Talking Heads

 Talking Heads

 David Byrne – circa 1979

“I can’t seem to face up to the facts / I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax” – ’Psycho Killer’ (David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth)

David Byrne avoids eye contact.  He stares at the floor while speaking.  A lock of lank, dark hair falls across his pale forehead.  When he glances up, his eyes dart about, giving him the furtive look of a hunted wild animal.  It is the late 1970s and David Byrne is the frontman of American new wave band Talking Heads.  “I guess he’s organically shy,” ventures bassist Tina Weymouth.  Byrne says, “I couldn’t talk to people face to face, so I got on stage and started screaming and squealing and twitching.”

David Byrne is born 14 May 1952 in Dumbarton, Dumbartonshire, Scotland, U.K.  David has a sister named Celia who will go on to become an epidemiologist, specialising in breast cancer.  When David Byrne is 2 years old, he and his family move to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, because David’s father has a job opportunity there.  When David is 7, the family relocates to Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.  Although he lives in the U.S.A. from this point on, David Byrne never takes out U.S. citizenship.  David attends Lansdowne High School in Baltimore.  He learns to play guitar and, at high school, has a covers band called Revelation.

After completing high school, David Byrne attends the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970-1971.  “The whole direction I was going into in art…was working with questionnaires and polls and things like that that had to do with reactions between myself and larger numbers of people than [art] galleries.”  David Byrne begins putting on ‘somewhat left-of-centre solo performances’ of conceptually based art.  In one such show, ‘he shaves his beard and long hair onstage, accompanied by an accordion player and showgirl who displays Russian cue cards.’  That image is how two members of the audience, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, remember first seeing David Byrne.

Charlton Christopher Frantz is born 8 May 1951 in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, U.S.A.  Chris comes from a military family that moves around the U.S.A. in accordance with their father’s postings.  Chris has a brother named Roddy.  The family settles in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when Chris Frantz is in his mid-teens.  Chris attends the Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh until graduating in 1970.  Chris first experiments with music in the fourth grade when he tries to learn trumpet.  Discouraged at his lack of progress, the youngster switches to trombone only to find he is equally unsuited to that instrument.  Finally, Chris Frantz moves to drums.  In 1965 he forms a group called The Hustlers.  They change their name to The Beans (March 1969-July 1970).  Leaving behind high school bands, Chris Frantz attends the Rhode Island School of Design from 1970 to 1974.

Martina Michele Weymouth is born 22 November 1950 in Coronado, Southern California, U.S.A.  Her father, Ralph Weymouth, is American, while her mother, Laure, is French.  Like Chris Frantz, Tina comes from a military family and so lives in different parts of the world.  Ralph Weymouth is in the navy and eventually attains the rank of vice admiral.  Tina has seven siblings including her brothers Loric and Yann and sisters Lani and Laura.  Tina’s first brush with music comes when she is 12 and she plays in a touring handbell ensemble, a medieval-themed enterprise.  She begins playing folk music on guitar when she is 14, but gives up later in high school.  It is ‘more than a decade’ before Tina Weymouth plays music again.  An attractive blonde girl, Tina is a cheerleader in high school.  She goes on to attend the Rhode Island School of Design from 1970 to 1974.  “My first summer job was working for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the naval shipyard at Washington, D.C.,” says Tina.  “I worked as an educational illustrator.”

After Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth witness David Byrne’s oddball performance art show, Chris gets to know David.  Their association, at this point, is fated to be brief.  David Byrne drops out before completing his first year because he ‘doesn’t like the elitist attitudes.’  Leaving the Rhode Island School of Design in 1971, Byrne spends a year (1971-1972) at the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore.  While in Baltimore, Byrne performs with Mark Kehoe as a duo called Bizadi (February 1971-March 1972).  David Byrne then abandons his school days completely.

David Byrne seeks out Chris Frantz who is still at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth meet while both are attending the Rhode Island School of Design.  “We met at a figure-painting class in September 1972,” recalls Chris.  “I was looking around the room at the other students and there was one really attractive girl in the corner…She had a boyfriend at the time…When they broke up, I was able to console her and woo her.”

