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People Who Will Answer The Telephone

A couple of days ago, on a whim, I downloaded David Byrnes’s 1986 movie True Stories from iTunes. I remember seeing it just about when I started working on Wall Street, and liked the soundtrack, which included a Talking Heads song and video called Wild Wild Life, and had the verse

“Check out mr. businessman

Oh, ho ho

He bought some wild, wild life

On the way to the stock exchange

Oh, ho ho

He got some wild, wild life”

It sounded more exciting than working as a scientist or engineer.

I recommend the movie. It’s even better than I remembered. It’s about a small nondescript gung-ho American town in Texas and the mundane lives its inhabitants live — the mall, the big electronics firm that dominates the town, the people, their lack of a big city or European sensibility. But Byrne, and I don’t think he means it ironically, looks closely at the intersecting whimsical stories of some of the people, and the way they take their small aspirations seriously, and get redeemed in the smallest and most trivial of ways. I haven’t seen a Fellini movie for years, but it reminds me a bit of an American version of it, not in lushness, but in intent.

You might think he is being ironic at their expense, but I don’t think so. He takes them kindly but seriously. It’s sad and funny and kind. A clever look at America in 1986 and now, and terrific music that is better if you can listen to the words. John Goodman and Swoosie Kurtz and the late Spalding Gray are good. And a charmingly realistic performance by someone I never heard of, Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples, as a Haitian voodoo enchanter and trickster who brings love to people by incantation (see picture above).

In the culminating Talking Heads song, “People Like Us”, John Goodman sings that

“Theres something special bout people like us

People like us

(who will answer the telephone)


I was pondering this because I have been dealing with people who don’t write their own emails and are unable to look at their own calendar to make their own appointments, something that always surprises me. It reminded me of my days in big-business America when I would be called by someone’s secretary to be told “Xxxx wants to speak to you” and then told to hold until the secretary’s boss came on the line. People who don’t answer the telephone and don’t dial it either. I understand the need for it, very reluctantly, but I think it’s overdone.

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