AU's Student-Run Internet-Only Radio


AU's Student-Run Internet-Only Radio


AU's Student-Run Internet-Only Radio


The Talking Heads’ American Utopia

David Byrne, the creative mind behind the musical “American Utopia,” performing his musical while holding a plastic brain. Byrne is best known for his work within the band Talking Heads. Photo credits: “David Byrne’s American Utopia” on Max.

Lights up. David Byrne of the Talking Heads stands in the middle of an empty stage, clad in a gray suit, barefoot, holding a human brain. “Here”, he says, is the beginning of his American Utopia. 

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Hello readers! I want to quickly introduce myself. I’m Alia Messina (an undecided freshman) and I’m thrilled to be sharing my very first WVAU article with you.

In 2021, I had barely any knowledge of Talking Heads going into my first viewing of the film “American Utopia” on Max. But, I was overcome by a sense of wonder and morbid curiosity when I saw that plastic human brain in David Byrne’s hands. I instantly knew this would be unlike any “musical” I’d ever seen before.

“American Utopia” is a completely unique live show experience. It isn’t merely a Broadway-worthy musical, but is also a mind-boggling combination of concert, theater, social justice, activism and performance art. The show is a creation from the mind of David Byrne, the founding member and conceptual leader of Talking Heads. (Pictured with the white hair in article videos). 

In case you’re unfamiliar with the band, the Talking Heads are famous for songs like “Psycho Killer”, “Burning Down the House” and “Once in a Lifetime.” They’re a punk, funk and art rock band that disrupted the music sphere of the ‘70s and ‘80s with their bizarre, eclectic presence. More than 45 years later, their legacy continues with “American Utopia,” the quintessential Talking Heads experience. 

The show’s track list is an anthology that pulls from dozens of albums and performances of the Talking Heads but also artists who influenced and inspired David Byrne, such as Janelle Monáe. To get a better sense of the show’s atmosphere, use of lyricism, instruments and theatrics, I’ll be breaking down three of the most memorable songs: “Everybody’s Coming to My House,” “Hell You Talmbout,” and “Road to Nowhere.”

“Everybody’s Coming to My House” is featured in “American Utopia” as an original song, written by David Byrne for the show. In my opinion, it’s a college anthem in disguise.  When the song begins, a sunburnt orange haze washes over the stage and a saxophone croons, ushering in a familiar, sort of sleepy party atmosphere. The song goes “Everybody’s coming to my house / And I’m never gonna be alone / And everybody’s coming to my house / And they’re never gonna go back home.” Depending on how you interpret the lyrics, this number could be an introverted old man’s cry for help, or a party animal comforted by chaos around them. 

“Hell You Talmbout”, originally by Janelle Monáe and Wondaland Records, is featured in “American Utopia” as a cover / tribute. It’s a protest song, created to force those who hear it to remember the names of Black men and women that have lost their lives due to police brutality and racial violence in America such as Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland.  Social justice is a recurring theme in “American Utopia,” with “Hell You Talmbout” being the most powerful example of it in the show. With pounding drums, thunderous chants and soulful harmony, “Hell You Talmbout” is a defiant reminder that “American Utopia” is not a concert or a musical, but a tool for activism and performance art too.

“Road to Nowhere” is the finale number in American Utopia. The lights go out for a moment before this number begins, and when the stage is lit up again, the scenery has disappeared to reveal the theater’s back-brick wall. The wall of chains that shielded the audience from backstage is gone too. Everything is exposed and transparent. As David Byrne and his band break the barrier between themselves and the viewers they travel into the audience and sing “There’s a city in my mind / Come along and take that ride.” They laugh and dance and encourage the audience to do the same while they continue saying “And it’s very far away / But it’s growing day by day.” Through these lyrics,  David Byrne and the cast celebrate the “ride” the audience has taken through the show and remind them that the very title of the show, “American Utopia,” is “very far away”. 

“Road to Nowhere” is the perfect finale. Through the song David Byrne ends the show by revealing the show has no real end. An American Utopia is out of reach; it doesn’t exist. The show is merely a vehicle for moving forward, and for figuring out how to be a better person than you were yesterday. 

Long after the show ends, David Byrne leaves with us the idea that American Utopia is not an end goal or a destination, but a reminder that every day we’re marching toward a better version of ourselves, toward a better tomorrow, and toward a better America.

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    T. FergusonFeb 25, 2024 at 1:36 pm

    A fantastic interpretation of an amazing show! Let’s hope we are, in fact, marching towards something better all the time.