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Pop Questions: To Sleep, Perchance to ****

August 26th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in music | pop questions

Grown Backwards, David ByrneGrown Backwards is an incredible album.

I’m a huge fan of David Byrne’s work as both the frontman for Talking Heads and as a solo artist. He’s an acquired taste, but one I’d say is worth acquiring. And as much as I love his music in general, Grown Backwards, I think, is his strongest album front to back. (It’s predecessor Look Into the Eyeball puts up a damned good fight, though.)

Seriously. It’s great. Go buy it. Listen to it for a few years. THEN FINISH READING THIS POST OK

Okay. So, there is one song on the album that leaves me wondering about something. It’s embedded below, and you should listen even if you don’t give a crap about helping me with my question, because it’s an excellent song with a pretty adorable guitar line.

It’s called “She Only Sleeps.” And that might be the clue to my answer right there, but I’m honestly not sure. See, the entire line in the chorus is “She only sleeps with me.”

And that can be interpreted two ways.

So, here’s my question: When Byrne says “she only sleeps with me,” does he mean…

a) He is the only man with whom she has intercourse, or
b) They literally slumber together, and that’s it.

They’re mutually exclusive possibilities, and I go back and forth on how I hear the song. Byrne’s dreamy, detached delivery doesn’t tip the scales for me either way. He could be loosely bragging, or just spinning a little story about unrequited love. (It’s unrequited in the verses, at least. But you may hear something a little more behind the music.)

And even if he is bragging…couldn’t he brag about either possibility? Either he alone is enjoying sex with this force of carnality…or he’s the only one that gets to know her in a non-sexual way.

Either is brag-worthy, but it’d be two very different kinds of people doing the bragging.

In reality I’d guess Byrne would be more fascinated with the other side of her life: the one that you can only see when she’s resting from a long night of topless dancing, hard drinking, car crashing…the life she lives when she’s quiet. Helpless. Stopped in her revelry by the most basic need of all…the need for rest.

But that doesn’t mean that that’s what his character is more fascinated with.

So, what are we hearing in “She Only Sleeps”? What do you hear?

Is it the self-satisfied croon of braggadocio, rubbing it in that he has what you want? That while she might light fires in your chest, his are the only ones she tends to?

Or is it a quieter, shyer singer, one whose electric guitar plays softly so as not to wake her, as he discovers in her sleeping form a woman that those who lust after her never get to know?

Does she only sleep with him? Or does she only sleep with him? The phrase gets emphasized both ways verbally…but how are we meant to take it emotionally?

Either way, the singer has some definite issues of female ownership to work through. But I’d be curious to know in which direction he needs to steer.

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3 Responses

  • Jeff says:

    I’d say there is meant to be an ambiguity in what is otherwise a sweet song of willful innocence. The question you ask is the intended response. Is this guy just dense, or is he so sweet on her that he believes she’s sexually faithful? So I guess I fall into the “sleep = intercourse” camp.
    .
    It is helpful to note that, in life in general, sleep equates closely to intercourse. I can’t think of a time I’ve slept in the same bed with someone–this includes friends and family members–without engaging in intercourse. Lord knows this also holds true for stuffed animals. My mom would never put me to bed and ask me “Do you want to get Baby for you?” (Baby was my stuffed rabbit.” She’d say, “Do you want your little fuck buddy?”

  • magicka says:

    Just sleeping. She’s getting her hustle on during the daytime, but she comes back to him at night and I’ll put money down that most of the time it’s just normal sleep. He probably sleeeeeeeps with her sometimes, but I think the song is morse so about her returning to him and them being on the same page by the time they fall asleep. They probably both feel like the luckiest person in the relationship.

  • Mr. Adam Lore says:

    I think there’s more to it. There are hints, such as “Things are not what they appear” and “they only know what they see”.. I don’t think either interpretation alone explains this. It is the last verse that I think gives away what’s really going on. There’s a “porno book” in the library, but “nothing ever goes where it shouldn’t be” – that is, no penis in vagina. Assuming that the dancer is in the book, it should be obvious at this point, but just in case, David spells it out for us – “The world is queer, and the human is the strangest of all”. Aha! The narrator of the song is a woman, and they are secret lesbian lovers.



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