The Chain Of Coincidence
July 17, 2011 5:47 PM   Subscribe

One day in 1984 character actor Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day, the original, unaired pilot of Buffy The Vampire Slayer) was walking down the street when Jonathan Demme pulled up and asked if he wanted to see a movie he was finishing. Tobolowsky accepted: taking his girlfriend Beth Henley, they went to the Academy Linwood Dunn Theatre to watch the rough cut of the movie, Stop Making Sense. The audience in the otherwise empty theatre consisted of Tobolowsky, Henley, and Demme, along with members of Talking Heads, including David Byrne and Tina Weymouth. Later, Byrne passed Tobolowsky on his bike and asked if he wanted to work on a new movie. Interest sparked again, and during the ensuing collaboration Tobolowsky shared his past experience of psychic phenomena. Inspired, Byrne went on to write Radio Head. The song was heard by Thom Yorke and became the name of his band. All of this is a true story, based on puzzling evidence. posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (46 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
I have a soft spot in my being (not on top of my head) for True Stories. there are some great moments in there... and I've always assumed the band was named for the song.
posted by edgeways at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I came in here to say pretty much what edgeways just said.

posted by The Great Big Mulp at 6:04 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, if I am following this, one of the most influential indie/art-rock/brit-pop band of the last couple decades named themselves after Ned? Ned RYERSON!?
posted by mannequito at 6:05 PM on July 17, 2011 [12 favorites]

So I can blame David Byrne for radiohead?

Well then... I... I love you Byrne. All is forgiven.
posted by eyeballkid at 6:11 PM on July 17, 2011

Loves me some Talking Heads.

Radiohead (the band); not so much.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:11 PM on July 17, 2011

True Stories struck me as chillingly prophetic of our current generation of know-nothings. I always thought someone would either get around to licensing "People Like Us" as a backing track for a campaign run, or employ rhetoric similar to the song's lyrics.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:11 PM on July 17, 2011

I shamelessly admit that I love both the Talking Heads and Radiohead. But I'm naming my next band Am I Right Or Am I Right? Right? Right? Right?
posted by katillathehun at 6:13 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

There is love in my heart for both bands. Great post BHG.
posted by arcticseal at 6:17 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

True Stories is an underappreciated gem. Is it John Goodman's first big role? I mean, he was "Cop in Diner" in C.H.U.D. before then, but that's not exactly a memorable role.
posted by Nelson at 6:19 PM on July 17, 2011

I had no idea there was an unaired episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Thank you!
posted by janepanic at 6:31 PM on July 17, 2011

"This is not a rental car. This car is privately owned."

One of the earliest signs that the slow drift away from my high school friends was starting to increase in speed was going to see "True Stories" with them. I loved the saturated colours, the deadpan observations by Byrne's character, most of the music. My friends: not so much. Instead there was a pretty general attitude of what-the-hell-was-that-and-why-did-you-think-we-would-like-it? As penance I was made to see Beverley Hills Cop II, and the gap between us just opened a little further.
posted by pjm at 6:32 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Knowing about these connections is fun... though I don't really see that there is anything particularly "coincidental" about this chain of events. Demme directed Tobolowsky in Swing Shift which came out the same year as Stop Making Sense. Demme and Byrne were both involved with the art TV series Alive from Off Center. So, Demme connects the two. True Stories is a weird art film, Thom Yorke is a weird art dude... just seems like an ordinary chain of connections arising from art, music and movie people knowing one another.
posted by nanojath at 6:35 PM on July 17, 2011

posted by shakespeherian at 6:40 PM on July 17, 2011

I can't prove it, but Demme used to hang around with Janet Reno back in FLA.
posted by gjc at 6:42 PM on July 17, 2011

There's something about the True Stories version of Dream Operator that brings tears to my eyes, even if it's completely absurd.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 6:42 PM on July 17, 2011

Talk about a coincidence! I just this week got my DVD copy of Ride Rise Roar, and True Stories is sitting on my DVR waiting for me to watch it again!

(Seriously, I cannot recommend Ride Rise Roar enough.)
posted by hippybear at 7:07 PM on July 17, 2011

I like the perversity of looking over the breadth of Tobolowsky's impressive career and deciding that one of the two roles that must be mentioned at the top of the post is an unaired episode of television.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:15 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Who is Josh Groban? Kill yourself!"

Only slightly on topic, I saw Stop Making Sense every Friday night during the summer of 1985. I took a different person with me every week, a little disciple. (The Big Suit's the star.)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:57 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

True Stories is so great...I am always puzzled when interviewers ask John Goodman why he never plays the leading man in films. He's Lewis the Bear! He just wants someone to love! I love love love the cast versions of the songs. Kay Culver singing "Dream Operator" is not only hauntingly lovely, but explains so much about an otherwise one-joke character in the film. Really, all the roles are so perfectly cast. And I think you can feel Beth Henley's contribution -- the sheer amount of heart to the story.

