Loving Small Town America

We recently chatted about True Stories (on the John Plays the Piano podcast) and there were a few things that we debated over.

1. David Byrne loves small town America.

What I initially viewed as Byrne narrating with smiling cynicism could also be (and is mostly likely) him inwardly laughing at a world he’s fallen in love with. Byrne plays the role of the curious narrator, the lone highway traveler. At the film’s close, he says the following:

“I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks, the color of white paper, the way people walk, doorknobs, everything. Then I get used to the place, and I don’t notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again, as it really is.”

My own shortcomings in viewing this film meant assuming that because a film is highlighting capitalism and instant gratification it must be criticising these things. But after chatting about True Stories I’ve settled with Byrne enjoying them. Or at least he feels comfortable with having these things and still pointing out how odd people are.

That scene of the man dancing in the window.

He’s alone and dancing as if no one can see him. But we see him. It’s night time and the room is lit so he sees nothing of the outside world but we can have a glimpse of who he is when no one else is around.

2. The man dancing in the window is us.

Byrne doesn’t see much difference in these people apart from himself. And while corporations and rich men may prey on our wishes we still want these things and we’ll behave strangely to make those wishes come true.

The woman who spends her whole life in bed is no different. She’s connected to everything she needs —her television, her food, and even dating tapes offering the possibility of a love life.

3. Who is Papa Legba?

A song in True Stories speaks of Papa Legba. In folklore, Papa Legba is a Haitian deity who stands at a crossroads and appears to those who wish for fame or fortune.

John Goodman’s character asks Papa Legba for love. And he receives it. However, it is with a price. Goodman marries the woman who spends her whole life in bed—she sees him singing on television—Goodman gets his wish of love granted, but now he’s chained to the same room for the rest of his life.

Is this a sacrifice? Or is it a simple quirk, an oddity, a funny metaphor for settling down? Does the woman he marries have to be someone he knows intimately or simply someone who also wants to have someone?

On the surface, these are two dimensional characters. But Byrne may also be asserting how two dimensional our wants appear—because, beneath the surface, what else is there?

What Stories do we tell ourselves in hopes they will become True?

~Jude

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