Talking Heads created a non-linear language for many of us in the ’70s and ’80s with songs and phrases that stay on shuffle in our brains’ turntables. While the spotlight was often focused on frontman David Byrne, the band made its mark through the contributions of all its members, including co-founders Chris Frantz (on drums) and Tina Weymouth (on bass), who have been married since 1977; and Jerry Harrison, who joined in ’77 on keyboards and guitar.
Frantz, who was born in Kentucky and raised in Pittsburgh, and Weymouth, who hails from California and is a trailblazer for women in music, were Talking Heads’ hot groove masters, propelling us to move uncontrollably on the dance floor. If you are idle during the pandemic, turn on a video of the group and try to match the band’s aerobic dance steps seen on stage in live shows. It’s a good workout.
Frantz’s memoir “Remain in Love: Talking Heads · Tom Tom Club · Tina” (400 pp., $29.99, St. Martin’s Press), to be released July 21, is compelling, romantic, well-written and often poignant or funny. It details Frantz’s journey from his early life to his college years at the Rhode Island School of Design (where he first met Byrne and Weymouth) through his remarkable accomplishments with Talking Heads and, later, Tom Tom Club.
The book was originally scheduled to be released in May, but was delayed due to the pandemic. Frantz initially contemplated writing it 10 years ago “and it took me eight years to sit down and two to put it together,” he said in a recent interview. “I wanted to write it because Talking Heads was worthy of an interesting book that has some real, true information.”
He has found other books to be full of misinformation, he said, “and in some cases stuff that was made up … I was there from the beginning and I could also combine it with this really wonderful love story about Tina and myself, about how I helped Tina and Tina helped me and we have this great life together and we survived all that and we still consider ourselves to be very fortunate people.”
In the book, Frantz writes about the band from its 1975 formation to its demise in 1991, when he received a call from a reporter saying Byrne had said the band had broken up. It was a cold way to stop making music. And the musicians have had minimal contact since then. Frantz ends the memoir with a snapshot of the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, when they reunited to play three songs; it is still their only live performance since 1984.
Frantz held off on writing his memoir since he didn’t want anything he wrote to dissuade Byrne from a possible reunion.
“I finally thought I should go ahead and do this,” he said. “I was holding off for a long time because I thought I don’t want to lose the chance of having this wonderful reunion and playing for fans, but he’s (Byrne) made it very clear that it’s not going to happen. So I hope David likes the book. Although he told me he’s not going to read it because when people ask whether he liked it or not he can just say, ‘I didn’t read it.'”
I asked Frantz if he would welcome the opportunity to see Byrne for coffee, to discuss the book. “Our communication with each other is strictly business these days,” he said. “I wish we could, but he’s not interested. It’s okay, I have a good life.”
I suggested that Weymouth and Frantz’s strong relationship helped them get through the difficult times in the band.
“It’s true,” he replied. “We had to really work at keeping our heads together. It was a maddening situation because the better we got, the more success we had, the more difficult things became. You hear about that, ‘Oh, everything is fine until you start making money.’ I hate to say it, but it’s really true.”
LIFE DURING PANDEMIC-TIME
Our interview took place in March, when the coronavirus pandemic was surging in the tri-state area. Frantz explained that he has been sheltering safely at his home in Connecticut, where he remains in love with Weymouth, their beagles Poppy and Kiki, and their older son.
“My younger son is home with his wife, not far from here and bringing us groceries,” Frantz said. “I am just starting to get news that we know about people who have died — was hoping it wouldn’t happen — mainly in the music community, like (the Cameroonian musician) Manu Dibango.” (Tragically, Frantz’s mother died from the coronavirus in April.)
Frantz stays connected with friends and fans through social media, and shares song picks and gorgeous nature shots on his Facebook page.
“When I lived in lower Manhattan,” he said, “I could take a walk outside and I might see somebody like Dee Dee Ramone or Philip Glass or people like that. I would bump into them and have a little conversation. It was wonderful. When you move to a place like (Connecticut), which is beautiful — and I’m extremely happy that I’m here — there isn’t that Village life, that interaction on the street, so Facebook is a way for me, on an international level, to have that experience of walking down the street and saying hello to people. It’s a way to let people know that you are still alive and kicking.”
