10 Things You Never Knew About… Talking Heads

Warhol, Lou Reed and bedroom inturders

One of the most colourful men in pop, David Byrne recently returned with his St. Vincent collaboration. As he takes new pastures we have a quick root through his bins.

1. While at art school in New York, singer David Byrne, in the name of ‘performance art’, once shaved his beard off on stage with only beer for shaving foam and an accordion for accompaniment. As David Bowman reveals in his book Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa: The Adventures Of Talking Heads In The 20th Century, this resulted in a great deal of facial bleeding.

2. Andy Warhol was an early fan of Talking Heads. He was spotted at their early gigs in New York. Later, Warhol would invite the band over to his new Factory on the corner of Union Square. Unlike press reports, glamorous New York lowlifes were nowhere to be found. Those present were preppier than the band themselves, which Byrne would later describe as “What a mind-fuck!”

3. Lou Reed was also an early celebrity admirer. One night, he confronted the band about dropping a song from the set that he claimed was great. When Byrne said how he didn’t feel what the song said any more, Reed would say: “That’s the stupidest reason I’ve ever heard. No matter what you feel, it doesn’t have anything to do with you anymore.” He also criticised Byrne’s large amount of arm hair, telling him, “You should never go onstage in short-sleeve shirts.”

4. During the recording of ‘Fear Of Music’, Byrne awoke to find an intruder rummaging through his stuff in his bedroom. He jumped up in his underpants and yelled, “Get the hell out!” The robber decided it best to threaten him with a letter opener to the throat, then after an hour of threats ripped the phone cord out of the wall and left.

5. When on tour in Germany, a Czech reporter interviewed bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz and asked how they felt about Byrne leaving the group. The two thought they’d misheard, but he was convinced. Sure enough though, once the band returned to the US, Byrne went AWOL and no-one knew where he’d gone. 

6. With a severe case of writer’s block, Byrne took influence from American preachers, one day finding himself shouting, “You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile.” This track was to become the Heads’ anthem ‘Once In A Lifetime’.

7. During recording of fourth album ‘Remain In Light’, engineer Stephen Stanley would take Tina Weymouth aside every morning and say how Byrne and producer Brian Eno had rerecorded her bass tracks. “Every time you play something really great,” he’d say, “Eno goes and erases it… I can’t stand the way he’s honing in on you.”

8. After agreeing jointly to have all the Heads’ names on the back cover of ‘Remain In Light’, the band were shocked to find the words “All songs by David Byrne, Brian Eno, Talking Heads.” To make matters worse, the design company involved with the album logo took credit for the fighter planes on the back cover, which were a personal addition from Tina Weymouth, in honour of her father who piloted them.

9. During the winter of 1982, Weymouth and Franz attended a Busta Jones gig in Chelsea, with fellow bandmate Jerry Harrison. Unbeknownst to them though, Byrne would jump onstage mid-set and launch into the Heads classic ‘Life During Wartime’. This added fire to the already tense situation concerning Byrne’s clear movement away from the band. 

10. Former bassist Jerry Harrison teamed with rock critic Tom Zito, to create the illfated Garageband.com, which launched in 1999 offering unsigned bands the chance to win record contracts. After limited success though, the company closed its doors in 2010, allowing Apple to acquire the domain name for their music software of the same name. 

Words by Tom Phelan

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