Reading Chris Frantz’s affirmative memoir, Remain In Love:Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club and Tina, it was reassuring to find hedonism thrived at the centre of the Heads’ creative life.
Their Talking Heads ‘77 debut album sprung alive with the dizzying freshness and clarity of a new, hitherto undiscovered, drug.
When beautiful, black n green third Fear of Music came round “heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing happens” soundtracked many a mushroom trip in the house where we hid away from the world, in order - OF COURSE! - to discover it.
The Fixation on David Byrne as everything to do with what made such a formidable band - of their own time and future influence - is both short sighted and wrong, err, headed.
Byrne’s talent is not doubted - his work since the band has oft soared - but the warm and generous, open and collegiate ethos evinced at every stage of the Heads’ career, not least their imperial robofunk RIL /Stop Making Sense peak, comes directly off the page in Frantz book.
This is a fuller transcript of the interview undertaken for a short feature in Daily Mirror 17 July 2020 .
Waste not, want not.
Was the memoir something you thought about doing for a long time? What was the buildup to writing it?
Well, I did, think about it for a long time. And then I got to be a certain age, you know?
“I was born in 1951, so I thought, well, Chris it's now or never.
And for a long time I had waited, because I kept hoping that maybe Talking Heads would have a reunion, make another record.
And on the one hand, I didn't want to queer that opportunity. But, having said that, I don't think this is a burning bridges type of book.
“The last thing I wanted to do was have a mean, nasty tone.
What I want, what I wanted to have, was how I really feel, which is great love from my wife, Tina and great admiration for everything she did for the band, but also for everything that David and Jerry did for the band too.
“I mean all of us, all of us were super important to Talking Heads. And, I know that, uh, David was, is, a brilliant writer and, amazing performer and very, very super important. And in no way would I ever want to diminish that, I still have enormous respect for David, but I want people to know that I too was a very important factor in the success and the longevity of Talking Heads.
“I mean, unfortunately people tend to, hopefully present company excluded, but writers and music journalists tend to dwell on conflict because conflict is interesting for people to read about.
“Our band was not without conflict, but more often than not, things were really wonderful and exciting. So I hope in this book that I'm able to convey how amazing the trip was for us.
Absolutely. It was a pleasure to read because I've enjoyed Talking Heads music since1977 and came away from the book with a big bit of what I loved about the music coming across in the personality of the book. Your tale is pretty extraordinary because you had your lifetime love along for the rock n roll ride of a lifetime, as your rhythm section other half. Unique really, isn't it?
Yeah, it's remarkable, isn't it? I mean, Tina and I just celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary and we've actually been together as friends for 50 years. So I'm a very fortunate guy.
“Anybody who's played music for, for a number of years knows that the road is not always smooth, but, but thanks to Tina's good sense and compassion, uh, uh, we we've been able to stick together for, for all this time,
Frantz coke habit presented the biggest challenge to their relationship.
“We had one particularly Rocky period, which was totally my fault, which was when Talking Heads stopped touring, after the movie Stop Making Sense., I had a lot of time on my hands and, and, without sounding too, uh, too fancy, I had a pretty hefty bank account. I mean, I was doing all right.
“So, I was able to fritter away a lot of money on drugs and that took its toll on our marriage. And on my own health. Tina was concerned that I might actually kick the bucket which was not unknown for people who were snorting enormous amounts of cocaine, but, thanks to her and various family members I got into a treatment program and I, and I cleaned myself up.
And,you know, came back for the second act.
And Tina is working on a book as well.
She had a meeting with the same literary agent that I use and he said, okay, Tina let's do this. Andshe said, okay, let's do that. So it is going to happen. I can't tell you when or anything like that what it's going to be about, but she's an excellent writer and she has an interesting take on, on a whole Talking Heads experience.
Although maybe her book won’t even be about the Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, I don't know.
