Ads Banner
Hot Best Seller

Fear of Music

Availability: Ready to download

Fear of Music, the third album by Talking Heads, was recorded and released in 1979. It is, like each of their first four albums, a masterpiece. Edgy, paranoid, funky, addictive, rhythmic, repetitive, spooky, and fun - with Brian Eno's production, it's a record that bursts out of the downtown scene that birthed the band, and hints at the directions (positive and negative) t Fear of Music, the third album by Talking Heads, was recorded and released in 1979. It is, like each of their first four albums, a masterpiece. Edgy, paranoid, funky, addictive, rhythmic, repetitive, spooky, and fun - with Brian Eno's production, it's a record that bursts out of the downtown scene that birthed the band, and hints at the directions (positive and negative) they'd take in the near future. Here, Jonathan Lethem takes us back to the late 1970s in New York City and situates Talking Heads as one of the most remarkable and enigmatic American bands. Incorporating theory, fiction, and memoir, and placing Fear of Music alongside Fritz Lang, Edgar Allen Poe, Patti Smith, and David Foster Wallace. Lethem's book is a virtuoso performance by a writer at the peak of his powers, tackling one of his great obsessions.


Compare
Ads Banner

Fear of Music, the third album by Talking Heads, was recorded and released in 1979. It is, like each of their first four albums, a masterpiece. Edgy, paranoid, funky, addictive, rhythmic, repetitive, spooky, and fun - with Brian Eno's production, it's a record that bursts out of the downtown scene that birthed the band, and hints at the directions (positive and negative) t Fear of Music, the third album by Talking Heads, was recorded and released in 1979. It is, like each of their first four albums, a masterpiece. Edgy, paranoid, funky, addictive, rhythmic, repetitive, spooky, and fun - with Brian Eno's production, it's a record that bursts out of the downtown scene that birthed the band, and hints at the directions (positive and negative) they'd take in the near future. Here, Jonathan Lethem takes us back to the late 1970s in New York City and situates Talking Heads as one of the most remarkable and enigmatic American bands. Incorporating theory, fiction, and memoir, and placing Fear of Music alongside Fritz Lang, Edgar Allen Poe, Patti Smith, and David Foster Wallace. Lethem's book is a virtuoso performance by a writer at the peak of his powers, tackling one of his great obsessions.

30 review for Fear of Music

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alias Pending

    Before we begin, I have to confess this one star rating is a lie, it is, in fact, as they say on Amazon, a zero star rating, but I didn't have that option. Warning. I'm not going to be nice. Short Review: Shit Sandwich. Medium Sized Review: Approaching the end of this work, I desperately wanted the meth-addled author to finally confess his own secret, "I'm just kidding. No one could possibly write an essay about Fear of Music that was this pretentious, this smug, this self-absorbed. I just wanted t Before we begin, I have to confess this one star rating is a lie, it is, in fact, as they say on Amazon, a zero star rating, but I didn't have that option. Warning. I'm not going to be nice. Short Review: Shit Sandwich. Medium Sized Review: Approaching the end of this work, I desperately wanted the meth-addled author to finally confess his own secret, "I'm just kidding. No one could possibly write an essay about Fear of Music that was this pretentious, this smug, this self-absorbed. I just wanted to see how many people would make it to the end without having an aneurysm." End: Lethem doesn't apologize for his actions, however. And there ends my relationship with this author. I will never touch anything by him again (except the Exegesis of Philip K Dick which Lethem had something to do with, unfortunately). His babbling stream of consciousness faux-intellectualism is enough to induce READ RAGE. This sorry volume was neither educational nor entertaining, and if this is what the 33 1/3 series has to offer, I'm done with them too. Time to listen to Fear of Music and try to forget this ever happened.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    My favorite type of critique on a particular piece of art is the one where the author uses it as a subject matter - and then goes off into the inner world of that art work - or in this case the Talking Head's album "The Fear Of Music." Jonathan Lethem tears into the album if it was a mysterious lost code in his childhood. If you want to know about the making of "The Fear of Music," or what the band was thinking about - this is not the book. But if you are either a fan of Lethem or just intereste My favorite type of critique on a particular piece of art is the one where the author uses it as a subject matter - and then goes off into the inner world of that art work - or in this case the Talking Head's album "The Fear Of Music." Jonathan Lethem tears into the album if it was a mysterious lost code in his childhood. If you want to know about the making of "The Fear of Music," or what the band was thinking about - this is not the book. But if you are either a fan of Lethem or just interested how an album can affect someone - then this is a mighty good read. One of the better books in the pretty mighty world of 33 1/3 series.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nat

