respect the classics

David Byrne Once Tried to Kick Tina Weymouth Out of Talking Heads

The band, so happy together. Photo: Echoes/Redferns/Getty Images

Within the pantheon of musicians’ memoirs, Chris Frantz’s new book, Remain in Love, is a mostly warmhearted one offering a nice sheen on the debauched era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The drummer for Talking Heads, Frantz details the band’s humble beginnings at CBGB on through its ascent to Stop Making Sense virtuosity and, perhaps most important, his courtship and 43-year marriage to fellow member Tina Weymouth. “When speaking about my family, my friends, and my band, I am not a person who moves on,” he writes. “I remain — and I remain in love.”

But we know you’re here for the gossip. As expected, Frantz offers his perspective on Talking Heads’ historic trials and tribulations with frontman David Byrne, who he says dissolved the band and vowed never to reunite after years of exerting unscrupulous creative control. “The more successful Talking Heads became,” Frantz recalls, “the more cold and dyspeptic David became.” Read on for the memoir’s most egregious Byrne anecdotes as well as other memorable tidbits from the band’s time together.

Byrne frequently tried to pass himself off as the sole creator of numerous Talking Heads songs.
The first of these instances involved “Warning Sign,” which appeared on 1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food. Frantz says he wrote the tune alone during his college years. “I wrote the lyrics, all of them, while lying on my stomach,” he writes in the memoir. “David added the words in parentheses and took credit for writing the entire song. It appears that he had forgotten that I wrote these words, and when I confronted him, he said he would correct the credits on future pressings.” Another credit issue cropped up around Fear of Music’s hit “Life During Wartime,” which began as a jam session between Frantz and Weymouth, with Weymouth coming up with the vocal melody. Byrne went on to credit himself as the sole writer of the song. “This happened to us all the time with David. He couldn’t acknowledge where he stopped and other people began,” Frantz explains. “The story that there was one songwriter in Talking Heads is a myth. The great majority of our songs, particularly the early ones, were always a collaborative effort.”

Prior to settling on “Talking Heads,” the band seriously considered naming themselves …
The Vogue Dots, the Billionaires, the Tunnel Tones, or the Videos.

Byrne once tried to kick Weymouth out of the band.
This occurred during the lead-up to recording Talking Heads: 77, when Byrne felt her bass skills weren’t developing as quickly as he would’ve liked. Frantz recalls a conversation he had with a sound mixer friend after Talking Heads dispersed for good, in which the man — who’d helped record the band’s early demos — remembered how serious Byrne was about her removal at the time:

Many years later, he told me that this was the time David had said to him, “So, I’m thinking of kicking Tina out of the band. What do you think?” He says when he heard this, “My brain froze.” When he asked why, David said, “She’s holding me up and not progressing fast enough.” Tina had been playing bass for just over one year.

Frantz says all the band members were still learning how to play their instruments well and how to mesh as a unit, including Byrne and his guitar. “It is true that Tina had not played rock and roll before Talking Heads and did not have a repertoire of standard blues and rock bass licks in her musical vocabulary. Her approach was more classical,” Frantz notes. “To this day, Tina never ever plays the predictable thing. She invents every part anew — this was one reason Talking Heads sounded so unique.” Byrne tried to broach the subject with Weymouth on one occasion, but he “immediately dropped the subject” when Frantz entered the room.

Lou Reed advised Byrne never to go onstage in a short-sleeved shirt.
The first time they met, Reed said Byrne’s arms were “too hairy” for audiences to handle.

Byrne trashed a hotel room with literal shit.
In 1978, Byrne had a bout of diva behavior at the end of one of the band’s first European tours. As Frantz writes, Byrne became enraged during their stay at a ritzy London hotel after an operator disregarded his “Do not disturb” request and repeatedly allowed calls to come through to his room. “He had yanked the phone out of the wall and then hit his head on an open cabinet door,” Frantz recalls. “In a fit of anger, he had smashed some furniture, too. Well, I thought, how predictably rock and roll.” Years later, the band’s agent told Frantz there was an even dirtier layer to Byrne’s behavior that evening: He left a turd on his bed with the message “FOR THE MAID.” The band’s management had to pay “hefty” fees for the damages. “It disturbed us,” Frantz explains, “to think that one of our own might even be tempted to perform such a lowbrow, copycat stunt.”

