Talking Head Chris Frantz Talks About Life and Music on the Bowery in the 1970s
Chris Frantz – drummer of seminal art rock band Talking Heads – is out with a new memoir today called Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina. In it, he describes his connection to the Lower East Side, and how it propelled the band to stardom.
Aside from the obvious CBGB relationship – they opened for the Ramones in 1975 – three-fourths of the Talking Heads lived and practiced on the ninth floor of 195 Chrystie Street. Which, at that time, was completely vacant.
An excerpt from the new book appears in the New Yorker this month. And it’s definitely worth the read. Below are some crumbs to digest…
After a couple of weeks of loft-hunting, I went to see a place at 195 Chrystie Street, between Stanton and Rivington—three blocks from CBGB. It was twelve hundred square feet on the ninth floor, with a big freight elevator and a clear view of uptown and the Empire State Building. A couple of sinks were the only fixtures it had; the toilets were in the hall. It was definitely raw. The rent was two hundred and eighty-nine dollars per month. There was no key money because no one had lived there before. As far as I could tell, no one else was living in the building, so there wouldn’t be complaints about band rehearsals. I told the agent that I would take it. When I signed the lease that afternoon, the owner of the building looked at me with obvious skepticism. He asked me what I was going to be doing there, and I told him that it would be my painting studio. He just smiled, shook his head, and accepted my check for five hundred and seventy-eight dollars: the first month’s rent and another month for the security deposit.
I told David that I was starting a band and that I hoped he would join me. David had a strong presence and individuality; his point of view was different from most people’s, and we shared a love of art rock. I felt in my heart that it was an artistically sound idea to take a chance on partnering with him. Tina and I may have been the only people in the world then who believed in David as a musician and bandmate. David had trouble looking me in the eye when I asked him about forming a band together, but I heard him say, “I guess so.” It was not exactly the reaction I had hoped for, but it was a start.
Tina and David agreed to be my roommates and split the rent. About a hundred dollars a month per person, plus electricity, seemed doable. I went out to buy paint to freshen up the place, white for the walls and two different grays for the concrete floor, on which we created a checkerboard effect. Tina drove me, in her old Plymouth Valiant. It was the first time I had been on Chrystie Street after dark. The street was lined with female sex workers of all shapes and sizes. When Tina was with me, they said nothing—they respected her. But, when I was on my own, they’d ask, “Wanna go out?” or “You need a date?” They serviced off-duty cabdrivers and other guys who would pull up in cars. Their pimp was a fiercely handsome, long-haired Latin dude who never said a word to us. He wore the same funky, knee-length, brown fur coat every day, with a baseball bat concealed underneath. I never saw him use the bat, but I have no doubt he would have if he’d ever felt the need.