In October 1973 David Byrne and Chris Frantz form a band called The Artistics.  They later change their name to The Autistics ‘in honour of a second guitarist who had once been diagnosed autistic.’  The Artistics/Autistics break up in June 1974.

David Byrne moves to New York City.  Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design and the couple move to New York City in September 1974.  David and Chris talk about forming a new group.  All three of them live in a loft at 195 Chrystie Street – though Chris and Tina’s area is discreetly partitioned off.  While the boys search for “other like-minded musicians to join the band”, all three obtain jobs.  Chris Frantz is a stock boy at Design Research, Tina Weymouth works at Henri Bendel’s, and David Byrne works as an usher at Murray Hill Cinema until packing that in and taking a job making photocopies for an advertising agency.  Eventually, it becomes clear to Frantz and Byrne that they are not going to find any suitable additional musicians.  In desperation, Chris asks Tina to play bass.  Despite her teenage flirtation with guitar, Tina is described as a ‘non-musician.’  “Initially I was just a fan [of the band],” she says.  Still, Tina Weymouth agrees and a band is born consisting of: David Byrne (vocals, guitar), Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums).

After considering such possibilities as The Vogue Dots, The Tunnel Tones and The World Of Love, the group take the name Talking Heads.  Everyone agrees that the name came from the U.S. magazine ‘T.V. Guide’.  Tina Weymouth claims, “A friend had found the name in the ‘T.V. Guide’ which explained the term used by T.V. studios to describe a head-and-shoulder shot of a person talking as ‘all content, no action.’”  David Byrne has a different recollection: “A friend of ours, [Wayne Zieve] – he’s a painter – he saw it in ‘T.V. Guide’ magazine.  It was the name of some crazy science-fiction movie.  I think it was called ‘The Talking Heads.’  Probably a head in a box or something,” he adds with a laugh.  There doesn’t seem to be any ‘crazy science-fiction’ movie called ‘Talking Heads’.  The nearest candidate is ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Die’ (1962) which is also known as ‘The Head That Wouldn’t Die.’

Talking Heads first gig is on 20 June 1975 at the New York venue C.B.G.B.’s where they open for New York punk rock band The Ramones.  Tina Weymouth points out that the early Talking Heads’ gigs had audiences that were largely made up of their friends and family.  Talking Heads play regularly at C.B.G.B.’s.  A record company representative named Marc Spector makes a recording in 1975 of two songs, ‘Sugar On My Tongue’ and ‘I Want To Live’, by the trio but, for now, nothing comes from their efforts.

Although Talking Heads are progressing, there is a feeling that something is missing.  Chris Frantz says, “What we needed was someone who could play keyboards and guitar to give us a fuller sound.”  That someone turns out to be Jerry Harrison.

Jeremiah Griffin Harrison is born 21 February 1949 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A.  In the fourth grade he begins learning piano, clarinet and saxophone.  Harrison plays in a number of high school bands during his teens.  From 1967 to 1969 Jerry Harrison attends Harvard University.  While there, he is in a band called Albatross that disbands in mid-1969.  After leaving university, Harrison plays keyboards in Catfish Black (1969-1970).  Eccentric singer Jonathan Richman then employs Jerry Harrison as part of his backing band, The Modern Lovers, from March 1971 to March 1974.  In this outfit, Harrison plays both guitar and keyboards.  Although the commercial rewards for Jonathan Richman And The Modern Lovers are meagre, they are a critics’ favourite and highly regarded.  After Richman disbands/reinvents the group, the dismissed Harrison feels justifiably disillusioned with the whole rock music industry.  “I was starting graduate school after some very lean years,” explains Harrison.  He intends to study architecture.  Ernie Brooks, the bass player from The Modern Lovers, gives Chris Frantz Jerry’s phone number after the drummer enquires about whether Jerry would be available.  Harrison has ‘grave doubts’ about joining Talking Heads, but agrees ‘provided he can finish the semester’ at graduate school.  The news that Talking Heads has a record deal in the works with Seymour Stein of Sire Records seals the deal for Jerry Harrison.  Tina Weymouth describes him as “the band’s resident scientist and sex symbol.”

The recognisable Talking Heads quartet of David Byrne (vocals, guitar), Jerry Harrison (guitar, keyboards), Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums) is assembled in January 1976.