Byrne started to initiate a band breakup prior to recording Remain in Light.
After their final European show on the 1979 Fear of Music tour, Frantz, Weymouth, and the guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison were ambushed by an “independent journalist” who had just finished a private interview with Byrne, in which the singer stated his plans to leave Talking Heads, effective immediately. “Tina and Jerry and I explained to the journalist that we knew nothing about it and left it at that,” Frantz writes. “Everyone was exhausted. We really needed a break, and none of us wanted to deal with David’s hurtful behavior.” Back in New York City a few months later, some jam sessions between the band and producer extraordinaire Brian Eno opened their eyes to a new, fulfilling creative direction. They soon began working on Remain in Light.

Eno was just as bad as Byrne when it came to crediting issues.
The honeymoon phase with Eno on Remain in Light was short-lived. Frantz characterizes the producer’s behavior as being equal parts mercurial and tyrannical, and Eno conspired with Byrne to take larger credit for the album. Eno heavily advocated for the record to be called Remain in Light by Talking Heads and Brian Eno and tried to erase some contributions from Frantz, Weymouth, and Harrison. “We all agreed that writers’ credits on the album cover should be ‘All Songs by David Byrne, Brian Eno, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, and Tina Weymouth.’ The names were in alphabetical order,” Frantz writes. “Well, evidently David couldn’t help himself and probably Brian was in on it, but when we received our advance copies of Remain in Light, the writing credits on the cover had been changed to ‘All Songs by David Byrne, Brian Eno, Talking Heads.’”

On the lyric sheet inside the album, the credits had also been changed to “All Songs by David Byrne and Brian Eno, except ‘The Overload’ and ‘Houses in Motion,’ written by David Byrne, Brian Eno, and Jerry Harrison,” with no mention of Frantz or Weymouth. “We had been told another untruth by David Byrne, and so had our listeners,” Frantz writes. “This was especially hurtful because, without our persistence, love, and musicianship, Remain in Light would never have been made.”

Byrne replaced Robert Rauschenberg’s cover artwork with his own.
One of the greatest American artists of all time, Rauschenberg was a massive Talking Heads fan and created a limited-edition album and package design for Speaking in Tongues. A separate Rauschenberg design was meant to be the album’s regular release cover, but Byrne “went behind our backs, and by the time we found out, it was already a fait accompli.” The resulting cover — a blue-and-yellow design — was Byrne’s own creation. “Rauschenberg told Tina and me that he felt hurt that David had worked around him,” Frantz writes. “Still, Bob’s cover was a real thing of beauty, and his design ultimately won the Grammy Award for Best Album Cover.” Only 50,000 copies of Rauschenberg’s cover were printed, and if you’re lucky enough to find one today, they’re worth a very pretty penny.

Byrne chose to divorce his wife during Talking Heads’ Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction.
Frantz fondly recalls the band’s 2002 induction ceremony, which doubled as their first reunion in 18 years. (The only downer? “It was not our choice to be inducted by Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”) Their jubilant performances aside — they selected “Psycho Killer,” “Life During Wartime,” and “Burning Down the House” — Frantz said Byrne chose this evening to unexpectedly leave his wife, Adelle “Bonnie” Lutz, after more than two decades of marriage. Byrne ghosted the induction’s fancy after-party, and no one could get in touch with him until the next day. “When I finally reached David the following afternoon, I told him that Bonnie was terribly worried about him. Was he at home? He said he would not be going home. He said he was leaving her,” Frantz writes. “He had chosen the night we were inducted into the Hall of Fame to leave his wife. When I asked him why, he told me, ‘It’s time to move on.’”

David Byrne Tried to Kick Tina Weymouth Out of Talking Heads