By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Sense opens old wounds ... and heals them
This is a band that left as its legacy so many bad feelings; as it self-destructed, it left in its wake a soap opera that, to this day, continues to unfold in slow motion. Frantz will admit as much when he laments the fact that the Heads do not, in 1999, remain a much-discussed band, having taken the back seat to such contemporaries as Patti Smith, Television, Blondie, and so many other CBGB's refugees who seem to have been written larger in the history books. Sure, the Heads were famous, golden children of the new-wave revolution. But history hasn't treated them too kindly; rare are the occasions when historians mention Remain in Light and More Songs About Buildings and Food and Little Creatures. The band may have had hits, a "Burning Down the House" here or an "And She Was" there, but try to remember the last time you heard anyone talk about the band. Talk with any passion. As in: Damn, that was a great band.
"We were almost overrated during our day, but we're almost too much forgotten now," Frantz says, insisting he's thrilled by the rerelease of Stop Making Sense, if only so the kids might remember who he used to be. "When you hear bands talk about influences, you hear Television and Patti Smith and the Clash, but you rarely hear these young bands say Talking Heads, which surprises me, because a lot of them sound like Talking Heads. I don't know, maybe we're just no longer chic. We are merely popular. And I think that was caused by a lot of bad vibes and a certain person burning a lot of bridges. That's what I think did it. Who wants to be identified with that kind of person?"
There is still more than a trace of bitterness in Frantz's voice; the animosity lingers like stale smoke trapped in old clothes. This, despite Frantz's insistence that all is forgiven, if not exactly forgotten. Frantz and Weymouth, whose Tom Tom Club will release a new record on the couple's own label next year, remain close friends with Harrison. They've toured and recorded various times during the past 10 years, even going on the road as the Shrunken Heads at the beginning of the 1990s, with Harrison capably filling in for Byrne on lead vocals. But the three have not had much communication with Byrne since he abruptly busted up the band after 1988's Naked, a brilliant last hurrah, even if the Heads did not yet know they were recording their farewell.
Frantz says he has communicated with Byrne through e-mail. And even then, it's only when absolutely necessary, usually about business matters -- such as a greatest-hits collection issued a few years back or the rerelease of Stop Making Sense, both the film and its accompanying soundtrack, which Warner Bros. reissued a few weeks ago in the correct sequence, with several songs added to the disc.
Then there were those pesky legal issues when Frantz, Weymouth, and Harrison reconvened as The Heads in 1996, releasing a record with various guests standing in for Byrne. Byrne need not have worried, since the album No Talking Just Head stiffed and the scheduled tour fell apart when Concrete Blonde singer Johnette Napolitano backed out at the last minute. "She freaked on us -- what can I say?" Frantz says. "I wish that would have gone better." If nothing else, The Heads helped the three bandmates put to rest a little of the unfinished business they all felt was left over when Byrne walked away without warning, without saying goodbye after nearly 16 years of friendship. Frantz likes to insist that he holds no grudge, that he is, at best, merely disappointed -- which is a huge improvement over how he once felt, gravely depressed.
"There are some good memories -- we did have some good times," the drummer says. "I look at the screen, and we're having a good time with our lives. But it took us a long time to get over the fact Talking Heads was over. It was something we should have seen coming. Or maybe we did see it coming, but we were in denial and hoping it wouldn't end. But it did, and unfortunately it's out of our control. I wish it was, because we'd still be together."
Throughout this conversation, he throws out sharp, snide asides that still bear the sting of the scorned lover. After all, the band was as much his as it was Byrne's: The two founded the Heads (then called The Artistics) in 1974, when both were attending the Rhode Island School of Design. Early on, their repertoire consisted of everything from the 1910 Fruitgum Company's "1-2-3 Red Light" to songs that would eventually make their way into the Heads' set list, namely "Warning Sign" and "Psycho Killer." But Byrne emerged as the front man; it is his body shown on the cover of Stop Making Sense, and it was his face and his misshapen voice with which the band came to be identified. By the end, surely there were those in the Heads' audience who thought of it as David Byrne and his backup band. That never did sit well with Frantz and Weymouth and Harrison, the last of whom joined the band after a stint with The Modern Lovers.