Talking Heads' Chris Frantz on New Memoir, David Byrne, Reunion Odds - Rolling Stone
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Talking Heads Drummer Chris Frantz on His New Memoir and the Last Time He Saw David Byrne

“It would be nice if a reunion could happen,” says Frantz as he reflects on his time in the legendary band, “because unlike many of our contemporaries, we’re all still alive”

GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 28:  Chris Frantz of Tom Tom Club  performs on the West Holts stage during day 2 of the 2013 Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm on June 28, 2013 in Glastonbury, England.  (Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz spoke with us about his new memoir 'Remain in Love' and why fans shouldn't expect to see a reunion tour.

Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Before Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club drummer Chris Frantz started writing his new memoir, Remain in Love (out July 21st), he had to figure out one very important thing. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘What’s the tone going to be?'” he tells Rolling Stone. “The last thing I wanted tone-wise was for it to be a book by a whiny drummer beating up on the lead singer. That’s not me and I just didn’t want to be like that.”

He has quite a few reasons to beat up on the lead singer. Talking Heads frontman David Byrne took the band off the road right at its commercial peak in 1984, broke it up seven years later, and has refused all offers to reunite in the intervening years, with the sole exception of a three-song set at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2002.

Frantz and Byrne haven’t spoken face-to-face in 17 years. And even though the drummer lives a quick drive away from New York City in Connecticut, Byrne didn’t invite him to see his 2019 musical American Utopia at any point during its run on Broadway. To this day, Frantz has only seen little clips of it on YouTube, even though it’s packed with Talking Heads songs he helped create.

Frantz does touch on some of this bitterness in the book, but he spends much more time celebrating the group’s many accomplishments along with his four-decade partnership with wife and bandmate Tina Weymouth. Remain in Love details their early romance at the Rhode Island School of Design and how it survived and even thrived during their time together in Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club. It also reveals how they created masterpieces like the 1982 Tom Tom Club song “Genius of Love.”

Frantz called up Rolling Stone to talk about the book, the state of his relationship with David Byrne, the slim odds of a Talking Heads reunion, and his future plans.

I really enjoyed your book. When did you get the idea to write it?
I had the idea for many years, like a really long time, but I didn’t really talk about it. Then about six or eight years ago, I started talking about it with Tina and other friends. They started prodding me. “Chris, when are you going to write that book?”

With the help of my manager, I got a literary agent. He said, “Chris, this is what you’ve got to do. You have to write an outline and three chapters. We’re very critical. We’re going to edit them.” And I said, “OK, fine.” I did that and like a week later I had a book deal. It was so fast. Everybody should be so lucky, I guess.

That was about two years ago. It took me a year and a half to write it and another six months to finish all the edits.

Did you ever think about bringing on a collaborator to help you with it?
I considered having a ghostwriter. A lot of the best memoirs are ghostwritten. But then I thought, “I went to a good college. I can write.” I also felt like I really should do it myself; I should do the work.

I was very impressed by your memory for detail, especially when it came to the early days of the Talking Heads. Did you keep any sort of diary from back then that you consulted?
All through my Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club experience I was always thinking, “I should be keeping a journal.” I also thought, “I should also be taking photographs.” But I never had a camera and I bought a couple of journals, but I never journaled in them. I guess I was too distracted, or things were moving too fast. I had to rely on my memory.

But Tina, thank goodness, kept very good datebooks. I’m talking about datebooks that you buy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The 1977 one had King Tut on the cover. She was our road manager back then, so she would write down the name of the venue that we played, how many people bought tickets, how many encores we got and whether or not she thought it was a good show. If it was, she’d say, “Great show.” If it wasn’t, she’d write, “Never come back here again.”

I had that to go on, which was very helpful. You can get Talking Heads dates online, but a lot of times they aren’t exactly correct. That’s because if you’ve ever been on a rock & roll tour, you know that at the beginning they hand you an itinerary. The next thing you know, a few dates are canceled and another few dates have been added. And this one got rained out and that one was canceled because they don’t want any punk bands in their towns. The road crew, when you hand them an itinerary at the beginning of a tour, they say, “Ah, I never look at these things. They are a tissue of lies.” They sort of were. Tina has the real facts in her datebooks. That was helpful.

