1996 - Three Heads Keep on Rocking Print

From: Globe staff, 10/04/1996

Rock 'n' roll divorces can be as sad and acrimonious as marital
splits. Or not. But just as the marital kind often leaves mutual friends
in a queasy limbo, the rock 'n' roll kind leaves many more people -
legions of fans - wondering where their alle giance should go. Or
whether they should be paying attention at all. 

Now consider ... the Heads. Formerly, Talking Heads. They were a
pioneering art-rock/new wave band that crashed CBGB's scene in
the mid-1970s. They were one of the most progressive bands to
cross over to the mainstream. Their leader, David Byrne, made the
cover of Time. They've not been heard from since 1988. 

The Heads have an album out Tuesday called ``No Talking - Just
Head'' on MCA. 

``Triple entendres,'' says bassist Tina Weymouth, with a laugh. ``We
wanted something that would tickle the mind intellectually and it will
also tickle, you know. It's both amusing and darkly disturbing at the
same time and this is a way to overcome all sorts of ridiculous
hang-ups and just move on.'' 

The title song itself, sung by former Blondie singer Deborah Harry
with words by Weymouth, is a vicious, funky little slasher. 

Questions bubble up: What does a band's name mean to you? To
the band? What does it mean after one or more of the key players
have left? Is it the sign of a dependable product? Does it signal a
continuity? Or is it just brand-name positioning? A last-gasp attempt
to hold on to an audience? 

The name of the band was almost neither Talking Heads nor Heads.
That's because Byrne-, the ex-head of Talking Heads-, filed suit
earlier this year against the remaining members of the band -
Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz and keyboardist Jerry Harrison -
charging that using ``Heads'' would be ``wrongful use'' and ``dilution
of a protectable trademark.'' 

The foursome ceased working together eight years ago. The three
others learned Byrne chose not to work with them in a Los Angeles
Times article. They let it linger for some time, but then decided they
wanted to proceed. Byrne said no. Or, rather, his lawyers said no.
Weymouth, Frantz and Harrison say they had no contact with
Byrne. 

``I'm talking about never being able to play what comes naturally to
us,'' says Weymouth, from the Connecticut home she shares with
her husband, Frantz, and their two boys. ``It was something forced
on us. ... We begged David from 1988 on to do something with us.
We tried all the time. You know, friendly persuasions. We would
call and people would say he wasn't in town. Sometimes, we would
even hear him - his laughter - in the background.'' 

It became clear in the spring of 1994 that Byrne and the remaining
Heads would never work together again. The lawyers told the
Heads to think of it as a divorce, says Weymouth. 

This isn't her favorite part of rock 'n' roll, discussing Byrne or what
she sees as his paranoia, isolation, bullying and cowardice. But in
telling the Heads' story, Weymouth knows she has to retrace steps.
Some of the charges are astounding: Weymouth says Byrne - who
was off to pursue his world-music interests - signed a lucrative solo
deal and demanded Warner Bros. scuttle the Heads from its roster. 

``He doesn't get it,'' says Weymouth. ``We tried very hard to reach
him, but he's surrounded by greedy people who will do everything in
their power to keep him away from us.. '' 

Suffice to say that Weymouth, Frantz and Harrison felt they were
three-quarters Talking Heads and, even giving Byrne his due as the
singer-guitarist-main songwriter, they felt they had the right to the
name. He clearly didn't want to use it. He just wanted to prevent its
use. Harrison, who has had substantial success as a producer,
initially told Weymouth-Frantz they were crazy; a year later he
threw in his lot with them. 

Byrne was the main guy. How much so? 

``We were always a team,'' Weymouth. says. ``We always wrote.
David was our frontman. He was very important. But we always
wrote everything together, even when David put his name on it.'' 

The remaining Heads began to regroup in the fall of 1994, after
Byrne formally severed ties. His suit was just recently dropped. The
Heads get to be the Heads, and Byrne's lawyer told Billboard ``all
four members own the name jointly'' and the three can use the name
as long as certain conditions - which were not made public - are
agreed upon. 

Byrne, who declined through a spokeswoman to be interviewed for
this story, recently told the Associated Press, ``I'm pleased we
reached a decision amicably with both sides negotiating fairly. ... I
haven't heard it [the album] but I wish them all the best.'' 

So, what about the music? 

It's not the Tom Tom Club. That project (on hiatus) was Weymouth
and Frantz's light dance-rap-pop outfit that scored with ``Wordy
Rappinhood'' and ``Genius of Love.'' The melody of the latter song
was plucked by Mariah Carey's people for her hit ``Fantasy.'' The
royalties helped finance the Heads' recording sessions. 

The new Heads material - snaking, funky, brooding - is ``serious,
angsty stuff,'' says Weymouth. 

Without a primary singer, the Heads put word out to their friends
and peers and rounded up Harry, Richard Hell, Shaun Ryder (Black
Grape), Ed Kowalcyzk (Live), Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes),
Michael Hutchence (INXS), Andy Partridge (XTC) and Gavin
Friday, among others. With the exception of Harry's ``No Talking -
Just Head,'' the singers wrote their own lyrics. 

Johnette Napolitano - formerly of Concrete Blonde and Pretty
&Twisted- is the touring lead singer. She sings ``Damage I've
Done'' on the. disc. The so-called emphasis track, released last
week, was the second most frequently added song on alternative
radio across the country. 

Though the guest-singer lineup is unusual, Weymouth says, ``The
Duke Ellington Band remained basically the same, but one time they
would have Ella Fitzgerald and another time Louis Armstrong. Why
not?'' 

There were polyrhythms and a sense of joyous release within
Talking Heads' music, but also an undercurrent of darkness or
danger. That remains. 

``We've suffered,'' says Weymouth. ``We suffered all the pangs of
blaming, forgiving, wishing revenge, all those things. Praying.
Becoming sick. Depressed to the point where Chris and I did not
play for eight months. I would wander. It was our 40 days in the
desert.'' 

The Heads are slated to play the Paradise Nov. 8. (Tickets are not
yet on sale.) They'll play most of the album, some Heads obscurities
and some hits. Expect ``Life During Wartime,'' ``Psycho Killer,''
``Once in a Lifetime'' and other old faves. How does Napolitano
handle the male vocals? 

``She's from Los Angeles. She's Italian,'' answers Weymouth.
``She's got all the passion and can run the whole range of emotions,
from hot to cold.'' 

As to the older material, Weymouth says the challenge is to ``give
them fresh. renewal. I hope it's not going to be nostalgia. Let's call it
nowstalgia.'' / 

Rocking in their 40s has no negative aspect, says Weymouth. Older
folks sometimes still expect you to put rock aside and move on to
more ``serious'' music. Responds Weymouth: ``As if rock is pab
lum. When are they going to move on from milk? Too many
Americans drink milk.'' 

They may get a backlash - well, Rolling Stone's already ripped 'em -
but Weymouth says, ``We couldn't care less about any sort of
critical nonsense. We love David, but David has moved into his own
little world and it doesn't include the rest of us.'' 

``The old scars have healed now,'' says Weymouth, semi-sweetly.
``They're smooth now. I can run my fingers over them and it's not

like putting your hands in the holes anymore.''