Hero or Villain?

 Posted by
Jul 092020

Following assorted links I came to this interview with Chris Frantz, who has an autobiography coming out later this month:


Very interesting with, unsurprisingly, much to say about David Byrne and his refusal to reunite Talking Heads. And there are lots of great video clips – from 20 minutes of the three-piece Talking Heads at CBGBs in 1975 through to their only “reunion” for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame up to Byrne’s American Utopia on Broadway. I’ll let you decide which ones to watch rather than embed something here.

Are artists like Byrne or Robbie Robertson or Paul Weller (to name two more that come to mind quickly) heroes or villains? Sticking with Byrne, he owes his success to Talking Heads; he surely wouldn’t have a hit Broadway show without that on his CV. Does he owe it to Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison to reunite for the type of tour Frantz mentions in the interview for a “treasure trove” of money? Should he at some point have “taken one for the team that used to be”? Or is he to be admired for walking away from a successful band to pursue his other artistic ambitions and not looking back? (As a side point, I wonder if Byrne wishes he had taken that treasure trove given the shut down of Broadway; maybe his Utopia is gone for good.)


  48 Responses to “Hero or Villain?”

  1. jeangray

    The rest of the band at one point wanted to replace Byrne with Adrian Belew. Adrian went on to write the entire Tom Tom Club album with Frantz & Weymouth, but was not given songwriting royalties on the majority of the tracks. I’m not sure who the villian is here, but I’m certainly not surprised that Byrne doesn’t want anything to do with them anymore.

  2. @jeangray, so great to have you back in the Hall! I’d never heard that story about Belew and the songwriting credits.

    In response to Al’s question, I’m going to call on the Wilson Choice: Both! I applaud an artist for doing what he or she thinks needs to be done next on their journey. Plus, I think Byrne may be on the “spectrum.” I don’t know if he can be expected to have a normal one-for-all-and-all-for-one mentality. It would be nice if he would. It would be nice if all band leaders could have something left in their heart to get the old band back together for one last fling. It would be good for fans of that band, too.

  3. Why do I feel so differently about Byrne and Robertson?

    All of the Talking Heads made solid contributions to realize a vision that was primarily Byrne’s, but I never felt like he was trying to convince me that he was the boss. When he finally moved on, the Talking Heads had probably played out the string. Although Naked was somewhat a return to form, they clearly had peaked in the Eno to Speaking in Tongues period. The evolution of their live show from the severe and nervous early demeanor, to the celebratory expanded band on the Remain in Light tour, and finally to the simple but cleverly theatrical final tour didn’t really leave much space for anything other than a letdown. He’s really done some great work in his solo career and, frankly, much of it was made possible by his freedom to change up his musical presentation because he is not Talking Heads. While the big salsa band that he first toured with didn’t knock me out, the last four tours have been fantastic. For those keeping track, that’s the tour with strings, the tour with the three dancers, the tour with St. Vincent, and the current Broadway marching drum schtick. They all had both musical and staging elements that were new and interesting. So Byrne’s reluctance to cash in on the Talking Heads legacy bandwagon feels admirable to me.

    As I’ve mentioned before, Robbie Robertson is constantly trying to remind the world that The Band was his vision. But let’s be honest, if the Talking Heads are 80% concept and 20% personality, the band are 80% personality and 20% concept. The personality of the voices, the playing and how they worked together was what made The Band. The sound of 5 guys that all grew up embedded in musical cultures that were deep and specific was the magic. Robertson was an excellent songwriter but the more self aware he became , the less effective he was. I understand that Robertson pulled the plug on the Band because there was a self destructive streak that was out of control. I just wish he would stop trying to hog the credit for how great they were.

  4. While I was writing my last comment, I hadn’t seen Mr. Mod’s comment. I’d also like to add that I think a Talking Heads reunion would be perfunctory, merely tarnishing the legacy of what they accomplished. Even the most hollow Brian Wilson performances have the uplifting aspect that this guy has been through a lot but he is still here. I think a Talking Heads reunion would reek of filthy lucre.

  5. Al,

    One last thing. The Frantz article mentioned Pat Ivers, who filmed the early Heads performances. Do you know that she is a Yeadon girl that lived, I think, about a block from where you grew up? She graduated Prendergrast in ’70.

