Chris Frantz, founding drummer of the defunct Talking Heads, is known for his uxoriousness. “Uxoriousness” is defined as “Overt devotion or submissiveness to one’s wife”. I’m “uxorious” to the extent of my devotion to my Wife, though I wouldn’t describe myself as “submissive” to anyone. Who knows if Chris Frantz is submissive to his wife, Tina Weymouth (former bassist of the defunct Talking Heads), but I do know that his uxoriousness is of a complicated kind, and also that it’s making a kind of charmingly gallant ass of him. “Without Tina Weymouth, Talking Heads would have been just another band,” reads the title of an article in Guitar Player Magazine, a title which doubles as a quote from Chris Frantz, who is interviewed extensively for the article.
The headline, quote and premise of the article are nonsense, of course. Without David Byrne, Talking Heads would have been just another B-52s, or R.E.M., or James White and The Blacks, with a rudimentary bassist, depending on who they eventually found to front the headless line-up. Snarky college bands with funk influences and raw chops were not rare, on the East Coast, in the late ’70s. The rare ingredient was David Byrne (who may or may not have stolen some of his signature New Wave Yelp from Mark Mothersbaugh). Just as Morrissey was the key ingredient of The Smiths, David Byrne was the key ingredient of Talking Heads, and the musically-ignorant revisionism of fandom’s disgruntled splinter-factions (or identity-politics lobby groups) can’t change a thing about that. Of course Talking Heads would have sounded a bit different if Weymouth hadn’t been in it: it could have been rather better or slightly worse. If David Byrne had had access to a top notch funk bassist from the beginning, Remain in Light might have been their debut.
But let’s be frank: Tina was rather hot back then. Tina’s hotness was probably the deciding factor (after making her go through three auditions) behind Byrne’s “hiring” her. Would the Talking Heads have had their quirky-but-surprisingly-broad appeal with a muscular Black bass savant, slapping those notes, instead of an elfinly-fetching White Girl learning the instrument onstage? Weymouth no doubt helped the numbers, but, as Frantz himself admitted (boasted, actually) in the article: Weymouth had only been playing the bass for a year when she auditioned.
Interestingly: the entertainingly dynamic tension onstage, in The Talking Heads, was always between Weymouth and Byrne. The prickly non-interaction of exes attending the school play. Chris Frantz has been doing an astonishing imitation of Alan Hale Jr (aka The Skipper, on Gilligan’s Island) since before the first Gulf War. Byrne, on the other hand. Well, here’s Byrne in a form-fitting anatomical skin-suit performing Psycho Killer (sounding impressively like The Talking Heads), at the age of 45:
Most bands boil down to one or two axes (plural of “axis,” not rock-talk for “guitar”), the mystical exception of The Beatles (four irreplaceable components) notwithstanding. That’s just the irrefutable physics of guitar-based bands of the middle-to-late 20th century. One genius, or a genius plus a near-genius, will coalesce and come to the point that they realize that all that’s needed is a not-bad drummer, and a not-bad bassist, any not-bad bassist, in order to hit the stage. That’s how the great bands are often formed: a core of brilliance relying on mediocre support. Despite the well-established science of this principle, there will always be some contrarian rural head of some (eg) Pete Quaife fan club, bringing attention to the supposedly underappreciated contributions, of some Pete Quaife, to a band like The Kinks, a band that would have been itself with or without a bassist named Quaife.
Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, of Radiohead, launched a sort of quadripedal solo project, this year, and it sounds more like what the next Radiohead album would have sounded like, had the other three died of food poisoning, and Thom and Jonny had decided to carry on, than any project the other three members of Radiohead could possibly have cooked up, together or with each on their own, had Thom and Jonny been killed in a copter crash. It’s almost as if Jonny and Thom wanted to set the record straight. David Byrne could hire a bass player, a drummer, a guitarist and keys and make the next Talking Heads record, which would sound uncannily like the original Talking Heads (with better chops) to do the same.
But there I go diverging again. Though, the topic is Uxoriousness and a serious band is a kind of marriage. But who is the Wife, in a serious band, and from whom in the band is the Wife of a band being doused with uxorious waves? In The Beatles the Wife was Paul.
My real point in this opening salvo in my piece on Uxuriousness is to call Chris Frantz’ uxoriousness into question. Is it pure?
