They say that breaking up is hard to do.
But getting dumped is harder--especially when you get dumped the way Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth say they got dumped by their old comrade, David Byrne.
After more than three years working apart from the other members of Talking Heads, Byrne made the break official last December by uttering this sentence for The Times’ Sunday Calendar Pop Eye column:
“You could say (we’ve) broken up, or call it whatever you like.”
Frantz and Weymouth say that was news to them. The husband-and-wife team had formed its own band, Tom Tom Club, in 1980 to take up some of the considerable slack between Heads projects. But Frantz and Weymouth, along with the fourth Head, Jerry Harrison, had no desire to see Talking Heads end.
The couple--Frantz plays drums, Weymouth plays bass and sings--are carrying on with a new Tom Tom Club album, “Dark Sneak Love Action,” and a tour that brings the band to the Coach House tonight. But speaking over the phone last week from the Fairfield, Conn., home where they live with their two young sons and a nanny, Frantz and Weymouth were clearly full of unresolved feelings.
Breaking up is hardest to do when there is no face-to-face chance to laugh, cry, reason, curse, scream, accuse, soothe, exchange parting hugs or engage in the myriad other possibilities of the proverbial exit encounter. And the two Tom Tom Clubbers say they haven’t seen or heard from the former lead Head since he declared the band finis in print. In separate interviews, Frantz and Weymouth were clearly still miffed, rankled and disappointed by Byrne’s split, with Weymouth still hoping that the Head now severed might one day be reattached.
“You could say that Tina and I saw the handwriting on the wall a long time ago,” because of Byrne’s array of solo projects and collaborations outside the band, Frantz said. “That was one reason we were motivated to do the Tom Tom Club (the couple have also worked as a record production team and have overseen albums for Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers and Happy Mondays). But we were shocked to find out about (Byrne’s departure) via the Los Angeles Times. As far as we’re concerned, the band never really broke up. David just decided to leave.
“We were never too pleased about the way David handled the situation,” Frantz added. “Communicating with other people has never been David’s forte, at least not on a personal level. We’ve kept a very low profile about this whole thing. We feel like David Byrne’s a very good artist. We’re just sorry that, you know, he didn’t really understand what he had, maybe. But then again, maybe he did, but he didn’t like it anymore. He doesn’t communicate with us, anyhow, so I don’t really know how he feels about it.
“I’m afraid the ball is in his court” as far as renewing relations, musical or otherwise, Frantz concluded. “I just feel, (if) David doesn’t want to do it, let’s get it on with somebody else. We’re really concentrating on the Tom Tom Club right now, trying to have some fun.”
“Dark Sneak Love Action,” Tom Tom Club’s fourth album, serves up the cheerful, dance-party funk ‘n’ roll for which the band has become known. But there is also a troubled undercurrent to several of the songs, a sense that Tom Tom Club isn’t just dancing for the pure enjoyment of it, but to escape or overcome some of life’s darker realities.
“I was trying to get out of darkness,” Weymouth, who writes the band’s lyrics, said in explaining that darker streak in the songwriting. “We’ve been in a real bummed-out way--I think a lot of people have. It’s just the world, and I felt we wouldn’t contribute anything by (being negative). There’s a lot of pain (on the album). It’s about pain overcome. It was true of the other (albums) as well, but I guess it just didn’t show. ‘Genius of Love’ (a Top 40 hit for Tom Tom Club in 1982) is about incredible pain overcome; it’s all (about) cocaine and jail and our black heroes who have been put down.”
Weymouth paused in the interview and confessed that she was having trouble discussing her songs. She said she was still feeling shaken by events earlier in the day, when the nanny who watches out for sons Robin, 9, and Egan, 6, had an accident on the Connecticut Turnpike, totaling the family Honda but escaping without serious injury. And, with an ironic bite entering her voice, Weymouth said she is more comfortable talking about a certain other singer-lyricist than she is talking about her own work.
“For years,” Weymouth said, “people only asked me about David, and I was good at that. It was a story I knew how to tell.”
