Talking Heads’ music video derided Falls, Moses Parkway decades ago

A Talking Heads music video from the late ’70’s was insulting to Niagara Falls.

Being a tourist destination with international name recognition can be a double-edged sword, as the city of Niagara Falls finds out on a regular basis.

It seems that every time something positive around here makes headlines worldwide, such as the Wallenda walk, or the falls and Goat Island displaying winter in all its splendor, some late night comedian makes a disparaging wisecrack about us, or the Maid of the Mist gets mired in a sewage slick.

Dissing Niagara Falls isn’t a new phenomenon, however, as we ran across an obscure 1979 documentary film entitled “South Bank Show” about the early days of the wildly popular band Talking Heads that is a clear, and mostly unfair, takedown of the Cataract City.

According to Wikipedia, “Talking Heads were an American rock band formed in 1975 in New York City and active until 1991. The band comprised David Byrne (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Frantz (drums), Tina Weymouth (bass), and Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar). Described by critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine as “one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the ’80s”, the group helped to pioneer new wave music by integrating elements of punk, art rock, funk, and world music with avant-garde sensibilities and an anxious, clean-cut image.

The Talking Heads in their heyday.

“Former art school students, who became involved in the 1970s New York punk scene… the band hit its commercial peak in 1983 with the US Top 10 hit “Burning Down the House” and released the concert film “Stop Making Sense”…

“In 2002, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

The half hour video is available online at the link, and opens with the song “The Big Country,” the lyrics of which, while not specifically naming Niagara Falls, certainly are about our city. That’s made clear by the aerial photographs of the Falls and surrounding waterfront, which are congested by industry, bridges, parking lots and the Robert Moses Parkway.

The Moses (now Scenic Niagara) Parkway, built by Robert Moses to service his Power Project and the State Park, was catastrophic for the city of Niagara Falls, ruining its waterfront and already obsolete by the time it appeared in the Talking Heads video.

Here are the lyrics of “The Big Country” (with a couple notes):

I see the shapes,
I remember from maps.
I see the shoreline.
I see the whitecaps. (The only whitecaps in Western New York are the rapids of the Niagara River)
A baseball diamond, nice weather down there.
I see the school and the houses where the kids are.
Places to park by the factories and buildings.
Restaurants and bar for later in the evening.
Then we come to the farmlands, and the undeveloped areas.
And I have learned how these things work together.
I see the parkway that passes through them all. (Robert Moses Parkway)
And I have learned how to look at these things and I say,

I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.
I couldn’t live like that, no siree!
I couldn’t do the things the way those people do.
I couldn’t live there if you paid me to.

While spotlighting the tragedy of Niagara Falls waterfront, which is monopolized and exploited by a distant, Albany-based agency (State Parks) and marred by unfortunate infrastructure such as the Scenic Moses Parkway, we think most would agree that if the Talking Heads were to ever decide to hold a reunion concert, it wouldn’t break our hearts if they chose a venue located somewhere other than the Falls.

The 1970’s storefront of Vicenzo’s is one of four Center Street, Lewiston businesses appearing in the Talking Heads video.

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