  6. David Byrne is not the villain for not wanting to reunite. I don’t blame him one bit. I recently read the Talking Heads bio, This Must Be the Place, and it seems to have been a not terribly enjoyable environment after the first few years, and a pretty toxic one by the end. (Admittedly, largely because of Byrne’s actions over the years.)

    But he’s also not the auteur he—and Robbie Robertson—are painted as, and which they clearly see themselves as. It’s notable that from 1980 through at least the end of the century, the other three members of Talking Heads had more financial and critical success and influence outside the band than Byrne did. (Admittedly, Byrne was often deliberately going for non-commercial stuff.) Rock and roll is one of those cases where the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, and Talking Heads (and the Band) are two huge examples of that.

    Talking Heads have a discography that stretches out over 11 years. Byrne has been solo for at least 33 years and arguably 39 years—so, obviously, at least three times as long. And in any list of his, say, 10 best songs, maybe, MAYBE, one or two will be non-Talking Heads, despite how much longer he hasn’t been a member of Talking Heads than how long he was.

    So. He’s not the villain. And like Robertson, he’s extremely talented. Just not nearly as talented as he or his adoring fans think. (I, of course, wish I had 10% of his talent.)

    Side note: it’s interesting to compare those who seem to see themselves as auteurs and who have absolutely had fine solo careers but which pale in comparison to their catalogs with their original bands v artists had equally or more successful solo careers. I’d say Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and Neil Young are perhaps the pre-eminent examples of the latter, while Robertson and Bryne join John Fogerty in the former camp. Sting is a weird one, in that he’s had a solo career which would be the envy of all but a few dozen artists ever, and yet which still has yet to equal his short stint as a member of The Police. (I’m not even bothering to rank the Beatles, ‘cuz they’re the Beatles.)

    (Also, and I know this’ll be controversial, I’d put Eric Clapton in with Simon, Gabriel and Young, although that’s because I think Cream is the least good if most important phase of his long career, and think the greatest thing he ever did, easily is Derek and the Dominos…which was a real band, possibly kneecapping my own argument.)

  7. I also read This Must Be the Place and agree with Scott. Plenty to toxic behavior to go around in that band, although it seems Byrne and Weymouth were the worst offenders. But I give Byrne credit for passing up the easy paycheck for what would decidedly not be a fun venture for all involved.

    Interesting to compare Byrne to Robertson too. It’s not like Byrne’s solo albums are modern-day classics, but he does try stuff, and he has his various art and book projects.

    While I do appreciate some of Robertson’s soundtrack (or song-selecting) work for Scrosese, it seems pretty clear his main occupation these days is maintaining his brand as the mastermind of the Band . Didn’t he buy out the other surviving members’ stake at some point in the ’80s or ’90s? Slick move there, Robbie.

    Not to be superficial about it, but Byrne just seems comfortable being himself now. It helps that he has second-coolest white hair in rock (after Nick Lowe). Robertson is a 70something guy with the hair and teeth of a 22-year-old.

  8. @Oats, your ranking of Byrne among white-haired rockers might be spot on!

  9. Jimmy Page looks on jealously.

  10. Happiness Stan

    I always wanted to like Talking Heads more than I do, the first two albums were halfway there, Fear of Music and Remain in Light hit the spot. I then saw a bit of a live show on the telly with Adrian Belew and found him so irritating I gave up on them after that. I think your diagnosis of Byrne is probably accurate, Mr Mod, I’ve had an awful lot of people close to me diagnosed in the last four or five years and have become quite tuned in on that regard. It’s been an interesting journey, but not a conversation for here. The Band have never been revered here the way they are on your side of the pond, and tend to be seen as an adjunct to Dylan in the way Crazy Horse are to Neil Young.

    I don’t think anybody knows what Weller’s beef with the rest of the band was, including the other members. I don’t see him as a villain, he doesn’t need the money, he’s clearly as content as he’ll ever be with his solo stuff. Ultimately, if somebody doesn’t want to do something all the clamouring in the world won’t make it happen. Money will, obviously, some of the time, but neither Byrne or Weller are short of a bob or two. The surviving Faces offered to reform to back Rod Stewart at Glastonbury when he played there about fifteen years ago, but he turned them down, apparently. His set was a real shocker, even if they hadn’t rehearsed they couldn’t have been worse than that.