    Every couple of years, the 33 1/3 series has an open call for proposals (the current deadline is actually today, so get to work on your deconstruction of Spiderland or Exile in Guyville (which were, from a quick look, the most proposed albums in the last call)). In the last open call, my brother and I submitted one of two proposals for Fear of Music. I think we might have overemphasized the importance of the Baader-Meinhof gang for understanding the album (in 1979, Baader-Meinhof terrorists were Every couple of years, the 33 1/3 series has an open call for proposals (the current deadline is actually today, so get to work on your deconstruction of Spiderland or Exile in Guyville (which were, from a quick look, the most proposed albums in the last call)). In the last open call, my brother and I submitted one of two proposals for Fear of Music. I think we might have overemphasized the importance of the Baader-Meinhof gang for understanding the album (in 1979, Baader-Meinhof terrorists were crossing into the United States using forged Iranian passports--look it up in the NYT). Anyway, we didn't get picked. But it was almost as good to see that Jonathan Lethem was going to write about the album. And the remark that makes it totally clear that Lethem is coming at the album from more or less exactly the same place as my brother and me is the following: "If you cared for [everything urban and remotely alienated] as a mode of inquiry, as an angle of attack on everything, there were only two choices: Devo, and Talking Heads. The boy in his room looked at that menu and said I'll have both please" (p.84). We did that/felt that way too! Here are a few specific worries (these did not distract from the fact that the book is a huge amount of fun): There was an annoying "warning" right at the start of the book that readers may suffer demystification/mystification "vis-a-vis a cherished cultural artifact" after reading Lethem's analysis. Really? I'm not too worried. My Fear of Music credentials are pretty solid. For example, I attended a school in Germany named after the author of the lyrics of "I Zimbra" (Hugo Ball Gymnasium, in Pirmasens, Germany). Occasionally Lethem gets carried away and says some stuff that's either clearly false or just nonsense. Some examples: p.17-18: "It's been proposed that 'Fear of (signifier)' is the key to parsing the album: the 'real' subject being fear of air, fear of drugs, fear of heaven, fear of cities and animals and so forth". -How is that at all plausible? "Cities" is not about fear of cities--its mood is giddy about moving around. "Heaven" is not about fear of heaven: it's "exciting" and "fun". Anyway. p.18: "There's never anything you can point out to another person and say: 'This is mind, right here!' The more you press the case, the more the subject slips away. And yet it's also everywhere. Or at least everywhere we look". -Really? There's mind in my coffee? p.19: "Perhaps if mind exists at all, it's a bourgeois vestige, best left behind like the burned notebooks in 'Life During Wartime': mind won't help you survive". -Try doing without mind, I expect you won't last long. p.73: "we're never less free from ourselves than precisely in the act of failing...to free ourselves". -Is this true? I doubt it. I actually find it kind of hard to understand what this is saying. p.78: [Describing "Air"]: "The song flirts with metrosexual vanity---what's happening to your skin, buddy? Buy a higher grade of sunblock. Give me a break". -I doubt that that's a misreading that would occur to someone who has ever had real trouble with his skin. p.91: Here's a more subtle linguistic issue, concerning this line in "Heaven": "It's hard to imagine that nothing at all/ Could be so exciting, could be so much fun". Lethem says: "The word 'nothing' is itself a hinge, or dumb pun: is nothing exciting, a description of a situation that's rather convincingly boring..., since when nothing's exciting there's nothing interesting at all---or is nothing exciting, a very rare and fascinating condition in which the less there is the more scintillating we're finding "it" to be?" Ok, Lethem proposes two possible readings of the line: 1. There is nothing that is exciting. 2. Nothing(ness) is exciting. I think the only reasonable reading of the line from Heaven is (2.)---it's just not possible to hear it as saying "It's hard to imagine that [there is] nothing at all/ [that] could be exciting". Notice that that reading requires dropping the "so". If I paid more attention in intro to semantics I might be able to say why that reading isn't available more convincingly. p.98: [Discussing David Byrne's possibly having Asperger's]: "The question, then, is not how Aspergian David Byrne might be---or whether or not that is even a question worth asking, or appropriate to ask...outside of current fads in the history of the Categorical Imperative". -I know what the Categorical Imperative is, and I have no idea what that sentence means. p.86: there is a goofy misspelling of "Sao Paulo" as "Sau Paulo". Those aren't big problems, though. And they don't really distract from some really awesome lines and observations about the album. I won't spoil them by simply recounting them, except for the following two one liners: [Discussing "Big Country"]: "This is the Cary Grant North by Northwest crop-duster sensation---the nightmare, in flyover country, of becoming the one flown over" (p.42). [About "Air"]: "We have nothing to fear but nothing itself". There were a couple of discussions that were really nice: -Lethem discusses whether Fear of Music is a "concept" album (p.33), and he spends some time discussing the fact that many of the song titles are one-word labels: "Mind", "Paper", "Animals", "Air", "Cities", "Drugs". But you could argue that it's literally a concept album, in the sense that those song titles are just names for simple concepts. -After reading his account of "Paper" I would want to argue that it has a lot to say about bureaucracy: after spending time in a French immigration office, the line "Even though it was never written down / Still might be a chance that it might work out" resonates very strongly. -Lethem's discussion of "Cities" is awesome, and I'm now convinced it's my favorite Talking Heads song.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Miss Eliza)