We watch this movie yearly, and indeed force our friends to watch, too. It thrills me. I can just feel my spirits lift when the music starts. It sounds dorky, but I find True Stories exhilarating.
posted by Malla at 8:28 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I saw Talking Heads on the Stop Making Sense tour.

That's all. I will now bask in your envy.

They were just as good as you might imagine.
posted by jokeefe at 9:11 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am 18. I am at a midnight showing of Stop Making Sense. I, and dozens of other people, are in front of the screen and dancing to the music. The world is momentarily beautiful and etched into my memory.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:47 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Linda! Larry! There's no concept of weekends anymore!
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 11:33 PM on July 17, 2011

Seriously though, this is a great post. True Stories was my favorite movie for the longest time (since probably age six) and it influenced me artistically in ways that no other film has. I even have the companion book filled with William Eggleston photos and story board sketches! I can't say enough good things about it (or Talking Heads or David Byrne or Stop Making Sense!) Thanks for making my night!
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 11:41 PM on July 17, 2011

Byrne was on the cover of Time or Newsweek around when True Stories was released, which I thought was a ludicrous amount of coverage for an art film. I think it set up a totally unrealistic expectation regarding the movie for folks whose prior exposure to the Talking Heads had been "Burning Down The House."

The movie was awesome, but it was hardly a mainstream film.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:04 AM on July 18, 2011

(Note: not a criticism)
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:04 AM on July 18, 2011

You know, I have loved True Stories deeply and passionately since I was a teenager, but until this moment I never really noticed that Beth Henley was involved. (I've since gone on to work on several high-profile radio adaptations of Henley's plays.) My own personal Chain of Coincidence, I guess. Wow!
posted by mykescipark at 1:07 AM on July 18, 2011

Wait, Beth Henley? "Crimes of the Heart" Beth Henley?

... Yup, that would be her.
posted by kyrademon at 1:46 AM on July 18, 2011

I enjoyed True Stories, but it's definitely weird. One of the strangest parts was the obvious love that Byrne has for the quiet American suburbia that makes up the film's setting - it always looked as if the film was about to go positively Lynchian and throw something really horrible at you from behind the white picket fences (are there any of those in the film? Can't remember. Metaphorical ones, then).

But it never does. The film's just a quiet meditation on part of America, and comes to the conclusion that there are strange people out there, and they're all basically lovely.

Oh, and there are some awesome songs. Sitting beside my dad as we drove through the night, way up in the north of England, hundreds of miles from the rest of our family, singing "City of Dreams" together at the top of our voices, is one of those memories that is going to stay with me for quite some time.
posted by ZsigE at 4:56 AM on July 18, 2011

I took a friend whose taste is a little more mainstream to see Stop Making Sense. She said of the film, "I didn't realize I knew so many Talking Heads songs."
posted by pxe2000 at 5:35 AM on July 18, 2011

The Fundamental Interconnectedness of Things.
posted by tommasz at 5:54 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

So I watched some of True Stories last night and it was just as good as I remembered. Watching it I realized that if you showed a double feature of True Stories and Repo Man, you'd cover a lot of what was awesome about 80s arty mainstream film.
posted by Nelson at 6:29 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had something to say about Stop Making Sense and True Stories, but I forgot what it is. I have it written down at home somewhere.
posted by Spatch at 7:24 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

True Stories is one of my go-to films when I'm feeling really down (the other is The Muppet Movie). It always helps remind me of the specialness existing in all things ordinary and mundane.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:15 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am 18. I am at a midnight showing of Stop Making Sense. I, and dozens of other people, are in front of the screen and dancing to the music. The world is momentarily beautiful and etched into my memory.

I am 34. I am at the Apollo theater. It is late September 2001 -- 2 weeks after the terrorist attacks. My neighborhood, a few blocks from ground zero, is occupied by Humvees and serious young boys in flack jackets with M16s. The city is in shock. David Byrne plays a show full of joy and wonder and meaning that unlocks things people didn't even know they had inside them. Everyone dances, even people (like me) who do not dance. Byrne encores with "Life During Wartime". I cannot think about it, even now, without tears.
posted by The Bellman at 8:34 AM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

The cast versions of the songs in True Stories are so much better than the album versions. Pop Staples singing "Papa Legba" beats David Byrne every time. I need to rip the DVD soundtrack one of these days.

