Time isn’t Holding Us

Published 2009-12-01

If a really strange kidnapper ever asked me at gunpoint to name my favorite song, I think I’d say “Once in a Lifetime”

Everyone knows this song as an anthem of midlife crisis. (“This is not my beautiful house.”) A few people pick up on the existential theme. (“Same as it ever was.”) I think they’re missing that this is a song about the irrational absurdity of natural reality, which is utterly indifferent to a human life. (“Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground.”) Byrne himself makes this connection explicit in the video, and in his twitchy marionnette dance, evoking images of voudoun possession — the rational mind completely consumed by a primal animism. He also stares in the depth of infinity, and comes away with what Milan Kundera called the unbearable lightness of being. Against the unimaginable span of infinity, the ethereal nonsubstance of our lives provides us with liberation. “Time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us.”

For years — from 1980 until today, in fact, when I looked up the actual lyrics on the Internet — I thought that last verse was “Time isn’t holding us, time is ineffluous.” There is no such word as “ineffluous” (I checked), but there should be.