Life During Wartime

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now
-David Byrne, “Life During Wartime” Talking Heads 1979

Photo courtesy of Jason Singleton

An air of blissful ignorance floated around at the beginning of 2020. The optimistic wind made its way swiftly from mind to mind like pixie dust. “This is our year!” people chanted excitedly, but when March came around, the virus replaced the pixie dust when it was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

We couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen this very year. But somehow David Byrne, a pertinent member of the 80s new wave group the Talking Heads, predicted over 40 years into the future with the single he wrote titled “Life During Wartime.”

Although the intended message of the song is about war, its message hits even closer to home with the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to mention, this is also an election year where political unrest and the division of the country is utterly astounding. It’s almost like the song should have been titled “Life During 2020.” The song’s delivery encapsulates a mindset of paranoia as the lyrics get more and more heightened. There’s also a catchy beat to soften the lyrics, which plays into the classic 80s trope of “the world is ending, but make it fun.”

So no…I’m not insinuating this is war because it just isn’t, but this is a time where the inner workings of the human mind are boggled.  Mass media consumption, new health guidelines and the virus itself all contribute to an individual’s state of mind. This war of the psyche一which can eventually infiltrate society一can be read in the outcry of lyrics in “Life During Wartime.”

One particular line in the song feels like an homage to the internal struggle of the typical college student during this pandemic: “Why go to college?/Why go to night school?/Gonna be different this time…” School right now is what I like to call “half-school.” It’s what some people refer to as dual modality. We wear masks, smile with our eyes and practically scrub our hands until they’re paper thin. But at least we are adapting to the “new normal,” right?

There is also something I like to call the “quarantine food dilemma.” Get as many non-perishable food items while you can because you’re going to be in your house for 14 days or longer. As Byrne sings out, “I got some groceries/ some peanut butter/To last a couple of days.” I know I’ve eaten my fair share of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Aside from these realities, there’s also conversations of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter Movement with various alternate narratives that have all turned political. After all, the presidential election is in November, and many people say this is one of the most vital elections for the state of our country. Therefore, the 24 hour news media is taking stories and stringing them out, so we hear them over and over again. One line in the song struck my ears like modern mass media: “Heard about Houston?/Heard about Detroit?/Heard about Pittsburgh, P. A.?” What about “Heard about Minneapolis?/Heard about Kenosha?/Heard about Wuhan, China?” These are just a few of the things I’ve heard this year.

Based on these striking similarities, “Life During Wartime” truly is “Life During 2020.” This is why the Talking Heads song is at the center of the series, which will cover worldwide and national issues affecting UWG students. This time is a defining moment for our generation, so what are we going to make of it?

Check in next week for the second article in the “Life During Wartime” series to see what President Brendan B. Kelly has to say about COVID-19 at UWG.



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