Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Speaking in Tongues

Chris Frantz and his musical partner/wife Tina Weymouth. Via performermag.com
Through a mutual friend I have been invited into the Facebook inner circle of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club drummer Chris Frantz.  Chris' Facebook page is not the typical musician's fan page.  It is much more intimate than that.  Chris, like most Facebookers, uses the site to keep his circle abreast of his life's happenings.  He does not use his page to hawk CDs or merchandise or his current musical projects but what he is doing is keeping himself and his wife, Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club bassist Tina Weymouth, in the public consciousness.  He is promoting his brand without being overt.  Granted, the people with whom he interacts on Facebook are his friends (or like me-cyber friends) and certainly would not be averse to having Chris be more commercial, but he has taken a different, far more subtle route.  Others have noticed.


Like millions of others, the demise of the Talking Heads has been an ongoing source of disappointment to me. The music of the Heads provided the score to my formative high school and college years.  The stripped-down sounds of their earliest efforts stood in stark contrast to the musical excess that characterized the disco era. Their music was quirky and fun.  They gave me the impression that they weren't taking themselves too seriously. Certainly all bands hope for commercial success, but playing off in an obscure corner of the musical room far away from popular radio, the band most likely had no idea where their music would take them but seemed excited to go wherever it led.


They wrote songs about buildings and food and other non-typical subjects.  If the music industry needed a fresh breeze, the Talking Heads and the other New Wave bands of the era were a gale that swept the detritus of the early 70s right out to sea.  Great bands are born from a mixture of alchemy and luck and it was apparent early on that the Talking Heads had the right ingredients. In an industry where acts struggle to differentiate themselves, they were a head taller than anyone else. They had a  shy, almost socially awkward and angular front man prone to maniacal gyrations, they had a fantastic and very credible lead guitarist who had spent time in the the company of another very unique musical personality in Johnathan Richman, but most importantly the band had Chris and Tina laying down a back beat that was musical heroin.  Their music was weird and irresistible all at once.  For parts of three decades they did their thing, garnering critical acclaim and commercial success.
And then it was over. Like most bands that break up, the press reported that personality clashes were the cause.    It is not for me to assign blame.  Things happen.  As a fan however, I can express my hope for a reconciliation.  Chris at least seems amenable to it.  David has been quoted as saying that the members of the band are "miles apart musically", but when your signature sound is a globe-spanning melange of musical styles, how far apart can you really be?

Here's the deal, though. Music is a powerful force.  I have written before that music is life's soundtrack.  There is nothing else I know of that can transport a person so instantly to a specific moment in time as can a song.   How else to explain the enduring popularity of rock and roll songs that in some cases are fifty years old?  The Beatles' "I Should Have Known Better" remains in my all-time top 10 despite my having heard it perhaps 5000 times.  Don McLean's "American Pie" places me instantly in the back seat of my sister's bomb-on-wheels Chevrolet Vega traveling Route 460 between Petersburg, VA and Virginia Beach in 1973.  Such is the power of music.

With global misery growing exponentially these days, music may not be the answer but it surely is part of the prescription.  Music, like all art, shows us what we can be.  Art is the product of our better selves.  If the music we love gives us such pleasure, it seems a shame that the artists we love are unable to give us what we want. The Beatles resisted for years the entire planet's clarion call to reunite and give us all what we wanted.  And then on one very sad day in 1980 any hope of more Beatles music was lost forever. I have often wondered if after that day the surviving Beatles realized that their music was a gift to the world and that the differences that broke them up should not have been so insurmountable.  I do not mean to imply that the Beatles had a societal obligation to continue to make music for us (well, maybe I do mean that) but there were issues between them that appeared to make further collaboration impossible. With the benefit of perspective I always hoped that they would realize that the music they made together was much more important than whatever it was that drove them apart. 

Do you see anyone not having fun here?  I sure don't.

It is no different with the Talking Heads. There is widespread clamoring for them to get past whatever differences they have had.  Perhaps the band collectively believes it has nothing left to offer us musically and would rather not become a nostalgia act.  I don't believe that, though.  The Talking Heads is a collection of supremely talented right-brainers who I believe could be just as musically relevant today as they were when success jumped them from behind.  Perhaps one day the Talking Heads will come to believe that they have more chapters to write.  We can only hope.

Chris and Tina continue to make music with the Tom Tom Club. Through his mastery of social media Chris has made me feel like a real friend rather than an online one. They will be coming through Lexington this fall and I am looking forward to the visit.  I am told by our mutual friends that there may be a dinner to which I will be invited. Maybe we will talk about this article. Wouldn't that be great?