September 2, 2008

Stop Making Sense

By Consolmagno, Guy

Stop Making Sense By The Talking Heads (Palm Pictures, 1984, 1999) Spiritual classics are inspirational works, tested by time, designed to bring one closer to God. G. K. Chesterton and John Henry Newman come to mind. I have works on my shelf by modern religious writers, from Peter Kreeft to Anne Lamott, who manage to inspire me- when I am not furiously disagreeing with them. But my soul's deepest stirring comes from a source neither literary nor overtly religious.

Music inspired humans before we could speak, I suspect. Movies are a more recent yet wildly popular medium. Combining the two gives a doubly powerful route into our souls.

The Talking Heads were not a band of my youth. I was well into my 30s when their concert film Stop Making Sense, directed by Jonathan Demme, came out. It combines music you can dance to with lyrics that recapitulate the boomer experience of rebellion, idealism, and subsequent cynicism-all leading to that mysterious moment when you find yourself suddenly an adult, with a vocation and responsibilities, asking, "How did I get here?" (The lyric is from Once in a Lifetime," the film's climactic moment.)

By the end of the film they're covering the Al Green/Teenie Hodges standard "Take Me to the River." The typical love song's comparison of first love to a religious experience has been flipped into a religious experience as powerful as first love.

More than 20 years later, I find the music both chillingly prophetic ("Life During Wartime") and filled with religious imagery that once went right past me. It forces me to remember where I have been, and to ask the questions: Where am I? How did I get here?

Reviewed by Guy Consolmagno, S.J., curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory. His most recent book is God's Mechanics (Jossey- Bass, 2008).

Copyright Claretian Publications Sep 2008

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