Your early life is depicted as quite an idyllic carefree, exploratory, drug taking student days.. Then it's almost as if you have to undergo a privation period of rats and cold water facilities in New York City. Almost like it’s a proving ground. counteracted by the beautiful songs you wrote there, for the first two Talking Heads albums. Like a Rite of passage you had to go through.
I completely agree with you, moving to the lower East side after, after being in comfortable middle class backgrounds well the lower East side was a real shocker.
To see, um, you know, people in the throes of delirium tremens , gangs and prostitutes and, various other types of low lives in the area. It was a shock to the system, but at the same time, it was highly motivating.
“Even though all this was going down on the street behind closed doors you had like a one block away the great Debbie Harry as our neighbor and, and two blocks down Ornette Coleman, and a little bit further up the road, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone living with Arturo Vega did their, who did all their graphic designs.
“A little further up from that Robert Rauschenberg great American painter. So you had this terrible scene on the street, but behind closed doors, you've had all these geniuses, uh, it was, it was, uh, it sort of made it worthwhile to live there knowing that you were not alone.
I didn't get to go to New York until the early eighties, but there was a familiarity of some of the places you reference. I stayed just above Arturo's pizza place in West Houston, nipped round to the Village Gate and saw jazz legends often playing for free. Do you go back there? Is it now a vanished world?
It is vanishing. It's not completely vanished yet, but certain blocks of Soho and the lower East side have vanished. The whole Bohemian avant garde scene has more or less vanished, I think. I don't know where all those people went. Where are the young people going now? Well, for a while it was Brooklyn, but now Brooklyn is getting too expensive. One of my sons is a DJ and has his own little record label said, I think I'm moving to Philadelphia. I hear it's cheap there. So maybe that's where everybody's going.
Your book does make clear the machinations, jostling for position that went on behind the scenes but what comes across just as clearly is that all the bad blood never spoiled the fulfilling brilliance of the music
“Well we always worked very well, the chemistry of the band was just fantastic and, you know, uh, to my way of thinking pretty unique in that nobody really sounded like Talking Heads. At least not until the nineties (we both chuckle).
But we had this really great chemistry and we knew that we were doing great work and that we were capable of doing more great work. And we just wanted to keep that thing happening, keep that, you know, train going down the track.
There’s a Zelig quality about your story. You’re there at the centre of many fabled rock dramas. Joe Strummer told me about going to Compass Point to make up with Mick Jones, and there you were.
“That was so funny it was early in the morning. There was a knock on my door and I thought, well, who could that be? And I opened the door and there was Joe Strummer standing there in a dripping bathing suit. He said, uh, sorry to bother you, Chris, have you seen Mick Jones?
You write really well about the experience of coming to England with the Ramones and the European tours. Did you find immediate affinity with all of the characters in the UK scene?
Yes, it was so exciting for us and people really welcomed us. There might've been some, uh, competition, friendly competition, or feelings of competition, but people, The Damned and The Clash and The Slits were very nice, and welcomed us very warmly.
“Even Sid Vicious. I tell the story of Tina, after we played the Roundhouse with the Ramones and also a band called The Saints from Australia.
“There was a party at this restaurant called Country Cousins where they served beer and hot dogs. I looked over and I saw Tina standing with Sid Vicious, Captain Sensible and Dee Dee Ramone, four bass players. Tina was showing Sid Vicious and Captain Sensible her bloody fingers, which, you know, in the punk days, you had to play hard and you had to play hard, loud, and fast or else the audience would walk out.
So Tina's fingers were just worn away and that night had started bleeding. I remember Sid vicious look at her and her hand and said, very sweetly, “But haven't you, Tina? Haven't you ever tried using... a plectrum?”
Talking Heads morph thrillingly midway through their career into a 9 piece, funk asserting collective, dynamic and unlimited. How so?
“After we made Remain in Light, I think Brian Eno said, Oh, the band cannot possibly perform these songs live. And David agreed with him. David was like, Oh no, we're not going to be able to tour this record.
