SARATOGA SPRINGS - Consider the sonic arsenal in the Talking Heads songbook – “Once In A Lifetime” and “Burning Down The House," to “Life During War Time,” among them. Now for good measure add the Tom Tom Club’s iconic “Genius of Love,” and consider these likely would have never been created were it not for David Miller, Professor Emeritus at Skidmore College. No party, no disco, no foolin’ around.
“When I was in high school in Pittsburgh, the person who really changed my life and my whole reason for being you could say, was a guy named David Miller,” Chris Frantz recalled on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.
“He lives somewhere not far from Saratoga. He taught for many years at Skidmore after the school I went to, which was called Shady Side Academy – which at the time was a boys school. He taught my studio art class then later got a job teaching painting at Skidmore College. He was there well over 20 years,” says Frantz, who has just published his autobiography “Remain In Love: Talking Heads: Tom Tom Club: Tina.”
The book documents Frantz childhood years, his perceptions from his seat behind the drumkit with the bands Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, and his longtime marriage to the band’s bassist, Tina Weymouth. A handful of pages detailing Frantz’ academy school years are filled with a fondness for Miller’s inspiration. “It’s no exaggeration to say this man changed my life. He was and still is a very humble, friendly, and unpretentious person. Mr. Miller opened my eyes to the idea that anyone can be an artist. Under (his) talented influence, I became an artist. It was as if a switch flipped in my brain. I still remember the day I had this epiphany. I was seventeen years old,” Frantz says. “I went to visit with him and to talk about those days. He’s a great painter and he’s still alive and well and living in your area.”
“I gave them assignments where they would take risks,” says Miller, from his home a few minutes south of Saratoga Springs. “I’d show them slides and recommend artists they should research, and then they would get involved in finding new directions for their own skills. Not to imitate, but to be inspired by. That’s how I taught.”
Drawing, painting and collage lessons aside, Miller had coincidentally also known Frantz’ father. “When I was in the Army Reserves, his father was a colonel and I was a lieutenant,” Miller says. As Frantz entered his junior year, he began thinking of college applications. Miller suggested he should go to a good art school.
“This made complete sense to me,” Frantz says, “but when I told my parents, they spoke to Mr. Miller and begged him, ‘Please don’t suggest to Chris that he should go to art school. How will he ever support himself?’”
“Chris’ father said to me, please don’t talk Chris into going to art school. How is he going to make a living?” Miller recalls with a chuckle. Miller was persuasive, however, and recommended Frantz apply to the Rhode Island School of Design, which he described as the Harvard of art schools. Miller’s reputation at the Rhode Island School of Design was stellar, having previously sent the college a handful of students.
“My parents suddenly thought, ‘Oh, the Harvard of art schools? Well, that sounds interesting,’” Frantz says. Frantz was accepted and relocated to RISD. It was on campus that he met David Byrne. They started playing music. At the school, Frantz also met Tina Weymouth, who would become the band’s bass player, as well as Frantz’ relationship partner for life.
One day, Byrne came to the painting studio that Frantz and Weymouth – now a couple – were sharing. He said he had been writing a song in a style somewhat like Alice Cooper and hoped the pair could help him with it.
Byrne’s verse began: “I can’t seem to face up to the facts/ I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax…” Weymouth, who spoke French, added the song’s bridge, and Frantz added even more verses. “Continuing with the psychotic theme as we were brainstorming, I shouted, ‘We are vain and we are blind!’ and Tina said, ‘Yeah, yeah, and I hate people when they’re not polite.’ David wrote it all down in his little spiral notebook,” Frantz says. “It was our first songwriting experience together and it was proof enough for me that we should do more of this in the future.”
Following graduation, all three moved to New York City where Talking Heads began their career at CBGB, opening for The Ramones.
“Chris’ dad later said something positive about Chris going to art school,” Miller says with a laugh. As Talking Heads blazed their path through the New York underground, Miller relocated to Saratoga Springs, after answering a call from a friend who was teaching at Skidmore College, informing of an opening in the art department.
“I said, where is Skidmore? He said: Saratoga Springs, N.Y. I said: I never heard of it, where’s that? He said: it’s by Albany,” Miller recalls. Miller taught at Skidmore for 35 years – from 1975 to 2010, retiring after 35 years. His son Darren played quarterback at Saratoga Springs High School, and has since gone on to a prestigious law career with the state.
As an artist, Miller has shown his work at numerous galleries including locally at Saratoga Arts Center. A large retrospective of his career work was staged at the Tang Museum.
In the mid-1980s, Miller and his son Darren attended a Talking Heads show at SPAC.
“I remember we were sitting near the stage and the band were on break, or they hadn’t started yet. Chris came out and waved for the two of us to come up. So, Darren and I went up on the side of the stage behind the curtain, and we watched the show from back here. It was a very interesting experience.
“Chris came up and visited us here at the house about two or three years ago and insisted on taking us out to lunch. Anytime he wants he’s welcomed to come back,” Miller says.
Frantz and Weymouth eventually moved out of New York City and settled into the Northeast countryside.
“I have heard from a lot of people who live in New York,” Frantz says, the couple’s two beagles - Poppy and Kiki - joyfully announcing the arrival of a UPS delivery truck coming up the driveway. ”Those who can afford to move are really considering moving out to the countryside - so, look out Saratoga: here they come!”
“Remain In Love: Talking Heads: Tom Tom Club: Tina,” by Chris Frantz, published by St. Martin’s Press. $29.99 hardcover, with photographs.