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 Home is where I want to be
Home is where I want to be
2000 - They rose from the ashes of the world's hippest band PDF Print E-mail

But shouldn't Tom Tom Club at last be able to forget it, asks Dan Cairns

The cartoonist H M Bateman might have titled it The Man Who Asked Tina Weymouth About David Byrne. Certainly you could cut the air in the sunlit room at the Portobello hotel in Notting Hill with a knife. No fewer than three - three - PR honchos from Tom Tom Club's record company sit in anxious attendance on a nearby sofa, and the trio's collective intake of breath can be clearly heard when the question pops out.
Weymouth and her husband, Chris Frantz, the former bassist and drummer in Talking Heads, are in town to promote the new Tom Tom Club album, The Good, the Bad and the Funky, their first release for eight years and a record bursting with more invention, wit and dance-savvy eclecticism than seems decent - or possible - in a couple both on the cusp of 50 with two teenage children and a farm in New England.

"It's exactly the same," says Weymouth, looking around the hotel they first visited in 1977, when Talking Heads played the Roundhouse with the Ramones, "except that we get to stay in a nicer room. The first time we came here, you had to get on the bed to open the door. I'd put all the little shampoos in the tub, take a bath first, then put all my clothes in. They'd all been gobbed on."

"I remember having dinner with John Cale downstairs," adds Frantz. "It used to be quite the place for musicians."

The Ramones, John Cale - both namechecks are reminders that Weymouth and Frantz mix with, indeed are part of, New York's royal family of rock, a select band that stretches back to the Velvet Underground and includes Blondie, Television, Patti Smith and Richard Hell. The reference to gobbing is equally evocative, zapping you back to the days of pogoing, the Sex Pistols attempting to hijack the Queen's Silver Jubilee, and a band with a song called Psycho Killer ("Qu'est-ce que c'est? Fa-fa-fa-far-far fa-fa-fa far-far").

It is 19 years since Tom Tom Club first pushed the couple into the limelight occupied almost exclusively up to that point by the Talking Heads' front man, David Byrne. The Club's singles, Wordy Rappinghood and Genius of Love, topped the charts, introducing mainstream white audiences to the rap vernacular and, with the girlie, faux-naif singing style adopted by Weymouth and her two sisters, injecting much-needed humour and rhythmic trickery into dance music.

Although much of the new album sounds as though it could have been recorded at any period during the ensuing years, that should not be held against them. What Weymouth and Frantz helped instigate, and continue to finesse, is a cultural polyglotism that celebrates diversity by appropriating and customising many of its totems. Thus, reggae, hip-hop, disco, soul and punk are thrown into the blender, in a process that both borrows from musical disciplines further out on the fringes and, in the case of Genius of Love, triggered countless imitations. The song has been sampled by, among others, Ziggy Marley, Tupac, Puff Daddy, and Mariah Carey on her No 1 hit Fantasy.

The Good, the Bad and the Funky continues this melting-pot approach, melding scratch, coasting, African kora and Argentinian jazz in a highly unlikely but wholly successful confection. And all this from a smallholding in Connecticut. "We go into New York at least a couple of times a week," says Frantz. "It's like living in Sussex over here." And they still visit CBGBs, the club where the then three-piece Talking Heads, formed by fellow Rhode Island School of Design graduates Byrne, Weymouth and Frantz, first appeared in 1975. "We go several times a year," says Frantz. "It doesn't have quite the cachet it used to, but it still has something."

And they still hang out with the same group. "We saw Chris Stein the other day," says Weymouth. "Yeah," adds her salt-and-pepper-haired husband, "his hair is kind of white now. But other than that, he's the same as he ever was." (Hang on, that last phrase sounds familiar. Oh God, could this be a David Byrne question approaching?) "Other than that," continues Frantz, "we see Debbie [Harry]. She's remained a constant friend. And Joey Ramone." "Richard Hell, of course. Patti, John Cale."

And, uh, David? David Byrne? Ever, like, paint the town red together? Instantly, the whispering on the adjoining sofa ceases. The publicists' eyebrows engage in a frantic semaphore. Do they know something I don't? "We still regret that Talking Heads had to end," Frantz parries warily, referring to the band's eventual split in 1991. "For the life of me I can't figure out what went wrong."

"Actually," adds Weymouth, "Tom Tom Club held Talking Heads together, because David had already left. He'd left in 1980." What, before Remain in Light, before Stop Making Sense? "He would do interviews by himself first so he could promote himself," Weymouth alleges. "The three of us - myself, Chris and Jerry - were being interviewed by this man from Czechoslovakia, and he said, 'What are you going to do, now that David's left the band?' and we'd confront David with things like this, and he'd neither deny them nor confirm them, he'd just say nothing. He was always strange and defensive and eccentric.

"We finally got Brian [Eno] to come in," Weymouth says, without missing a beat, "went down to Compass Point to record, and came home. Then we had to take several months off because David wouldn't let us write lyrics, but he couldn't come up with any." She proceeds in this vein for a quarter of an hour, before her husband once again attempts closure. "You know," he interrupts, "why don't we get back to Tom Tom Club? Because that can be like a black hole," Frantz observes without irony, but with every sign of weary familiarity.

The final 15 minutes of the interview are occupied with pleasantries about the new record, as though her previous outburst had never happened. This mix of garrulous bonhomie and impassioned point-scoring is hardly unique to Tom Tom Club. In her ability one minute to spit fire about her erstwhile collaborator, and the next to exude serene contentment about continuing to make records, Weymouth is surely no more or less contradictory than the rest of us. And when the record is as fine as The Good, the Bad and the Funky, the occasional black cloud obscuring the sun seems an acceptable price to pay. As she sings on the new album: "Who feels it, knows it."

- Sunday Times, September 10 2000


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