    The only other hand that springs to mind who have that sort of clamour to reform going on over here is The Smiths. That was unlikely to have happened given the acrimony between Morrissey and the rest of the band even before he became a figurehead for racist, nationalist right-wing thugs, it’s unimaginable now.

    It must be quite galling to have been successful as a solo performer for seven or ten times longer than the band stayed together and know the only question anybody wants to ask is when you’re getting together again, like your grandma wanting to know why you didn’t marry the girlfriend who dumped you when you were seventeen.

  11. BigSteve

    From this vantage point in history, it may seem like the Band was not a big deal to English musicians, but at the time they ser turned heads. From very famous people like Eric Clapton and George Harrison to lesser lights like Nick Lowe/Brinsley Schwarz, English rockers wanted to BE the Band. Remember that Dylan was pretty much in absentia in the late 60s.

    I think your opinion on this Hero or Villain issue may depend on how much you value THE SONG in the recordings you love. Legally the remuneration system was set up to favor songwriters. I remember reading that this is because, when the legislation was written, songwriters may have had better lobbyists. Plus sheet music used to be a much bigger part of the musical ecosystem than it is anymore. But many bands have fallen apart when band members realized that the guy who wrote the songs (lyrics?) was getting all the money.

    This is definitely true of the Band. Levon claimed he helped ‘write those songs’ but Robbie points to Levon’s lack of songwriting in his post-Band career. Without those three singers, it’s unlikely that Robbie’s songs would have gotten him very far. Robbie’s post-Band albums are kind of meh, but it’s hard to say if that’s just normal artistic entropy or the result of his weak singing voice.

    I believe that a lot of what we love about Talking Heads records comes from Jerry Harrison, but unfortunately for him he never had anything like the Tom Tom Club to provide an alternate form of income (or ego boost). I’ve followed Byrne solo career. I really loved Rei Momo, but he’s mostly been an expert at branding.

    I can’t say that I’m ever really in favor of reformation cash-ins. Maybe if the band never really made any money the first go-round, like maybe the Pixies, I’m willing to cut them some slack. But taking advantage of the fact that your previously poor target demo now has disposable income seems kind of gross.

  12. Rod Stewart is a guy that didn’t realize the degree to which the personality of the band mattered. It is especially interesting that his Faces era solo records were classics, easily equaling, maybe even surpassing the Faces records. But when he took went solo and basically subsumed his Faces side as his new solo persona, things went to shit pretty quickly.

    It might not be his fault entirely. The departure of Ronnie Lane might have been the thing that rendered the Faces inoperable.

    An engineer that worked with Keith Richards and Ron Wood on a John Phillips solo album in the late 70’s recounted a discussion they had about the declining quality of Rod’s output. They both agreed that the problem was that “He was never very bright.”

  13. Also, in light of this discussion, I looked up the Talking Heads songwriting credits and I think they pretty accurately capture the actual material contributions. The first three albums are mainly credited to Byrne with a couple of co-write exceptions for other members. “Remain in Light” and “Speaking in Tongues” are credited as Music by the band, including Eno on the former, words by Byrne. The next two albums are credited mainly to Byrne, with an arrangements credit to the band. Naked again credits the band with music and Byrne with lyrics. I do think the bandmembers were well compensated. I think the real gripe is that Byrne pulling the plug, first on the touring, then on the band, took away their stardom more than their financial stability.

    BigSteve, I think you’re romanticizing Harrison’s contribution, which I would say is very unlike you. He was an excellent sideman whose addition immediately catapulted them from interesting but weird concept presented on a barebones sketch, to interesting but weird concept successfully masquerading as a pop group. Most of the material from the first two albums was in the repertoire already and his contributions added more body but didn’t change them significantly. Hell, he did just as great a job with Jonathan Richman too. I’m really not knocking his contributions at all, just saying that they were not the essence of the band and another artistically sympathetic sideman with keyboard/guitar chops, A tall order I know, might have fit the bill.

  14. Am I the only crass asshole (crasshole?) in this thread who thinks Byrne (and Weller) is a little bit of a “villain” for not doing one more tour for old time’s sake?