There are lots of bootlegs from that time period. Did you turn to them to jog your memory about the concerts?
There are many bootlegs. In fact, there’s a guy in Holland that I mention named Hans DeVente who worked for Sony. If we were anywhere near Amsterdam, or sometimes he’d come to London or New York, he always had the best portable recording gear that he got from Sony and he made wonderful, really good quality, live tapes of us. He never made them public. I have them all on a hard drive. His are great.

The thing I love the most is the Talking Heads in Rome in 1980. You might have seen that on YouTube. I love that. That was so good.

It’s a shame so few shows were filmed like that. There’s just so much lost history.
I think Warner Bros. has film footage in their vault. Various people would shoot the band with film. I don’t know what the heck happened to it all.

I’ve seen that CBGB footage from 1975 when the group was still a three-piece. That’s incredible.
That is our friend Pat Ivers and her friend. They were NYU students.

There are so many fascinating stories in the book. Going back to the RISD days, I never heard the one where David Byrne snuck into an art show before it opened and rearranged all the paintings to give his more prominent placement. You said you just learned that recently. How did you find out?
The same guy that introduced me to David Byrne had a little duo with him before I ever worked with him. His name is Mark Kehoe. Mark and David had a little duo. Mark played the accordion. David played the violin and ukulele and guitar. They did songs like “Pennies From Heaven.” It was peculiar, but fun.

I called up Mark to fact check a few things. He was the one who took David to Tina’s carriage house, where I kept my drums. Mark wanted David and I to perform some music for a student film he made about his girlfriend getting run over by a car. He said, “I just want you to make a real dissonant, cacophonous noise that crescendos and then diminuendos.”

I said, “OK, I can do that.” He said, “I’m going to bring a guy along I know who plays guitar. Maybe you can do it together.” I said, “Fine.” He brought in this guy, David Byrne, who I kind of knew already. I recognized him, but didn’t really know him because David and I were in the same freshman class at RISD. He later dropped out, but we didn’t have any classes together, so I didn’t really know him then. During our freshman year, he had this big, long beard and wore grandfather-type clothes.

I didn’t really know him, but a lot of people called him Mad Dave. I thought, “Why do they call him Mad Dave?” Then you watch him for a while and you’re like, “Oh, I see.” [Laughs]

Anyway, he played this music for Mark’s film. I wanted to ask him if it happened how I thought it did, and he couldn’t remember a thing. Nothing. He couldn’t remember even making the film. I don’t know what’s going on with my generation. Maybe we were all too high, but I remember it very clearly.

About five or six years ago, Mark and I are going to a mutual friend’s funeral, my roommate from RISD who was living up in Vermont. He unfortunately passed away way too young. We went up for his funeral and I drove Mark in my car. He said to me, “Did I ever tell you the story about the Woods-Gerry Gallery show?” I said, “I remember that show. It was canceled.” And he said, “Yeah, it was canceled. But did I ever tell you what David did?” I said, “No, you didn’t. And he told me the story.” I thought, “Wow, I wish I knew that a long time ago.”

Tina famously said once that David was “incapable of returning friendship.” At what point in your life did you feel closest to him on a friendship level?
I think it was the early days. I felt closest to him when we were at the Rhode Island School of Design and we had this band the Artistics together. And then that continued on until we moved in New York and we actually lived together until the bicentennial in 1976. Around that time, we each got our own apartment. We lived together for a good couple of years.

I really felt like we were close. And we were. We went places together. We did things together. We hung out and had a lot of mutual friends, most of which were people that came to New York from RISD like we had. I guess he just became more and more detached from us as we had more and more success. The more success we had, the less we saw of David.

He speaks these days about being autistic. Did you have a sense of that back then?
I didn’t even know what autism really was back then. I knew extreme autism, like almost retardation and people that sit in a corner and rock back and forth. I knew about that, but I didn’t know about a thing called the spectrum and that there is such a thing as high-functioning autism. I had no idea, but we always knew there was something going on with David that gave him a different kind of demeanor than everyone else. It also gave him a different perspective. For example, the song “Don’t Worry About the Government.” Who would write a song like that? It was so unique and so charming, such a unique perceptive for a songwriter. I felt like, “Whatever it is that David has, it’s good.”

