REMAIN IN LOVE by Chris Frantz
St. Martin's Press
Review by Lee Sobel (8/15/20)
5 out of 5 stars
I am an admitted rock memoir junkie. I've read them all. Okay, maybe not ALL, but damn near close. Why? Besides being a huge music fan, I'm not a musician. I don't know what it's like to live the outlaw life of a rock 'n roller, and these books (when done right) put me in the shoes of the real thing. I'm also highly opinionated so I can tell you what I DON'T like in a lot of these books. For one thing, I tend to be more a fan of music people who DIDN'T make it big - or maybe they made it big for a minute and their downward slope is as dramatic and fascinating as their story of how they made it. The more conflict, the better. I have read so many memoirs where I could describe them as "We got signed, we got famous, the end." Snore! The other problem with memoirs is the name-naming, or lack thereof. Of course we WANT the author to name names and spill the beans on all the assholes they have had to work with. But...if the author is still in a band with so-and-so, or they (or the publisher) don't want to get sued for character assassination, the book will hold back on ripping anyone's guts out, so to speak. Plus it can make the author look bitter and angry, and who wants to come off that way, plus it makes it seem that they don't appreciate, and thereby look undeserving to the reader, of their success. My favorite books are the ones where the author wears their acrimony on their sleeve and lets
the shit fly, lawsuits be damned!
That brings us to the first ever memoir by a member of critically adored rock (punk? new wave?) band Talking Heads. To me when this band was at their best it was like taking the art-rock of The Velvets and funking it up to make what the band called "thinking man's dance music." This is one of those bands that had early albums I really liked but as they grew more commercially successful I lost total interest. Yes, David Byrne was quirky and yes I like offbeat stuff but the giant suit? Sorry, that just seemed like he was trying too hard. But say what you want, the band did make some really great songs that I still love, such as "Life During Wartime," "Psycho Killer" and pretty much every song on their second album, MORE SONGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND FOOD (1978). I dare you not to like their version of Al Green's "Take Me To The River" - it may be one of the best cover songs ever made. Of course I also liked that they had a woman in the band and unlike most bands where the sole female member is sleeping with one of her bandmates, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz proved that romance can actually survive in the rollercoaster world of rock music. The romance part of the book is a nice balance to the rock 'n roll whirlwind and you won't find a rock memoir that is also such a loving tribute to the author's wife.
Okay, Lee, get to the review. I have to assume that Chris Frantz waited this long to write his memoirs because he thought there might be another reunion of Talking Heads and let's face it, he and Tina make their living playing music so why shouldn't they do another reunion? The fans would love to see them play again. But, since 2002 when the band was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, all we've heard is that David Byrne is completely disinterested in working again with his bandmates in the 'Heads. So, I guess Frantz decided that since he'd likely never even speak to Byrne again, let alone work with him, that the time was right to pen his memoirs and let off some steam about how he's felt for decades about Byrne. Byrne does not come off well in REMAIN IN LOVE so I'm sure this book is the final nail in the coffin of any dream of a reunion. I hope Byrne writes his own book one day -- I'd love to hear his perspective.
So, if you are wondering if Frantz is at all bitter about Byrne, the answer is: yes he is. That said, he doesn't get as down and dirty as say Paul Stanley does about Peter Criss and Ace Frehley in his book Face the Music: A Life Exposed (I have to think that wealthy Stanley must have paid off Criss and Frehley to avoid being slapped with a defamation lawsuit for the complete annihilation he gives them in this tome). Frantz is credible in his complaints about Byrne and could have been a whole lot meaner, so he never goes for the gut punch but his frustrations with the front man are sprinkled throughout the book. This is good -- you get the drama and Frantz maintains his dignity at the same time.
The book is one of those where you just marvel at the author's memory recall, especially when one considers the amount of partying Frantz did back in the day, which he recounts in detail. His recollection of all the minutiae of every gig, hotel, touring vehicle, etc. is nothing short of amazing as he successfully creates the "walk in my shoes" aspect of what makes rock memoirs so good when they work. He gives you the full arc of his own childhood, how he came to be a musician, his art student years at RISD where the band formed, early gigging days on The Bowery at CBGB, and then all the ups and downs from beginning to end of both Talking Heads and his other band with Tina, Tom Tom Club. For instance, did you know that Tina and Chris wrote lyrics for some of their earliest songs? Byrne must have realized that he'd make more money being the sole writer of their hits so he quickly edged out his bandmates from receiving credit and making publishing money. There were even songs that Chris and Tina had contributed to that it was agreed by Byrne that they would receive credit on, but when the album came out their names had been erased as songwriters. Not cool. They also have a couple of other notable projects along the way, including producing an album for the drug-addled Happy Mondays which is pretty damn entertaining.
Whether you're a Talking Heads fan, a fan of the 70's NYC CBGB punk/new wave era, a rock music fan, or you just need a good read, I whole-heartedly recommend Chris Frantz's REMAIN IN LOVE.