For evidence that Byrne still figures largely in Weymouth’s thoughts, one need only pop in the new Tom Tom Club CD and listen to the first track, “Love Wave.” It’s a dreamy, moody number about finding a place of mental refuge from unpleasant realities. In the third verse, the unpleasantness concerns a nameless fellow who sounds a lot like a certain rocker who was once trumpeted on the cover of Time Magazine as “Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Renaissance Man:”
I played guitar with a media star,
The entire event took place in a bar.
Where’d the kid go? Is he in a funk?
(It’s not your fault they filled your head with junk).
“It’s not (a portrait) of David,” Weymouth said at first, not too convincingly. “It’s not an accusation of David. It’s more of an attitude, what we think of a lot of rock people we meet. It’s not meant to be cruel or mean in any way. It’s a reflection more of the world and how the media changes people sometimes if they actually believe it.”
But a breath later, Weymouth said that she did have Byrne in mind--fondly--when she wrote the line, “Where’d the kid go?”
“I love the kid in David, and I’d love to see that come back,” she said. “That’s what I remember of him back in college, is kid Dave.”
As for the verse’s last line, Weymouth said she thinks the way the Talking Heads breakup was played in the press has made it harder for lines of communication to be re-established.
“We don’t want to be accused of being whiners,” she said, alluding to the Pop Eye item reporting Byrne’s defection, and the column writer’s assertion that the other Heads had “whined” about Byrne’s absence in a GQ Magazine article that came out in June, 1991.
“We were very, very shocked by that, and he hasn’t even spoken to us yet,” Weymouth said. “A lot of what happened could be caused by the press. That’s what that line was about: ‘fill your head with junk.’ I feel terrible about any kind of ugliness that has happened. I love everybody I’ve been working with, and I love what Talking Heads did and will continue to do.”
Continue? A band where the players and the ex-singer apparently haven’t spoken to each other in months or more?
“Putting it back together in the future (is what) we probably will do,” Weymouth predicted. “It’s a thought, because we’re still the same people we always were, and life is full of very surprising twists and turns.”
The most surprising turn in rock ‘n’ roll over the past year or two has been the ascendancy of alternative rock, epitomized by the sold-out Lollapalooza tours of the past two summers. The former Talking Heads can make a certain claim as old-guard antecedents of newer bands that are succeeding with music that sits outside established hit-pop formulas. What Patti Smith and the Clash achieved for brief moments--a burst into the mainstream by a left-field rock band--the Heads were the first to sustain on a continuing basis. In its 10-album career, from 1977’s “Talking Heads 77" to “Naked,” released in 1988, the band produced such album-rock standards as “Psycho Killer,” “Life During Wartime,” “Once in a Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House,” as well as the landmark concert film “Stop Making Sense.”
Nowadays, other alternative rockers are reaping Lollapalooza riches in big amphitheaters. Tom Tom Club, whose members helped build a foundation for that success back when alternative rock wasn’t nearly as big as it is now, are again plying the clubs. (Weymouth said that touring plans call for a brief, six-show headlining stint, followed by a longer tour opening for the Soup Dragons.)
“Yeah, that drives me crazy,” Frantz said, with a broad laugh. “On the one hand, we’re very lucky. We got a lot of mileage out of (Talking Heads), an extremely good run. But we’re disappointed. We felt, ‘Jesus, we’re just sort of starting to get major,’ ” then Byrne left. “But it was never just about finances. I try to treat it philosophically.”
Weymouth applauds the current wave of alternative bands that has risen to success mainly with loud, angry guitar-rock that’s a far cry from Tom Tom Club’s approach--a percolating, airy style with roots in ‘70s funk and disco, as well as rock.
“I love everything that’s punk. I understand the anger and frustration, all of it,” she said. “But we have never been able to afford the luxury of being that anarchic. We have to be Dada. To us, you can’t offer just anger--it will just eat you up from the inside. You’ve got to have a sense of humor.”
* Tom Tom Club and Chanting Madly play tonight at 8 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $19.50. (714) 496-8930.