It’s another Wednesday night here at BCB After Dark: the swingin-est spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re all trying to forget our sorrows this evening, and you are welcome to join us. Come on in and forget about your problems. Or our problems. We’ve still got a few tables available, and you’re welcome to grab an extra chair if you need one. The dress code is casual. Bring your own beverage.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
The Cubs punched us in the gut again tonight by losing to the Braves, 6-5 in extra innings. What’s worse, the Marlins split a doubleheader with the Mets, so the Cubs fell out of the third Wild Card position. If the Cubs are going to make the playoffs this year, they’re going to need some help now.
Last night, I asked you what was the best moment at Wrigley this year. The vote wasn’t really close, as Christopher Morel’s walkoff home run got 53 percent of the vote.
As always, this is where I play the music and talk about the movies. You are welcome to skip that if you’d like. You won’t hurt my feelings. The Cubs have already run a freight train over them anyways.
Our jazz selection tonight is Thelonious Monk playing “Don’t Blame Me.” This appears to be from Danish television in 1966. And seriously, the Cubs’ play these past few weeks is not my fault.
I did watch one movie this week, and it was the one I promised that I would watch—director Jonathan Demme’s 1984 concert film of the Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense. I saw the restored version that has been optimized for IMAX in an IMAX theater. As I wrote on Monday, some (including Spike Lee) have claimed that Stop Making Sense is the greatest concert film of all time. I haven’t seen enough concert films to argue one way or the other on that point, but I can say that after seeing it for the first time in almost 40 years—and the first time ever in a theater—it certainly belongs in the conversation.
There are two things that make a great concert film—great music and interesting visuals. If the music’s no good, why bother? If the visual look of the film is boring, then you might as well just listen to the LP (or CD or streaming or whatever).
Fortunately, Stop Making Sense delivers on both accounts. The Talking Heads were never as popular as they should have been when they were active, at least according to the charts. They never had a top-ten album and they only had one top-ten single. But they were probably ahead of their time and their music is arguably more popular today than it was in the eighties. The rhythm section of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz (now married for over 45 years!) were one of the best in the history of rock—combining traditional rock beats with funk, disco and African rhythms. Jerry Harrison was versatile, filling in beautifully on guitar or keyboards as the song needed. He was the band’s glue. Harrison was also reportedly the driving force behind having Stop Making Sense restored and, well, getting Chris and Tina speaking to David Byrne again. That’s a whole ‘nother story.
But of course, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist David Byrne was the focal point of the band and deservedly so. His offbeat songs paired perfectly with his oddball visual style, most famously captured in his weird dance moves that were something between the Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.
Above all, except for perhaps David Bowie, Byrne was the most visually-creative rock star of his era. And he brings that eye for art to the direction of Stop Making Sense. The eye is as drawn to the screen as your ears are to the speakers. Demme (not yet the household name that he would become after winning the Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs) directed the film and is responsible for capturing the look and the sound. But it was Byrne who designed the staging, the props, the dancing and the lighting. And Byrne knew what he was doing.
As I mentioned on Monday, I probably last saw Stop Making Sense almost 40 years ago and then it was probably on a VCR. I remember liking it, but I didn’t remember a whole lot else, other than Byrne playing “Psycho Killer” with an acoustic guitar and a boombox and, of course, the giant suit Byrne wore during “Girlfriend is Better.” But what Byrne and Demme did in Stop Making Sense is to use the stage to give the concert a narrative. Not a story, per se, but a progression to a musical climax.
The show starts with a stark, unadorned stage. In the background are the risers and scaffolding and equipment that you’d find on any stage. Byrne comes out and presses play on a boombox (the music is actually coming from backstage) and plays “Psycho Killer” on an acoustic guitar. As this is going on, the stage people are bringing out more instruments and microphones and Weymouth then joins Byrne and the two of them play “Heaven” together. Frantz and the drum kit come out for the next number, then Harrison on the fourth, the backup singers on the fifth and this goes on until the stage is full of people for rip-roaring versions of “Burning Down the House” and “Life During Wartime.” They figuratively burn down the stage with music and goofy dancing. This is what I meant by giving a narrative to the movie.
