These Memories Can't Wait

A re-release reopens old wounds for the Talking Heads

It was the most unlikely reunion -- and, perhaps, a most empty one, because it would lead to absolutely nothing at all except more hard feelings, more regret, and more pain. There they were only last April at the San Francisco Film Festival, together for the first time since their breakup a decade earlier. Ladies and gentleman, the Talking Heads: Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth ... and, yes, David Byrne. If they did not appear to be giddy at the prospect of sitting together behind a table draped in a white sheet, taking questions from the attending media, then at least it all seemed so cordial. Maybe it was something like long-lost members of a family gathering around the picnic table, struggling to talk to one another without looking away.

"It was kind of like opening up an old wound -- no, that's too much of a cliché," Frantz says, chuckling. "It was kind of a pain in the ass."

They had, for the time, put behind them all the regret, all the acrimony, and all the litigation to attend a press conference and screening of Stop Making Sense, their 1984 concert film that had been revived and restored and, finally, given the proper consideration due one of the greatest live-music movies ever made. (The restored version was released on DVD and VHS last week.) It was only appropriate, since the movie debuted at the same fest fourteen years earlier. But, as it turned out, memories can't wait: When the four members of the Heads strolled into the Castro Theatre for the premiere, with director Jonathan Demme in tow, Byrne excused himself and sat at the opposite end of the row, far from his old bandmates. Perhaps Byrne was uncomfortable with the notion that 1500 audience members would not only be watching the movie, but also watching the band watching the movie. How could he not consider the moment a little disconcerting, a little overwhelming ... and not a little creepy?

That's a big suit: The re-release of Stop Making Sense reopens old wounds for the Talking Heads
Hugh Brown
That's a big suit: The re-release of Stop Making Sense reopens old wounds for the Talking Heads

And maybe there was a little part of Frantz, Weymouth, and Harrison that understood this. Frantz acknowledges that the moment was "pretty strange," and he says it with the chuckle of understatement. Still, there were feelings hurt: How dare David separate himself from us once more, all these years later? It was not quite enough, however, to ruin the night for the three other Heads. As Frantz sat there watching a fifteen-years-younger version of himself behind the drum kit, so many things ran through his mind. He was reminded of how amazing the movie was and remains ("what a great work of art"), and of how wonderful the Talking Heads were. He listened to the songs, among them "Psycho Killer," "Girlfriend Is Better," "Take Me to the River," "Heaven," and "Slippery People"; he gazed upon the 1980s outfits and choreographed dance moves; and he was immediately back in that place. Back in 1983 when the Talking Heads were the best rock and roll and funk band in the world. Back among friends and lovers (he and Weymouth have been married for more than two decades). Back in that perfect place.

"It was intense," he says. "The feelings that came over me were pretty emotional. That band was an amazing band, and every night was a religious experience -- without exaggerating too much, I must say. We really did something. For a while there, I remember it felt like we could do no wrong, not in an egotistical way, but we were amazed. I think we surprised ourselves more than once. That chemistry was very exciting, and we made the effort to keep it that way, not to necessarily create a platform to reach a mass audience, but we sold plenty of records." He pauses. "Nothing like the Backstreet Boys, but still...."

But as the movie unspooled, he began to wonder how it had all gone so wrong, how this astonishing band, which seemed to change personalities on each record (from minimalist New Wavers to multiculti Afro-pop aggregation and back again) without sacrificing its identity, had destroyed itself just when all felt so right.

"Of course there was the feeling of, what did I do wrong that this isn't happening? What could I have done to change it, to make it continue?" Frantz says. "Then I came to the conclusion I didn't do anything wrong. There's nothing I could have done to prevent the demise of the Talking Heads. We started the band and did everything we could to keep it going. But in the end, that wasn't enough."

In some ways it's surprising that Frantz would want to talk about Stop Making Sense and the Talking Heads all these years later, because he has spent ten years trying to get over the hurt caused by the band's dissolution. He admits he hasn't even seen the movie since its release in 1984; oh, maybe the kids have popped the tape in the VCR once or twice, but he and Tina certainly haven't gone back for a nostalgic peek. There was simply no reason to go there.

This is a band that left as its legacy so many bad feelings; as it self-destructed, it left in its wake a soap opera that, to this day, continues to unfold in slow motion. Frantz will admit as much when he laments the fact that the Heads do not, in 1999, remain a much-discussed band, having taken the back seat to contemporaries such as Patti Smith, Television, Blondie, and so many other CBGB's refugees who seem to have been written larger in the history books. Sure, the Heads were famous, golden children of the New Wave revolution. But history hasn't treated them too kindly; rare are the occasions when historians mention Remain in Light or More Songs About Buildings and Food or Little Creatures. The band may have had hits, a "Burning Down the House" here or an "And She Was" there, but try to remember the last time you heard anyone talk about the band. Talk with any passion. As in: Damn, that was a great band.

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