Talking Heads are usually described as a punk or new wave band.  The two genres blur together a bit.  Both have a goal to return rock music to a simpler and more basic form.  Punk is more aggressive compared to its successor, the more eccentric new wave.  David Byrne’s neurotic mannerisms place Talking Heads closer to the new wave end of the spectrum.  Typically, Byrne is not entirely comfortable with the label (“I think all groups like to feel like they have something special to offer that makes them slightly different to other groups”), but grudgingly accepts it (“Y’know, I’d feel people were more off the mark if they said we were country rock”).

As the focal point of Talking Heads, David Byrne’s persona is crucial.  He ‘twitches with intensity and rolls his eyes as he sings.’  Offsetting this is the rather conservative attire of the band as a whole.  They dress like students or suburbanites, not rock stars.  Weirdly, this only enhances the disturbing serial killer undertow of Byrne’s behaviour.

Talking Heads may be the least guitar-oriented band of the punk/new wave era.  “I wanted my guitar to sound thin, clean and clanky, not chunky, distorted and macho,” claims David Byrne.  He recalls, as a youth, hearing “British blues-rock bands with really good guitar players,” but says, “That’s not something I could do.”  So the emphasis in Talking Heads shifts to the rhythm section.  “I love to concentrate on playing the bass and keeping it rock solid,” says Tina Weymouth, noting that the rhythm and blues, soul, and funk music of James Brown is a major influence for her.  Tina Weymouth occupies an important role in rock music feminism as well.  Previously, women had been in all-girl vocal groups (The Shangri-Las, The Supremes), been pop stars at centre-stage (Janis Joplin, Linda Ronstadt) or even, in rare cases, part of an all-girl band (Fanny).  It is virtually without precedent for a woman to be a functional member of a band, an equal to her male colleagues, but not the frontperson.  “I play bass.  I don’t have to go out there and screech,” says Weymouth.  With the rhythm section to the fore, Talking Heads become more dance-oriented.  “The Heads were the only band on the scene that had a groove,” boasts Byrne.  Weymouth nails it on the head when she says, “When Talking Heads started, we called ourselves thinking man’s dance music.”

Most of the songwriting in Talking Heads is attributed to David Byrne.  At various points, songs are credited to the band as a whole because they are built up from collective improvisations, but Byrne seems to remain the primary architect.  “I’ve never had writer’s block,” he states.  “I use a stream-of-consciousness approach,” writing down unfiltered thoughts as they pass through his head, “then you craft it” by editing it into a more intelligible form.  Because this is David Byrne, his lyrics remain puzzling.  “In a certain way it’s the sound of the words…that has as much meaning as the actual, literal words,” he says.  Often it seems David Byrne must be expressing ideas in an ironic way; it’s hard to believe he could really mean some of the sentiments.  Yet nagging doubts remain that, unlikely as it seems, he may just be sincere.  “People use irony as a defence mechanism,” he says, without actually clarifying anything.

The Ramones, the quintessential punk rock band, play some shows in the U.K. in the middle of 1976.  British band The Stranglers are a support act on some of these dates, but Talking Heads (whose first show on 20 June 1975 was as a support act for The Ramones) also play on some of these U.K. shows.  The important thing about these gigs is it leads to the meeting of Talking Heads and Brian Eno.  “Well he came and saw us when we were in London the first time,” says David Byrne.  “It was before we had a record out…He liked us so we kind of got to be friends and hung out together and stuff.”  Eno was a member of British glam rock band Roxy Music from 1970 to 1972 before embarking on a solo career involving more abstract and avant-garde music.

In February 1977 Talking Heads release their first single.  A one-off track not included on their debut album, it is ‘Love → Building On Fire’ (pronounced ‘love goes to building on fire’).  Written by David Byrne, this is an off-beat effort with horn flourishes.  “I got two loves / They go tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet like little birds,” sings Byrne in a demented high voice.

Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth marry on 18 June 1977.  The couple go on to have two sons: Robin (born 4 November 1982) and Egan (born 1986).