You can hear Frantz discuss his memoir with his friend James Mastro (a member of The Bongos and Ian Hunter’s Rant Band, and the owner of the Guitar Bar stores in Hoboken and Jersey City) on Zoom, July 29 at 7 p.m. Little City Books in Hoboken is hosting the event and you must purchase the book from the store to receive a Zoom link to participate. You will also receive custom book plate signed by Frantz. For information, visit littlecitybooks.com.
“Chris Frantz’s drumming style matches his writing and speaking voice — elegant, deep, and as solid as it gets,” says Mastro. “I will employ my David Frost/Spanish Inquisition interview techniques for what is guaranteed to be a fun, enlightening evening with a true legend (him, not me).”
Frantz’s stories of Talking Heads’ early years conjure images of an ungentrified and more diverse Manhattan, from the tony uptown store, Henri Bendel, where Weymouth worked her day job before fame, to downtown’s Chrystie Street, where the couple first moved with Byrne when they left Rhode Island. Their rent was $289 monthly for a 2,700-square-foot loft.
Through Frantz’s vibrant descriptions, we remember the more interesting, less polished and affluent downtown where artists and others could survive and thrive. He mentions experiences and people that defined New York in the late 1970s and 1980s, including 24-year-old David Berkowitz, known as “Son of Sam,” who terrorized the city by killing six people and wounding seven more. He reminds us of artist and activist Keith Haring, whose pop art drawings decorated subways, at first, and then other parts of New York.
In our interview, he described Soho, in the Talking Heads era, as safer than Chrystie Street “with light manufacturing, noise and hustle bustle in the day time, but then at night it was a ghost town except for one or two little bars or somebody’s loft party. Now Soho has some nice restaurants and a couple of very decent hotels, but it’s not got the sense of adventure that it once had. It’s like a big outdoor shopping mall.”
I remember those streets well from the ’70s and ’80s and agreed that the vibe is gone. “I don’t know where one goes to see a band in Manhattan anymore,” he said. “It’s all moved to Brooklyn and now the denizens of the Brooklyn scene are moving. I hear to places like, God forbid, Philadelphia, because of rents.”
I asked him how he could remember all the details in his book, such as his touring schedule. “I am blessed with a good memory … and had the advantage of fact-checking myself with Tina,” he said.
Neither he nor Weymouth kept diaries, he said, adding that “she kept datebooks, like those datebooks you buy at (the gift shop at) the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She gave me her datebooks and she kept very interesting, brief notes like ‘great gig, 1,200 people, good promoter, two encores’ or ‘great day off, wonderful hotel, had dinner with so and so.’ So, I was able to not only remember all the shows, but also whether Tina thought they were good gigs or not and also whether we got paid the full amount or whether the promoter screwed us.”
I asked him if the details of their early courtship also came from her recollections. He says those came from his own memory “and Tina is very entertained by it … She and I always have slightly different perspectives but on the whole, we agree with each other about things.”
Frantz was smitten at first sight when he noticed Weymouth ride by him on her bike on campus in 1971. He writes in the book: “Suddenly, as in a scene from a Truffaut movie, I saw a girl pedaling down Benefit Street in our direction on an old yellow three-speed bicycle. She wore a blue-and-white-striped French sailor’s shirt and very short shorts. She was slender, fit, and her legs were fabulous. As she pedaled by, her blond shag haircut tossed in the breeze. She was watching the traffic, so she didn’t look in our direction, but I could see her face was lightly freckled and extremely pretty. Her eyes were set wide apart and seemed to reflect a keen intelligence.”
I am charmed by his sustained passion for his wife, which reminds me of another couple who act like newlyweds, Dennis Dunaway (of the bands Alice Cooper and Blue Coupe) and his wife, Cindy Smith Dunaway.
In the book, Frantz walks us through moments during jam and recording sessions when iconic songs such as “Burning Down the House” (see video below) and “Psycho Killer” were realized; we travel to Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas with the band and producer Brian Eno to observe recording sessions for the groundbreaking 1980 Talking Heads album Remain in Light. Frantz discusses the formation of Tom Tom Club, a band he formed with Weymouth during a “break from Talking Heads,” and the creation of Tom Tom Club hits such as “Genius of Love” and “Wordy Rappinghood.”