I saw True Stories at the local arthouse theater when I was in seventh grade. I was never quite the same. After that, whenever I wanted to freak someone out, I told them I had the tail I was born with at home in a jar of formaldehyde.
posted by murphy slaw at 8:35 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

My parents - especially my father -- were pretty "hip" musically when I was a kid (Dad still is). We all liked the Talking Heads, but when the Stop Making Sense soundtrack came out, Dad went especially nuts for it. He asked for and received it for his 42nd birthday. A few weeks later, when our neighbors invited us all over for an evening (me to hang out with their daughter, our brothers to hang out together, and my parents to make pierogis and drink some Polish liqueur with their parents), Dad brought it over to play for them. Two hours later, I was sitting in the kitchen and watching in fascination as both sets of parents, by now completely smashed, danced around a flour-covered kitchen singing "Girlfriend Is Better" at the top of their lungs. Cooking lots of Polish food with krupnik and "Stop Making Sense" became a regular thing for them all after that.

I've started doing the same "blast Stop Making Sense while cooking with friends" thing recently (only in my case it's "Slippery People" that gets the dancing going).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:12 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

My voice is my passport. Verify me.
posted by norm at 9:58 AM on July 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm thirty years old. A large portion of my youth was spent going on family road trips where the only music we had was the Stop Make Sense movie recorded onto a casette tape. When the tape wore out (and it did a couple times) my dad had to go rent Stop Making Sense and re-record the tape.

That tape was the only one we needed.
posted by sideshow at 10:27 AM on July 18, 2011

So without Ned Ryerson, we don't have Radiohead OR The Dismemberment Plan. Don't tell me you don't remember them because they sure as heckfire remember you!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:30 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, there was this house on Highway 67 between Venus and Alvarado, Texas. It was a new house, but it was faux-Victorian of the sort that you can't really decide whether it's charming or butt-ugly. Every time we passed it on the way to Cleburne (and for the life of me, I can't remember why we ever went to Cleburne), my mom would comment that it looked like the house from Giant. I hadn't seen Giant, so that repeated comment wasn't really all that interesting.

It wasn't until I saw True Stories for the first time in 1998 that I realized it was the house that Swoozie Kurtz lived in in the movie. (Or was it the Cute Lady? I think it was Swoozie.)

I love True Stories because it's so goofy and so evocative of that time and place. I also love it because it was filmed in and around my hometown, which had about 3,500 people when I was a kid. In the opening montage, there's a brief shot of Main Street, where it intersected with 287, and the flashing red light that hung there. When I was a high school, that light was replaced with a real traffic light. Now, that intersection has been widened, the highway bypasses downtown entirely, the population is a whopping 15,000, and Main Street isn't Main Street anymore -- they've renamed the stretch of road where all the fast food joints are "Main Street." (But it isn't! Not to me!)

Aside from everything else about the movie that's wonderful, for me it will always be a scrapbook of the place I grew up -- one that's changed so much it's hardly recognizable.

It's a multipurpose shape: A box!
posted by mudpuppie at 3:47 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm so glad to see all the True Stories love in here. It's one of my favorite movies, and I watch it all the time. I just wish it were possible to get it in widescreen. Thanks so much for this post!

For all of you who, like me, love the movie versions of the songs, you should know you can get a lot of them as MP3 downloads if you search for them directly—cobbled together from a bunch of different albums:

People Like Us - John Goodman Vocal Version
Papa Legba - Pops Staples Vocal Version
Radio Head - Tito Larriva Vocal Version

Sadly, I cannot find Puzzlin' Evidence.
posted by audacity at 4:02 PM on July 18, 2011

I'm so glad to see all the True Stories love in here. It's one of my favorite movies, and I watch it all the time. I just wish it were possible to get it in widescreen.

True Stories was filmed in 1.37:1 ratio. This is only barely different from television's 4:3 (1.33:1) ratio. There really isn't a "widescreen" version of True Stories. If you've seen one, it's likely been cropped to create that effect with the loss of information at the top and bottom of the original picture frame.
posted by hippybear at 4:24 PM on July 18, 2011

For the record, Tobolowsky's podcast is FUCKING AWESOME.

Let me repeat. FUCKING. AWESOME.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 8:48 PM on July 18, 2011

I finished watching True Stories at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas, streaming over the Internet from my iPad to the 32" HDTV in my room via HDMI with a view of faux-pirate Treasure Island out the window. The opposition of this sincere 80s simple film with the technology and gaudy fakery of New Orleans was wonderful.

One part of the film that really stood out for me was the True Stories version of Papa Legba. The awesome performance is by Pops Staples (Wikipedia), a Mississippi gospel musician. I imagine he appreciated the irony of playing a voodoo doctor. Apparently he's in the movie Wag the Dog, too. He passed in 2000. I'm optimistic The Best of the Staple Singers will be a nice addition to my Americana music folder.

You'll be magnet for love.
posted by Nelson at 9:49 AM on July 27, 2011

And to continue the Talking Heads/Staples connection: apparently, the very last song the Staples Singers released as a single was a cover of Talking Heads' Slippery People.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:11 AM on July 27, 2011

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