Parallel Lines #1: They Say Animals Don’t Worry (Talking Heads “Animals” vs. Modest Mouse “Wild Packs of Family Dogs”)

5 01 2009

They say they don’t need money
They’re living on nuts and berries
They say animals don’t worry
You know animals are hairy?
They think they know what’s best
They’re making a fool of us
They ought to be more careful
They’re setting a bad example

—Talking Heads, “Animals” (Download) (Buy It)″

Talking Heads - Fear of MusicIt’s hard to tell where the irony stops on this song. All of the insults David Byrne hurls at animals sure seem to be compliments – they’re simple, undemanding, unsuspecting nature sure makes us look bad by comparison. But the insults feel so heartfelt – screw animals for setting such a bad example; wouldn’t it be nice if we could just go on consuming, without animals rubbing it in our faces? Wouldn’t it be great if we could keep consuming unselfconsciously, without really worrying about it…sort of like animals…

So Byrne’s frustration with animals in this song starts to look like frustration with his own inability to maintain the distinction between us and them. Except that, unlike animals, we’re still the kinds of creatures that get frustrated about things like maintaining distinctions.

A wild pack of family dogs came runnin’ through the yard one day
My father got his gun, shot it up, they ran away ok
A wild pack of family dogs came runnin’ through the yard
And as my own dog ran away with them, I didn’t say much of anything at all
A wild pack of family dogs came runnin’ through the yard
As my little sister played, the dogs took her away
And I guess she was eaten up ok, yeah she was eaten up ok
My mother’s cryin’ blood dust now
My dad he quit his job today, well I guess he was fired but that’s ok
And I’m sittin’ outside my mudlake, waiting for the pack to take me away
And right after I die the dogs start floating up towards the glowing sky
Now they’ll receive their rewards, now they will receive their rewards

—Modest Mouse, “Wild Packs of Family Dogs” (Download) (Buy It)″

Modest Mouse - The Moon & AntarcticaIf you didn’t speak English, you’d think this was a sweet lullaby. There’s a tinge of melancholy to the sing-song guitar part, but it’s all very calming, without the slightest hint of the violence or economic despair described by the lyrics. The singer sounds resigned, at peace with his fate. The dogs circle around the central images of the mudlake and the blood dust, images of a world dried up and cracked, waiting to be reclaimed by nature. The dogs are family dogs, which means first of all that they’re not wild by nature, but domesticated and returned to the wild, and second of all that the singer’s family’s dog isn’t the first dog that they’ve taken away with them. “Family dogs” also seems to make the pack sound familial, a sort of foil to the singer’s family, but no longer differentiated into distinct identities or rolls. As the family is broken down one piece at a time and reconstituted as an organic unit, the singer’s ambivalence is registered by his silence. His reluctance to react is the smallness of someone already without identity.




2 responses

9 01 2009

Both of those songs just kill me.

Last night, I had a dream that I was being chased and eaten by a bear. The whole time I kept thinking wildly “I can’t believe that I’m actually going to die in this crazy way.”

It feels strange leaving a comment without posting my website.

10 01 2009

So start your site back up! Quick, before the bear eats you!

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