You wrote “Psycho Killer” truly as a band and that’s such a perfect song. I can’t imagine the frustration you felt when he tried to just take over the creative process.
The truth is that we were always part of the writing process. Eventually David said, “I want to be the one who writes the lyrics.” I thought, “Oh, OK,” because he did have this unique perspective and I could appreciate that, how he felt.

We were always a big part of getting the song going and taking it from zero to 100. Even with songs from the latter albums … not Naked. The final album was a real collaboration between the four of us. But True Stories and Little Creatures, David came to us with demos. That was the first time he ever did that. It was just himself and an acoustic guitar on a boombox. He played the songs for us and we thought, “Hmm. This is a different direction, but we can dig it. We can work with this.”

Even there, where David had already written the words and already had a vocal melody, there was a lot to be done in terms of arrangement and building the songs from a little sketch to a full painting.

You didn’t always get credit for that, though.
No. We didn’t always get credit for that. It became … How shall I say this? At that point in our experience, we knew that if we were going to work with David, it was going to be like this. “This is what he’s like, this is how it is. If we just keep cool and keep our nose to the grindstone, then we’ll come up with some good records and we’ll continue as a band.” It was very important for me to continue as a band.

Do you think that without Tina in the band, it would have been hard for you to get through some of these more frustrating moments?
Yeah, probably. Tina was such an important member of the band and so important to me. People often ask me, “How can you work with your wife in a band? How can you do that? Don’t you drive each other crazy?” I can remember record company people going, “Oh, they’re going to drive each other crazy,” referring to me and Tina. But we never drove each other crazy. It wasn’t like we agreed 100 percent on everything all the time. We had our moments where we disagreed. But both of us are fairly savvy people and people that understand stuff. While sometimes it was disappointing, in the end I would say that I would do it all over again. Talking Heads was so unique. I knew if I did a solo record, it would never end up anything like Talking Heads. I really wanted to keep that going.

People are often surprised to learn that the band stopped touring in 1984. You guys kept making records and scoring hits, but you didn’t tour. That must have been frustrating too.
It was frustrating. We knew, from experience, that touring is how you sell records. As Lou Reed told us very early on, “You know, you gotta tour. The fans, they want to view the body.” [Laughs] That’s really what it is. They want to view the body. We were a hell of a band. We put on a fantastic show.

You write about David’s negative reaction to the first Tom Tom Club record going gold. Do you think it was hard for him to process the fact that you did so well without him?
I think it pissed him off, yes. He was, at the time, working on his real solo album, The Catherine Wheel. Let’s just say that that the Tom Tom Club sold about 100 times more copies and had 100 times more airplay. There was just no comparison. Now, I wouldn’t dismiss The Catherine Wheel as being not good. It’s a very interesting record. But it didn’t connect with the public the way Tom Tom Club did. That was kind of his choice. He chose to go into a project with Twyla Tharp, really a fine-arts thing.

David is always trying to do the fine-arts thing. You’ve probably noticed this. A couple of times I’ve heard him dismiss our success in the Tom Tom Club as being “merely popular.” That’s where his head is at. [Laughs]

I still hear “Genius of Love” all the time and it’s obviously been sampled everywhere. Do the royalty checks just pour in from that one song?
Well, we’ve done alright by that song, I’m happy to say. It helped put our kids through college.

In your book, you didn’t write about the Heads experience in the mid-Nineties, your project that was essentially the Talking Heads minus David. Did you just not want to revisit that?
I was very disappointed with the reaction that that got, not just in terms of press, though the press was terrible on that. They were like, “How dare they make an album without David Byrne?” [Laughs] Rolling Stone in particular. I had to cancel my subscription after that review.

Sorry.
But you weren’t the only ones. It was just not what I hoped it would be. I’m very grateful to the good friends, the vocalists, that helped us out. They did a wonderful job. Debbie Harry and Andy Partridge and Michael Hutchence, may he rest in peace, and Richard Hell. There was a lot of really interesting singers and they also contributed the lyrics. I thought it was a very interesting collaboration, but I didn’t get into that in the book because I didn’t want to write about an experience that was kind of a downer for me in the end.

