Heads up

Fifteen years later, the reissue of Stop Making

Sense opens old wounds ... and heals them

It was the most unlikely reunion -- and, perhaps, a most empty one, since it would lead to absolutely nothing at all except more hard feelings, more regret, and more pain. There they were only last April at the San Francisco Film Festival, sitting together for the first time since their breakup a decade earlier. Ladies and gentleman, the Talking Heads: Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth...and, yes, David Byrne. If they did not appear to be giddy at the prospect of sitting together behind a table draped in a white sheet, taking questions from the attending media, then at least it all seemed so cordial. Maybe it was something like long-lost members of a family getting together around the picnic table, struggling to talk to one another without looking away.

"It was kind of like opening up an old wound -- no, that's too much of a cliché," Frantz says, chuckling. "It was kind of a pain in the ass."

They had, for the time, put behind them all the regret, all the acrimony, and all the litigation to attend a press conference and screening of Stop Making Sense, their 1984 concert film that had been revived and restored and, finally, given the proper consideration due the greatest live-music movie ever made. (The restored version is available on DVD and VHS October 26.) It was only appropriate, since the movie debuted at the same fest 14 years earlier. But, as it turned out, memories can't wait: When the four members of the Heads strolled into the Castro Theatre for the premiere, with director Jonathan Demme in tow, Byrne excused himself and sat at the opposite end of the row, far away from his old bandmates. Perhaps Byrne was uncomfortable with the notion that 1,500 audience members would not only be watching the movie, but also watching the band watching the movie. How could he not consider the moment a little disconcerting, a little overwhelming...and not a little creepy?

The big suit, that small head: This is the publicity photo sent out for the reissue of Stop Making Sense. Who says it was David Byrne's movie?
Hugh Brown
The big suit, that small head: This is the publicity photo sent out for the reissue of Stop Making Sense. Who says it was David Byrne's movie?
Memories can't wait: The Talking Heads, circa 1977
Memories can't wait: The Talking Heads, circa 1977

And maybe there was a little part of Frantz, Weymouth, and Harrison that understood this. Frantz acknowledges that the moment was "pretty strange," and he says it with the chuckle of understatement. But still, there were feelings hurt: How dare David separate himself from us once more, all these years later?

Still, it was not quite enough to ruin the night for the three other Heads. As Frantz sat there, watching a 15-years-younger version of himself behind the drum kit, so many things ran through his mind. He was reminded of how amazing the movie was and remains ("what a great work of art"), and of how wonderful the Talking Heads were. He listened to the songs, among them "Psycho Killer" and "Girlfriend Is Better" and "Take Me to the River" and "Heaven" and "Slippery People"; he gazed upon the 1980s outfits and choreographed dance moves; and he was immediately back in that place. Back in 1983, when the Talking Heads were the best rock-and-roll-and-funk band in the world. Back among friends and lovers (he and Weymouth have been married for more than two decades). Back in that perfect place.

"It was intense," he says. "The feelings that came over me were pretty emotional. That band was an amazing band, and every night was a religious experience -- without exaggerating too much, I must say. We really did something. For a while there, I remember it felt like we could do no wrong -- not in an egotistical way, but we were amazed. I think we surprised ourselves more than once. That chemistry was very exciting, and we made the effort to keep it that way -- not to necessarily create a platform to reach a mass audience, but we sold plenty of records." He pauses. "Nothing like the Backstreet Boys, but still..."

But as the movie unspooled, he began to wonder how it had all gone so wrong -- how this astonishing band, which seemed to change personalities on each record (from minimalist new-wavers to multi-culti Afro-pop aggregation and back again) without sacrificing its identity, had destroyed itself just when all felt so right. Imagine how it must have felt, watching the best part of you trapped in the not-so-distant past.

"Of course there was the feeling of, 'What did I do wrong that this isn't happening? What could I have done to change it, to make it continue?'" Frantz says. "Then I came to the conclusion I didn't do anything wrong. There's nothing I could have done to prevent the demise of the Talking Heads. We started the band and did everything we could to keep it going. But in the end, that wasn't enough."

In some ways, it's surprising that Frantz would want to talk about Stop Making Sense and the Talking Heads all these years later, since he has spent a decade trying to get over the hurt caused by the band's dissolution. He admits that he likely hasn't even seen the movie since its release in 1984; oh, maybe the kids have popped the video in the player once or twice, but he and Tina certainly haven't gone back for a nostalgic peek. There was simply no reason to go back there.

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