I remember the first time I heard the song “Genius of Love” at an NYU student party. It felt like the first time I noticed the color purple. Music was blasting in a small, crowded makeshift living room and bodies were enmeshed. “Burning Down the House” called out to people through the loudspeakers, bringing them out from other rooms and onto the floor, where sweaty bodies danced wildly; the energy got even higher and more exhilarating when the infectious and funky “Genius of Love” blasted from the speakers a few songs later, and bodies bopped without restraint.
The upbeat sound of this song makes remaining stationary impossible. No one can resist dancing when Weymouth, joined by her sisters Laura and Lani, sings:
I’m in heaven with my boyfriend, my laughing boyfriend
There’s no beginning and there is no end
Time isn’t present in that dimension
He’ll take my arm when we’re walkin’, rolling and rocking
It’s one time I’m glad I’m not a man
Feels like I’m dreaming, but I’m not sleeping …
Well, he’s the genius of love
The sounds of both songs, like many songs by both Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, were revelatory and liberating, and the lyrics were filled with pithy observations — emotional, illogical and artistic. The sensations stayed with me as I took my long subway home ride home.
LOYALTY AND LOVE
Frantz’s description of his approach to drumming reveals his romantic streak:
“When I think of all the drummers I have heard over the years, the ones I love most are not the ones who play the most technically complex, fast or difficult parts. I love the drummers who make you want to dance and feel good about yourself.
“I think of playing the drums the way I think about making love: You should not be frantic. You should not be a showoff. You should not aim to impress. What you should do is be sensitive to the song, the tempo and the melody. You should serve both the song and the band while occasionally surprising them in a good way. You should be powerful, yet supportive. You should spread the love.”
In our interview, he also expressed gratitude for his enduring professional and personal relationship with Weymouth, the family they produced (sons Egan and Robin) and the fact that Talking Heads has been recognized for making a significant impact on music.
He also expressed appreciation for Byrne. “We always knew that David was unusual,” he said. “But we also could see that he had a real gift. That his point of view was a very interesting point of view and not what you would easily predict.”
He cited, as an example, Byrne’s lyrics for the song “Don’t Worry About the Government.” “They are really beautiful,” he said. “He’s talking about civil servants and government workers.”
We talked about the role of a frontman in a band and he responded with empathy. “It’s not an easy job to stand up in front of a group and sing and perform,” he said. “It takes really inner strength and you have to have a gift.”
We talked about criticisms sometimes expressed by band members about band leaders. “I’m not knocking the frontman,” he said. “I’m just knocking the people that don’t appreciate the other members of their band. That’s what I’m saying. Respect and fairness.”.
In both his book and our interview, he described his marriage of 43 years as a partnership filled with continued spark and deep love. He writes in the book: “Tina and I continue to have a wonderfully romantic life together. We’ve been married for forty-two years. We treat each other with real love and we have many good friends who have shown us their love, too. Both of our sons have made us proud and have become artists … Tina and I have taught them to be honest, loving and kind.”
He also writes, about their engagement: “She was the perfect young bride for me — physically, intellectually, and emotionally. I adored her. We talked mostly about art and music. I enjoyed talking about celebrity gossip, but Tina was not keen on that. When I went lowbrow, she went highbrow. Nothing has changed since then except we discuss politics and the climate crisis even more today.”
Though he has had an active, creative life after Talking Heads disbanded, he remains proud of his time with the band. In the book, he writes: “When people say, ‘It’s time to move on,’ I am not down with that. When speaking about my family, my friends, and my band, I am not a person who ‘moves on.’ I remain and I remain in love.”
There were early signs of unusual behavior when Byrne, Weymouth and Frantz first jammed together, crafting their unique sound. Byrne “was awkward and, with what we know now, on the high functioning end of the spectrum,” writes Frantz.
