This was a book that I didn’t want to waste too much not reading time before the print got cold. It came out last summer and my spouse got me a copy from the library where she works. It was last year I read David Byrne’s book and while the tales of recording the TVLKING HEVDS albums were a thread through the book, I felt that the other topics that “How Music Works” covered [and in such detail] were far more interesting than a history of Byrne’s band and solo career. Chris’ book in comparison, was more a story of his life in a traditional sense, incorporating his band, his wife Tina Weymouth, and their adventures outside of the band where they got their start. They had production successes as well as their own, very successful band.
Through it all, Chris [who did not have a ghost writer, by the way] maintained his affable tone that was a straightforward projection of his unaffected persona. Hhe outlined his childhood with his family, when he decided that the arts would be it for him, in spite of his father’s military background as a General. He grew up in Kentucky but found himself attending the Rhode Island School Of Design, where the fell in with David Byrne and the ball started rolling there. Next came Tina who was not immediately his girlfriend in college.
They both had other partners at the time that they met in school but Chris screwed up his courage and told her that he would be interested in such a scenario and with a little time, the moment came for each of them to try out that option. And that’s been the root of their 40+ year marriage. Their days in school together were spent delving into the finer points of P-Funk and assorted very groovy music, though their own noise was more astringent.
Eventually Tina was brought into the band though Byrne was hostile to this notion, and a thorn in her side. Through it all, Frantz thought that Byrne could be rude and difficult, but genuinely felt that his singular songwriting perspective was a unique voice in rock. Even as he was taking credit for songs that the band had written together. In this respect, much of this memoir had the feel of an abused spouse telling their story. Always reasoning, that the good times outweighed the bad.
By the time that the band were a successful three piece and playing shows in NYC on the weekend, labels came sniffing around. Seymour Stein of Sire Records had to wait until the band were ready; biding his time, but before they signed with Stein in 1977, they realized that they needed another set of hands and got Jerry Harrison into the band.
Harrison had gotten burned by the Modern Lovers experience earlier, and wanted to make sure that this band would not flake out on him like Jonathan Richman had. So after a suitable courtship period, he dropped his architecture studies and joined in time to begin recording their debut album, “Talking Heads ’77.”
Frantz painted a portrait of the band having more solidarity when they were less successful and that with success came distance and unhappiness for Byrne. Looking back it’s hard to believe that they all lived together in a city loft in their early years. Particularly when the band are all estranged from Byrne for the last two decades.
The chapters in the book are for the most part brief and Frantz tends to ramble; jumping in timelines when the persons he’s writing about had other roles to play in their story at later times. One exception was the amazing travelogue of the band’s first European tour, as the opening act for label mates Ramones. The detail here could have been its own book as the intellectual Heads all were soaking up Europe like sponges as Alpha Ramone Johnny was bemoaning a lack of burgers and American culture. Dee Dee may have been a junkie but when he managed to get a little cocaine in Europe, he made sure to share it with Frantz.
The light shone on the extremely dysfunctional Ramones inter-band relationships was astounding. From Johnny beating his girlfriend in public to his bullying of the rest of the band [“just don’t make him angry…”], the parallels that one might draw between Johnny Ramone and David Byrne were interesting. Both bands has a headstrong dominant leader who while at opposite ends of the personality spectrum, were content to use the band for their own ends and to undermine their bandmates while having a terrible time.
By the time that the band had been thriving but ultimately almost dissolving under the aegis of Brian Eno was discussed in great detail, with new insights given by the book. While I knew that “My Life In The Bush of Ghosts” was used as a “test kitchen” for where TVLKING HEVDS would go following the “Feat Of Music” album, what was news to me was how Byrne and Eno had a falling out after recording their album together. Frantz and Weymouth seem to have been the band’s nurturing factor and expended a lot of their energy keeping the fractious band together. Frantz stated that the “Remain In Light” sessions were begun by them and Harrison calling up Eno then Bryne and offering up the hot sessions as bait to renew their interest. One at a time. Once Eno was in, then Byrne followed suit. That fourth album might not have happened but for the machinations of Tina.