    I want to be clear that I primarily support any artist for doing what he or she feels his or her art requires. However, I wish there was a way the likes of Byrne and Weller could find a kick in getting back and playing a set of hits with their old bandmates before it’s too late. (And this is not to say that other members of these bands may not be as big a stumbling block. God, just the thought of having to hear Rick Buckler’s stiff drumming might kill my desire to do another Jam tour, if I were Weller.)

    Robertson has made a career of playing boring music that has nothing to do with The Band, so I don’t hold his refusal to get the old gang together again against him. Byrne, on the other hand, musically still trades off Talking Heads. I was pretty pissed to see him on SNL last year (?) playing Talking Heads songs with his Broadway group. It’s one thing to sell his music to a Broadway producer and let them hire kids to do some kind of Jersey Boys, but come on, you are David Fucking Byrne, who’s only excuse for a Broadway show is going on national TV to do hokey versions of Talking Heads songs, and you can’t at least have the grace of that self-absorbed tantric sex and lute master Sting and go out on the road and raise some hell with your original band one time? Again, Byrne can do what he wants, but I think starring in his own version of Jersey Boys or that Billy Joel Broadway revue is lame. Imagine John or Paul playing themselves in Beatlemania.

    The thought of a Faces reunion as long as Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagan are dead is a joke.

    Feargall Sharkey’s pride in being a grown-up singer justifies his refusal to hold out on an Undertones’reunion. More power to the band for moving on.

    For any mixed feelings I may have regarding Talking Heads and The Jam, I hope I never have to read another article about the possibility of The Kinks reuniting. Those Davies brothers seem miserable. They already had years of getting stale. It’s too bad they didn’t have the balls to stick it out and keep struggling to maintain mediocrity, like the Stones still do. The Stones have brass ones!

  15. ladymisskirroyale

    Bauhaus, a band which swore it would never, ever reunite will be touring again. They spent too many years together, they don’t like each other anymore, but they are also sentimental and need the money. People love them. They will probably put on a great show. But I won’t be there because it will already feel soul-less.

    I saw the Pixies reunion show. It sounded great. It looked great. There was absolutely zero chemistry: Deal and Black had gone beyond hate and so it was merely boring. What was the old Cheers line? “Everyone knows that hate isn’t the opposite of love. Indifference is.” They got paid really well for indifference.

    Pavement’s reunion show was better, partly because it seemed that Malkmus went out of his way to include old local friends, including Gary Young. His solo stuff, or music with the Jicks continues to be interesting to me.

    The Specials were generally good (great sound, musicianship, etc.) but they had new material to perform.

    I would love for the Talking Heads to play together again. But I’d fear that there would be a whole lotta indifference there. I don’t think Byrne is a villain. He has visions for musical/performance ideas that don’t include his former bandmates. That can be cold-hearted but at least it’s not indifferent. I admire that he still makes music and is interested in a lot of different things. Weller is also into other things, including clothes and his family. Mr. Royale and I ran into him in London around Thanksgiving, and he was happily attending the block party where his clothing shop is located. He was pleasant, chatty, and gracious. And there wasn’t a microphone in sight.

    There are so many bands I wish I had seen, and so many I wish I could see. But inevitably the reunions are sad or indifferent affairs. Maybe the question should be: what makes a heroic reunion? If I was to see Orange Juice play, with Edwyn Collins doing his best to play guitar, post stroke, and knowing that it wouldn’t sound great or maybe at all what it sounded like before, I think that would be heroic.

  16. Mr. Mod, Understand that Byrne does a lot of work on the live shows to make each tour unique and interesting. Yes, he always does a lot of Talking Heads material, but those songs are always well integrated into the stage show that he is currently doing, and often cleverly arranged to fit with the ensembles that he’s working. He also reframes a lot of his solo material in the same way.

    The Broadway run is not the “Jersey Boys” of Talking heads at all. He’s done several endless tours with interesting angles as I mentioned earlier. The tour with St. Vincent did the songs with a band that was essentially a mutiphoniic 10 piece horn section. These shows work much better in a theater setting, but the expense of touring demands much larger venues to meet the demand and the financial considerations. After putting together a large dedicated group and another nifty stage concept, and doing a long tour, Byrne realized that there was enough demand that he could do it repeatedly in a relatively small venue and let the audience come to him. It allowed the large ensemble to work this show for what I suspect was a fairly lucrative extended period, without the unproductive rigors of touring and, on top of that, it provided about 200,000 people the opportunity to see the show under ideal conditions. It was really great and, as a person that considers Talking Heads to have been great in their prime, I would’ve picked this show, or any of the three tours he did before this unit, over seeing a reunion for the sake of nostalgia. It wouldn’t be as good as any of them. Really.

