Nothing But Flowers

Legendary economist and social commentator Peter Drucker once wrote, “Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation…a ‘divide.’ Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself–it’s worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions.” He goes onto claim that we’re currently living through just such a transformation.

I believe that postmodernism is an implement in the transformation Drucker writes about. In fact, the very aspects that bring criticism raining down on it–the disconnection, fragmentation, and numbness it generates–are creating a cultural, intellectual, and philosophical clearing that fosters this transformation.

As messages mash together into some relativistic white noise, and the significance of ideas and philosophies reach a point of equal banality, the din will eventually morph into a form of silence, similar to the phenomenon where sensory stimuli of a static nature is eventually tuned out by our brains. Therefore, instead of having a merely entropic effect, all of this postmodern chaos might just help create a new “quiet.”  In this quiet, new ideas, philosophies, and conversations may be heard with greater clarity, in which case, we should be more clearly guided by them (their Marco to our Polo) through the old arrangement and into the new.

In this environment we will, I believe, be guided into a nexus of objectivity.

Today, as I was driving, the Talking Heads song, “Nothing but Flowers,” popped up on my playlist. The song is a testament to this notion. Talking Heads were postmodern poster children, yet bandleader (and Renaissance man par excellence) David Byrne never came off as a deconstructionist or a hedonist. Moreover, it never shocked me as much as I thought it should when he abruptly changed musical genres, from art/pop/punk to Latin world music.  Yet, today is the day I think I finally, really grokked Byrne’s shift.

I think Byrne’s “old” music with Talking Heads served as a tool to desensitize audiences to the inherent absurdity part and parcel with the existential hell we’d created for ourselves. Talking Heads helped us look at all that in way that helped stay our hands from slitting our own throats.  They helped us just laugh at it.  Once we were done laughing, rolling our eyes, or being downright ornery about the whole thing…once we were past our “fear of music,” as it were, we ceased to notice either the music or its underlying messages much anymore.

I believe that Byrne was aware of all this at some level, and he knew that we, his audience, were ready to receive new messages…ones that represented the real things he wanted us to know. He delivered these to us wrapped in a happy Latin beat so we would recognize them as different from his previous messages and connect his new songs to a contiguous stream of thought. “Nothing But Flowers,” a standout track on Talking Heads’ final album, was Byrne’s introduction to this new paradigm. It didn’t even present his thesis yet, but it was certainly an invitation to all of us, “Jump in, the apocalypse is fine.”

And on the other side it’s quiet.  And nothing but flowers.

Years ago
I was an angry young man
I'd pretend
That I was a billboard
Standing tall
By the side of the road
I fell in love
With a beautiful highway
This used to be real estate
Now it's only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it's nothing but flowers
The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we'd start over
But I guess I was wrong

Once there were parking lots
Now it's a peaceful oasis
you got it, you got it

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