Even so, the band fissured following their “Expanded Heads” tour where the former shrinking violets of New Wave became expansive and afro-centric. With a nine member large band that I would have loved to have seen. I remember at the time that I thought that TVLKING HEVDS were goners. and of course that was when the three factions produced some of their best ever work apart from each other. Harrison and Byrne were working in adjacent and congruent areas to their main band, but Tina and Chris had the biggest succcess by making music far from the familiar Heads purview as Tom Tom Club. That they mined gold records in advance of TVLKING HEVDS was apparently galling to the others, though Chris was quick to point out that “The Catherine Wheel” was a very interesting record. but a Twyla Tharp soundtrack was pretty much destined to sell 1/100th of the caribbean funk monsta that was “Tom Tom Club.”
The second phase of the band after they reunited in 1983 had Byrne assuming tighter control of the songs and performances. They did one more tour then in 1984 and after that Byrne would no longer let the band do their thing onstage. Something that particularly stuck in Frantz’s craw. The later albums were very diminishing returns for my ears, and it’s sad reading of how the band were sucking it up and complying with Byrne just to keep together.
Meanwhile Tom Tom Club continued to make albums, albeit without the level of success that the first one had. For the record, I enjoyed all of them, with the exception of “Boom-Boom Chi-Boom-Boom.” That one just lacked the amount of Weymouth sisters mojo that I loved about the band. Given that the TTC and TVLKING HEVDS spent a lot of time in the 80s at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, it was heartening to see that their neighbor Robert Palmer was a steady presence in their story. Playing percussion on “Remain In Light” and giving them the friendship and encouragement that they were not getting from Byrne. I’m still waiting for a rock scribe to begin the Robert Palmer story and his appearances here only whetted my appetite for such.
Tina and Chris also had a successful production career with gold albums by Ziggy Marley but their production career was definitely over shadowed by their involvement with Happy Mondays for the infamous “Yes Please!” sessions that stretched them to the limit and beyond. The tale of recording that album [I’ve heard nothing from it] will turn your hair white. Forget white. You’d lose your hair! Tina and Chris new Tony Wilson and thought they’d be up for production but even their relaxed attitude toward drug use got put to the test once The Mondays arrived in heroin withdrawal. It seemed that Shaun Ryder had dropped his methedone in the airport and panicked as his lifeline was on the floor; leading him to lick up any remaining droplets of the precious substance from the Heathrow floor.
Then as they arrived, things got weirder. The band members were in were five car wrecks; one of them having almost completely severed and crushed Bez’ arm. The band wanted to actually play on this record. Apparently DJs had constructed everything up to this point in their discography. The band could barely play and Tina was in the studio teaching them song construction and conducting them with placards …verse…now chorus [points]! Then Shaun Ryder was unable to function at all, much less write and sing lyrics. He had to ultimately go home and straighten out before finishing the album successfully in later sessions. The band were attempting to strip the studio and sell the gear to feed their habits. The tale of recording that album [I’ve heard nothing from it, actually] will turn your hair white. Forget white. You’d lose your hair!
The sad ending of TVLKING HEVDS with a final performance during their admission into the Rock + Roll Hall Of Fame® has been well recounted elsewhere, but what none of us knew was that Byrne’s wife was contacting the band that night, asking where her husband was afterward.He had mentioned to Frantz that he was leaving her. “It’s time to move on.” Frigid cold! But Byrne was an equal time offender. The amount of abuse that Frantz and Weymouth had to endure to keep the ideal of the band alive in his head was heartbreaking. Only in the last 20 years did it seem that he and Tina had finally moved onward. Making the last Tom Tom Club album in 2000 [the great “The Good, The Bad + The Funky”] and their apparent swan song, the “Downtown Rockers” EP in 2012 [which I still need to get…].
There’s not too much self-reflection here. Mostly a guy spinning the yarn of his life late in his years. Through it all, Frantz painted a self-portrait as an easygoing guy who liked his pot, coke, and hash and oh yeah, there was a page in there where Tina almost left him over his drug usage… oops! Better shape up. One interesting notion was that whenever the band, no matter how large, were recording, it was the ladies who stopped the drugs long enough to get the work done. For this let us be thankful! Especially since as the book ended, Frantz revealed that Tina was writing her own memoir. This was a fun read, and informative as to the interband politics we had glimpses of prior; but never in this detail. But I am already queued up awaiting the book that Tina Weymouth has probably been writing all year in quarantine. To that I say “…yes, please!”
