In the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Haverford magazine we asked alumni if they remembered a 1977 Talking Heads concert that was held in Roberts Hall. We were flooded with responses and included as many excerpts from them as possible in the recent Fall 2012 issue, but below they appear in their entirety.
Read on for some recollections of that infamous night.
Yes, I remember the concert clearly as I was head of the committee (Concert Series) who brought them to campus. It was their first concert outside of NYC and right around the release of their first album, Talking Heads: 77. The concert was packed by a combination of Haverford/BMC students and local fans. By the end of the third song, 80-plus percent of the Haverford/BMC crowd walked out. In fact, after the concert, there was a student led discussion on campus to change the Concert Series Organizing Committee due to the unpopularity of the Talking Heads concert. I guess the Bi-College Community was never known for cutting-edge taste!
The four concerts produced that school year by the Concert Series were: Talking Heads, Gil Scott Heron, Bonnie Raitt and Tom Waits. All this was done on a modest budget.
—Gary Mezzatesta ’80
The Talking Heads concert “fiasco” was the biggest arts controversy on-campus since the 1975 screening of Deep Throat, also in Roberts Hall.
The concert was actually during the winter of the 1977-78 year, and I’m thinking it was early 1978. Being involved in this event, I was fortunate enough to receive a promotional copy of the debut LP, Talking Heads: 77, weeks prior to their appearance. I grew up in New York and had heard that they were a new wave band that were CBGB’s regulars. It took me a few listens of the record to appreciate them, mainly becuse their music was such a departure from the mainstream, but I was a big fan by concert day. They drove their van from NYC and made an appearance at a Bryn Mawr record store in the afternoon. At the store, they were enthusiastically greeted by several hundred fans. Late in the afternoon, they came to campus and several of us HC/BMC students hung out with the band for a few hours.
The concert was attended by perhaps 50-75 enthusiastic “townies” who paid $5 a head to get in. Thankfully, they occupied the first few rows of the center section in Roberts Hall. I would say approximately 300-400 HC/BMC students were present by showtime. The Talking Heads played songs from their first album, some songs from their upcoming second album (More Songs About Buildings and Food) and some songs that didn’t make it onto those albums. I would say that about 75 percent of the HC/BMC [attendees] had walked out of the concert by the end of the third song and that MAYBE, 10 percent of BMC-HC students (along with all of the townies) remained at the end of the concert. From my point of view, the Talking Heads put on a great concert, similar to footage you can find from this period at other venues on YouTube.
There was an immediate outcry on campus about how bad the Talking Heads were and that the Concert Committee members should not have brought such a terrible concert to campus. As a result, it was decided (by the Student Council, I believe) that the members of the Concert Committee must resign. They had to re-apply along with new applicants and were interviewed to be able to serve further on the Concert Committee.
The rest, of course, is history.
—Steve Rachbach ’79
I was a frosh living in Barclay that year, just hanging out in the dorm one weekend, when suddenly there was a push from a couple of friends to hear a band that was set to play in Roberts Hall, next door. At that point in my music-listening career I was mostly a fan of metal bands, and, like most of my peers, had never heard of Talking Heads. Raised in a classical music household in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania, I had also never been to hear a live rock band. Both those things changed that night.
I remember the auditorium being pretty full when we walked in. Eventually a few people who looked like roadies appeared on stage—one of them a girl—and started sound-testing the instruments. The tallest, thinnest, nerdiest-looking of them strapped on a guitar and stared skeptically into the front microphone. Before I knew what was happening, he and his bandmates suddenly kicked into a unique style of hyper/intellectual/OCD music I’d never heard the like of. At least metaphorically, my jaw dropped.
These weren’t roadies. This was the band.
I’d like to say that the first song they played was “Psycho Killer,” or that I instantly recognized the alternative future of rock ‘n’ roll. The truth is that I don’t remember anything about particular songs. And even after the show ended, I was probably more stunned and exhilarated than completely enthralled: What I was hearing was too new and different to register in my unformed sensibility as obviously great. But this band definitely got my attention, and the more I thought about it the better I liked it.