    I find it ironic that the most solipsistic book I have EVER read uses the word so many times. I would hate to know Jonathan Lethem, a man who is such a self centered pretentious ass that a book about the Talking Heads became a book about himself... though if I ever meet him, he's paying me back for buying this book, which deserves no stars and no reviews written because it would waste even more of my time.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kaoru

    I've been listening to „Fear of Music“ quite a lot lately, and finding out that there was a book in the „33 1/3“ series about it, I picked it up to learn something about the making of the album and a lot of other behind-the-scenes-stuff. After a few pages though I had to realize that it was one of those books. That's right, this is not one of the „33 1/3“ releases in which there's something to learn, this is one of the books written by people who consider themselves as far more interesting than I've been listening to „Fear of Music“ quite a lot lately, and finding out that there was a book in the „33 1/3“ series about it, I picked it up to learn something about the making of the album and a lot of other behind-the-scenes-stuff. After a few pages though I had to realize that it was one of those books. That's right, this is not one of the „33 1/3“ releases in which there's something to learn, this is one of the books written by people who consider themselves as far more interesting than the music they're writing about. So what you get is a 160 pages long ramble about his personal interpretations of the lyrics and soundscapes with obscure references to art and architecture and whathaveyou. So nothing about how it came to be that the band hooked up with Brian Eno in the first place, anything about the production, the contemporary reception, nothing, anything, zero. Pretty telling are the chapter titles, as they reveal the author's 'cleverness' and his approach to writing this book. „Is Fear of Music a Talking Heads Record?“ Come on, really? „Is Fear of Music a Text?“ Blimey. „Is Fear of Music an Asperger's Record?“ Christ on a stick. So, here in return are the chapter titles from the book that I'm going to write about the author (assuming that I'll ever come with enough indulgence that could fill 160 pages): - „Is Jonathan Lethem an author?“ - „Is Jonathan Lethem a purple tinted Cronos? - „Is Jonathan Lethem entitled to rectangular grass cubes that twaddle in peace?“ - „Is Jonathan Lethem largely bespoken before chivalrous oranges above a sunset?“ - „How many Jonathan Lethems does it take to change a light bulb? - „Will you marry me?“ - „I love a good fart joke!“

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    An author I like writing about a band I like? What could go wrong? Oh, where to begin? Maybe it's that he has no insights into the music? Or the words? Or the history of the band? Or the place of this album in pop history? Or why it's enjoyable? I kept wondering... How did he bamboozle the publishers into paying for these random observations? This may not be the worst book ever written. But damn, it's got to be in the bottom 10.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    "Recommendation: While using this product, actually listening to the record is strongly indicated. I don't mean just on those crappy little speakers built into your computer, either. And turn it up, for fuck's sake." Here's a link to get you started: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb6iz...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    I learned a lesson from this book: Next time, if I can truly tell that I hate reading a book, I won't be ashamed of abandoning it. Why waste precious time? I thank God I don't listen to music the same way as Jonathan Lethem. This would be a zero star review if it could be.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    In my view, the best 33 1/3 books offer a potent mix of personal recollection and cool, well-researched observations about the players, sounds and contexts behind a particular album. Lethem goes all-in purely for his own personal obsessions and interpretations in the book. He certainly has the literary and intellectual chops to pull it off, and yet... I often found myself wanting more than just his memories and hipper-than-though riffing on the dark, weird soundscapes of Talking Heads' third rec In my view, the best 33 1/3 books offer a potent mix of personal recollection and cool, well-researched observations about the players, sounds and contexts behind a particular album. Lethem goes all-in purely for his own personal obsessions and interpretations in the book. He certainly has the literary and intellectual chops to pull it off, and yet... I often found myself wanting more than just his memories and hipper-than-though riffing on the dark, weird soundscapes of Talking Heads' third record. It's a decent entry in the series and his philosophical riffs are enjoyable to read; it's just not what I personally go to the series for. Definitely play the record and listen along if and when you read this one, his descriptions of the music are fun and sly.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tripp