The rest of the film doesn’t have the same kind of narrative arc from song to song, but Demme and Byrne give each song a different look and each number is shot distinctly from the one before. That turns the second half of the movie into a series of short stories. In one song, Demme might use a lot of long shots while the next one is mostly closeups. “This Must Be The Place (Native Melody)” is shot as if its been illuminated by a single floor lamp, whereas the next number might be more brightly lit.
Demme also makes sure that everyone gets a turn in the spotlight. Not just the four main members of the band, but the backup singers, legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell, the others on percussion and even the stage and sound people.
One particular highlight for me is when Byrne leaves the stage (to get into his giant suit, presumably) and The Tom Tom Club (normally just Weymouth and Frantz but here it’s everyone but Byrne) take over and play “Genius of Love.” I’ve always liked that song, but it’s never been one of my favorites. I always felt that while the beat of the song was great, the studio recording was a bit cold. There’s nothing “cold” about their version here. This live version rocks, it swings, it starts a fire under you. It’s far better than the hit single. (I did find out today when researching this that Weymouth doesn’t actually play bass on the single—her hand had cramped up so bad when it came time to record that she couldn’t play and a studio musician was roped in at the last minute. That may explain why I don’t think the single was as lively as it should have been.)
I can’t really compare what the soundtrack sounded like 40 years ago to what it sounded like in the restored version, but the restored version sounds incredible. A lot of work was put into getting the mix right and it delivers. If you want to pick out Weymouth’s bass, Frantz’s drums or Harrison’s keyboards or the backup singers, you aren’t going to have a problem. And again, I hear we mostly have Harrison to thank for this although Byrne and two others are also credited for the audio restoration. Director Demme passed away in 2017, although he played a big role in capturing the sound in the first place.
I saw Stop Making Sense in an IMAX theater and I’m glad I did, but I don’t think it was really necessary. Yes, it’s nice to see Byrne’s Big Suit be actually 30 feet tall, but it’s hardly necessary. Any good theater screen with a deluxe sound system will give you the experience you need.
It’s really a shame that they discourage dancing in movie theaters, because this would be a great film to just get up and dance to. Or sing along with the songs. I did neither, but I did mouth some lyrics and during “Once in a Lifetime,” I did chop my arm to the beat. Luckily, the theater wasn’t crowded when I was there.
Of course, catching the 40th anniversary restoration of Stop Making Sense is a must for any Talking Heads fan, even casual ones. But I think there’s something here for people who are just fans of visual art and film. Because what Byrne, Weymouth, Frantz, Harrison, Demme and the rest of them made a concert film that is fun to look at as well as listen to.
Here’s David Byrne, the Big Suit, the Talking Heads and “Girlfriend is Better.”
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and the movies.
I don’t know where to go after the events of the past two nights. It’s clear that the bullpen is blitzed—the combination of Leiter, Merryweather and Alzolay that was so effective for much of the season has been reduced to a tired-out Merryweather. And we also have to admit that the Braves are one of, if not the, best offensive team of the 21st Century, which is not a good combination with that kind of bullpen.
On top of that, the team has been making the kind of errors, both mental and physical, that, before 2016, would have convinced many of us that the team is operating under a curse.
A lot of people have been critical of the job that David Ross has done over the past few weeks. Sure, it’s not his fault that the bullpen is injured, but he’s been bunting a lot and there have been some odd substitutions and lineup decisions.
So the question for tonight is, if the Cubs don’t make the playoffs, should manager David Ross keep his job? I noticed his name was not on Ken Rosenthal’s list of “managers with an uncertain future” (Sub. req.) article that came out today. No one is as plugging in to the comings and goings of MLB as Rosenthal, so I’m guessing that Ross’s job is safe for now. I might be wrong and Rosenthal may have missed it, but I haven’t heard many rumblings from people who would know if Ross was on the hot seat.
But tonight I’m asking you if you think the Cubs need a change in the dugout. If you were Jed Hoyer, would you fire Ross at the end of the season if the Cubs fail to make the postseason?
Should David Ross be fired if the Cubs fail to make the playoffs?
This poll is closed
That’s all for my first week back at the club. It hasn’t been a great week on the field, but I hope it’s been a great week for you here. Please recycle any cans and bottles. Get home safely. Tell your friends about us. Tip the waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.