Casual Gods of the Tom-Tom Club
Question of the week: What's the difference between A) a band shamelessly exploiting its past; B) a band that keeps on keeping on like some old milk-cart horse that still must walk its route every morning even after retirement; and C) most of a band's members wresting control from a disinterested (or at least disinclined) frontman and claiming their due, a not-so-divine right born of thousands of hours in a funky-smelling van and hundreds of bleary, almost-morning stumbles toward yet another truckstop bathroom?
In the case of the Heads--Chris Franz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison, talking no more, sans mouthpiece-artiste David Byrne--the answer may well depend on who you ask. After all, the Sex Pistols and Beach Boys both have been slagged for their own variations on this theme; why wouldn't the Heads new album No Talking Just Head and the tour they're undertaking in support of same be any less hateful?
Well, for one thing, Byrne not only refuses to dance with the band that brought him to the point where he could embark on a second successful multimedia career, but--through various comments and threats of legal action--he doesn't appear to want anybody else to dance with (or to) them either.
Well, tough titty, Dave. With the possible exception of Harrison, who had drummed for Jonathan Richman, nobody knew what the hell they were doing when the Talking Heads started out; anyone who saw one of their early shows would find absurd the idea that Byrne was so much a guiding light as to give him proprietary rights to the music. It's one of the tragedies of the ego-driven music biz: Popularly, it's the guy with the mike and the big-shouldered suit; financially, it's the one who wrote the words, then the music; and any ex-members, bass players, or drummers--regardless of flat tires fixed, contributions in the studio, or longtime support--can go pound blue mud.
Despite his often-brilliant solo career, there has always been a whiff of the elitist about Byrne, perhaps most pungent on his movie True Stories, in which he more or less says: "My, but there are some weirdos out here in the sticks. They're quite quaint. Now I will put on this enormous hat." Whatever their motives, the Heads are to be commended for refusing to be bullied by Byrne, and the fact that Johnette Napolitano will be singing on this tour is not only a refreshing admission that the other band members can't but a potentially intriguing variation on a by-now familiar formula.
Their Daveless album features instrumental tracks the Heads laid down. They then recruited a host of post-punk pop luminaries to contribute voices and lyrics: old New York pals like Debbie Harry and Richard Hell, musical contemporaries like XTC's Andy Partridge, and the next generation of the movement the Talking Heads helped start -- Black Grape's Shaun Ryder, the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano, and Ed Kowalczyk of Live. To some, this might be a sign of a band half formed, but it actually gives the disc a nicely varied texture and tone, and is a refreshing admission by the Heads that they can't really sing.
The Heads play Deep Ellum Live Friday, October 18.
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