    They were going to do another run before the Covid hit. I’m telling you it would be worth it to take the trip to NYC if they do.

  17. Last thing. I’m sure SNL wanted the Heads song. He needed the SNL promotion for the Broadway run so he went along with it. Did you see him do the number from the new album on Colbert? It was really easily as good as the performance that leaned on the heads material.

    You’re sounding like EPG!

  18. Mr. Mod, Go to the mirror, boy! You are the villain! You want the one band holdout to sublimate their needs and wants just to fulfill yours. Who cares whatever justified or unjustified reason they have for not wanting to do it? Maybe Chris Frantz farts a lot in rehearsals? You just want Byrne to suck it up. This isn’t military service. Sure, feel bad that people you want to see enjoying each others company don’t, but thinking anyone should feel guilty that they aren’t forcing an unnecessary reunion is crazy. Imagine being compelled to spend more time with David Lee Roth!

  19. Or chickenfrank!

  20. Touchée, Geo! But my example was better as per;

    Douche rankings:
    1. Gene Simmons
    2. David Lee Roth
    3. Chickenfrank

  21. I guess for me it’s a question of head and heart. In my head, Byrne is a hero. He accomplished what he wanted, he’s moved on, he’s into a lot of things, he has lots of interests. Don’t look back!

    There is a bit of a villain though when I look at it from my heart. Here’s the band you lived, breathed, and died with. You struggled, you made it, you made it big. Here’s a chance to do that music – music you still perform – and make a splash like you never did before. Ignoring covid, for sure a Talking Heads reunion could play bigger venues than Talking Heads ever did, than David Byrne ever could on his own.

    Far from tarnishing the reputation, in much the way of his solo tours, he’d have a different canvas to paint a new picture using those old songs. A new production that could enhance the reputation in much the way the shift from the 4 piece to a larger group did. And make a lot of money while he’s at it, fund future non-Talking Heads ventures.

    Never having been in a band, I’m sure I’m romanticizing it.

  22. @geo, in the absence of EPG (for the most part, of late), someone’s got to sub in for him!

    @geo and @chickenfrank, remember that *primarily* I am fully supportive of Byrne and any other artist who doesn’t want to rehash the past. My slight wish for any of them to “have a heart” is not based on a desire for them to “cash in” to benefit their bandmates who don’t collect as much royalties. To me, a band getting back on the saddle for one more ride isn’t about charity. My interest in all this is to see if people can challenge themselves emotionally and have a bit of a group hug on behalf of their own legacy as well as the interest of their fans.

    Would any band’s reunion be as good as shows from their peak? Doubtful! But I’d take my chances on a reunited Talking Heads that played even one show as a quartet. Once they started adding all those side players during the Remain in Light tour, it’s as if they were already creating distance for themselves. “Adrian, keep between me and Tina, OK? I can’t handle seeing her stink-eye all set.”

    Again, my wish is not an attempted command. I have no expectations on artists. It’s not an indictment on anyone, but I state what I’m stating because I think there’s no harm in people giving themselves a kick in the ass once in a lifetime and seeing if anything worthwhile comes from it. It may be fun. It may suck.

    My apologies to David Byrne if I haven’t paid his solo work over the last 30 years enough attention. Any time I give it a try it sounds like he’s stuck on a Road to Nowhere. I also have weird theories about how I would “rehab” artists who’ve gotten way too stuck in their brand. Maybe I’ll share that program for another day.

  23. Al,Talking Heads played the Mann to a sold out audience on that last tour. Could they play somewhere bigger now? Sure, but who the fuck wants to see that!

    There is some excitement seeing a band graduate form venue to venue, but none of them get better and better. After 3.500 it’s fucking Bread and Circuses.

    You or your wife described that Byrne tour with the dancers as the best show you’d seen, right? Do you think the reunion would touch that? Do you think it would touch the Trenton War Memorial show?

    I’m not sure I even wanna see the reunion.

