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Woman Crush Wednesday: East Village Rock Revolutionary Tina Weymouth


The East Village has long been a breeding ground for artistic innovation; its streets echoing with the sounds of avant-garde musicians and visionary artists. Among the myriad talents to emerge from this vibrant neighborhood, Tina Weymouth stands out as a transformative figure in rock music. As one of the founders of and the bassist for Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, Weymouth’s innovative style and fearless creativity have left an indelible mark on the genre. But her journey as a woman in the rock world, and particularly as a bassist, was trailblazing, and often underestimated.

Tina Weymouth

Tina Weymouth’s path into the annals of rock history began in the mid-1970s. As a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, she met Chris Frantz and David Byrne, who as freshmen had formed a band called “The Artistics.” She started dating Frantz and began to serve as the band’s driver. After graduation in 1975, the three of them moved to New York City. Since Byrne and Frantz were unable to find a suitable bass guitar player, she joined them at the latter’s encouragement and began learning and playing the instrument. They formed the Talking Heads which opened for The Ramones at CBGB for the first time on June 5th, 1975, and the band quickly became a staple of the East Village music scene.

Tina Weymouth

In the world of rock and roll, the bass guitar often serves as the backbone, providing rhythm and depth to the sound. With her distinctive and unmistakable bass lines, Tina Weymouth was instrumental in shaping the Talking Heads’ unique sound—a fusion of punk, new wave, funk, and world music influences. Her self-taught style and inventive approach were anything but conventional. She brought a melodic and rhythmic sensibility that was both fresh and foundational to the band’s success. Songs like “Psycho Killer” and “Once in a Lifetime” showcase her ability to blend groove and harmony, creating a complex, textured sound that set Talking Heads apart from their contemporaries.

Yet Weymouth emerged as a bassist at a point when rock was an almost exclusively all-male affair. Despite her immense talent and contributions to music, her career has been marred by sexism and gender bias, both overt and subtle. From the outset, her credibility was questioned. Many saw her initial involvement as merely “the girlfriend tagging along,” rather than recognizing her as the innovative musician that she is.

The Talking Heads

While Byrne is most credited with writing the lyrics for the Talking Heads, it is a seldom recognized fact that Weymouth, a francophone, penned the French lyrics to “Psycho Killer,” a haunting exploration of paranoia and psychosis and one of the Talking Heads’ most popular and well-known songs. From its ominous opening lines—”I can’t seem to face up to the facts / I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax”—to its bilingual chorus, the song immerses listeners in the troubled mind of its protagonist. But it’s the French interlude, written by Weymouth, that adds an extra layer of intrigue.

Ce que j’ai fait, ce soir-là 
Ce qu’elle a dit, ce soir  
Réalisant mon espoir
Je me lance, vers la gloire, OK

Translated, the French lyrics depict a moment of introspection and revelation: “What I did, that evening / What she said, that evening / Fulfilling my hope / Headlong I go towards glory, OK.” This cryptic confession offers a glimpse into the inner workings of the killer’s mind, hinting at a sense of divine purpose driving their actions.

Fear of Music album cover

On Fear of Music, the Talking Heads’ third studio album produced in 1979, the writing credits all went to Byrne at first (except for one co-authorship with producer Brian Eno on “I Zimbra”). However, the album’s hit, “Life During Wartime,” was wholly based on Weymouth’s classic bass line and the rhythm which surrounded it. The band complained and partial credits were finally awarded to Weymouth. Chris Frantz has described how David Byrne often “demeaned, humiliated and marginalized” her. This includes making her audition three times for her spot in the band once they were offered a recording contract with Sire Records.

Tina Weymouth in Tom Tom Club, 1986

With her husband, Chris Frantz, Weymouth also founded Tom Tom Club in 1981. Originally established as a side project from Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club comprised a loose aggregation of musicians, sound engineers, and artists, including Tina Weymouth’s sisters, and guitarist Adrian Belew, the latter of whom toured with Weymouth and Frantz in the expanded version of Talking Heads in 1980 and 1981. Named after the dancehall in the Bahamas where they rehearsed for the first time while on hiatus from Talking Heads in 1980, Tom Tom Club enjoyed early success in the dance club culture of the early 1980s with the hits “Genius of Love” and “Wordy Rappinghood.” The side project allowed Weymouth to explore new musical territories, blending reggae, funk, and hip-hop. “Genius of Love,” became a hit single and an instant classic and has been widely sampled in various genres, underscoring her impact on popular music far beyond rock.

As we listen to her iconic bass lines, we must also remember the journey she undertook and the silent strings of sexism she suffered to navigate to bring us the music we love.

Weymouth and Frantz


Weymouth’s contributions to music have inspired countless artists across different genres. Her innovative approach to bass playing has been cited as an influence by many contemporary musicians. Her legacy is also deeply entwined with the cultural history of the East Village. The neighborhood’s eclectic and rebellious spirit is reflected in Weymouth’s music, which has constantly pushed boundaries and defied expectations. Her work embodies the spirit of the East Village—bold, innovative, and unapologetically original. As rock music continues to evolve, Weymouth’s legacy will undoubtedly continue to inspire future generations of musicians, proving that the East Village remains a cornerstone of artistic revolution.

CBGB


One response to “Woman Crush Wednesday: East Village Rock Revolutionary Tina Weymouth

  1. Not a big fan of the Talking Heads. However, Tina and Chris’s influence on the Happy Mondays final album is where I show my true appreciation. Despite the band going downhill in flames at the time, these two helped shape the final masterpiece by the English outfit.

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