Book review by Duncan Ficke
From Bowery loft room home rehearsals to being ‘bigger than Rod Stewart in New Zealand’ and a career-high gig in Rome in 1980, on the ‘Remain in Light’ tour, Chris Frantz’s life story reads like every budding musician’s dream come true: form a band, convince the person you have just fallen emphatically in love with to join, and live happily ever after.
Duncan FickeRegarding the Rome gig: They all agree it was the best crowd ever that night, and because they hit a peak with that album and most people, including the band, say that ‘Remain’ is their best album, they never ever bettered it, Frantz says.
‘Sometimes people ask me if it is hard to play music and tour with my wife,’ he states early on, ‘I tell them that I have never known any other way, and I love it, I really do. It takes kindness, patience, and a good sense of humour. But most of all, it takes a willingness to accept love and return love. Every man should be so lucky.’ And so say all of us!
Thank You for Sending Me An Angel
Born in Kentucky, the son of an army officer, he had a privileged middle class upbringing, later enrolling at the Rhode Island School of Design. Here, he finally plucked up the courage to talk to fellow student Tina Weymouth, a petite, blue-eyed, blonde-haired woman, who had caught his infatuation, together the couple seemed to create a perfect biorhythm long before their mantra-like syncopation of drums and bass in Talking Heads and later in their own creation Tom Tom Club.
In between is a rollercoaster of a riches to rags and back to riches story, endless gigs at the now-defunct famed Bowery dive bar CBGBs, apprentices to the likes of The Ramones and Lou Reed, the latter almost duping the young innocents into signing an album deal giving him the rights to their music. Meeting and hanging out with local residents Patti Smith, Blondie, Television, Richard Hell, and lunches with Andy Warhol at the Factory were taken in their stride while holding down their day jobs and scratching to pay the monthly rent, any spare time was given to writing songs and honing their craft musically until it became second nature.
A friend recommended a singer/guitar player. Enter David Byrne, an awkward, shy character with a mad stare, whose Scottish grandma once told him, ‘trust no-one Davey, even your own asshole will let you down’.
Byrne comes across as the perfect frontman for this original type of music, which fused post-punk, art rock, Afro-beat, and reggae with a slight jazz edge. However, as captivating and enigmatic as he was, with the introduction of Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno on production duties, Byrne began to exercise a level of control and would later refuse to even recognise the other members in the songwriting credits. As Weymouth put it, ‘David couldn’t figure out where he stopped and other people began, a selfish character seemingly unable to respect people or return friendship’.
It should be borne in mind Frantz was more than a drummer for Talking Heads. He co-wrote many of the songs and came up with the style and the rhythm ideas.
Although first present on the band’s lp More Songs About Buildings and Food of Music, Eno would massively influence the follow-up album Remain in Light, where fresh from working with Bowie, he would bring swathes of moody often slightly scary electronic soundscapes, which in the hands of any other band may have ended up sounding a tad too depressing, but in the hands of the Heads it evolved into perfectly formed futuristic funk for the new decade.
A Clean Break
Inevitably the tensions would split the band – Byrne would leave the band – and he and guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison would briefly pursue other projects. It was Frantz and his lifelong partner who would reap instant chart success with their new band Tom Tom Club, named after an apartment they bought in Nassau, Bahamas, after an invitation from Island records boss Chris Blackwell, to come to record at his Compass Point Studios, which was home to, among others, Grace Jones, Sly and Robbie, and Robert Palmer.
Two singles – ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ and ‘Genius of Love’ in the early 1980s – would take the world’s charts by storm, ironically eclipsing any previous success of their former band and their appearance on the American black music show Soultrain was a joint personal high and dream come true, for the couple. Although Talking Heads would
re-convene, they would eventually split for good, after three more albums, but Frantz and Weymouth would start a family and be forever devoted to each other as they obviously remain to this day.
With Our Love
In these strange times this really is an engaging, moving, triumphant, uplifting tale of two world-beating bands with totally original styles, but the friendship, love, and sheer dedication the couple share towards each other is what leaves an even bigger impression than even the ground-breaking sexy nature of the music itself. Although it wasn’t all plain sailing as Weymouth threatened to leave at one point due to Frantz’s cocaine and alcohol abuse at that time.
‘A drummer should make you want to get up and dance and feel good about yourself,’ Frantz at says, and this reviewer couldn’t agree with that statement more! He certainly sincerely and wholeheartedly achieved his goal, among a great many other achievements. Attempting to produce Happy Mondays notwithstanding!