“We thought, Oh, well, this record is going to die a death if we don't tour behind it. So David and Brian were convinced that the four of us could not perform the record. So I think it was Jerry who first said, well, what if we augment the group with extra extra musicians to play all the various parts?
“David was open to that idea.I guess it was Jerry who called up Busta Cherry Jones, a friend of our manager, a bass player from Memphis, Tennessee.
“He played on an Eno album or two, and he played with Chris Spedding And he was a super cool guy and, and, and well, well connected in the world of RNB.
“So we asked Buster, would he help us find some additional talent? Busta helped us find first Bernie Worrell,, who had recently left the P-Funk mob and was looking for something to do. Bernie had never heard of us, but he thought I'll give these white kids a shot.
“And he helped us find Steve Scales a great percussionist then and still is. And he helped us find Gillette McDonald who was a young, relatively unknown, uh, uh, disco, vocalist and background vocalist. And so, we added those three people plus Busta himself on, on second bass guitar.
Suddenly we had this awesome band that could really like, you know, just tear the roof off the sucker, as P-Funk would say. And that's what we did with that band. I still love it.
“ I write about the show in the first chapter of the book, the gig we did in Rome, which is on YouTube Talking Heads, Rome 1980. It was just a phenomenal band. Oh, I forgot. I almost forgot Adrian Belew, who we brought in on additional, you know, lead crazy solo guitar.
“We had a really unique kind of ensemble there with some of the best of RNB and some of the best of the new wave. It made for a really exciting live show.
There’s a palpable sense of freedom and exhilaration when you and Tina form Tom Tom Club, the line “what you gonna do when you get out of jail?” seems particularly apt. The runaway success must have brought some tension to the band.
Well, I don't know that it caused tension, but it definitely took David and Jerry by surprise. I mean, we were very pleasantly surprised too, by the success of it, but we always knew that we were capable, Tina and I knew that we were able to do something cool.
But with Tom Tom Club, we decided that we never had any idea of going solo or doing a solo or a side project.
“ It wasn't until after that big tour with the big band that our accountant said, Kristen, Tina, you got to do something. You've only got $2,000 in the bank between you. David was doing a solo album called The Catherine wheel. And then Jerry said, well, if David's doing a solo album, I'm going to do a solo album c. His was called The Red and The Black, and both of them were great records.
“With Tom Tom Club, we went off and said, the last thing we want to do is try to compete with Talking Heads. What we should do is something completely different. So, so we did, we did a record that we imagined would be great for parties and, and great, you know, ,for the DJs and the haunts we liked to go to like, uh, The Mudd Club and Danceteria.
And let me tell you Wordy Rappinghood and Genius of Love, got a lot of airplay at those venues. A lot of
Right I’m sure I saw you one night grooving to your own tune at Danceteria, digging it with everyone else...And why not?
So when did you last have any direct communication with David Byrne?
“The last time I spoke to him face to face was 2003. But we still communicate, we still have a lot of business together, uh, you know, licensing our, our songs to, uh, films and television. We have an agreement that we all have to agree that we want to do that.
Any big disagreements about usage?
Nope, we tend to agree on things. Theysay the only thing David doesn't agree to is ever doing anything with us, musically in the future, which is, you know, that's a shame, but that's just David, you know?
Was there ever a time when you thought a Talking Heads reunion was more likely to happen than not happen?
I had hoped that right after we were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and we did, we did the performance, which was on TV and everything. Offers started coming in, insanely good offers, uh, for Talking Heads to do a tour, or even just a few shows. And I thought, well, uh, why not? You know, we're still alive. We can still play, let's do this, but, but David just said in no uncertain terms that, Nope, he was not going to do that. And please, please don't ever bring it up again. So that's where we stood in 2002. And that's where we still stand today.
And has he seen your book?
No. He did tell me, actually not me, but our manager, Tina and I have a different manager than David does. He told our manager that he was not going to read the book because if people ask him what he thought of it, then he could just say, Oh, I didn't read it.