‘Talking Heads ‘77’ (1977) (US no. 97, UK no. 60), released in September, is the debut album for the New York quartet.  The group wanted John Cale, formerly of late 1960s-early 1970s New York band The Velvet Underground to produce the disc, but were overruled by their record label, Sire.  Instead, the album is produced by Tony Bongiovi, Lance Quinn and Talking Heads.  The standout cut from the album is ‘Psycho Killer’ (US no. 92), co-written by David Byrne, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz.  The song’s inspiration is Barbara Conway, an art school friend of Byrne’s who described everything she thought was cool as ‘psycho killer.’  Of course, Byrne turns the song into a more literal interpretation of a mentally-troubled character.  Barbara Conway is murdered by a female stalker in the 1980s.  The chorus to this throbbing, ominous Talking Heads song is, “Psycho Killer / Q’uest que c’est,” which is French for “what is this/it?”  There are a few more lines of French in the song.  Chris Frantz says that Byrne, “wanted the bridge written in French…and he knew that Tina was fluent as her mother was French, so Tina wrote the bridge.”  ‘Don’t Worry About The Government’ is an early example of Byrne’s irony (or not?): “Some civil servants are just like my loved ones / They work so hard and try to be strong,” he croons with cloying (artificial?) optimism.  ‘No Compassion’ has a shuddering tempo shift, going from an elongated form into a sprightly overdrive, and then slowing down again.  ‘Don’t Worry About The Government’ and ‘No Compassion’ are both written by David Byrne.  This album uses ‘existing music forms in eccentric combinations.’  “For a long time, I felt, ‘Well, f*** everybody,” says David Byrne.  “Well, now I want to be accepted.”

Talking Heads’ second album is ‘More Songs About Buildings And Food’ (1978) (US no. 29, UK no. 21, AUS no. 46).  It is the first of three albums on which they work with producer Brian Eno, whom they met in London in the middle of 1976.  The cover image of the band members is actually a mosaic made up of Polaroid photos of sections of them assembled into a whole.  ‘Warning Sign’, written by David Byrne and Chris Frantz, dates back to The Artistics’ repertoire.  Over the emergency siren of its relentless funk, Byrne intones, “Hear my voice / It’s saying something and it’s not very nice.”  The Byrne solo composition ‘The Big Country’ is a description of what the narrator ‘sees flying over Middle America.’  Yet, as Jerry Harrison’s slide guitar frames a listing of suburbia, small towns and open fields, Byrne’s big city attitude makes him slip in the exhortation, “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me / I couldn’t live like that, no Sirree!”  The album’s most successful work is actually a non-original song, a cover version of Al Green’s 1974 neo-soul hit ‘Take Me To The River’ (US no. 26, AUS no. 26).  Its gospel tones are subverted by Tina Weymouth’s sinister bass and Jerry Harrison’s keyboards invoke not only a church organ but a watery burble.  The album is hailed as ‘a remarkable work.’

‘Fear Of Music’ (1979) (US no. 21, UK no. 33, AUS no. 35) is a title contributed by guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison.  It’s not the front cover, but the album sleeve includes heat-sensitive thermographic pictures of the band.  “I really wanted one of the ones that show your blood vessels, etc., etc.,” admits David Byrne, “but for that you have to drink or be injected with a radioactive isotope…uh…no thanx.”  Byrne and Harrison co-write both the mini-explosions of ‘Memories Can’t Wait’ and the calming and expansive ‘Heaven’.  In the latter, Byrne sings, “Heaven is a place where nothing / Nothing ever happens.”  Drummer Chris Frantz explains, “Sometimes rock stars get over-stimulated and the idea of a place where nothing ever happens sounds pretty appealing.”  ‘Fear Of Music’ contains Talking Heads’ all-time best song, the group composition ‘Life During Wartime’ (US no. 80).  This pressurised funk rock piece has the chorus, “This ain’t no party / This ain’t no disco / This ain’t no fooling around / This ain’t no Mudd Club or C.B.G.B. / I ain’t got time for that now.”  Besides nodding to the early venues where Talking Heads played, this highlights the contrast between the song’s compulsive groove and Byrne’s newsreader-like recitation of banal emergency: “I got some groceries, some peanut butter / To last a couple of days / But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got not headphones / Ain’t got no records to play.”  This song is the distillation of Talking Heads’ ethos of thinking music you can dance to (or dance music you can think about) and so stands as their definitive moment.  A ‘more opaque’ album, ‘Fear Of Music’ points to the future with ‘I Zimbra’ (pronounced ‘ee zimbra’).  This is hard Afro-funk but, although it may be thought the lyrics are in an African language, they are actually unidentifiable from any language.  The lyrics are adapted from ‘Gadji Beri Bimba’, a poem by the figurehead of the Dadaist art movement, the German-born Hugo Ball, who receives a co-songwriting credit with David Byrne and producer Brian Eno.