But his sense of aesthetics meshed with Frantz’s. Frantz writes that Byrne “was a superb rhythm guitarist. He was also very willing to make an unexpected move, both musically and physically. He got into music to get out of himself. When you played music with David you came to realize that his eccentricities were not an act … there was something deeply moving about his determination and heartfelt efforts to perform a song, even in the early days. In spite of his shyness, he craved being the center of attention. He was always doing some weird thing like not joining in on a conversation, but then quoting that conversation in one of his song lyrics.”
Frantz expressed frustration in his memoir and in our interview about Byrne’s failure to acknowledge that he and Weymouth were partners in the process of writing many Talking Heads songs. He resigned himself to giving Byrne the primary role in songwriting when Byrne asserted control, because his goal was to keep the band intact. While they didn’t always get credit for songwriting or arrangements, Frantz knew that he and Weymouth were part of something important. Accepting the creative tensions permitted the band to endure.
His memoir illuminates these creative tensions when he describes the process for writing the song “Life During Wartime.” He writes the track grew out of a funky bass part that Weymouth created. Frantz added his drum part and they presented the groove to Byrne and Harrison, who then came up with their parts.
Frantz writes: “The entire song including the vocal melody is based on Tina’s part. It’s also interesting to note that, though he did come up with fantastic lyrics, David later credited himself as the sole writer of the song. This happened to us all the time with David. He couldn’t acknowledge where he stopped and other people began.”
He also recounts, in the book, Dire Straits’ impromptu invitation for him and Weymouth to join them onstage at Hammersmith Odeon for an encore of “Gloria.” The day after the concert the New Musical Express, a British weekly music publication, reported, according to Frantz, that the crowd was excited that Byrne sat in with Dire Straits.
Frantz writes that he didn’t hold it against Byrne, “but I do remember that he never once spoke up and said, ‘That was Tina’s idea.’ Or, ‘Jerry gets credit for that.’ It seems that he never learned about the sin of omission, or if he did, he simply didn’t care.”
We talked about media accounts of Weymouth’s assertion that Byrne cannot return friendship. “He doesn’t really know how to do that, he still doesn’t,” Frantz said, adding: “When I see him in interviews that he’s done lately, within the past year or so, he seems like he’s very happy and that things are going well for him, so I’m happy to see that. I’m glad that he’s not the old sourpuss that he once was.”
He may write about some of his disappointments with Byrne, but he doesn’t come off as bitter or petty.
“I hope you noticed that I very consciously tried not to beat up David Byrne,” he says. “I will always be very proud of the work we did with David. Tina, Jerry and me and David … we did a great thing together. And our legacy is that so many young bands have been influenced by us and look up to us and respect us and, really, what more can you ask for? We’ve had a good life and it’s thanks to the work that we did together as Talking Heads, so I’m grateful for my involvement in the band and I’m even more grateful for my long relationship with Tina, and so that makes for a good book.”
Throughout his interview and in his memoir, Frantz creates the impression that he reveled in his experiences playing with Talking Heads. He describes in the book a 1977 show when Talking Heads opened for Bryan Ferry at the Bottom Line in New York. They received a “rousing ovation” and he felt like he “was floating above the audience and they were all smiling back at me.”
REINVENTING THE WHEEL
In the book, Frantz shares stories about opening for the Ramones at CBGB and meeting Debbie Harry, Lou Reed and Television, and watching Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye perform at St. Mark’s Church in the East Village.
“We were very fortunate to move to New York in 1974 because the art scene and Soho and the music scene in lower Manhattan was very interesting and there was still room for more bands,” he says. “After we moved there I thought, ‘Wow, we really moved to the right place,’ and I felt very well accepted by most of the people at CBGB. … the great thing about CBGB is that if you ever played there, then you got to come in for free and you could just hang out there all night for free and hear what the latest band was doing.”
He describes it as “a clubhouse for people who were excited to be getting it on in the music business, but there was no business. It was just for fun. For jollies. But later on, some people made a lot of money. But some people just blew through it, like rock stars always do.”
The shared apartment on Chrystie Street was near the venue, where Frantz had a strong community, including “a lot of our RISD friends who moved to New York at the same time. We had friends who were painters and architects, filmmakers and photographers and it wasn’t just musicians. Writers. We became good friends with James Wolcott, who was a really champion of ours. It was a time that I remember very clearly and for the most part very fondly.”
