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.