On 21 August 1980 Talking Heads debut an expanded nine-piece touring line-up.  The four core members are augmented by Adrian Belew (guitar), Bernie Worrell (keyboards), Busta Cherry Jones (bass), Steve Scales (percussion) and Dolette Mc Donald (backing vocals).  They play ‘an expansively orchestrated, African-derived polyrythmic funk-rock.’  Although these additional musicians don’t play on the impending album, the wider line-up gives an idea of what is in store.

‘Remain In Light’ (1980) (US no. 19, UK no. 21, AUS no. 25), released in October, is Talking Heads’ best album.  The album cover portrait, that looks like someone has scribbled in red texta over photos of the faces of the four band members, is actually designed by Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz and was created on computer with the aid of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Talking Heads incorporation of funk rhythms reaches some kind of apex here as their exploratory journey leads them to the African music that has been rock music’s foundation all along.  “And you may find yourself in a beautiful house / With a beautiful wife / And you may ask yourself / Well…How did I get here?” intones David Byrne on ‘Once In A Lifetime’ (US no. 103, UK no. 14, AUS no. 23).  Producer Brian Eno responds, singing along with the chorus, “Letting the days go by / Let the water hold me down.”  The refrain “same as it ever was” seems ironic since this is so new.  The track is co-written by the four members of Talking Heads and Brian Eno.  The same applies to the berserk hyperactive beats of ‘Crosseyed And Painless’.  “Lost my shape / Trying to act casual,” sings Byrne through gritted teeth, “Can’t stop / I might end up in the hospital.”  Again, Eno wafts in, his high voice suggesting, “There was a time / There was a formula.”  On this track, Byrne even chips in a proto-rap about facts that begins: “Facts are simple and facts are straight / Facts are lazy and facts are late.”  ‘The Great Curve’ celebrates womanhood…or the shape of the world…or both.  ‘Born Under Punches’ is another flailing funk tune.  ‘Listening Wind’ is a more subtle and sere vision of Africa.  ‘Remain In Light’ ‘destroys any possible preconceptions about the band’ and is a brave merger of urbane New York cool and wild African heat.

The expanded Talking Heads nine-piece band tours the U.K. from 1 December 1980.

The members of Talking Heads take a break, concentrating on solo albums and side projects.  ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ (1981) (US no. 44, UK no. 29) in February is a joint effort by David Byrne and Brian Eno, a venture into experimental sounds.  In 1981, Byrne has a ‘brief affair’ with singer/dancer/choreographer Toni Basil.  The Tom Tom Club is Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth’s new undertaking.  Tina provides vocals as well as bass and her sisters Lani and Laura act as backing vocalists.  ‘Tom Tom Club’ (1981) (US no. 23, UK no. 78) is released in June and they also score with the singles ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ (UK no. 7) in 1981 and ‘Genius Of Love’ (US no. 24, UK no. 65) in 1982.  Jerry Harrison releases a solo album called ‘The Red And The Black’ (1981).  David Byrne writes ‘The Catherine Wheel’, an hour-long ballet, for Twyla Tharp’s dance company.  It is first performed at the Broadhurst Theater on Broadway in New York on 22 September 1981.  Byrne’s soundtrack album, ‘The Catherine Wheel’ (1981) (US no. 104), is issued in December.  David Byrne dates Twyla Tharp in 1981-1982.

‘The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads’ (1982) (US no. 31, UK no. 22) is a live album documenting the group’s evolution.