In those first days of college, our weekend itineraries often included a stop at Plastic Fantastic, where me and my new-found friends would pore over used records (yes, kids—records) trying to divine from their album art which of them might change our lives. The idea that I could see this strange new band in a small venue, and that they actually had a record out that I could buy in a store, was almost as much of a revelation to me as their music was.
There’s been a lot of water over the musical dam in the last 35 years. But Talking Heads: 77 represented a surprising alternative to anything I’d heard before, my first glimpse down a new musical path. I don’t know exactly where Talking Heads stand in relation to other progenitors of what came to be called “new wave” music. They were pretty darn early though, beating later favorites like Elvis Costello and The Pretenders by several years and, with More Songs About Buildings and Food and, later, Fear of Music, playing an important role in the musical soundtrack to my years at Haverford.
Looking back, I think part of the power of Talking Heads for me was that their ascendance coincided so well with my time in college, and that I had been privileged to see them in such intimate surroundings at such an early stage in their evolution, and in my own. It all started, as so many things do, with random chance: a bored freshman looking for something to do on a Saturday night and wandering to the building next door, open to possibility. I found it that night, and I’ve never forgotten it.
—Bill Belt ‘80
Because they expected a large turnout at Roberts of Bi-Co students and “outsiders” for the Talking Heads concert, the organizers enlisted the services of Gerry Lederer ’80 and I to act as bouncers in the vestibule. As the only weightlifters then at the College, we at least looked the part. We took hundreds of tickets and acted to exclude crashers who seemed to be coming from all over the Philadelphia area. There were quite a few shown the door, and in some cases unfriendly words exchanged, but there was still a line to get in when the Talking Heads finally began to play to a packed house.
Roberts was not known for its acoustics, but the volume of sound was quite deafening– painful really. Gerry and I stood our ground by the front doors guarding against illicit entry, but our vigilance and bulk soon became superfluous as first a trickle, then a steady stream of concertgoers began to exit, fleeing the distorted roar.
By intermission, Gerry and I saw our services were wasted since Roberts was emptying rather rapidly, so we went AWOL and wandered off to quieter precincts to nurse our eardrums and some beers.
—Jonathan LeBreton ’79
I attended the concert. At a class reunion on campus many years after the concert, old, bound issues of The Haverford-Bryn Mawr News were put on view, no doubt to stimulate our memories. One issue included Barry Schwabsky’s review of the concert. After reading his review, I ran into Barry at the reunion, and I complimented him on the opening line of his review, which was: “This was a concert where people either got up and danced or got up and left.” Barry laughed, and said: “But, Tim—it was you at the time who said this to me, and gave me that line.”
My memory of the concert is that it was not especially well-attended to begin with, and people did get up and leave. I seem to recall that the guy who organized the concert—Gary Mezzatesta ’80—was forced to quit his job as head of student activities because it was felt that the money spent on booking the Talking Heads was a waste. The Class Night skits that year included a spoof of the Talking Heads, that implied that they were a fit subject for ridicule.
Sitting a few empty seats away from me during the concert was a guy who was not a student. From time to time, he shouted for the band to play the song “Red Light, One, Two, Three.” I’m pretty sure The Talking Heads did not play it that night, though perhaps they did, as an encore. I’ve often wondered whether such a song even exists, or whether it might just be an inside joke that people shout at Talking Heads concerts, or at rock concerts in general.
P.S. After graduation, I saw The Talking Heads play in concert at Le Palace, in Paris, France, with the B-52s as an opening act. My date had another engagement that night, so, to my lasting chagrin, we got up and left before the end of the show.
—Tim Cone ’79
Your mention of the Talking Heads concert in ’76-’77 made me chuckle. I remember stopping by Roberts Hall that night to hear the band. I only stayed for a few songs though. Having been a long time Carole King fan I was too hooked on melody and “hook and riff” pop songs to appreciate their sound. Of course I regretted my decision when years later I saw Stop Making Sense!
