Saturday, October 13, 2012
Talking Heads had its inception at the Rhode Island School of Design. The original three members, David Byrne, guitarist, singer and lyricist; Chris Frantz, drums; and Tina Weymouth, bass, set Byrne's strange lyrics to minimalist New Wave rock. The trio moved to New York's Lower East Side and added guitarist and keyboard player Jerry Harrison. In their first big gig, they opened for the Ramones at CBGB, located on the Bowery; the now defunct club was the center of a thriving downtown New Wave and punk music scene.
Byrne expanded the band into a larger ensemble incorporating the complex polyrhythms of "world music," specifically its African influences. This incarnation was featured in "Stop Making Sense" (1984), one of the greatest rock films. While the larger band added a new dimension to Talking Heads, it also began a process by which the three other members of the band felt overshadowed by Byrne. Byrne himself became increasingly involved in his own projects, including the movie "True Stories" and musical collaborations with avant-garde musical figures. After the concert film, Byrne lost interest in touring, despite the wishes of his band mates. These tensions, especially between Byrne and Weymouth, led to Talking Heads' demise in 1991.
The author, the late David Bowman, writes, "Talking Heads was a story of Manhattan." The band's urban orientation was evident in such songs as "Cities" and "Life During Wartime." Talking Heads was part of the downtown musical and cultural scene in general. Artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat and composer Philip Glass are among those who appear in the narrative.
I wish that Bowman had devoted more time to Byrne's lyrics, which expressed a sense of alienation and anxiety to funky rhythms, epitomized by such songs as "Once in a Lifetime" and "Psycho Killer." Still, the author has left us with a lively portrait of the music and milieu of one of the most innovative bands in rock history.
Talking Heads and David Byrne have appeared in this blog's "Saturday Night" music series here and here.