  24. I’m not sure it would touch either or Utopia but who knows what Byrne could do given a huge canvas and a new palette. But maybe that would leave Frantz, Weymouth, and Harrison feeling like extras in a David Byrne show.

    I tell you this, I’d rather see Talking Heads do the Super Bowl halftime show than whoever has done it recently or might do it in the future.

  25. I apologize for my absence. This is a great thread with lots of insightful commentary.

    Robertson, Weller, Byrne, etc. after pulling the plug on their bandmates, should have moved to Alaska or some such remote area where they could have continued pursuing their new enlightened work in private. That generous move would have saved all of us from the agony of hearing all their rotten unrestrained “music” and witnessing their selfish embarrassing behavior. By doing so, they would have preserved the ooomph of their back catalogs. Why is it that the thought of doing something like that never occurs to these people?

    On a more positive note, the wife turned me on to Freaks and Geeks last night. Easily the best show I’ve seen in quite some time. The show nails my era on the head episode after episode. Can’t believe I missed out on this thing for so long!

  26. EPG – Welcome back!. Mr. Mod’s been doing his best to hold the dickhead fort for you.

  27. I can’t think of a better man for the job!

  28. @EPG, thank god Freaks and Geeks is off to a good start for you. I hope this helps you appreciate what the rest of us red-blooded Americans see in You Know Who! We’ll take that offlist.

  29. If by any chance you’re having a Linda Cardelinni appreciation discussion offlist, please send me the pass code.

  30. Happiness Stan

    This feels like one of the great Hall conventions I was missing when life got back to normal after catching up with me and stuff had been really weird for a few years. Thanks everybody.

    I was in several bands during my teenage/early twenties years, one of the guys from the band most of those who were there remember most fondly and came the closest to doing anything memorable has been putting out feelers for a reunion for some years now. I’d do it because I’m easy going and would do it for our friendship, but our singer, who was, to put it mildly, difficult, hasn’t mellowed with age and is even angrier with the world now than before, and our drummer, who everybody still loves to bits, ain’t interested. We’d possibly fill a small function room with people who remember us in our home town, too.

    Other bands I was in would probably get together just for the fun of it, but I doubt anyone would even turn out for free to see any of them in normal times. There was a really powerful dynamic with that band that worked while it worked, but it was hard work and sometimes downright poisonous even then and it’s not a place I particularly want to go back to. So I fully understand and respect these miserable so and so’s who just decide they did what was needed at the time and the moment isn’t there any more.

    There’s a really interesting interview with David Thomas on the Cherry Red podcast, in which he talks about Pere Ubu reforming without realising they were doing it. I’ve not got all the way through yet, but he’s always good value for money.

  31. I look forward to that discussion tonight, Moderator. I now understand your fascination with her talent. That said, what I saw in Dead to Me was not to my liking. More later.

    Don’t know how much you recall about the show, but last night we watched what most would probably refer to as the “Come Sail Away” episode. I’m getting goosebumps just recalling how powerful that whole thing was. You know you’re doing something well if you can take something so utterly atrocious, like Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” and turn it into something transformative. Because my ear and eye power continue to deteriorate, the wife and I watched the episode with subtitles and increased volume. Doing so reinforced my belief that the song is indeed one of the worst pieces of music known to man, but when coupled with the episode’s epiphanous climax on the dance floor, the song takes on a whole new life. It’s good to know that in the future, when I hear the song, I’ll think of that performance on the dance floor and have yet another good cry. There it is. I said it, and I don’t give a fuck. Didn’t think this was possible, but that slice of magic might even better than the Wonder Years episode in which father and daughter work out their troubles while Tim Buckley’s “Once I Was”.plays in the background.

    And is it too much of a stretch to say that a young Andyr could have been the inspiration for the show’s Neil Schweiber, played by Samm Levine?

    I am so looking forward to watching further episodes of the show and recalling the best and worst times of my high school years.

  32. Will do, chickenfrank!

  33. Happiness Stan, your possible band reunion story reminds me of why I’ve got this romantic notion that the likes of Byrne almost owe it to themselves, not just their bandmates and their fans, to give it one more go: I am the marrying kind, one who easily sticks with things. Even things that fall apart, if they were once any good, I’d like to think I could give it one more go. I’ve been lucky to have been in a band for all these years, with a number of ups and downs, with people I love. I take a hissy fit every couple of years and threaten to never play out again, but then I’m back in.

