Moreover, the cultural touchstones that define us have withered away, becoming superfluous, even disadvantageous ("Why stay in college? Why go to night school?... Burned all my notebooks, what good are notebooks?/They won't help me survive.") Even the beloved clubs that defined late '70s New York hipsterdom have been swept away in the chaos ("This ain't no party, this ain't no disco/This ain't no fooling around/This ain't no Mudd Club or CBGB/I ain't got time for that now") Of course, the Heads played CBGB and Bryne frequented the ultra cool Mudd Club back in the day.
In a presciently ironic twist on current concerns about privacy issues, Byrne's desperate protagonist finds himself on the other side of the equation ("We got computer, we're tapping phone lines/I know that that ain't allowed.") In this context, the song's unrelentingly frenetic tempo conjures up the frantic flight of a refugee in his own land ("Trouble in transit, got through the roadblock/We blended in with the crowd.")
As a coddled American, my concern about power outages may seem laughable compared to the horrors that have overtaken other parts of the world as the result of war and its resultant chaos and oppression. But the Islamic jihad against the Western way of life is a cultural and ideological war as much as anything else — a disgust with and rejection of our unfettered expression of individuality. Totalitarian and terrorist regimes cannot tolerate the free flowering of culture — as Hitler's war on "degenerate art" made plain. To wit, tyranny can not only destroy life, but everything that makes life worth living.
Of course, it's easy for me to sit at my computer in air conditioned splendor and mull over lyrics to a song from a more carefree time when the specter of war in our own country could only have been perceived as a playful fantasy. In that more peaceful era, Byrne's lament that he "ain't got no speakers, ain't got no headphones/Ain't got no records to play" could be viewed as nothing more than an artful turn of phrase. Indeed, on the surface, "Life During Wartime" is still eminently danceable and joyous, but the underlying message it conveys seems deadly serious decades after the Heads' quirky, seemingly absurd vision was brought to life.