll be cushioned by amazing technological development and sitting on Salvation Army furniture. Everything else will be crumbling. Government surveillance becomes inevitable because there's this dilemma when you have an increase in information storage. A lot of it is for your convenience - but as more information gets on file it's bound to be misused."
Two underground clubs where the Talking Heads used to play are mentioned in the lyrics: CBGB's and The Mudd Club.
A live version from the Talking Heads 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense gave the song new life and charted at #80 in the US. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
The phrase "Life During Wartime" does not appear in the lyrics.
About the album title: David Byrne came across a book called Music And The Brain, which discussed a phobia some people have regarding music. The book explained that music is so distressing to some people that they have to be sent to the countryside where they can't hear it. Byrne thought the contradiction between the intent of music and this reaction was interesting.
Talking Heads
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Comments (3):

Just perfection really.
- john, Grand Island, NY
david brynes dance to this in stop making sense is priceless. great songwriter too
- Alex, mansfield, OH
what good are notebooks? they won't help you survive!
- leah, Jacksonville beach, FL
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