    I was in one other band with some of my best friends on earth, including some of the same people as in my primary band. The other band would be harder to get back together for even one show, although we’ve talked about it before. In that band’s case, we’d have to get past some philosophical differences that, to any outsiders, would be unbelievably stupid to differ over, but that’s how it went in that band. I’d have to steel myself for some guaranteed fights and likely disappointments, but if I could get past the larger hurdle in my case, of remembering all the songs, I’d still do it. For a night or two. I guess a whole tour, like professional bands are asked to do, would be a disaster.

  34. mockcarr

    It’s never the same, c’mon. All you can hope for that it’s something else you can also enjoy for whatever reason.

  35. BigSteve

    As far as me romanticizing Jerry Harrison’s role in the band, maybe so. I cannot remember the details at this point, but I remember reading an interview with someone at the time who made the claim that a lot of what we like about Talking Heads was down to Harrison. It was someone who I thought would know, so that’s why I internalized it, but yeah at this point I’m repeating someone else’s opinion.

    Regarding this putative Talking Heads reunion tour, would you actually buy a ticket if it happened? Be real, we are the demographic for this tour. The tickets would be, what, $100? $200? Would you put your cash down? I definitely would not.

  36. BigSteve

    I forgot to mention that I really liked that ‘solo’ album Harrison released called The Red and the Black. He seems like one of those people that needs collaborators. He’s not an ‘auteur,’ but music needs people to play those roles.

  37. trigmogigmo

    Speaking of Harrison’s “solo” albums, his pair of “Jerry Harrison: Casual Gods” albums have some good stuff and I do enjoy them, but they are hit-and-miss. They lean towards the funk-and-synthesizer mode. He sings accurately but the songs would be improved with a stronger lead singer.

    Onto the reunions matter. The Police are probably my visceral favorite band ever. I know and love every song down to every glorious hi-hat tick, octoban flam, and guitar chord delay echo. I was excited to go see their 2008 reunion tour. The show was super enjoyable but listening to the live recording is very disappointing. Mr. Mod you mentioned the “grace of that self-absorbed tantric sex and lute master Sting and go out on the road and raise some hell with your original band one time”. That’s so good. However, I think they didn’t raise any hell, ensconced in their 3 separate limos fleeing each stadium, and their 3 separate backstage lounges in splendid isolation. Having seen some bits of backstage footage — I think there may have been a documentary film, or maybe it was Andy Summers’ film — plus pre- and post-tour interviews like when they did the Elvis Costello Spectacle show, it’s pretty clear to me that Sting and Stewart were just barely tolerating working together. Maybe that was always the case! Their personalities are designed for a huge clash. Stewart is brash, hyperactive, loud, and pontificating. Sting is cerebral, stubborn, and controlling. Copeland had a comment at some point saying that he realized that they had all really missed each other in the intervening years, but the way I read the comment in the way he said it, was “Sting missed me. Right? Right?” Which is maybe not the case at all.

    Although I totally enjoyed the show — despite being disappointingly far from the stage due to the scale of the endeavor, whereas when I was a teenager I was able to wedge my way to the front — the recordings tell the truth about the musical performance, and it is disappointing! When I listen to the “Certifiable” live album, it’s enjoyable and familiar, but I keep noticing with dismay when:
    – Sharp edges are rounded off.
    – Things just sound “softer” in terms of sound production. I don’t mean the volume, it’s something else. It’s too clean!
    – Sting mumbles the words! Words become just vowels. Like he’s embarrassed to sing them?
    – He moves the melody down-range, and “jazzes up” the vocal phrasing, which removes energy.
    – Tempos are sometimes reduced and the drumming seems too restrained and less energetic.

    Still, I was happy to hear and see these guys play these songs again, and if anything I should have just ponied up for the really good tickets.

  38. Trigmo, Costello really started to jazz up his vocal performances too. I prefer my EC neat.

  39. trigmogigmo

    “neat” — a perfect way to describe it! No mixers or ice, please.

  40. That was killer stuff, trigmogigmo, thanks!

    I wish I could remember what Costello song I was listening to over the weekend. It wasn’t one of my favorites, but at some point in it, I realized that it was a case of him actually pushing pop songwriting boundaries, as hokey as that reads, in a way that may not have gone down easy, but ultimately may help the songwriting world. I’ll have to review my Spotify history and see if I can remember the song, then put my thoughts down clearly. A couple of days later, I’m not sure that I even believe what I was thinking.

