Remain In Love

Remain In Love: Talking Heads • Tom Tom Club • Tina
By Chris Frantz
[St. Martin’s Press]

“Now I get it. You guys are so uncool, you’re cool.” This pronouncement, from famed rock music critic Lester Bangs, came in the mid 1970s when Talking Heads were getting their first notices around the Bowery area of New York City. How such an uncool band became one of the most important, influential and critically acclaimed American bands from 1975-1991 is nicely revealed in Remain in Love: Talking Heads •Tom Tom Club • Tina, Chris Frantz’ new autobiography.

Drummer Frantz tells a compelling story where hardships were more chosen than put upon the band, and being in a band with his partner allowed him to combine his musical and personal lives in ways most find failure. Frantz recalls that during their formative years living in an unpleasant neighborhood near Greenwich Village, “The three of us had grown up in charming suburban parts of the county,” he writes. “Our parents had given us every advantage they possibly could and had been supportive in every way, but we were determined to live an artistic life and to us that mean living in New York City, the cultural center of the universe.”

Frantz was an Army brat, moving around the East Coast from his Kentucky birth in 1951 through Pennsylvania, Maryland and finally alighting in Rhode Island, where he attended the Rhode Island School of Design in the early ‘70s. It was here that he met girlfriend Tina Weymouth and buddy David Byrne. Like most American youths, the ‘60s had influenced Frantz to try music, and drugs (he was an acid head for a while), and he had become a drummer. The first record he ever bought was Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” and his first LP was The Beach Boys’ Surfin’ USA. Like all kids, high school and college exposed him to many live bands including Bob Dylan & the Band (1966) and The Grateful Dead (1971). Yet, as for many, The Beatles on Ed Sullivan changed his life. “The advent of the Beatles and the British Invasion that followed was, and still is, one of the most culturally important events of my lifetime,” Frantz reveals. RISD turned him on to non-rock forms of music and he became enchanted by the likes of James Brown. Frantz writes, “I was a believer in the awesome power of what had come to be called Soul Music.”

At RISD Frantz and Byrne formed the band The Artistics and soon Weymouth came home with a bass to fill the void. As a trio they became Talking Heads and moved to NYC. As has been told countless times, the Bowery bar CBGB became instrumental to many bands seeking an audience and a place to play, and in May 1975 Talking Heads made their CBGB debut. In the audience was Johnny Ramone of CBGB regulars The Ramones. When proposed with the prospect of having Talking Heads open for the Ramones Johnny said, “Yeah, they suck, so they can open for us. They’ll make us look good.”

Talking Heads had a musical feel like no other. Back then, it would have been hard to describe what visual artists would sound like. Talking Heads may have been the first band with such an aesthetic, although at the time their onstage visual image was not that artistic. “People called us preppy because I would often wear the clothes my mom had given me for Christmas,” Frantz writes, “and she did like to buy at Brooks Brothers.” The trio soon added former Modern Lover Jerry Harrison on piano/guitar. “He could hear that we were at least as eccentric and artistic as The Modern Lovers,” writes Frantz.

In 1976 they signed with Sire Records, the same day Frantz and Weymouth got engaged. Things moved quickly and they were soon on a European tour opening for The Ramones. Frantz must have had a diary because each date is illustrated with colorful memories and setlists of their Old World jaunt. But the most fun on this tour was gauging how cranky bully Johnny would be. Ramones scholars need to read Frantz’ account of their antics – The Ramones Seating Arrangement on the bus is classic. Frantz remembers, “In France Johnny was mad that everyone spoke French.” When driving near Stonehenge, “Johnny went apoplectic. He yelled ‘What? What? We’re not stopping at fucking Stonehenge! It’s just a bunch of old rocks!’” When the bus pulled into Paris most were excited to see The City of Lights but “Da Bruddas” sighted a missed American landmark. Frantz reports, “It was April in Paris and we had the day off so Tina, David, Jerry and I decided we would explore while the Ramones went to McDonald’s.”

In truth there is ugliness, and what Frantz reveals about Byrne is not pleasant. While Frantz, Weymouth and Harrison all contributed to most Talking Heads output, Byrne’s genius undeniably propelled the group to success. But Frantz claims that “David was happiest when things were not comfortable… When things were going well, he would become dissatisfied, the opposite of the way most people feel.” The cover of their Speaking in Tongues LP was changed without the band’s knowledge. Frantz reports, “David, true to form, went behind our backs. We had been told another untruth by David Byrne, and so had our listeners.” There are plenty of positive Byrne moments, however; their time in California resulted in his funniest frustration: “In LA, David was late for a show,” Frantz remembers. “He’d been arrested for jaywalking! ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ Byrne defended. ‘We’re from New York!’”

There is much more to learn from Frantz in his book. His story intersects with Brian Eno, Grandmaster Flash, XTC, Dire Straits, The Cars, John & Yoko, Andy Warhol, Jackie O., David Bowie’s backstage food grab, Joe Cocker, Robert Palmer, Ziggy Marley, Happy Mondays, Timothy Leary and Lou Reed, with whom they cut a song with their band Tom Tom Club. There is also an episode in Atlanta when Talking Heads played Buckhead’s Capri (with Elvis Costello opening) and hung out with The Fans and The B-52’s.

Throughout it all Frantz’s love for Weymouth kept it all going. Frantz’s attitude toward their Kentucky wedding may sum up his life’s approach. “The service was brief but very traditional,” he writes. “Tina and I were fine with tried and true wedding traditions. Our lives were creative enough as it was, and we didn’t want an alternative wedding.”