The Tom Tom Club haven’t toured since 2013. Are you thinking about going back out again?
It’s possible. We were just getting ready to do some shows when this COVID thing happened. We’ll see what happens when this all dies down. I’m actually thinking about writing another book on a completely different subject. Whatever it is that makes you want to do music, wiring a book kind of fulfills that same need. On the other hand, maybe we will do something with Tom Tom Club. Why not?

Jerry Harrison was planning a tour this year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Remain in Light. How did you feel about that?
I’m happy for Jerry and Adrian [Belew] to go out and show off their musical talent. [Laughs] And I understand that the band Turkuaz is really good. They played at our local venue here and people were raving about them. I’m sure it would be a fun show. But I’m not really interested in doing covers of my own band. [Laughs]

Did you see David’s Broadway show?
I would have liked to go, but I wasn’t going to just drop in uninvited. I think that would have been peculiar. And no invitation came, so I haven’t seen the show. I’ve seen little bits on YouTube.

He does nine Talking Heads songs, and they’re basically the biggest moments of the show where everyone stands up and goes nuts. How successful do you think the show would have been had he not done any Talking Heads songs?
I think it’s highly unlikely that without Talking Heads songs he would have even had a Broadway show.

It must be frustrating that he’s still doing so much with music that you guys all made together.
Yeah. He always says, “I don’t want to look back” when they ask him about a Talking Heads reunion. “That would be a step backwards for me.” Well. OK. [Laughs]

 

When is the last time you spoke with him in any capacity?
We communicate via email from time to time. The last time I saw him face-to-face was at [the restaurant] ‘inoteca on the Lower East Side in 2003. It’s been a very long time.

I imagine fans need to let go of this fantasy of a reunion. It seems like it’s just not going to happen.
It would be nice if it could happen because unlike many of our contemporaries, we’re all still alive. The last time I spoke with David it was regarding a reunion. First he said, “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.” I said, “Fine.” That was on a Friday night. The following Monday I got an email saying, “I’ve told you before and I’ll say it again for the last time. I will never reunite with the Talking Heads. Please don’t bring this up again.” This was 2003. I remember it was snowing, so it was winter time.

Then he goes onstage every night and sings “Burning Down the House.”
Yeah. In his mind, that’s his song.

It’s not. It’s the four of you.
I know. I guess someday we’ll get some sort of check from the Broadway show.

I wouldn’t wait by your mailbox.
I’m not holding my breath. [Laughs]

Do you ever get big money offers from promoters trying to entice him?
That happened a few years back, yeah. We got offered crazy amounts of money to do shows. Not only do the show, but also the DVD and the live recording. It was a treasure trove. Anybody in their right mind probably would have said yes.

I guess the silver lining is that you guys have a pristine legacy and it’ll remain that way.
Yeah. Let me just say that I have my own life outside Talking Heads and music with Tina and our family and little dogs. I’ve been very fortunate and I’m not complaining.

To switch gears, tell me the secret to a long marriage. You two have shattered almost every precedent in rock history.
Yeah. It’s pretty wild. I believe that for your marriage to continue, it should keep being romantic. It may sound cliché, but don’t forget the long-stemmed red roses. Make sure there is a dozen on Valentine’s Day. Make sure to get chocolate and make sure it’s the really, really good, dark chocolate. And every once in a while, take your wife on a vacation to a place that she always wanted to go. I’m not talking about fishing. [Laughs] If she wants to go to Venice, take her to Venice. Another thing that is very important is to maintain your sense of humor and be able to crack a joke that makes her laugh.

Do you have an idea in mind for your second book? Will it be non-fiction?
I think it will be non-fiction, but a completely different kind of thing. I think it’s going to be a travel book. I’ve had some interesting travels.

Are you going to encourage Tina to write her own memoir so we can hear her take on things?
Well, she had a meeting with the agent. The agent said, “Let’s do this, Tina.” It’s going to happen.

Are you able to envision a Talking Heads biopic?
Wouldn’t that be so great? But Brad Pitt is too old now to play the young Chris Frantz. [Laughs]

How about just a great documentary?
That would be very good too. We’ll see what happens.

I’ll let you go now, but sorry about the bad review of the Heads album in Rolling Stone. Before my time.
[Laughs] Water under the bridge … No. Courvoisier under the jacuzzi.

Find the book here

 

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