Talking Heads are, obviously, one of the most storied bands in rock history. But along the way, their tale has only really been told in interviews. No member of the band has gone in-depth, exploring their rise and history and eventual dissolution. That changes today with Remain In Love, the new memoir from former Heads drummer Chris Frantz.
Frantz’s book tells the story from his perspective: his upbringing, his art school days and meeting both Tina Weymouth and David Byrne, the three of them decamping to New York to a dingy loft a few blocks from the hallowed CBGB. Through Remain In Love, Frantz traces the earliest sparks of their music, to their downtown Manhattan origins, to their artistic and creative breakthroughs, to the eventual and somewhat abrupt collapse of the band and what came after. In the meantime, a whole host of iconic characters appear — there are lunches with Andy Warhol, there are run-ins with everyone from Patti Smith to Debbie Harry to a random drunk Mick Jagger. It’s portrait of a legendary passage in rock and New York history, told by someone from one of the bands that made that era legendary to begin with.
While Frantz doesn’t necessarily veer into the goriest or most scandalous directions of other rock memoirs, there’s a fair bit of brutal honesty along the way. A few very famous people show up, and not all of them are portrayed in the most flattering light. That’s maybe truer for David Byrne than anyone. Throughout, Frantz paints a frustrated, confused image of the Talking Heads frontman, repeatedly describing instances of Byrne stealing other people’s ideas, dismissing his collaborators, or generally being unable to be a decent friend. It can be a bit dispiriting to read, even if you might’ve had a sense of it all anyway thanks to the fact that Talking Heads are one of the only remaining great bands that have refused to reunite.
Yet as its title suggests, Remain In Love isn’t all that interested in dwelling on grudges and betrayals. Rather, the throughline that runs through the book is the relationship between Frantz and Weymouth. From their initial meeting in art school, to Talking Heads, to marriage and children, to their own triumphs in Tom Tom Club, to still being together all these decades later, the book traces their connection and establishes it at the core of all these twists and turns in the music industry otherwise. Remain In Love still skews closer to a rock memoir than a personal memoir, detailing each album’s recording and different scenes more than the intricacies of Frantz and Weymouth’s own lives. But the beating heart all along the way is that image of Frantz and Weymouth, together through it all.
Today, to celebrate the release of Remain In Love, we’re publishing an exclusive excerpt from the book. It arrives earlier in their story, during the band’s formative time in ’70s New York, and it features a particularly notable character in Lou Reed. The erstwhile Velvet Underground frontman would appear again in Frantz’s life, but this is the story of the first time a young, maybe naive Talking Heads came across one of their idols — and the somewhat bizarre and head-scratching experience they had once they did.
In the early days of CBGB, Lou Reed was practically a regular. I had seen him at a couple of Patti Smith shows and a couple of Television shows. It was a thrill to see him there. He later told us, “I still notice things,” and he did. To his credit, he was one of the first and few stars to come to CBGB to check out the new bands. The first time I saw him there I jumped over a few tables and chairs to ask him for his autograph. The last time I’d asked somebody for an autograph was President Eisenhower when I was just a kid and my father took me to the dedication of Eisenhower Hall at Valley Forge Military Academy. Lou, who was wearing aviator shades in the darkened club at 2:00 a.m., signed the piece of paper and then turned on his heels and left.
So we were practically in awe when he appeared backstage at CBGB after one of our early shows. This was right after his Coney Island Baby album had been released in December 1975 and I was playing that record a lot in our loft on Chrystie Street. Lou invited us back to his place and gave us the address. We were amused that his apartment was located on the Upper East Side near Bloomingdale’s. We had not expected that. So we quickly packed up our gear, took it back to our loft, and then headed uptown. I think this was one of the few times we splurged on a taxi to get to his place as soon as possible.
His building had a doorman and potted plants in the lobby. The doorman told us that Lou was expecting us, so up in the elevator we went. We knocked on his door and were met for the first time by Rachel Humphreys, who was Lou’s transgender girlfriend. Rachel said nothing but waved us in. Except for a couch there was no furniture. Lou said, “This is Rachel. Have a seat.” Rachel looked like kind of a badass and was the first transgender person I knew. You could see that she was very protective of Lou, but I guess she decided that we were okay because she went into the bedroom and closed the door.
Tina, David, and I sat on Lou’s very ordinary 1960s modern couch and he sat on the floor. He was alternately sweet and acerbic. The first thing he said to us was, “It’s, like, cool you have a chick in the band. Wonder where you got that idea?” He then proceeded to critique our set that night and also those of other bands he’d seen recently, namely the Patti Smith Group and Television. He liked what we were doing, but fixated on a song called “Tentative Decisions” over all the others. He loved the words but felt the tempo was much too fast and that if it were played more slowly it would convey a deeper feeling. I’m sure he was right about that, and in future performances and recordings we did slow it down a little, although probably not as much as he would have liked, because at this point our audiences responded best to uptempo numbers, not slow ones.