There’s the idea that David, not unlike many gifted talents was pre diagnosis ‘on the spectrum’. Viv Albertine famously said of her ex Mick Jones “all men are on the spectrum, Mick is at the extreme end”.
(Laughs) You can be highly creative and not be on the spectrum, but, we always knew that David was, in some ways, different. We tried to protect him and we tried to,, we tried to show him that we had respect and love for him. And we did, and we still do, but, but, but, but, see, David's not really capable of returning that feeling.
And I realize now it used to really bother me.
“I used to think, Oh, why doesn't, why doesn't he feel the same way about us?
And I realized now he doesn't feel the same way about anybody. Like, it's the way his brain is wired and it's not his fault. It's just, it's how he is. And over the years we did our best to keep the band going in spite of certain things that David would do, which were probably also not his fault, you know, like forgetting to mention anybody else in the band, pretty much ever.
In your whole time together he only says two things that in any way acknowledge your contribution.
Yeah, but you know what? In spite of all that I would do it all again. I would, yeah. I don't think David feels the same way, but I know the rest of the band would be very happy to do it all again.
Your (mis)adventure producing Happy Mondays makes pretty eye popping reading. Had you known the state of Shaun's drug habit at that time would you have taken the job?
I don't think we would have, we were so naive. All we knew is that they were a band from Manchester that was having some hits and that they were on Tony Wilson's label. We knew Tony Wilson and we had a great deal of respect for him. We liked him. So we thought, okay, why not? It sounds like fun. We'll go to Barbados. We're really having a great time. We had no idea of the bands, escapades with drugs and Shaun's addiction to heroin. We had no idea and no one told us.
Obviously, you've done your share of drugs, well documented. So what did he tell your kids about drugs growing up?
We have two sons and both of them have seen the results of the damage that this can do to a person, uh, uh, you know, heavy drug use. They loved Dee Dee Ramone and Dee Dee died and they were there for the happy Mondays and even though they were little, little kids, they could, they could see that these people were not right.
They're, they're grown men now. I think they both had their fun, shall we say with, with champagne and other things like that. But now both of them are, are pretty much sober and still highly productive. I mean, one, one is, uh, a DJ on record producer and the other is a painter and sculptor both doing well.
You report that George Clinton encouraged your son Robin to make his move the night before Tina went into labour with him, ceremonially laying hands on Tina’s belly. DidRobin ever connect with George on the outside?
Yes. it's been a while, but it was when Tom Tom Club played the Meltdown Festival.
“ We were walking down the street and saw this guy coming up the road and I said, Robin, that looks like George Clinton. And he said, you're right, daddy, it is George.
And as he got closer we said, Hey, George.
We had a nice chat and at the end George says “ do you guys know where I could find a pipe.? But George is in good shape now, I'm happy to say.
What were the long term effects of having your first workout session with Grace Jones, sweating in her Bikini.
“I'm still trying to get my ass to look like hers.”
From the divine to the truly horrifying. The eye witness account you give of John Martyn delivering a near drowning and vicious beating to his second wife. I don’t know, after reading it, if I could ever listen to Martyn’s music again.
“You know, Compass Point was such a wonderful place, but every once in a while somebody would come in and get toxic that that was about as toxic as you can get, and still live.I think one reason I included it in is, I know John Martyn is a highly revered, as a folk artist and he's done some great work, but Oh, what a nasty person that he was. I included it because, you know, I wanted people to know that, uh, not everything was so rosey as my own marriage.
Ok as a white artist who has dug and supported black music all your career how do you feel about Black Lives matter?
Well I live in a very sort of white area and because of lockdown, I haven't been out to any marches or anything in New York. I feel like I would love to go because you know, uh, black artists and writers and musicians have been so important to me in my life and continue to be. All I can say is I would love to show my feelings about this, that I fully support it.
And what are your hopes for the book? What do you want from it
“My hope for the book is that people read it and realize that Talking Heads was a shared experience, as was Tom Tom Club. And my, uh, love for Tina, uh, remains very strong this day. And I hope it sells a million copies.