Talking Heads’ “Blind” video was a “parody of partisan politics” wrenched from the headlines

By on February 26, 2018

As we mentioned in a recent Friday Night newsletter, Night Flight’s vintage ’80s “Take Off” specials — featuring music videos curated on a common theme and accompanied by carefully-woven narrative threads by our crack team of producers and writers — are among the most popular segments from our original “Night Flight” episodes.

Today, we invite you to sign up for our mailing list so you can see what we’ve added to Night Flight Plus (below), which is where you can watch our “Take Off to Politics” (from November 4, 1988), featuring Talking Heads‘ Afro-funkified “Blind,” a tune, as Pat Prescott tell us in her introduction, that was “a multi-layered parody of partisan politics.”


The video — from the band’s eighth studio album, Naked — was directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton of Cucumber Studios.

(Be sure to check out our previous Night Flight blog posts about their videos for Elvis Costello’s “Accidents Will Happen,” Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” Donald Fagen’s “New Frontier,” and Miles Davis’s “Decoy“).


The strange video — unlike any other we can remember from that same era — features a large salivating, snaggletoothed red-handled pipe wrench who appears to be campaigning for president at a political rally or convention of some type.

The Wrench reminded us of the drooling post-facehugger creature with metallic teeth seen in Alien.

Members of the Wrench’s campaign support staff and followers cheer him on while red, white & blue-clad go-go dancers and cheerleaders flounce around in their bras and panties.


Read more about Talking Heads‘ “Blind” below.


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In a cover story interview (“Rock Master of Mulicultural Sound“) with Rolling Stone, published on April 21, 1988, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne told writer Robert Farris Thompson the song’s lyrics were inspired (if not actually wrenched from) newspaper headlines:

“It’s pure imagination, but it comes out of reading the daily paper. It’s a cry of anguish. It’s a man crying, rather than a woman. And I think it’s directed at the authorities. Someone has been killed, or badly beaten, and someone else is looking out a window. Terrible things are happening, civil strife. It definitely goes beyond just lack of sight. The more it’s repeated, the more references are implied and the more it resonates with all the meanings within that word or phrase. And you’re asking yourself and the listener to be aware of all that.

That same month Byrne would also tell Q magazine’s Steve Turner:

I use the word ‘blind’ to mean indifference. I don’t think it takes place in New York. I think it takes place in South America or some place.”


The video also features images of a shirtless Byrne against a black backdrop, sometimes with his bandmates faces superimposed on his own face, singing about a terrorist shot dead “in the name of democracy.”

Perhaps this was Jankel and Morton’s way of saying that band leaders — just like political leaders sometimes — often wear masks as facades to hide or obscure their true identities (he almost looks like his distorted face is smashed against a nylon stocking mask like a bank robber).

Who knows? It’s somewhat open to interpretation, we think.


Rolling Stone critic Anthony DeCurtis, writing a review of the Talking Heads’ Naked album — and calling it a “dizzying and disturbing piece of work” — in the April 7, 1988 issue, claimed that Byrne “sees is a world in chaos, endangered by political madness, torn between animal instincts and the urge to civilize, teetering on the edge of apocalypse.”

DeCurtis described “Blind” as “… a percussive, Afro-flavored track that instantly strikes a note of semiotic upheaval. Over an insinuating groove, Byrne chants, ‘Signs/Signs are lost/Signs disappeared/Turn invisible.’ That breakdown in order is underscored by the song’s imagery of violence and confusion.”


The band members had all become estranged from each other while working on solo and new band projects of their own — including Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth’s Tom Tom Club — but nevertheless in 1987 they met up in NYC and recorded about forty improvised instrumental tracks which would serve as the foundation for the finished tracks.

They later met again in Paris to begin working on the album at a former movie theater, Studio Davout, with producer Steve Lillywhite and a group of international musicians, including their longtime session player Wally Badarou, along with Abdou M’Boup, Yves N’Djock and Mory Kanté, who were all ex-pat members of the Cameroon musical community of musicians living in Paris.


Weymouth would later write about “Blind” — in the liner notes to their collection Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads — that Byrne had arrived to the vocal session for the track “uncharacteristically” wearing a suit and a pair of clear glass black horn-rimmed glasses, singing the lyrics he’d written while seated at an oversized office desk, which made him look comically small in size.

She wrote that others present in the studio’s control room suggested lyrics for the song’s improvised chorus, saying about Byrne:

“His head moved like a Muppet and we all watched, fascinated, as if he were a bug on a pin under a microscope. Jonathan Demme, you shoulda been there with your camera!”


Naked would turn out to be the band’s last recordings together, dissolving the group shortly after the album’s release, although they did not officially announce their breakup until 1991.

Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off to Politics” from 1988 — which also features music videos by Tracy Chapman, Sting, Billy Bragg, Midnight Oil, Living Color, and many more — over on Night Flight Plus.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.