‘Speaking In Tongues’ (1983) (US no. 15, UK no. 21, AUS no. 15) in May sees Talking Heads reconvene.  Brian Eno is gone.  “The others and I sensed him wanting us to be his backing band,” says David Byrne.  This brings the group to say, “OK, enough” and put a stop to their work with the producer.  This is the first of three albums produced by the band themselves.  “When we were making ‘Speaking In Tongues’ and ‘Remain In Light’, we were jamming [building up a song in performance],” says Tina Weymouth, explaining why the songwriting credits here are assigned to all four members.  The highlight is the thundering funk of ‘Burning Down The House’ (US no. 9, AUS no. 94).  Sharing the funk around are ‘Slippery People’ and ‘Girlfriend Is Better’.  The latter is another instance of David Byrne’s lyrics that may be ironic or may be quite serious: “I got a girlfriend / With bows in her hair / And nothing is better than that / Is it?”  ‘Swamp’ is an unusual, thick, black-soiled, blues song with Byrne’s narrator (an assumed character?) confiding, “Now, lemme tell you a story / The devil has a plan / A bag a ‘bones in his pocket.”  ‘This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)’ (US no. 62, UK no. 51) is feather-light, African-influenced music, but its gimmick is the band members playing unfamiliar instruments.  Guitarist Byrne switches between guitar and keyboards, guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison plays the bass line on a Prophet synthesiser, bassist Tina Weymouth plays guitar, but Chris Frantz sticks to the drums.  “No jam really got off the ground if anyone else tried to play them,” admits Weymouth.

In August, Tom Tom Club issues a second album, ‘Close To The Bone’ (1983) (US no. 73).

Talking Heads embark on another extensive tour.  Film cameras capture the show and Jonathan Demme directs a concert movie which comes with a live soundtrack album, ‘Stop Making Sense’ (1984) (US no. 41, UK no. 24, AUS no. 12) (the title is a line from the song ‘Girlfriend Is Better’).  In the film, Talking Heads play in their extended nine-piece incarnation.  David Byrne performs in an over-sized white suit.  He moves about in a peculiar way that might be considered dancing.  “I’d like to be known for more than being the guy in the big suit,” he later says.  “I’m proud of ‘Stop Making Sense’, but it’s a little bit of an albatross; I can’t compete with it, but I can’t ignore it either.”  It is one of the more creatively successful live albums in rock history.

David Byrne releases another soundtrack album, ‘Music For ‘The Knee Plays’’ (1985) (US no. 141), in May.

Talking Heads reassemble for ‘Little Creatures’ (1985) (US no. 20, UK no. 10, AUS no. 2) in June.  This is a ‘more accessible’ album, a ‘straight-forward pop album.’  The polyrythmic Afro-funk is largely set aside in favour of a more basic recording.  Accordingly, David Byrne is restored to his role as chief songwriter.  ‘The Lady Don’t Mind’ (UK no. 81, AUS no. 24) has an almost oriental feel to it.  Perhaps the most simple pop song here is ‘And She Was’ (US no. 54, UK no. 17, AUS no. 10).  David Byrne explains the song’s genesis: “I used to know a blissed-out hippie chick in Baltimore.  She once told me that she used to do acid…and lay down on the field by the Yoo-Hoo chocolate soda factory.  Flying out of her body…”  So the lyrics state, “The world was moving / She was floating above it / And she was.”  ‘Road To Nowhere’ (US no. 105, UK no. 6, AUS no. 16) grows out of a choir opening into a country hoedown that supplies what Byrne describes as a “joyful look at doom.  At our deaths and the apocalypse.”  ‘Stay Up Late’ is one of the more humorous songs in the Talking Heads catalogue.  “Mommy had a little baby,” sings Byrne by way of introduction.  “Cute, cute little baby / Little pee pee, little toes / Now he’s coming to me / Crawl across the kitchen floor.”  It’s kiddie stuff – but weird.  ‘Little Creatures’ is released on Warner Bros. in the U.K., Sire’s parent label, as is the next album.

