Song: “Life During Wartime”

A dystopian decade perhaps made the problems with technology more apparent

Looking back at the 1970s, it seems like a comparatively dystopian world — hijacked airplanes, kidnappings, muggings, a massacre at the Olympics, visible air and water pollution, unsafe cars, electrical grid blackouts, and the list goes on.

Maybe from within a dystopia, it was easier to see and predict another dystopia, as the lead singer of the Talking Heads seemed to do, pondering the future of computers as the decade closed:

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. . . . as more information gets on file it’s bound to be misused.
— David Byrne, 1979

Byrne was also reading a book about computer crime, particularly a story of a man who forged deposit slips in such a way that customers of a bank innocently made their regular deposits into his account.

With this on his mind, Byrne wrote the song “Life During Wartime” that year, the lead single from their album Fear of Music.

  • It is not the only Talking Heads song in which the title doesn’t appear in the lyrics, but it is the only one like that which charted, reaching #80 on the Billboard charts.

The Mudd Club and CBGB were New York clubs the band played in the ’70s. CBGB was where the group played their first shows in 1975, opening for the Ramones.

This version of the song from the 1984 film Stop Making Sense looks and sounds fantastic. In fact, that entire concert film holds up spectacularly 40 years on. If you haven’t ever watched it, I’d urge you to. You’re in for a treat.