I called it “complicated” in the opening paragraph and here’s why. Frantz is one of those guys, married to an acknowledged beauty, whose beauty continues to outshine his own physical appearance, who was in the habit of compulsively posting pin-ups, of Hot Young Thangs, on his FACEBOOT. Not occasionally, and not as an extension of a Retro Film Fetish, but all the time and in the name of Hot Young Thangness qua Hot Young Thangness. I mean, he doesn’t do it anymore, and I was perhaps a witness to the comment thread (someone calling Frantz out on the practise) that got him to abandon the practise. This was a couple of years ago and it was Unseemly as Fuck. Struck me as insensitive and driven by some kind of passive aggression, Frantz’ performative Uxoriousness aside. What did Tina Weymouth, in her late 60s, think of her husband, in his late 60s, posting eye-popping cheesecake on his FACEBOOT page to a large audience of Talking Heads fans?
What did Frantz think he was doing? Why was Frantz doing it?
I suspect that David Byrne knows.
David Byrne, Roger Waters, Stephen Morrissey, John Lennon: the greatest fans-dividing Bad Husbands of the Rock Era. Tina Weymouth is Chris Frantz’s wife but all the rest of the accepted original line-up of the Talking Heads were David Byrne’s band-wife in aggregate, a multi-faced wife-entity, a more-or-less passive or submissive or complimentary half of the flamboyantly Arty creature of which Byrne was the whole other and better half. The pre- infamous Bad Husbands propel the Wifeness of the band into the public eye, garner global accolades and vociferous fans (the children of the band) and then the divorce comes. Suddenly, to half the children-fans, the very (often abrasive) qualities that ensured that the Bad Husband could get the band anywhere at all… go on the laundry list of trigger-warning abuses. Self-absored! Egocentric! Dictatorial! Whatever.
Byrne himself has been accused of being Autistic, which may actually be a euphemism for Byrne being more intelligent, focused and capable than his average fans and band-members. I have an oldish friend who is so officially Autistic that he actually carries a government ID to that effect (here in Germany) and he accuses me of being Autistic, so maybe I should recuse myself from the luxury-position of insinuating judgments on the topic of this segment of the rant. A gregarious Autist? Sure.
I will agree to the notion of abuse, in this extended metaphor comparing bands to marriages, to the extent that the Bad Husbands of the Rock Era almost uniformly displayed, at least some of the time, but, really, most of the time, contempt for the supporting band that acted the role of the wife in the creative rise to prominence. David Byrne felt he deserved a better Wife/Band from the beginning and I’m sure Morrissey did, too, but they were nobodies when they started; they were Napoleons who needed foot soldiers. Nearly any foot soldiers would do. David and Stephen were the worst and most justified and Roger was extreme, too, with slightly less justification (ie: it’s true that Pink Floyd were not, and could not be, Pink Floyd without him, though they became a wildly successful OTHER band, of the same name (coincidentally), when he left: many fan-children still fail to grasp the nuances). John had passionately unstable and contradictory feelings for the Wifeness that was The Beatles, but he jumped out of that frying pan for the dimwitted new age fire of you-know-who.
Ono was the wife-band who was also Literal Wife and a reductio ad absurdum argument for many of the concepts here discussed. Lennon, the baddest Bad Husband (not counting very bad literal husband Jerry Lee Lewis) of the Rock Era was, in fact, famously uxorious regarding Ono, who, on several levels, destroyed Lennon when he made himself vulnerable by trying, against type, to be a good husband.
The gender-flipped (or gendered-word-flipped) version of Uxorious is Maritorous and “the 20-volume historical Oxford English Dictionary has only two examples, one from 1607 and one from 1978.” What’s puzzling is the fact that men created and maintained the Maritorous-phobic Oxford English Dictionary. Are Husbands never, in any case, worthy of overt devotion or submissiveness, even in the opinions of men? This is a rhetorical question from the Devil’s Advocate.
Are Great Artists (and great front men) villains by definition?
Hear me out.
A strange, semi-mystical and little-remarked-upon aspect of Wifeness is the fact that whichever woman you, as a husband (or “husband”), end up with will encompass all the women you were with before Her. It is only in the details in which these former lovers absolutely diverge from your Wife that you will have distinct memories of them at all. Similar to how we are told that humans share 99% of the details of our defining DNA structure with (eg) bananas, many (most?) of the things you have said to or done with (or to) your Wife, you have said and done to others. This effect kicks in after at least fifteen years together, probably.