He, Weymouth and Byrne were all learning their instruments and Weymouth, as a new rocker, did not have the standard blues and rock sounds to lean on. “Every time she composed a new bass part, it was like reinventing the wheel,” Frantz writes. “To this day, Tina never ever plays the predictable things. She invents every part anew — this was one reason Talking Heads sounded so unique.”
Frantz said the group was not interested in replicating anyone’s look, any more than they wanted to replicate anyone’s sound. Instead of dressing in glam costumes or Ramone-style outfits, they wore clothes his mother gave him for Christmas, usually polo shirts from Brooks Brothers, creating a preppy look. When Byrne needed something to wear, Frantz would share his polos.
“To a certain extent, we were trying to look like everyman,” he writes. “On the rare occasions when we had any extra money, we were not about to go out and buy high-heeled platform boots and satin trousers. No, the image we wanted to convey was that of seriously thoughtful people were not afraid to appear straight.”
We talked about his early drumming influences. “The first drummer that I ever really liked as a fan was … a fella named Gene Krupa, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest drummers of all time. And I actually got to meet him once at a drum clinic … I was 12 at the time. I was too young to actually participate in it. I watched and I saw how great he was and how wonderful he was with the young players. He was a tremendous source of inspiration.”
He adds, “then the Beatles came out and it was all about Ringo. Ringo was the person who made me think ‘I can do this’ and my parents got me a little drum set and I got to working on it. I’m also a great admirer of Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stones … and it took me a little while to catch on to the world of rhythm & blues, soul music, James Brown.
“You don’t even know who the guy was that was playing with James Brown because his name’s not on the record. The only person is on the record is James Brown, right? Same with the Temptations. Or Sam & Dave. Otis Redding. … They didn’t really have credits for the musicians. I developed a deep passion for rhythm & blues and soul music and then, later, reggae so I know who the drummers are now. But at the time I had no idea.
“The Beatles changed all that. It wasn’t until the advent of the Beatles that you saw, ‘Oh, this band wrote their own songs. ‘ ‘Oh, this band performed on their own records,’ and so on. And there are four members of the band.”
Talking Heads moved while they played. They danced as you danced. In Jonathan Demme’s extraordinary concert film “Stop Making Sense,” documenting the band’s 1983-84 Speaking in Tongues Tour, we see Frantz beaming behind his drums and Weymouth’s astounding moves while playing bass in “Life During Wartime.” During Byrnes’ costume change to his oversized suit, we hear Weymouth and Frantz lead the band through “Genius of Love” to a very responsive crowd. (see video below)
“Remain in Love” is a love letter to both of Frantz’s bands, Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, as well as to Weymouth and to all of us who believe that in the end of the day, all you need is love and loyalty.
After Talking Heads’ 1991 breakup, Frantz, Weymouth, Harrison and other musicians released an album, No Talking, Just Head, under the name, The Heads. Tom Tom Club continued to tour and record albums while Harrison released solo albums and produced albums for Live, Crash Test Dummies, Violent Femmes and others.
Frantz now hosts the radio show “Chris Frantz the Talking Head” on WPKN (89.5 FM, Bridgeport, Conn). He also hopes to write another book, and awaits Weymouth’s book release.
“Tina and I hope to do some more recording,” he said. “Tina’s working on a book and it will be very interesting, I’m sure … Tina is very meticulous, she revises and revises and revises so who knows when that date will actually be, but I’m happy she’s doing it because she’s a really good writer.
“In addition to that, we hope to do some electronic music — something we’ve never really done before, like an electronic duo — and we are going to call it Chris und Tina. It might be funny or serious or a combination of the two, but I can tell you we are going to have fun doing it.”
He expresses concern for the artists who are unable, at this time, to present concerts and, like their fans, await their return, and the unknown new normal.
“We go back to Nassau (in the Bahamas) a couple times a year,” he says. “We still have our little place down there … When I run into any of those people (from his CBGB days), it’s a really good feeling … When I see Debbie Harry, I feel great. Same with Richard Lloyd and Richard Hell, who are still alive.
“David Johansen, too. When I see David Johansen, it makes me happy, because I remember that time he said to me, ‘Chris, you’re never going to make it in this business, you’re too nice.'”
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