—Dan O’Neill ’78
My girlfriend at the time, Cornelia Adams (BMC ’78), and Gary Mezzatesta’80 of Haverford comprised the Concert Committee (or whatever it was called). Cordy and I had already seen Talking Heads several times, including that summer at CBGB, and wanted to book them for Haverford. Fortunately, Gary agreed.
I drew the concert poster, which was black with white lettering. I used to have one of the posters stowed away, but it seems to have gotten lost over the years. I would love to have one again.
The concert took place the same week that Rolling Stone magazine called Talking Heads’ first record, Talking Heads: 77, which was just about to be released, “the best album of the century.” I remember Tina Weymouth saying backstage before the concert began, “Why couldn’t they just have called it the best album of the week? Or of the day?”
David Byrne took a nap before the show, and when he woke up a few minutes before the concert began, he simply walked onstage the way he was dressed, with a pen in his button-down shirt pocket. No rock-star costume change for him.
David greeted the crowd by saying, “Hi, here we go,” and then the band launched into “Love Goes to Building on Fire,” which was their first single. Here’s the setlist.
Love Goes to Building on Fire
Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town
Don’t Worry About the Government
Take Me to the River
The Book I Read
A Clean Break
The Big Country
A Good Thing
Thank You for Sending Me an Angel
Who Is It?
I’m Not in Love
1-2-3 Red Light
The hall was pretty crowded—at least it was at the start. Although it was a typically strong Talking Heads performance, the music was new to many, and as the concert wore on more than half of the audience filed out. We joked at the time that everyone who walked out would someday claim what a great concert it was!
After the concert, [Talking Heads keyboardist and guitarist] Jerry Harrison came with me to a party in my dorm, on the top floor of Lunt. One of the kids in the hallway started talking about the concert and, figuring Jerry was just another student, said he didn’t like the music very much. Then I turned to Jerry and asked, “What did you think of it?”
“They were just okay,” he said.
—Rick Rennert ’78
I saw your request for information on the Talking Heads concert. I attended when I was at Haverford and I have a few memories.
The concert I attended took place during the 1977-78 academic year. Your request mentioned a 1976-77 concert. Perhaps the Talking Heads played at Haverford then, but I didn’t arrive at Haverford until the fall of 1977. The concert I attended was definitely that academic year, although I can’t remember if it was fall or spring.
I was excited by the prospect of seeing the Talking Heads, because I had read a Village Voice article that praised them as one of the best new wave bands. I don’t think I had heard any of their music before the concert.
My strongest memory of the concert is that the Talking Heads simply didn’t sound very good. The main reason was probably the poor acoustics of Roberts Hall, but the band may have had inferior equipment. The Talking Heads definitely played “Psycho Killer,” but none of the other songs stand out in my memory.
I also remember that quite a few of the students in the audience left before the concert ended. They either didn’t like the music or, like so many Haverfordians then (and presumably now), they felt a need to go study in the library or elsewhere. I’m not sure if I also left early, but I stayed longer than much of the rest of the audience.
Incidentally, I enjoyed seeing the photos of the Blue Bus, Then and Now. It brought back some memories! I had forgotten about Tex, the driver. I had assumed that the Blue Bus looked the same as it had in the 1970s, so the photo of the current bus reminded me that Haverford has, of course, changed since I left.
—Sean M. Lynn-Jones ’81
It was the 1977-78 year when Talking Heads came to Haverford. I was a freshman in Gummere. I think I already knew that David Byrne, the lead singer, was a Quaker. I did not yet know that his family lived near me in Columbia, Maryland, and that his sister went to my high school. The band’s first album, Talking Heads: 77, had not yet reached the stores. Plastic Fantastic Records in Bryn Mawr obtained some advance copies and a number of Fords purchased them. The group’s first hit single, “Psycho Killer,” was getting some airplay. There was a lot of hype for the concert, but Roberts was far from full. I remember the band members bouncing up and down a lot, and I thought they had potential, but this was pre-Brian Eno, and the music was not very good. I left the concert early along with much of the sparse crowd. Reports from the remaining audience were that they had a lot of fun dancing. At least I can say I was there.
—Neil Fagan ‘81