The only sexual experiences I can remember, in detail, that didn’t involve my Wife, involved things I never did with my Wife (anal, threesomes) but every blow job I ever got now feels like a blow job I got from my Wife, and every French kiss, too, going all the way back to the 28 years before we ever met. Every time I ever made a Lover laugh (intentionally or not) is now, in my mind, a dimly-recalled escapade with my Wife. If I don’t really think it through I can almost certainly remember watching The Year of Living Dangerously, The English Patient and even La Dolce Vita, with my Wife and the quips I made during or after each of those films were quips I would have made, to her, if she’d been sitting there, in the public dark, with me, although she wasn’t. Those are the kinds of films that Wife and I would definitely have seen together. In a way, we did. My Wife is superimposed on all those girls and women from my past.
This principle can expand to include stranger contingencies: I remember watching an old episode of The Honeymooners (starring Jackie Gleason), as a seven-year-old in 1966. Ralph (played by Gleason) and Alice (Audrey Meadows) had an argument in which Ralph accused Alice of living in a “dream world” and Alice responded, with bitter sarcasm, gesturing to encompass the dingey furnishings in their tenement apartment, that, yes, all of this was her “dream world”. Perhaps a year after that I watched my actual parents have an argument in which my father accused my mother of “living in a dream world” and to which my mother, with bitter sarcasm, gestured to encompass the dingey furnishings of our tenement apartment and “agreed” that, yes, all of this was her dream world. My married parents, as a couple, were, in that instance, actually a hologrammatic molecule in a projected Super Couple including The Kramdens and, probably, the Flintstones.
We contain multitudes and our Wives contain multitudes and when we hug our Wives we hug multitudes. Wives, too: your husbands are Matryoshka dolls containing the shared non-unique jokes, standard summer barbecues and unremarkable erect penises of men who came before them. An Uxorious husband is doting on his Wife as well as celebrating interpersonal experiences predating her; he’s worshipping aspects of WOMAN for which his Wifeness is the greatest locus and representative on Earth. Maybe people like Chris Frantz push this expanded concept of Uxoriousness to include all the women they’d like to fuck but haven’t?
I was on another glorious walk, yesterday, strapped into my Sony MCR 7506s, a walk I started in the afternoon, the timing of which meant that most of the walk would be in the blue-gold light of encroaching winter twilight and on the way home my music would shepherd me into the early suburbs of the night. At the beginning of the walk I had John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards on, Voice of Chunk (1988), just the right thing. It’s not a modern mix featuring state-of-the-art ear candy… no leathery tumult of detailed tom toms in the low mids, or anything delicious like that… but the performances are great and the arrangement ideas are virile and witty. Mostly instrumental. Lurie doesn’t (or didn’t) believe in bars, so riffs start and stop when the internal logic of each riff decides. Sometimes the riffs line up, probably using certain melodic cues as signals. If David Byrne is one of the legendary Bad Husbands of the Rock Era, John Lurie was a notable Gigolo of the Downtown NY Scene. I’m not educated enough, regarding Lurie’s projects, to understand his relationships with his band members. Maybe he wasn’t the husband in his bands; maybe he was a dominating Wife, like Sylvia Robinson. Who was Sylvia Robinson? you ask.
One thing I think upon with increasing frequency is Art vs Interpersonal Relationships.
As a consumer of Art, one can use Art as a medium of empathetic exchange between oneself and a chum or chums or one’s Wife/Lover. This is especially true during Youth, when shared Art can be the common voice of choice before one develops a vocabulary up to the task of genuine exchange with the near and dear. This, I believe, explains the intensity of teenage fandom: it’s not just that you love Singer X, admire Singer X, wish you could be Singer X: it’s also that Singer X does all your important talking for you.
Conversely, as a producer/creator of Art, the Art (or Art practise) can be a protective excuse or wall or a gesture in lieu of empathetic exchange. Obscuratant Art, especially, can be a comfortably protective non-voice. But, in either case: can you imagine a point to Art (even an Aesthetic one) if you were the only Human in Existence? Would you paint or write or sculpt or listen to music or read sonnets if you were absolutely alone on this planet and knew, for a fact, that you would be so… forever? This is only a thought experiment to put Art in a context more realistic than the Olympian notion of Art, as an objective (supra-Humanity) Value, that our college profs convinced us it was, when our minds were charming Silly Putty.
