Talking About Heads
This article debuted in January on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were doing bad stuff.
The offstage rancor between David Byrne and the rest of Talking Heads has become just as legendary and captivating as their music. I cannot tell you what reverberates through my mind more often — the brilliant quirk of “Once in a Lifetime” or bassist Tina Weymouth pushing the rumor that lead singer Byrne once killed a child “using voodoo.” Drummer Chris Frantz, also Weymouth’s husband of many decades, doesn’t address witchcraft in his 2020 memoir Remain in Love but he does swat at Byrne more often than he praises him. Reading between the lines, I see a guy who is hurting for a warmth and a friendship from Byrne that will never come. Maybe his wife hasn’t told him about the voodoo yet.
It’s probably disheartening to have such a fruitful creative connection with a person who simultaneously cannot or refuses to connect on a more human level. The flip side of Frantz’s Talking Heads coin is the cosmic bond he’s shared with Weymouth, a union that has clearly helped him cope with whatever traumas life has delivered. Weymouth and Frantz don’t need Byrne, personally or professionally. When this wife and husband debuted their side project Tom Tom Club in 1982 it actually eclipsed Talking Heads in popularity (Tom Tom’s upbeat single “Genius of Love” earned gold sales and a Rich Little parody, two things Talking Heads had yet to achieve).
Crusty “Saturday Night Live” heads like myself might be wondering if Remain in Love mentions early ‘80s cast member Charles Rocket at all. Yes, Frantz talks about Rocket, whom he knew during his college years at RISD. There’s a palpable affection when the author writes about his late friend Charlie and the performances he gave as singer for a group called the Fabulous Motels. The Motels did a spoof of “Sweet Soul Music” where the refrain was “Do you like big men, y’all? Big strong men, y’all?”
Rocket’s music career extended to include a guest shot on Mesopotamia by the B-52’s. Frantz briefly touches on this release in the text but only to imply that David Byrne’s production made it one of that group’s worst performing discs. No shot at Byrne is too obscure or petty. Frantz even takes a swipe at some drawings a young David made that Byrne’s parents had hanging up in their home. I’m sorry he hurt you, Chris.
Byrne will most likely do his best to ignore the fact that Remain in Love even exists. I think he should film himself reading the entire book in real time and release it as his next art installation. That would be fascinating. Would he agree that it was a mistake to end his relationship with Twyla Tharp?
Unsolicited Ga Ga Goo Goo On Look Who’s Talking
– our collective conscious appears to dismiss Look Who’s Talking as “the talking baby picture Travolta made on his way back up” or “the talking baby picture Alley made on her way back down”; what an extreme surprise it was to learn this is an Amy Heckerling film and not [I was going to make a joke here about whoever directed Air Bud but it turns out Air Bud was directed by Charles Martin Smith—am I expecting too much from this world?]
– the central gimmick of Look Who’s Talking, the thing that got people in the door in October of ’89 after a summer of Batman and the Ghostbusters and “Weird Al,” is Bruce Willis providing the Garfield-esque inner monologue of the infant; there are times this is amusing, but more often are wide swaths where the Willis narration is pointless and asinine and makes you wonder if they tried at first to make a normal comedy hanging on Travolta and Alley’s fun chemistry but something was lacking so they decided “talking baby”
– “talking baby” is a misnomer as the baby is only such for the middle part of the movie; before that, Willis is giving voice to a sperm as it swims toward an egg (the special effects are just as mind-boggling as the Beach Boys music cue) and then an in utero fetus (which bears a striking resemblance to the murderous infant from the 1974 classic It’s Alive); toward the end of Look Who’s Talking, Bruce Willis is cracking wise over a toddler who seems old enough to actually form his own words; this is probably why they brought in another baby for the sequel, who is voiced by Roseanne
– George Segal plays the smarmy, shitty, married businessman who keeps Kirstie Alley’s character as his long-suffering mistress until he impregnates her with the Bruce Willis baby; if you’ve ever wanted to see the old fella from “Just Shoot Me” give it to the lady from “Cheers” you’ll get a little pleasure
– Abe Vigoda plays the somewhat out to lunch grandfather of John Travolta’s character; not Vigoda’s finest hour but the “please help my grandpa get into a better nursing home” subplot does pave the way for a few succulent morsels of humanity (not to mention the climatic white knuckle car chase through what we are meant to believe is Manhattan)
– there is a montage in Look Who’s Talking set to the Talking Heads song “And She Was”; I wonder how David Byrne feels about that today
– this talking baby picture is better today than what I remembered of it yesterday; that said, talking baby, talking sperm, talking sperm partying to Beach Boys, talking fetus, George Segal aardvarking, gratuitous Travolta / baby dance sequence set to “Walking on Sunshine,” gratuitous crossover of Travolta’s personal interests (his lunkheaded Jersey cab driver is also a recreational airplane pilot)
– thank god this is not the Look Who’s Talking movie where Travolta and Alley sing a parody of “Fight For Your Right to Party” about toilet training