Lou got up and walked to the kitchen and fetched a quart of Häagen-Dazs ice cream from the refrigerator. He brought it back and sat down again, cross-legged on the bare hardwood floor, when he said out loud to himself, “I’m gonna need a spoon for this.” Tina volunteered to get him one, and when she opened the kitchen drawer realized that there was only one bent and blackened spoon in the place. With a slight grimace, she brought it over to Lou, who proceeded to eat the entire quart of ice cream right in front of us with that funky spoon. He didn’t offer us any ice cream or anything else. It must have been four o’clock in the morning. Lou seemed like he was just waking up.
In between bites, he told David that he should never go onstage in a short-sleeved shirt because his arms were too hairy. He should always wear long-sleeved shirts.
Lou Reed then told us that a band was like a fist. It could be very powerful, but that the record companies would always try to manipulate and massage one finger away from the others and break it off so that they would only have to deal with one individual and not the whole band. I thought it was interesting that he would be telling us this in light of his own history with the Velvet Underground, but we didn’t really know the whole story, so we kept quiet about it.
Lou talked and talked and we listened, sometimes in awe and sometimes in disbelief. At some point Lou got up and went to his bookcase, which had only one book in it, The Physicians’ Desk Reference. He began to tell us what his favorite drugs had been and which ones he was enjoying lately, kind of like when you look through the L.L. Bean catalog except with pills, pills, pills. He showed us the photos of his various favorites, the uppers and the downers, and warned us about the hazards of each one.
Then, after teaching us a thing or two about Dilaudid, Lou suggested we all get something to eat. We took the elevator downstairs and, as the sun was rising, walked across the street to the diner now called Eat Here Now on Lexington Avenue. Tina and David and I had the early riser’s special of bacon and eggs and hash browns, while Lou, our hero, ordered a huge stack of pancakes with maple syrup. Lou was a skinny guy, but what a sweet tooth he had!
After breakfast, we had to get some sleep. As we said our goodbyes, Lou insisted that we meet again. He wanted to discuss producing our first album and he wanted to introduce us to his manager. This was heady stuff for a band that had only played a few shows and were new to New York City. Of course, we told him yes, we’d be happy to see him again.
Lou’s manager, Jonny Podell, called us to come see him at his BMF Talent Agency office. Tina and David and I trekked up to Jonny’s office in midtown near where we had our day jobs. He was a renowned agent for Crosby, Stills, & Nash and Alice Cooper. His cute-looking secretary told us to go right in. Jonny was on the phone talking a mile a minute and motioned for us to sit. We sat across the desk from him. The room was very dark. When the call was finished he took a little vial of cocaine out of his shirt pocket and snorted two hits up each nostril and then, as an afterthought, offered us a toot. We politely declined. Jonny went on and on about how great his client Lou Reed was and how much Lou loved Talking Heads and they wanted to make a deal. He presented us with a contract and told us to look it over. We said that we would.
At first we thought, Wow, Lou Reed is offering to work with us. Fantastic! Then we realized we needed a lawyer to look over the contract. There was one lawyer named Peter Parcher who had been in the news a lot lately. Peter had represented Keith Richards when Keith was busted with a quantity of heroin in Canada. Peter managed to get Keith off without jail time so he sounded good to us. I checked with my father, who said Parcher was well respected, so I gave him a call. The next day Tina, David, and I were uptown sitting in Peter Parcher’s office. He introduced his partner, Alan Shulman, and said that Alan would be the right guy to look over the proposed deal for us.
I passed the contract to Alan, who recognized a big problem immediately. He said, “This is a standard production deal. I would never allow one of my clients to sign this. Lou Reed and Jonny Podell would pay for the making of the record, but then they would own it. They could then sell the record to the highest bidder, no matter what you want. If you had a hit they would profit and you would get zilch.” I asked if there was any way to negotiate the offer and he said, “Look, Lou Reed’s reputation now is when he gets up in the morning, he doesn’t know whether to take the bus or the plane. If his heart was in the right place, he never would have offered you this shitty deal in the first place. This kind of deal is the reason that so many R&B artists may have had hit records but still don’t have a pot to piss in. I would walk away and wait for a real record deal with a real record company.”
So we did walk away, feeling a little sad but relieved we hadn’t made a big mistake. We continued to visit Lou and still respected him and his work, but we would never again think of doing business with him.
Remain In Love is out today. You can buy it here.