Q: Between the anti-Art Vulgarians, in pinstriped suits, running the country and the Nietzschean Art Supremacists running our Liberal Arts Colleges, where were we to find balance and purpose and reason… ?
A: In the arms of the ever-expandingly hologrammatic Matryoshka doll we built, in the richness of trial and error, in order to call our Wifeness into being! (And, as ever: adjust the gender according to your situation)
By 4pm it was already getting dark and the shopping district I was passing through, in a good stiff windblown lope, carrying a backpack heavy with salted pumpkin seeds (good for your prostate! I eat these so no one ever has an excuse to stick a rubber-gloved inger up my ass) had quickened with Xmassy twinkles and the ruddy cheeks of Turkish infants. I blindly pressed buttons on my pocketed mp3 player and ended up with a random selection: The Moody Blues’ Days of Future Past, an album that provided some of the moods and words deeply constituent of my first official girlfriend experience.
The year was 1975, I was 16, my girlfriend was 16, I had just begun living with relatives in Philly, a poor-but-clever waif, no longer living in Vegas with my Artist father, the Chicago ghetto I’d spent my childood in reduced to a smoking crater rapidly receding in my flying car’s rearview mirror. Holly was the White daughter of my Uncle Walter’s White Wife Ivy. It was Xmas and we were together, with my Uncle Walter, the three of us alone in a borrowed modernist house in the woods in Klan-haunted Ohio, contiguous with Kentucky. Harold Pinter meets August Wilson?
My Uncle Walter was the only human I have ever known to enter a room and announce himself. Not only announce himself but do so with a florid spiel. I wish I could recall the spiel, completely, but I know he referred to himself as “Father John” during it. The first time I saw him do that was at a Thanksgiving in the early ’60s and I honestly assumed, as a kid, that I would see more of that, from other people, as I grew and broadened my circles but Uncle Walter was the first and only. He loved John Lee Hooker but spoke fluent Spanish because he looked like Spanish might be the language you’d most expect out of him. Had a menacingly tight grip on the words at the ends of all of his sentences, like Orson Welles, but that may have been because he wore dentures.
The only thing I remember, with vividness, of Holly, Walter’s step-daughter, my then-Immortal Beloved, she of the scented letters and heart-dotted cursive “i,” is the bit she absolutely does not share with Wife: she liked to put a butter pat on top of her hot cocoa, skinny as she was. I have done no such thing in all these years, good as it tasted at the time. I remember the shiny bangs of Holly’s dark hair and the generically pleasant, green-eyed features of her White adolescent face. I cannot remember the sight of her naked breasts though I am sure I saw them. I do remember a brown leather or Naugahyde couch spread with brand new albums, each album in its bawdily ripped cellophane blouse, a fire in the fireplace crackling off-camera. I remember one of those albums was a The Carpenters album, one was possibly a copy of Jesus Christ Superstar and the Moody Blues (not a new album in 1975) was playing on the expensive Hi Fi. The kitchen had a glass wall you could see into the surrounding woods through as the fire crackled and Justin Hayward crooned.
My mother’s maternal cousin’s husband had a good job, in the auto industry, in nearby Detroit (every morning’s commute the stuff of family legend), when Serfs could live like Kings on Union Wages. The house was a miraculous ’70s fantasy of glass walls and wall-to-wall white shag and baronial hearths and Quadrophonic tech, the first home I ever had to remove my shoes to enter. The family was off somewhere on a status-conferring vacation while Uncle Walter, the trickster figure of my youth, attempted to engineer the simultaneous loss of his nephew and step-daughter’s virginities. My mother was furious when she later found out about the plot and would not believe me when I told her, long distance, the next day, that Holly and I had slept together but had had no form of Sex.
I remember Holly and I both laughing at the sight of my huge cotton (the perception of which was magnified by its contrast to my Gandhi-slim shanks) boner tent-poling my BVDs like a gag-shop prank. All night this kick-stand, which appeared to be twangingly over-inflated with compressed air from a Sinclair filling station, persisted but I absolutely had the clarity and self-control to keep it in my underwear. Holly and I kissed and held hands and exchanged precious inanities and nothing more, despite all known stereotypes, way out there in Klan territory, bears and foxes in the surrounding woods. Fuck your stereotypes: I assert my Free Will. I had successfully manifested the first of many unforseeable miracles in my life, as a freak, by not fucking, foiling Uncle Walter’s plan, my magic bigger than his. Walter was a chess champion at his university, btw. Check and unmate.
