tina weymouth artist feature

7 Reasons to Celebrate 7 Decades of Tina Weymouth

In my sixth grade class, we had a discipline system. It was the classic “three strikes.” What this meant for a bunch of pre-teens was that we had two chances to be loud or unruly before getting “struck” out. Our reward for not crossing into this danger zone? Being allowed to choose as a group one 45 that we wanted to hear on the school’s turntable. For months on end, the only song that we chose — all 32 of us — was Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.” To jeopardize that four minutes and one second of audible bliss for the class would be met with death stares, playground ghosting, and even the looked-down-upon ratting out of fellow schoolmates at the slightest indiscretion that may cause us not to hear our song.

A lot of my friends gravitated towards David Byrne; this was the era of Stop Making Sense, where the lead singer appears in an oversized suit and flops around the stage dramatically. While I was not immune to Byrne’s zinging charisma, it was the palpable calm confidence of the band’s bass player, Tina Weymouth, that really got me. This was the ‘80s, after all. Women in music were usually of the short-skirted, ratted-hair variety belting out a pop song. Rarely did you see someone a woman playing an instrument; in the rare occasions where you did get a female as part of the group, this element about the band was made into the element about the band. A girl just getting on with playing rock and roll? Gasp! Shock! Horror!

Weymouth was neither loudly up front as a point of visual interest or lauded as “the girl in the band” — or at least it seemed that way to me as a kid. She was just a cool artist making cool music; her gender was not used as a marketing tool. This may have been because Byrne was such a spectacle. It allowed Weymouth’s playing and ability to speak for her. In doing so, she became a paragon for other musicians — both men and women — to aspire to.

On November 22, Weymouth will turn 70 years old, celebrating seven decades of radness. With this in mind, I wanted to cheer from the highest rooftop — or in this case, the Discogs blog — seven reasons that Weymouth is, and always will be, a badass.

1. She is a multi-instrumental musician.

From touring at age 12 with the Potomac English Hand Bell Ringers to teaching herself how to play guitar two years later, Weymouth’s ability goes beyond the stripped back basslines she eventually became famous for with Talking Heads. She originally only picked up the instrument after meeting Byrne and future husband Chris Frantz, who were looking for someone to add to their band’s rhythm section. As the legend goes, she learned the four stringer by listening to another badass, Suzi Quatro.

2. She is half of the Tom Tom Club.

While Talking Heads were the darlings of the art-punk set before breaking into MTV fame (and becoming the favorite band of my sixth-grade class), Weymouth and Frantz broke off and started side project Tom Tom Club. Having already proven to be a fearless experimenter, the husband/wife duo — joined by a rotating cast of other artists, producers, and engineers — created a fresh, innovative sound. Blending new wave synthesizers, disco beats, and reggae rhythms, the group had several mainstream hits, including “Wordy Rappinghood” and “Genius of Love.”

3. Weymouth is not afraid to experiment and refuses to be labeled.

Though she could have easily stayed in her comfortable post-punk art rock bubble created by Talking Heads, Weymouth has collaborated with a wide array of artists, ranging from electroclash goddesses Chicks on Speed, feminist icons Le Tigre, and the underrated Nicola Kuperus of ADULT.

4. She not only rocks, but she also produces.

With Frantz, Weymouth took to the mixing table for 1992’s Yes Please!, the fourth album by Happy Mondays. Recorded at Eddy “Electric Avenue” Grant’s house in Barbados, the sunny, Caribbean-esue influences reflected not only the creative environment but the sound and style that had been a part of some of Talking Heads’ best work (see 1988’s brilliant Naked).

5. Only 8% of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees are female. Weymouth is one of them.

On March 18, 2002, Weymouth and her Talking Heads bandmates — Byrne, Frantz, and keyboard/guitarist Jerry Harrison — were inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Weymouth’s inclusion makes her one of the 69 women given the honor out of the 888 inductees that have been presented the mantle in the Hall’s 34-year history.

6. She is an awesome TV presenter.

Weymouth was given the hosting spotlight for the second of the three-part 2019 BBC Four series Guitar, Drum, and Bass. Here, she traced the evolution of the bass, from doo-wop to the Beatles all the way to Peter Hook of New Order/Joy Division while showing the instrument’s crucial influence in reggae, sound systems, and grime. Weymouth’s enthusiasm and knowledge pour from the screen, drawing in the viewer as she illustrates the historical progression of the instrument.

7. Weymouth has natural style and grace. She makes getting older something to look forward to, not be terrified of.

I hate to bring up appearance when talking about a woman, but I feel I have to in this case to fully explain the coolness of Weymouth. As a priestess of post-punk, who does she have as a role model for how to be as an aging female rock star? The options are rather thin on the ground. On one hand, you have many women who seem to fade into the abyss once they pass pop-music stardom, never to be seen again unless on some sort of Buzzfeed “Where Are They Now?” article. Then you have the ageless Cher and Dolly Parton — both who are amazing — but have surgical contours and adjustments that defy anything attainable or even wanted by most women.

Weymouth is and has never been front and center; her style, like her playing, is what has spoken for her. Yet she is there, cool, calm, and perfectly turned out in every video, from the understated — yes, I said understated — white fringe ensemble she rocks in a live 1980 Talking Heads performance of “Take Me To The River” to her neon beach style in the 1991 Tom Tom Club “Sunshine and Ecstasy.” Weymouth always looks like she is enjoying herself; there is nothing forced or fake. She just emits joy. She has the same easy-breezy carefree vibe on Guitar, Drums, and Bass, rocking a black zip-up sweater and thick-framed glasses. While she may not have a mentor, I am so grateful that Weymouth is in the world for me and others who are coming up after her. She makes getting older look appealing, sexy and something to embrace, not be afraid of.

Feature image by Michael Markos.

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