Years ago, George Carlin did a routine about oxymorons (short phrases that contradict themselves); among his examples were “military intelligence” and “jumbo shrimp.” Many would argue that the term “white funk” should be on the list; certainly, it’s a term that continues to strike terror in the hearts of serious listeners to this day. Try it yourself: draw up a list of great white funk bands. Let’s see, there’s the Talking Heads, and, uh, er… hmmm, pretty short list, alright…
Somehow, the Talking Heads seemed to stumble on to the peculiar alchemy of funk that the other 199% missed, and they did it despite having one of the whitest and (on the surface, anyway) least funky lead singers of all time, David Byrne. Ironically, perhaps his being so notably un-funky contributed to their success as a funk band; the fact that he never fell into the trap of imitating black vocal mannerisms and inflections surely always set the band apart.
No matter what color you are, though, if you’re talking funk, you better have a great rhythm section, and the Talking Heads had Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth (drums and bass, respectively), who took the idea of playing together to a new (some might even say dangerous) extreme by not only getting married, but by staying that way for the next twenty-five years or so (now, that’s a tight rhythm section.)
In 1982 they put out their first album as the Tom Tom Club, and this Wednesday, July 24th, they’ll bring the band to the Wellfleet Beachcomber their first Cape Cod appearance. They might not still have the geeky lead singer, but they’ve still got a lot of the spirit of unbridled joy and celebration that made both the Tom Tom Club and the Talking Heads so much fun way back when.
Talking to Tina between rehearsals last week at their home near Fairfield, CT., it was clear that the flame was still burning brightly, as she went from rhapsodizing over the current line-up (“the current band is the best ever -it’s such a hoot”) to fond reminiscences of the old days. She met husband-to-be Chris Frantz when both were students at the Rhode Island School of Design back in the early seventies.
“We met in painting class; I was making a big mess, and Chris’s roommate came up and said ‘you’re really a s____ painter’, which really kind of hurt at the time, and Chris came up and in this gentlemanly Kentucky drawl said ‘you just ignore him -he can’t paint either!’ Later, Chris got a little 10” black and white TV set and we all used to over to his apartment on Saturday mornings and eat omelets -he’s a fantastic cook -and watch ‘Soul Train’ and practice all the dance moves.”
It was also at RISD that the couple met Byrne, who at the time was called “Mad Dave”, perhaps because he wasn’t a student, he was just hanging around. Eventually, they formed a band with him called the Artistics, but he wasn’t the singer (he’d been brought on board for his guitar playing) and Tina hadn’t started playing bass yet. All that popped up once they’d graduated and moved to New York City -and once Tina happened to see Muddy Waters at the Chicken Box on Nantucket, an experience that overnight convinced her to give up her art career and concentrate full-time on music.
Eight Talking Heads and Five Tom Tom Club albums later, music still rules (though the couple also managed to release a couple of children somewhere along the way). They have a recording studio on the grounds of their home that was large enough to record the live album they’ll be releasing this fall, and their last album, “The Good, the Bad, and the Funky” (Rykodisc) is a solid addition to their already impressive catalog, featuring such delights as “Happiness Can’t Buy Money” (apparently an adaptation of a favorite phrase of Weymouth’s dad) and a guest vocal from the legendary Toots Hibbert on “She’s Dangerous.”
They’ll be an eight-piece at the Beachcomber, and it’s obvious, both from the new album and from our conversation, that they haven’t forgotten how to have an unpretentiously funky good time. As ex-New Yorkers, the events of last 9/11 hit them hard, but gave them all the more reason to saddle up again. As Tina says, “you’ve got to will yourself to optimism.”