Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz look back: ‘When I first asked her to join my band, she refused’

The musicians discuss their military families, surviving a serious car crash, and being partners in life and in music

Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz in 1973 and 2022. Later photograph: Chris Buck. Styling: Stephanie Tricola. Archive photograph: Roger Gordy

Bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz met at Rhode Island School of Design in the early 1970s. After they became a couple, Weymouth joined Chris’s band the Artistics, along with David Byrne. Together they would form Talking Heads, one of the most influential groups of all time. Weymouth and Frantz, who are also known for their new wave side project Tom Tom Club, have two sons and live in New England. They tour the UK in May to promote Frantz’s memoir, Remain in Love.

This photograph was taken in early spring, but it was cold out so Tina was wearing a hat – the first gift I gave her. I’d been home for Christmas and said: “Mom, there’s this girl, and I’d really like to get her a present.” She said: “Whatever you do, don’t give her jewellery, that’s tacky!” So I went to a department store in Pittsburgh and bought a hat by a milliner called Adolfo. Tina really liked it. It was a little small for her head, but she wore it faithfully. Tina and I were serious about each other. When we met she had a boyfriend and I had a girlfriend, but I had a strong feeling that she was the one. I said: “Tina, when you’re finished with this boyfriend, come and see me.” And that’s what eventually happened.

In the meantime we became very good friends. We had painting classes together and often ate at a big table with a lot of other friends in the RISD dining hall. I knew Tina was very smart and extremely physically attractive, and I soon found out we also had similar upbringings: my father was a general in the United States army and her father was an admiral in the United States navy, so we both had this military background. Her mother was French, so she had a European sensibility for culture and the arts, which I loved. On top of everything else, she was a really good dancer. There was a student bar selling beer, wine and peanuts, and it had a jukebox. One of the big hits at the time was Manu Dibango’s Soul Makossa, so I put in some quarters and asked Tina to dance. It came on and I was thinking: “This girl has an amazing sense of rhythm. She would be a good musician.”

When I first asked her to join the Artistics, she refused very politely. She was serious about her painting, but would support me in my efforts – she was the only person with a car, so she would help me move my drum kit around. Unbeknown to me, she was putting money down on a bass guitar using $5 a week from her day job. In the end, her parents gave her $100 and she was able to get a 96 Fender Precision – the creme de la creme of rock basses. She came walking in holding it one day, and I was like: “Hallelujah!” I knew she was going to be good, but it turned out she was even better than I’d imagined.

Tina and I work and live together, so one way we keep the romance going is to take little trips. It doesn’t have to be far. It could be 50 miles away to visit a theatre that has an interesting play on. Or a mountain top. Getting away from the humdrum home life. On the other hand, if we can’t do that, we just try to make our home life good. I do a lot of cooking. Today I did the dishes. Tina doesn’t let me do the laundry though – I’ve messed it up too many times.

In March last year, a drunk driver came down the road and crashed into us. We got hit head-on and the first thing I thought was: “Oh my God – Tina.” I couldn’t see her because there was an airbag all around her. She got pretty banged up. I felt for her. Even though I was driving properly I felt responsible. It took a while to get over it, but she takes good care of herself and I try to help her with that.

I am now – and always have been – very conscious of what a fortunate person I am to have her, and to have had the experiences that we have had, the good and bad, but mostly really great. I am so lucky that all my dreams came true with Tina.

I’m wearing my grandmother’s tatty fur coat and I’ve got a cigarette hanging off my lip in this photo; I think we’re doing a kind of a spoof of F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. The hat was the first present Chris had given me as his mum had said: “Absolutely do not buy her jewellery. That means you’re serious!” She hadn’t met me yet.

The photographer, Roger Gordy, took the picture behind the studio we shared in the same place where we wrote Psycho Killer in January 1974. I was reluctant to join Chris’s group as I thought it was very hard for girls to hold their own in a band – it seemed you’d have to be a cocksure guy to survive. In the end I was so devoted to these guys that I got a bass guitar just because no one else would join them.

Before my marriage, I felt very vulnerable, like a little tiny octopus floating in the ocean – out there for grabs and not safe at all. The world was terribly threatening for a young woman in the 70s, and it still is. But once we tied the knot, it changed. I also thought about the long term: if I go crazy, my parents will be nice to Chris, and if Chris goes crazy, his parents will be very nice to me, so we’ll have that support whatever happens to us.

The key to a long marriage is to keep some mystery. Don’t reveal everything. Boyfriends before Chris would follow me into the bathroom, or say: “I don’t like that dress you’re wearing.” I felt so stifled and suffocated by them. Chris never did that. He said: “I will never follow you into the bathroom. You have your life – I have mine.” This is the agreement. You have to be separate individuals with some overlap.

Chris used to seduce me with food. He’d make me omelettes, or peaches and cream. We’d listen to records together. It was always about cuisine and music. Even when our children came into our lives we had to impress upon them that they formed part of the family, but they weren’t part of the marriage. We had to establish a regular date night once a week, and in order for that to work we had to have nannies. That made for a very happy extended family.

Chris is such a dear and so romantic. He gives me flowers and chocolates, and remembers things I like. He gave me a party for my 40th birthday when I was only turning 39, as he couldn’t wait a whole year. After the car crash, he said: “OK, we’re going down to the Bahamas so you can swim in the sea – swimming in the salt water is very good for the bones.” He was right. We were there for two weeks, and when we came back I was healed.

The more I’m with Chris, the more I love and appreciate him. I really think he’s one of a kind – I’m not going to get another. Not that I’ll need to. When one of us dies we’ve said the other will have to get an apartment in Paris with a little dog. I really hope that I predecease him.


Harriet Gibsone

The GuardianTramp

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