“But I am already queued up awaiting the book that Tina Weymouth has probably been writing all year in quarantine. To that I say “…yes, please!”
Had to chuckle at your closing line. I’m no Tina Weymouth, but I did in fact spend a good chunk of quarantine completing no less than four drafts of a tome covering 35 years of my own adventures in the music biz!
JT – Amazing! Then I guess it’s time we’ll finally have the lid ripped off of the “Trent Reznor: Jerk or NOT?” controversy! We await that promo copy with bated breath!
[did you see what I did there?]
Great review. Also, recently read it and the episodes you mentioned (Ramones in Europe, Robert Palmer and the Happy Monday catastrophe) stuck out for me. I loved the back story into the Tom Tom Club – my own foray into new wave music began with the Northern California soul music stations, where Tom Tom Club was constantly played (Genius of Love, Wordy Rappinghood) I only saw Talking Heads for the first time on MTV with their Burning down the house video. Interesting that Byrne was jealous of their success and barely acknowledge it
AR Brooklyn – Welcome to the comments! I also remember hearing Tom Tom Club on the Central Florida soul music station in my senior year of high school. How strange to hear this TVLKING HEVDS spin off band having such great success in advance of their first band; who were only a cult item at that time. Albeit huge titans in the New Wave movement. As Tina + Chris were lifelong fans of Soul Train, what a trip that they got to play on Soul Train to promote the record.
Two things I should comment on in the context of your review:
1. I met Johnny (and Joey/Jeff, albeit briefly) ahead of the Ramones gig at The Edge back in ’94 (!!). My impression of Johnny was mostly good — he was kind to me as a journalist (for The Orlando Weekly!), he did and said some funny things, he was candid about his relationship with Joey and his view of the music biz — but he had a constantly-simmering background rage like a New Jersey gangster (or Eric Roberts, whom I’ve also met) that you knew you avoid provoking. He was also a uber-conservative Reaganite, whereas Johnny was the polar opposite. I could see that he was the “asshole” that drove the band, otherwise they’d all be sitting around playing video games or doing drugs, but not someone I would like much in “real life.”
2. I did get to see the expanded TH lineup at the Fabulous Fox in Atlanta, with TTC opening (1982), and it was certainly one of the top three concerts I’ve ever seen in my life. I was flabbergasted that Tina, who as very pregnant at the time, got out there and funked it/rocked it with both bands for an incredibly long time in total (easily three very sweaty hours!). This was also of course my first time seeing Bernie Worrell play live, which was incredible (as was the rest of the expanded lineup). Most bands would have just cranked out a series of similar albums to RiL just to keep that band together for as long as possible, so I give Byrne some credit for not doing that for too long.
Whereas both David and Johnny were the engines that drove their respective bands, I think with the former it was a mental (autism maybe?) way of being behaviourally off-kilter that was equally part of his appeal, whereas Johnny clearly had an authoritarian streak. Not my favourite person in either band, but without them there wouldn’t have been what we got.
The reunion performance at the RnR HoF of Talking Heads was just heartbreaking, since it was so good. Just infuriating to watch compared to the not-uninteresting but not inspiring stuff Byrne was putting out on his own at the time.
Got to meet Chris and Tina (and others) during the Escape From New York Tour. It was in the parking lot and I walked up to him “Mr. Franz!” and I heard him say “no” as he turned toward me and I said “oh, Sorry!” and began to walk away. He then said louder “I said ‘YO!’ What’s up?” I went over and we chatted for a few moments and got his autograph and Tina’s. Can’t thank them enough for being so gracious with a fan. Several years later they are playing an outdoor multi-stage festival here in Seattle (Bumbershoot Festival if you’re familiar) and they aren’t on the main stage but one of the many smaller stages – and at night when the “headliner” is playing (don’t remember who, don’t care) I was RIGHT UP FRONT AND CENTER and absolutely getting into it. Great set. Tina noticed me and I could tell she was enjoying the energy I was giving off. Criminally underrated band. And all that other stuff about their other band and what not.