Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads

For the year 1980, I picked Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” The song is interesting, it’s about living without being aware of what one is doing, just going through the motions, waking up one day, and saying: “How did I get here?” It seems pretty straightforward and I think it simply is about life not lived. There are other aspects to the making of this song that are interesting though. The first being that Byrne was inspired by evangelists on TV, he said: “Most of the words in ‘Once in a Lifetime’ come from evangelists I recorded off the radio while taking notes and picking up phrases I thought were interesting directions. Maybe I’m fascinated with the middle class because it seems so different from my life, so distant from what I do. I can’t imagine living like that.”

According to Wikipedia, one evangelist that inspired Byrne was Ernest Angley. He was a preacher that claimed to heal folks and spoke about homosexuality as a sin, but later was accused of sexual abuse by a man, and admitted to it. Here is a video from the early 80s:

I can definitely see the Byrne aesthetic in this video, maybe not for the video for this particular song, but for future songs and films. This brings me to the video for this song which is the most fascinating part of it. This video was created by choreographer/actress/singer Toni Basil. She was in movies like Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. She was the choreographer for Viva Las Vegas, American Graffiti, Peggy Sue Got Married, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Legally Blonde, and most recently for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. is known for the song “Hey Mickey,” she also choreographed the video for this song:

Toni Basil is pretty darn amazing, and it is no wonder that the mixing of her and David Byrne’s quirkiness gave birth to one of the most originally choreographed videos ever. The inspiration for this video was taken from people in a trance during religious ceremonies. They collaborated by looking into a lot of documentary footage on trances, then Byrne improvised a bunch of movements solo, she came in and created a choreography from his movements that fit into the song and voilá, the Once in a Lifetime video was born. If I had to interpret this video I would say Byrne is trying to convey that the belief in the ability of middle-class prosperity bringing happiness and meaning, the “beautiful house,” “large automobile,” “beautiful wife,” is as mystical as other religious beliefs and ritualized fantasies? Check out the video and the song for yourselves and let me know what you think:

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

And you may ask yourself, “How do I work this?”
And you may ask yourself, “Where is that large automobile?”
And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful house”
And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful wife”

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was

Water dissolving and water removing
There is water at the bottom of the ocean
Under the water, carry the water
Remove the water at the bottom of the ocean

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, into the silent water
Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

And you may ask yourself, “What is that beautiful house?”
And you may ask yourself, “Where does that highway go to?”
And you may ask yourself, “Am I right? Am I wrong?”
And you may say to yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, into the silent water
Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was and look where my hand was
Time isn’t holding up, time isn’t after us
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Letting the days go by, same as it ever was

Here a twister comes, here comes the twister
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Once in a lifetime, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by