This is not the review that i expected to write:
Remain in Love
St. Martin's Press
My earliest memory of Talking Heads...
...was on a hot August night in 1978, when I found myself in an old stone mill, turned music club, with my childhood friend, "Tuna." We were quite stoned. There were a lot of out of town hipsters in the club that I did not recognize. We were sitting at a table at the edge of the stage- and when the band started everyone began surging forward. I climbed on top of the table and steadied myself by hanging onto one of the old ceiling rafters. After the first song, Thank You for Sending Me an Angel, ended- "Tuna" screamed in my ear, "WHO ARE THESE GUYS?" and I screamed back, "I DON'T KNOW, I THINK THEY'RE FROM CANADA- BUT THEY'RE QUITE GOOD!" The music was not something that I just passively enjoyed hearing- I enjoyed studying HOW they were doing it and the beautifully awkward sounds that rang in my ears.
I have been waiting for a very long time for THE book about Talking Heads. When Remain in Love was published in July 2020, I thought- FINALLY. I always found the band to be a mystery. The art-school pedigree was intriguing. The person/caricature of David Byrne always seemed vague and inaccessible (much like his own writing). The collaborations with Eno were both brillant and disappointing. The early music was minimal, yet painterly. Given this combination of art and intellect Talking Heads has been on my personal list of top 10 favorite bands of all time since I saw them in a sweaty old mill, at the ass end of the universe, in 1978.
I really, really, really wanted this to be my new favorite book.
A four hundred page book promised to be packed with information. I was hoping for geeky stuff about gear, the writing process, and I was less interested in reading gossip. But there are many unanswered questions in Remain in Love. And many missed opportunities to tell an epic tale.
I know that Chris Frantz knows how to tell a good story. He does a semi-regular radio program on a local station, WPKN, and he knows how to banter. I think that might be the reason for my level of disappointment with the book. Frantz has a good voice and a sharp wit when you hear him speak. But it just did not translate to the printed page. I did not hear the voice that I've heard on the radio. Do not get me wrong, this is one of the better memoirs of a musician that I have read- but I expected something different and smarter.
Remain in Love was short on details and substance. On paper, it reads like a bare-bones chronology of his life- with not enough color. There is a lot of name-dropping. The bands, the places, the dates- all just get strung along to form a linear narrative of a life and career. The affect is flat, other than his references to Tina Weymouth- and the story, at times, is a sleep walk through the life of a very influential group of musicians. Maybe it would have read been better presented as a cut-up, non-linear, and more expressionistic piece- similar to the way Talking Heads wrote their songs.
I have many questions.
SPOILER: The best part of Remain in Love is in the last 30 pages, and consists of just a couple of paragraphs where Frantz breezes over a period when his marriage almost ended due to substance abuse. After rambling on for about 300 pages that are punctuated by references to smoking weed and drinking, Frantz kind of drops a bomb about a serious drug habit. Yeah, the one episode where he accidentally snorted herion and "felt kind of funny" was amusing. But when you get to the point in life where your wife says she's taking the kids and going away until you get your shit together- well, that's sort of a big deal. And it is not the kind of thing that just sort of happens overnight. There was a history to his drug use that largely goes untold. That should have been the beginning of a book that focuses on a very long, and very intense romantic relationship. Perhaps Frantz found this subject too tawdry to dwell on in more detail.
Remain in Love provides mid-level details on the musical evolution of Frantz and Weymouth, but again- the details are slim. Frantz goes into more detail about his hand-built sailboat than about his drum kit. The lack of technical/artistic knowledge I was hoping for never materialized in this book.
I really was not reading Remain in Love to find juicy bits of gossip. I imagined that a 400 page book might have some tall tales or dispell some common rumors. It really did not do either. I was disappointed by the lack of anecdotes and quotes, from people that he had worked with for decades. Frantz has been married to another Talking Head for over 40 years- and while there are many fond memories of life with Tina Weymouth recounted in the book- there are very few quotes or specifics. A few offhand comments about how they tried to "manage" working with David Byrne, but almost nothing about Jerry Harrison- who probably made some of the biggest sonic contributions to the first three Talking Heads albums. Surprisingly, one of the rare Harrison quotes is one of the best in the entire book. When Talking Heads tried to recruit Harrison, his response was something like, "Yeah, I'll join your band if you can get a record contract." One might think this quip might generate an emotional response. Nope.
David Byrne, David Byrne, David Byrne. I really do not care where he is on the autism spectrum, but by Frantz's account, this fellow was always a pain in the ass, very high maintenance, and singularly made decisions that impacted the rest of the band that had carried him along for years. QUESTION: Why did the rest of the group put up with his shit for so long? One can only imagine that every member of Talking Heads had a difficult relationship with Byrne- yet there are no clues as to why his behavior was tolerated.