  41. “I believe that a lot of what we love about Talking Heads records comes from Jerry Harrison, but unfortunately for him he never had anything like the Tom Tom Club to provide an alternate form of income (or ego boost).

    Jerry Harrison produced some extremely commercially successful albums in the 90s, by bands/artists such as Crash Test Dummies and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the Verve Pipe and Rusted Root. Most important, he produced the breakout LP by the band Live, which sold over 8,000,000 copies. Assuming the mighty wiki is even close to being correct, that would seem to indicate that one album sold more than the entire Talking Heads discography had by the time the Heads broke up.

    In other words, I highly suspect Jerry Harrison made more in the 90s than David Byrne did.

  42. “Would any band’s reunion be as good as shows from their peak? Doubtful!”

    A shoutout here to Dinosaur Jr, whose post-reunion records are, on balance, and against all odds, as good as their pre-breakup stuff…although, admittedly, they don’t have a ton of chemistry on stage. But they surely do got volume and blistering solos, so there’s that.

  43. I have no problem with anyone who doesn’t want to get back together with their old band. Times and people change and while they may not be where they currently are artistically of success-wise without the band that made them famous, moving on happens. How many people would think, “Hey, let me take some time away from my current job and go work at the place I used to work at ten years ago”? We as fans have no idea what the dynamic between the members of the band was at the time of the breakup. While there are plenty of mensches out there who will go the reunion route simply because one member of the band needs to, be it financially (which it usually is) or for for mental well being, for some it can be too much to spend time with former bandmates.

    Regarding Robertson, he can go fuck himself. He has proven time and time again that he is a raging egomaniac and asshole. I remember during an interview when he released his first solo album, he always makes a restaurant reservation for one more person than is coming just because. He thought it was a genius idea. Maybe a minor thing but it just confirmed that he is an arrogant dickwad. I love The Band and saw them numerous times without Robertson. I don’t hold it against him for breaking up the band. If he felt the environment was toxic (& I have little doubt it was), leaving like that is his right. Agreeing with his choice doesn’t mean I’ll hate him any less. I have little doubt that Levon Helm straight up co-wrote some of the songs with Robertson. The fact that Helm’s writing output after The Band was negligible only means that he needed a collaborator. So does Robertson. Nothing he wrote after the break-up can touch anything he wrote while with The Band (I’m not counting his soundtrack work in that BTW – totally different skillset there). He needed the collaboration as much as Helm did. And to minimize the contribution of the rest of The Band (especially Hudson) just supports the fact that Robertson is a self-centered glory hound. (don’t get me started on him taking advantage of the rest of the band’s financial situation to buy them out). As I already said, Robertson can go fuck himself.

    On to more pleasant matters. EPG you are one lucky bastard. I hate the cliche, but I wish I could re-watch Freaks and Geeks for the first time. We showed it to my son last year and that was a cool experience. I look forward to hearing about your progress through the series.

  44. Crackblind, the analogy of going back to my job from 10 years ago will last the rest of my life. Thank you!

  45. Crackblind re Robertson: very much what I was saying about him earlier with less clarity and venom.

  46. Mr. Mod, you’re more than welcome (& thanks for the compliment). It’s a thought I had a few years back and this discussion brought it back to mind.

    geo, I was really looking forward to Robertson’s record at the time and that interview bothered me. Then I was really disappointed in the album and over and over he kept proving what a dick he really is. I do have to admit that he was pretty good in Carny with Gary Busey & Jodie Foster.

  47. On vacation I started reading David Byrne’s How Music Works as well as excerpts from Frantz’s book. I’m firmly back in Byrne’s camp. That guy is on his own journey. He’s really organized in his thoughts. He can’t look back without giving things a new context.

  48. Mr. Mod – I appreciate your willingness to keep an open mind. I realize now that Byrne’s book is the best explanation of why he’s not interested in a reunion. It’s not that he hates the other guys or that he feels they contributed nothing, he just has a lot of things that he’d like to do that take precedence over a two year victory lap for something he was involved in over thirty years ago, no matter how lucrative that might be.

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