‘True Stories’ (1986) (US no. 28, UK no. 7, AUS no. 2) continues the simpler sounds of ‘Little Creatures’, but is more calculatedly ironic – though, as always with David Byrne, it may just be sincere.  ‘Wild Wild Life’ (US no. 25, UK no. 43, AUS no. 13) is pop with a snap and crackle.  ‘Radio Head’ (UK no. 52, AUS no. 52) provides the name for the British alt-rock band founded in the 1990s.  ‘Love For Sale’ is unusually guitar-heavy with a hard rock riff.  “I was born in a house with the television always on / I grew up too fast and I forget my name,” sings Byrne’s narrator before cobbling together most of the lyrics from advertising jingles.  ‘Love For Sale’ is quite amusing.  ‘City Of Dreams’ is built on precise piano notes, as sturdy as Roman columns.  “We live in the city of dreams / We drive on the highway of fire / Should we awake and find it gone / Remember this our favourite town,” seems to celebrate small town life in a way that the earlier Talking Heads’ song ‘The Big Country’ mocked.  Are they both send-ups?  Are they both serious?  Who knows?

David Byrne directs a movie, ‘True Stories’ (1986), but it’s hard to tell if anyone gets the joke of his deadpan ‘celebration’ of Americana.  Byrne also issues a soundtrack, ‘Sounds From True Stories’ (1986).

David Byrne’s soundtrack album for ‘The Last Emperor’ (1987) (US no. 152) wins an Academy Award.

While visiting Japan, David Byrne meets actress and designer Adelle Lutz.  The couple marry in 1987.  They have a daughter together, Malu Valentine (born 1990).

‘Naked’ (1988) (US no. 19, UK no. 3, AUS no. 8) is released in March on Warner Bros. in all territories.  The album is co-produced by Steve Lillywhite and Talking Heads.  Though not immediately apparent, this will be Talking Heads’ final album.  It ‘marks a return to their worldbeat explorations.’  The best of the tracks on this album is ‘Nothing But Flowers’ (UK no. 79).  The song seems to be sent back from some future time after civilisation has collapsed and the world we know is replaced by a new, verdant existence, a virtual new Eden.  “The highways and cars were sacrificed for agriculture,” sings David Byrne’s narrator amidst rococo Africana.  Yet, comically, rather than embrace this new world, he yells, “I miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens and 7-11s” and “If this is paradise / I wish I had a lawn mower.”  On this album, the lyrics are credited to Byrne, but the music is attributed to the band collectively.  “Changing clothes / Now he’s got ventilated slacks / Bouncing off the walls / Mr Jones is back,” sings Byrne in a slice of mambo madness entitled ‘Mr Jones’.  ‘Blind’ (UK no. 59) is big and brawny, with huffing horns punctuating the song as David Byrne repeats the title over and over.

Jerry Harrison’s album ‘Casual Gods’ (1988) includes the dynamic single ‘Rev It Up’.  The Tom Tom Club issue a third album, ‘Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom’ (1988) (US no. 114) – though it’s not released in the U.S. until 1989.  David Byrne releases ‘Rei Momo’ (1989) (US no. 71, UK no. 52), an album whose title means ‘king of carnival.’  Jerry Harrison’s ‘Walk On Water’ (1990) is followed by another soundtrack album from David Byrne, ‘The Forest’ (1991).

The dissolution of Talking Heads is officially announced in 1991.  It appears the break-up is largely due to a falling out between David Byrne and the rest of the band.  “He’s a passive-aggressive type,” claims Tina Weymouth, “and it had a toxic effect on the whole band.”

After another Tom Tom Club album, ‘Dark Sneak Love Action’ (1992), Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz work with Jerry Harrison under the name The Heads.  The trio issues the album ‘No Talking, Just Head’ (1996).  A variety of guest vocalists appear on the disc including Debbie Harry (from Blondie), Andy Partridge (XTC) and Michael Hutchence (INXS).  However it is Johnette Napolitano (from Concrete Blonde) who not only sings on the album, but goes on tour with The Heads.  The Heads proves a short-lived project.  The Tom Tom Club returns to action for ‘The Good, The Bad And The Funky’ (2000).  The only time the four members of Talking Heads reunite is in 2002 when the band is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Tom Tom Club issues another album, ‘Downtown Rockers’ (2012).