Just a few other questions:
Remain in Love is a guidebook to every Talking Heads tour- and on that front provides a brief chronology of punk and post-punk. All the names, dates, and places get neatly checked off. Yeah, the Ramones were idiots. Everyone knows that. But, by my count, there were ZERO references to XTC and Andy Partridge. In my opinion, Talking Heads and XTC were cut from very similar cloth- and they remain two of my favorite bands. There is a rumor/anecdote that Partridge suggested that Talking Heads title their second release, "More Songs About Buildings and Food." This seems like a very Partridge thing to say, since the Talking Heads '77 album had songs about buildings and food. A second XTC intersection/rumor was that Partridge was on a plane with Frantz, flying over Australia, when he found out that Byrne announced that the band was breaking up. I don't think Partidge even received a single mention in the book. Instead we get Johnny Ramone complaining about having to stop the tour bus to visit Stonehenge. Christ on a bike.
As mentioned, Chris Frantz knows how to tell a story. One part of the book that actually made me laugh out loud was when he ran into Patti Smith on a remote beach in Greece- and when Frantz greeted her- she ran away. This was a brief, but vividly rendered passage- and I was hoping the book would contain many more encounters like this.
In the late 70s, Talking Heads provided me with a template and a manifesto. They were the weird kids that studied art and made music. When I saw them in that sweaty mill in '78, I was studying art- and when the show ended, I knew that I had to start a band. They broke rules in writing and recording. The songs were about the mundane, abstract, and absurd parts of daily life. And I don't think I am alone in that sentiment.
For a book written by a trained artist, art is one topic sadly missing from Remain in Love. Yes, there is a gloss about painting in school, and there is a cute story about the band having boxed sandwiches with Andy Warhol. But there is maybe only a sentance about the involvement of Robert Rauschenberg in designing the limited edition cover for the Speaking in Tongues album. A couple of pages about eating sandwiches with Warhol- yet nothing about an actual artistic collaboration with one of Warhol's peers. I found this odd because I thought the collaboration would have an impact on the artist-turned-musician. I have a copy of Rauschenberg's Speaking in Tongues in my archive, and it is one of my most prized possessions.
Is Remain in Love a bad book? No.
Could it have been better? Yes.
Could we all be better? Yes.
Are there typos in this review? Highly likely.
today there are 102,336 microphones for sale on ebay. 99% of them are trash.
listen.camp / episode 001 / playlist
Look Homeward, Angel. Mix chamber music, electronica, looping, hiphop, and opera. Well crafted. Beautiful.
02. The Kanzler
Trolley 47, Trolley 48 Looped field recordings from an antique train yard. Sprinkle in ambient sounds and a cello note.
03. Lady Di
Peaunut Cup. The happy evil twins of Mega Emotion from Norwich have just dropped another fuzz drenched punk pop song. This is one of those rare groups that just keeps getting better. And you cannot beat a three-piece band. Ever.
04. Stefan James (Sweet Benfica)
Stub (in D). Lovely dark and pulsing ambient guitar tones from South Wales.
Beach Ecleta. Modulated field recordings. A human voice and a middle-aged BMW are the primary instruments used in a new private release from this outsider artist.
March. Modern protest music from the 2020 release Real Shit.
TYTYTY. A common refrain for these troubled times. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.
08. ATCO Corporation
DR_0055 and DR_0051 - Industrial and field recordings sent by a representative of the ATCO Corporation.
Beowulf. Heavy sludge post-rock. Best line, "Beowulf was one sick puppy."
10. Stefan James
Possessor. Another piece of dark ambient, with a beautifully rendered spoken word introduction.
11. Stephen Steinbrink
It's All Uphill. A dream-pop song about the apocalypse from the lushly crafted 2012 release, I Drew a Picture.
12. Kronos Quartet / Laurie Anderson
CNN Predicts a Monster Storm.
A deeply emotive piece about an impending hurricane that flooded an artist's archives.
13. John Vanderslice
Penthouse Windows (isolated clarinet track). A rare look at the genius of Vanderslice by focusing on only the clarinet on this piece from Green Grow the Rushes.
14. Beauty Pill
Pardon Our Dust. Beyond classification- a brilliantly structured piece that is a sonic experience and a literary treat. I LIVE INSIDE MY OWN HEART, MATT DAMON!
15. Young Marble Giants
Wind in the Rigging. An instrumental piece from a too short catalogue. This song never got a lot of attention, but set the bar for minimalist post-punk works 40 years later.
Heartache. Follow Dezmo on twitter. Ask Dezmo how the track was made. It is a great story. The spoken word introduction only scratches the surface in describing the sadness of this great song.