There is no getting around the developments of the last two days, and I will not attempt to do so. Russia launched a war against Ukraine, and hour after hour, as developments poured in, the news became even more distressing to comprehend. Yet the distress I feel is inconsequential compared to the millions of Ukrainians whose homes are under attack, and for the thousands of anti-war Russian protesters who have been arrested.
It would be irreverent if I wrote anything that doesn’t tie into the war somehow, so I’m going to try to make sense of a nonsensical song within the context of a European country launching one of the largest attacks on another since World War II.
In 1979 a New York punk band called Talking Heads released a dystopic masterpiece of an album: Fear of Music. The album opens up with a funky Afro-disco track with words spoken seemingly in gibberish:
Gadji beri bimba clandridi
Lauli lonni cadori gadjam
A bim beri glassala glandride
E glassala tuffm I zimbra
On my coffee table sits a copy of David Byrne’s book American Utopia, a visual spectacle. I open the book and discover a poem from German Dada artist Kurt Schwiller:
Fumms bo wo taa zaa Uu,
Uu zee tee wee bee fumms.
rakete rinzetekete (etc)
The structure of this poem and the lyrics of I Zimbra are strikingly familiar. That’s because they both belong to Dadaism, an art movement formed in World War I that became a pandemonius rejection of war.
Byrne writes in American Utopia: “the poet Hugo Ball said the Dadaists’ aims were ‘to remind the world that there are people of independent minds - beyond war and nationalism - who live for different ideals.’”
The lyrics to this song were based on Ball’s poem, Gadji Beri Bimba.
The Dadaists used this nonsensical art to make sense of a world that didn’t make sense, Byrne said in an interview. Listen through the rest of the album and you will understand this. Not only is the group’s party-music reputation obliterated, but the band questions the authority of the most basic tangible and intangible forms of existence like paper and water, not to mention the very idea of cities. And so the album’s protagonist travels through these frenetic songs until he reaches Talking Heads’ magnum opus, Life During Wartime.
Today’s track, I Zimbra, was inspired by an art movement founded during the bloody First Wolrd War, and was written during the paranoid years of the Cold War.
War does not make sense. The scenes that unfolded on my television the past 24-some hours do not make sense.
The point of Dadaism is to wage war against war. Fighting absurdity with greater absurdity.
Talking Heads magnificently captured this in I Zimbra.
This song was important for the group as well, as it marked a momentous shift in their approach to music. The members have credited it for catalyzing the creative process for the following album, Remain in Light.
The Talking Heads had a mastery of inoculating complex subjects with ear-pleasing rhythms. Fear of Music relishes in the absurdity and the nonsense of conflict. It revolts against war. It challenges the tangible and the metaphysical. And as we listen, we understand that it struggles to comprehend the harshness of global conflict.
It begins with I Zimbra.
Set against a funky disco groove, I Zimbra captures the incalculable horrors of war.
Fitzie’s track of the day: I Zimbra, by Talking Heads
And now for your links:
UEFA to move Champions League final as president calls for ‘extraordinary meeting’
Barcelona and Napoli players hold ‘Stop War’ banner ahead of Europa League clash
Ukrainian Football League suspended after Russian invasion
FC Schalke 04 remove sponsor Gazprom from team’s kits after Russian invasion of Ukraine
Brazilian footballers in Ukraine ask for government’s help to leave Ukraine
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich spared Russian sanctions ($$)
Swedish Football Association chairman says World Cup playoff match with Russia ‘almost unthinkable’
UEFA condemns Russian military invasion of Ukraine
Shaktar Donetsk manager Roberto de Zerbi ‘awakened by the bombs’