WELCOME to the reunion of New Wave U.'s class of '76! Looks like just about everyone's going to show up: Remember those unruly brats the Ramones? They'll be here. And those egghead Talking Heads? Three of them are coming -- with their kids! Can you believe it? And Debbie Harry, the bottle Blondie? She hasn't changed a hair.
You'll remember that all of them started their careers at CBGB, the Bowery hole-in-the-wall that gave birth to punk/new wave -- and spawned an unlikely league of platinum-selling artists in the process. And all these CBGB alumni -- Talking Heads spinoffs Casual Gods and Tom Tom Club, Deborah Harry and her band, and the Ramones -- are touring together in the seven-week, 40-city "Escape From New York" tour, which makes its first stop at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Thursday.
Let's check in and see what everyone's been up to lately:
The Ramones have just released a greatest hits collection, "All the Stuff and More," with 33 tracks on a single CD (with most of their songs clocking in at under 2 minutes, brevity has always been chiefest among the Forest Hills, N.Y., band's minimalist virtues). The Ramones contributed to the soundtrack of the Stephen King movie "Pet Sematary," and a new member, bass player C. J. Ramone, joins Johnny, Joey and Marky Ramone on tour.
Debbie Harry is still blond of course, and still married to Chris Stein, Blondie guitarist and co-composer. But she's been recording and touring under her own name lately. (And it's Deborah these days, thank you very much). There have been a few movie roles (most notably in "Hairspray" and "Videodrome") and even a Broadway play about professional wrestling. Now, after several false starts, there's a new album "Def, Dumb and Blonde," a strong return to form that updates the dance-oriented rock Blondie pioneered in the late '70s.
Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth have two kids and their own band, Tom Tom Club, a family affair that started out as a lark in the Bahamas with Tina's sisters Lana and Laura on backing vocals (they're not with the band anymore). Frantz and Weymouth have produced two albums for Ziggy Marley, and Tom Tom Club played the Bayou for six nights last year; the whole club was made over into a throbbing, tropical Day-Glo cabana for the occasion. With a style combining Caribbean pulse and urban dance-beat, Tom Tom Club always sounds as if it's on vacation.
And Talking Heads guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison, who works under the band name Casual Gods these days, just released his third solo album, the eclectic and politically correct "Walk on Water," recorded in his hometown of Milwaukee, where Harrison's also been supportively involved with the careers of fellow Milwaukeeans Violent Femmes, the BoDeans and Semi-Twang.
No one group is the headliner on this tour -- each band will take turns opening and closing the three-hour show. Harrison and Weymouth say the idea for "Escape From New York" sprang from their frustration with David Byrne's decision not to tour with Talking Heads.
"After we had a meeting with David and realized we weren't going to do anything with Talking Heads, we decided to do some work together," Harrison says, "and I wrote some songs with them for the upcoming Tom Tom Club record."
"We really missed Jerry as a keyboard player," Weymouth says. "And we thought, how foolish of us to think that just because we are not together with Talking Heads that we couldn't play together, because that is our natural inclination. In a way, we were heartbroken, though."
"So, our manager said, 'Why don't you guys go on tour?' " Harrison says, referring to Gary Kurfirst, who manages all four acts. "He put it together with the Ramones and Debbie Harry. We thought that would be great. We all love each other.
"Let's face it -- we all have very different musical styles and come from different backgrounds," Harrison says. "But because we came up from the same roots here in New York, we've known each other a long time. And whatever kind of intense competition we might have had with each other is kind of over with. When everyone was just playing CBGB and we were all in the same boat -- which was that the record companies were ignoring us -- it was more like solidarity. Like, 'We're making important music and the rest of the world is missing it.' Once everyone had record contracts and left, then you're like comparing sales and stuff."
Harrison thinks the CBGB scene was essential to the development of new music. "It was the first time in America in a long time that there had been a real underground that had been allowed to thrive without the interference of making records. And that was important. People really grew. Talking Heads the first time you saw them and then a year later were really different. There was a lot of maturation going on."
CBGB is still a showcase for brash young bands, of course. "But it doesn't have the intensity," Harrison says. "It's a funny thing when undergrounds develop -- a lot of it has to do with there being the right clubs."
Casual Gods and Tom Tom Club will, in effect, be a single band playing under two names -- Harrison will play on Frantz and Weymouth's set, and they'll play during his; they'll share the same four or five additional musicians.
"I think this tour is kind of like old-fashioned entertainment," Harrison says. "You're getting a lot for your money -- three bands who've had an incredible amount of memorable songs to choose from, who are, for one reason or another, able to go out together and play in places where you won't have to sit six miles away from the stage."