David Byrne continues his solo career, mixing further soundtrack work with albums of more conventional songs.  Byrne’s catalogue consists of: ‘Uh-Oh’ (1992) (US no. 125, UK no. 26); ‘David Byrne’ (1994) (US no. 139, UK no. 44); ‘Feelings’ (1997) (US no. 155, UK no. 91); ‘Your Action World – Soundtrack’ (1999); ‘In Spite Of Wishing And Waiting – Soundtrack’ (1999); ‘Look Into The Eyeball’ (2001) (US no. 120, UK no. 58); ‘E.E.E.I. (Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information) – Power Point Presentation Soundtrack’ (2002); ‘Lead Us Not Into Temptation’ (2003) is the soundtrack to the movie ‘Young Adam’; and ‘Grown Backwards’ (2004) (UK no. 88).

David Byrne and Adelle Lutz divorce in 2004.  Byrne then becomes involved with art curator Louise Neri before going on to a relationship with Cindy Sherman (2007-2011).

David Byrne’s recording career continues with ‘Everything That Will Happen Today’ (2008) (US no. 174, UK no. 153); ‘Big Love: Hymnal’ (2008) – the soundtrack to the second season of the television series ‘Big Love’; ‘Here Lies Love’ (2010) (US no. 96, UK no. 26) is a collaboration with dance music artist Fatboy Slim; and ‘Love This Giant’ (2012) (US no. 23, UK no. 40).

David Byrne’s awkward intellectualism was a big part of Talking Heads’ appeal.  Although his colleagues may not have liked it, to at least some fans, Byrne was Talking Heads.  In truth, the band relied on the interplay of the four members.  Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz were crucial to the group’s adventurous works with African sounds and complex rhythms especially, but were a part of the group’s thinking man’s dance music from the first album onwards.  Neither Byrne without his three companions, nor The Heads without Byrne, was as satisfying as the classic quartet.  “I think you just want to feel that you’ve affected people,” said Jerry Harrison.  “We want to make our mark in music history,” said Tina Weymouth.  Both of those ambitions were fulfilled by Talking Heads.  In the course of their career, Talking Heads ‘recorded everything from art funk to polyrythmic worldbeat explorations and simple melodic guitar pop.’  Talking Heads ‘was always a band dominated by David Byrne…whose thin-voiced high squawking and psychotic looks people found simultaneously riveting and off-putting.’

Sources:

  1. lyricsfreak.com as at 12 June 2014
  2. ‘Popular Favorites 1976-1982: Sand In The Vaseline’ Booklet 2 – Sleeve notes by David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz (Sire Record Company/EMI Records Ltd., 1992) p. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
  3. Interview with David Byrne at Target Video Studios, Sproule Plaza, Berkeley, California – Filmed by Joe Rees (1978)
  4. ‘American Bandstand’ (U.S. television program) – Talking Heads interview conducted by Dick Clark (17 March 1979)
  5. brainyquote.com as at 14 June 2014
  6. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 14 June 2014
  7. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 21 April 2014
  8. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 120
  9. wikipedia.org as at 21 April 2014
  10. ‘The Independent’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘How We Met: Chris Frantz & Tina Weymouth’ – interview conducted by Adam Jacques (17 March 2013) (reproduced on independent.co.uk)
  11. ‘Popular Favorites 1976-1982: Sand In The Vaseline’ Booklet 1 – Sleeve notes by David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz (Sire Record Company/EMI Records Ltd., 1992) p. 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
  12. ‘Sounds’ (Australian television program – 7 Network) – David Byrne interview conducted by Donnie Sutherland (1984)
  13. biography.com – ‘David Byrne’ – no author credited, as at 14 June 2014
  14. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 26, 209
  15. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 258, 315, 319, 330, 346
  16. ‘Punk’ magazine (1976) via ‘The ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 63
  17. ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music’ – Edited by Colin Larkin (Virgin Books, 1997) p. 432
  18. mtv.com – by MTV (Music TeleVison) News Staff (13 November 1996)
  19. songfacts.com as at 12 June 2014
  20. allmusic.com, ‘Talking Heads’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 31 August 2001
  21. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Sound of New York City’ by John Rockwell (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 555

Song lyrics copyright Sire Records Company/Talking Heads Tours, Inc.

Last revised 3 July 2014

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