Wednesday, August 29, 2012

People Like Us

Something of a minor triumph last night. One of the long-standing hobbies of my life, unintentionally, has been tracking down "lost" songs. Some of them were so obscure I didn't know the artist or even have the right title... sometimes just a haunting snippet of melody. I think my two biggest wins on that score were "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice" by The Lovin' Spoonful and "The Circle Is Small" by Gordon Lightfoot. Honourable mention goes to "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" by Donovan, "Something Better to Do" by Olivia Newton-John, and "Heavenly Blue", which I knew I knew I knew just from the voice was by Burton Cummings -- who else sounds like him? -- but could not for the life of me find any reference to for years (the album it was on, Woman Love, was out of print for a long time, as I recall).

Nothing like that at all this time. Knew the band, knew the writer, knew the singer. Just couldn't get hold of the thing. The song is "People Like Us" by Talking Heads... but it's the version sung by John Goodman, who played Louis Fyne in the movie True Stories, where he sings a shorter, different version of the song. I had this song in the late 1980s accidentally, as the B side of a 45 featuring some other song (oddly enough, I don't remember which, despite the fact it would have been the song I bought the record for). But it immediately struck a chord with me. It was one of the songs I listened to on the way to school on my Walkman... and I'm not talking USB-rechargeable, solid state digital Walkman here... I'm talking AA-powered, mechanical drive, chromium-dioxide cassette tape-playing first generation portable music here.

Time passed and my turntable died and I handed all my vinyl over to a friend's brother. I had moved on to CDs like everyone else in the universe and didn't think I'd miss what I couldn't even play. And to be honest, by and large, that's been true. Pretty much anything I've had a hankering for has been online, or on YouTube, or re-released on CD, or sold for a buck to download.

I was pretty fond of the stuff Talking Heads did in the 80s... still am... and I wanted to hear that song again. So I bit the bullet and went out and bought the True Stories album. One of the biggest musical disappointments ever. The version of People Like Us on the album isn't Goodman's lively and compelling version. It's David Byrne's version. Now, I like David Byrne. A lot of his Talking Heads lyrics really punch my buttons. But his version of People Like Us sounds like it's sung by a guy just waking up from a heroin coma. Sorry, Dave, but it doesn't hold a candle, a lighter, or a matchstick to John Goodman's version. And that's the one I wanted.

A few years ago Talking Heads released a CD called Bonus Rarities and Outtakes, and it does feature the version I've been looking for for, what, about 20 years now? But it's been remarkably difficult to get hold of. Every time I find it online, they'll let you listen to a snippet of the song, but when you go to buy it... to BUY it, kids; you know, hand over your money? -- you always get this "oh, sorry, we can only sell this in the US" bullshit. What the hell is that all about? Hollywood's been dumping its product all over the planet for 70 years, but I can't buy a song in Canada today I bought in Canada 25 years ago? Piracy isn't always about saving 99¢, you idiots. Wake up.

Fortunately, another portal was willing to sell in Canada, and for $14 I bought and downloaded the album (along with another I've been trying to get on CD for a long time, the soundtrack of 1984 by The Eurhythmics; $9). So finally, for the first time in decades, I was able to listen to John Goodman testifying last night, and it all came back... the lyrics, the feelings, the memories of "yeah, I get this" and the gratifying and relieving realization that "yeah, I STILL get this". David Byrne just cannot carry this song. Delegating it to John Goodman was 100% the right call, and it should be the version on the True Stories album, too.

I'm quoting from memory here, so forgive me if I blow a line. Sing along if you know it.

In 1950, when I was born
Papa couldn't afford to buy us much
He said be proud of what you are
There's something special 'bout people like us

People like us
Who will answer the telephone
People like us
Growin' big as a house
People like us
We're gonna make it because
We don't want freedom
We don't want justice
We just want someone to love.

I was called upon in my third grade class
I gave my answer and it caused a fuss
I'm not the same as everyone else
And times were hard for people like us

People like us
Who will answer the telephone
People like us
Growin' big as a house
People like us
We're gonna make it because
We don't want freedom
We don't want justice
We just want someone to love.

Well now
What good is freedom?
God laughs at people like us
 I see it comin'
Like a light comin' down from above

The clouds roll by and the moon comes up
How long must we live in the heat of the sun?
Millions of people are waiting on love
And this is a song about people like us

People like us
Who will answer the telephone
People like us
Growin' big as a house
People like us
We're gonna make it because
We don't want freedom
We don't want justice
We just want someone to love.
Someone to love.
Someone to love.
Someone to love.

4 comments:

jim said...

So I'm thinking, "Who the heck is John Goodman?" Clearly, I was searching my internal music database. I saw the video and realized I needed to be searching the actor database.

barefoot hiker said...

I was thinking with blinkers on, I guess. It never occurred to me to define who John Goodman was. :) But yeah, I can see in the context of it now... sure, he's not known first and foremost for being a crossover crooner. :)

Bridgewater said...

Yeah--I agree with your take on Goodman's rendition--but don't relate at all to the lyrics. It would seem that there's a passel of folks south of you who are "people like us," to judge from the current political rhetoric. Got the love but it ain't enough. Dadgummit, I want the freedom and the justice too.

barefoot hiker said...

I guess I should clarify. I'm with you, Bridgewater; the freedom and justice thing. But I have to admit, there was always a certain appeal in the notion expressed in the song that Big Things™ beyond our control are going on, and there's solace in resigning from that and just trying to make a little group of people, particularly one's SO, happy. It's not to say I'm utterly convinced. Just to say the idea does resonate.