Here Lies Love
David Byrne and Fatboy Slim (Nonesuch Records, 2010)
I lost interest in David Byrne about 20 years ago. After the Talking Heads, he became a hipster imperialist, pasting his neuroses over the borrowed authenticity of one foreign, non-white culture or another. Call him the poor man’s Paul Simon.
Then the concept for Here Lies Love caught my eye. It’s a 22-song disco cantata about the life of the Über-diva of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos. Written in collaboration with electronica artist Fatboy Slim, the two-disc set employs an unbeatable cast of female singers (Kate Pierson of the B-52s, Cyndi Lauper, Nellie McKay, Natalie Merchant) giving voice to the characters of Marcos, her mother, and her childhood nanny.
Here Lies Love could have dissolved into a lot of kitschy jokes about Marcos’ legendary shoe collection, but Byrne takes her story seriously, finding the tragedy beneath the farce. We learn that, like any tragic hero, Marcos was partly responsible for her own downfall. She lied about her family’s wealth and dumped a devoted lifelong personal servant because the woman knew too much. And, talk about dramatic irony, one of Marcos’ first boyfriends was Ninoy Aquino, the man her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, later had assassinated for challenging his rule.
The disco musical settings for the story work well because they invoke the 1970s and ’80s heyday of the Ferdinand Marcos regime, and Imelda loved the disco scene. Whenever she was in New York, she could be found at Studio 54. Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” could well have been her theme song.
But this isn’t just a palace romance. Innocent lives were at stake in the Marcos melodrama, and they get their due when Natalie Merchant sings solemnly of “Order 1081,” Ferdinand Marcos’ decree authorizing the violent suppression of his opponents. And in “American Troglodyte,” Byrne recites the idiocies and excesses of American life, suggesting, accurately, that Imelda Marcos was our own creation.
This article appeared in the June 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 6, page 42).