I think uncle Walter tried to seduce me once, when I was 18 and living at the Funeral Home under the exploitative aegis of my grandmother’s sister and her husband. Walter told me that the organist, the one we used on all the funeral services we held in our green-carpeted chapel, a space with one hundred folding chairs and a podium, a wheeled bier for the casket and an organ… used to blow him. I have pseudonymized the organist, in a short story or two, as “Mr. Farrad” because that is close to his name and “fahrrad” is German for “bicycle” and Mr. Farrad was Bi. Which came as a shock. The rims of the lenses of his glasses were very thick. He resembled a Black Myopic Leonard Cohen.
Farrad was a cultured bilingual man who’d studied the organ, musically, in Germany, a country he initially entered as a GI. He was pathologically fastidious and obsequious, for a man, in the 1970s, but really I guess he was a free-floating Wife. For a while, Uncle Walter had lived at the Funeral Home, too, and after services, when Uncle Walter lived there, Mr. Farrad would climb the stairs to Uncle Walter’s little room and blow him. Uncle Walter told me that once it happened that Mr. Farrad was blowing Walter and Farrad was suddenly seized by an inventive fit of passion and stuck his tongue into Uncle Walter’s ass crack. I flinched at this detail. Then Walter told me Farrad had been in love with me since I first appeared at the Funeral Home at the age of 16. Then Uncle Walter showed me his penis. I laughed (I genuinely thought it was incredibly funny; I didn’t feel threatened at all). That was as far as it went. This was a couple years after I received a formal scented break-up letter from his by-then-former step-daughter Holly. When all this happened I was mere months from losing my virginity to the woman who is now married to the former ambassador to the Czech Republic.
Uncle Walter as a young man of the 1950s (here in a snap with his sister, or half-sister, or cousin… don’t ask… my Mother):
And here’s Uncle Walter as the older trickster figure of the late 1980s, a decade after his half-hearted attempt to seduce me and not terribly many years before his lonely death between his never-made bed and the bedroom wall:
Beige Walter married bone-White Ivy in the 1970s and they had an unquiet union, rattled by Walter’s self-inflicted dramas and menaced by the Race-Evil of the Era (Walter didn’t look very Black but he didn’t look White, either). Walter blew that marriage up and bought himself a tragic ticket on the decrepit downhill trolley of diminishing returns as he aged towards irascible unlovability, too clever by half, as the Brits put it, and many times when we spoke on the phone or on walks (as I was in my 20s) he lamented the loss of his one great Wife, his one chance at true Wifeness, Ivy.
Ivy was kind, open, even-tempered, slim, Kentucky-tinged and pretty enough in her doughy white flesh and ’70s fashions, relatively well-read (which means that she probably read Irving Stone in bed and Harold Robbins at the beach) and Uncle Walter just couldn’t let it be. Self-absored! Egocentric! Dictatorial! He had to kvetch and remonstrate and nitpick and filibuster. He told me with diamonds in his watering eyes that he’d get home from a long day as some kind of manager or other at Rike’s Department Store, in Dayton, Ohio, and Ivy would greet Walter at the door, relieve him of his briefcase and instruct Walter to stand on a stool*, selected expressly for that purpose, in order to have her (as she put it!) “Seed Shake”. This much-repeated anecdote was Walter’s moving song to the beauty of the secret of Life… Wifeness… experienced so acutely when it’s fleeting and then gone.
All of this I thought of because of a Moody Blues song, remember. Walter, Holly, Ivy, Farrad…
All gone now, that marriage blown up, Walter long-dead, fragments of Holly still flickeringly alive in the room on the occasions that I nudge my Wife with my holstered hard-on but go no further, the luxury of choice, of Free Will, the luxury I always burn to relish. Especially on long walks.
*And what a psychologically brilliant maneuver, getting him up on a plinth, of sorts, to blow him! A standing blow job, no kneeling! My Wife came up with a similarly brilliant solution to the power-dynamic questions haunting the blow job and taught me to kneel on the bed while she addresses my desire’s gregarious protrusion on all fours. Though I persist in enjoying it more when Beloved Wife is kneeling, her eyes upturned, my hand stroking her cheek. One doesn’t have to be crude or brutal just because one happens to be a cave man.