Chris Frantz goes deep behind the scenes of his bands Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club in his new memoir Remain in Love, which comes out July 21. But one thing the drummer for two of the most influential bands to come out of New York’s celebrated punk and New Wave scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s doesn’t write much about in the book is his drumming.
It’s an especially odd omission considering Frantz’s idiosyncratic style of interjecting loudly and often into Tom Tom Club songs, as immortalized in the greatest concert film of all time, 1984’s Stop Making Sense. Frantz’s excited growling of “James Brown! James Brown! James Brown! James Brown!” is part of what made “Genius of Love” such a rock and hip-hop touchstone, but his added live vocalizations in the film— “The girls can do it too, y’all!” “Psychedelic and Funkadelic!” “Feels good to me!” and of course “Check it out!”—take it to a whole other level.
Talking to him about it now though, it’s clear he didn’t write a lot about his wild live style because … well, he doesn’t know exactly what to think about it himself.
“Man, I don’t know,” he says, when I ask him what inspired it. “All I know is I wish I could have been a little more relaxed. I guess it comes from the hype men that bands would have come out, like Bobby Byrd for James Brown. It sprung up with Tom Tom Club—the mistake was putting a microphone in front of me. If I didn’t have a microphone, at least nobody could hear it.”
It’s no surprise that Frantz credits Brown’s music and showmanship: He and his wife Tina Weymouth—who he played with in both bands and is so prominent in both his life and the book that the subhead is “Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina”—have been doing so their whole career. And reading Remain in Love, you can see why. First off, it’s obvious from the early pages of the book that Brown literally changed a young and not-so-hip Frantz’s life when he first heard him at age 14.
“Yeah, he did,” admits Frantz. “I actually posted a James Brown song on Facebook this morning when I got up. ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.’ When I first heard that song, I was like ‘Is that a song about luggage? I didn’t even know what a ‘bag’ was.”
Secondly, the artists that Frantz and Weymouth credit—perhaps more consistently and explicitly than any other rock act—were also formative to their relationship. In the book, he describes the first night she spent at his house, and how they listened to Al Green and Marvin Gaye.
“And we still listen to those records,” he says.
He also covers the CBGB’s scene that Talking Heads came out of in New York in vivid detail, covering all of the bands namechecked in the Tom Tom Club song “Downtown Rockers,” from the Ramones to the B-52s to Blondie to the Heads themselves. In fact, it’s pretty easy to use Remain in Love to chart all of the musicians Frantz’s bands have ever honored with a shout out or cover song.
For those who only remember the stories about acrimony among the members of Talking Heads after the band broke up, the scenes of sweetness, camaraderie and creative bursts during the band’s time together are exciting and, in a certain way, almost reassuring. Of course, this is a book by a man widely known to be one of the most genial guys in music, who was once told by David Johansen of the New York Dolls “You know, Chris. You’re never going to make it in the music business, you’re too nice.”
While he does dish plenty on the band’s internal problems, he’s very fair to David Byrne, with whom he and Weymouth have had a fractious, up-and-down relationship for a long time. Mostly his concern is getting people to understand that the creative work in the band was not the sole work of Byrne as auteur, as it has often been mythologized. His explanation of how much he and Weymouth contributed to Talking Heads’ breakout song “Psycho Killer” is a good example.
Even though he was even-handed in his memoir, he isn’t sure how it will be received in some circles.
“I thought about this book for eight years before I actually sat down to write it,” he admits. “At first I was afraid that ‘Well, it might clear any chance of a Talking Heads reunion, I don’t want to do that.’ Because I know there are people who love David Byrne so much they want to be David Byrne; I’ve met a lot of them along the way. So I’m prepared for some people to react badly to anecdotes I told about David in the book. But the fact is that they’re all true—and the fact also is that I didn’t tell all of the anecdotes.”
I don’t know, though. Considering the band’s buttoned-up reputation (especially in the early years), the anecdotes about partying and drugs and even Byrne shitting on a hotel bed might actually enhance their rock ’n’ roll reputation.
“We might have had a touch of nerd in us,” says Frantz, “but we weren’t completely nerdy.”
Chris Frantz will do a virtual book event for ‘Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina’ on July 28 at 6pm, in conversation with Jeff Garlin. Go to booksoup.com/event to reserve a spot.