    Part of the 33 series on important LPs. Lethem moves song by song through the record, interspersing his deep dives into each track with more global treatments that have titles such as "Is Fear of Music a Science Fiction Album?" Lethem is clearly a fan of all kinds of music and is able to find correspondences and comparisons between this Talking Heads album and the music of James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Bob Dylanand much more. Part of the 33 ⅓ series on important LPs. Lethem moves song by song through the record, interspersing his deep dives into each track with more global treatments that have titles such as "Is Fear of Music a Science Fiction Album?" Lethem is clearly a fan of all kinds of music and is able to find correspondences and comparisons between this Talking Heads album and the music of James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Bob Dylanand much more.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Incomprehensible, faux-intellectual word vomit that sometimes mentions Talking Heads.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jade Walters

    Jonathan Lethem is both an excellent writer and, to me, and immensely annoying and smarmy guy. This is worth reading if you’re a fan of the band or the album, and many of Lethem’s criticisms and descriptions of the music were fantastic, but *god* did his voice get to me after a while.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    I'm pretty well a sucker for books by Lethem, and this one was getting rave reviews all over the place, seemingly by people who weren't really familiar with the concept of the 33 1/3 series. I'm gonna break it down for you: it's a whole book about one album, which means for this book, a chapter for each of "Fear of Music"'s eleven songs, and a chapter between each trying a different lens through which you might approach the record. That's what Lethem does, and what most of the books in the serie I'm pretty well a sucker for books by Lethem, and this one was getting rave reviews all over the place, seemingly by people who weren't really familiar with the concept of the 33 1/3 series. I'm gonna break it down for you: it's a whole book about one album, which means for this book, a chapter for each of "Fear of Music"'s eleven songs, and a chapter between each trying a different lens through which you might approach the record. That's what Lethem does, and what most of the books in the series (this is the 86th book in the series, if you're curious) does, so thinking it's his crazy idea or he's a genius for undertaking it might mean you're kind of an idiot, or at least a book reviewer who isn't really paying attention.... Anyhow, Lethem is no idiot, and he is pretty smart about these songs, and this album. He does a little of the Greil Marcus style drill-down-deep analysis on these songs and how they tease out different kinds of neuroses. He imagines a storyline, a series of characters and a fantasy landscape in which these songs develop a kind of personality under pressure, though he doesn't do as much as Marcus would with the social history. I mean, there's some of that in here, but not in an overwhelming kind of way-- understanding this album might not help you to better understand America in the 20th century, in other words. But I do think there are flashes more personal than anything Marcus would attempt-- there's a really telling and moving moment where Lethem explains his interest in punk music as a way to a) rebel against mainstream culture without b) embracing black culture, like the nascent hip hop movement. I don't know why, but this really resonated with me, as a kind of third way I think a lot of us have found as young people, and that hopefully you kind of grow out of but which is still very powerful, in terms of identifying your tribe and all that. In some senses, that was very evocative of _Fortress of Solitude_, where Lethem approaches some of these same ideas but with a character more open to black pop culture; I found this potrait, for all its complexity and discomfort, more powerful, but you know, maybe it wouldn't tickle everyone the same way. I tried to do like Lethem said, and listen to this album, and especially particular songs, while he was talking about them. It was a pretty powerful experience. Though it's kind of coincidental, this is the one TH record I own (okay, cd) and I wasn't crazy about it. But I feel like I have a much fuller appreciation for it now.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Al

    Having now read six books in this series, I think it's pretty safe to say that they primarily exist as an argument that writing about a single album should exist in no format longer than a "lengthy essay," or perhaps a "pamphlet." I actually enjoyed this book the second best of those I've read, (in rough order, Let's Talk About Love, Fear of Music, Bee Thousand, Armed Forces, Daydream Nation, Loveless) and really appreciated that Lethem devoted himself wholly to interpretation, but about 66 2/3% Having now read six books in this series, I think it's pretty safe to say that they primarily exist as an argument that writing about a single album should exist in no format longer than a "lengthy essay," or perhaps a "pamphlet." I actually enjoyed this book the second best of those I've read, (in rough order, Let's Talk About Love, Fear of Music, Bee Thousand, Armed Forces, Daydream Nation, Loveless) and really appreciated that Lethem devoted himself wholly to interpretation, but about 66 2/3% of the book consisted of excessive verbiage, irritating tics, and b.s. Of course, that's an understandable outcome when tasked with turning out ~140 pages about ~40 minutes of music. The best I can say for it, and probably the best one can say for any book in this series, is that Lethem's interpretation was often insightful, and ultimately served to enhance my appreciation of both the album and the band.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Eric Cartier

    I love this record a lot (random lyrics, mostly from "Cities" and "Life During Wartime", pop up in my mind as often as any and all Beastie Boys rhymes), but Lethem *loves* this record. His analysis is thorough and revealing, and the writing is tight. I listened to each song as I finished each chapter and considered his take on it. Because it all went down in 24 hours (the 33 1/3 series consists of brief pocket books), I'll have to revisit my marginalia to grasp what I thought, but I know Lethem' I love this record a lot (random lyrics, mostly from "Cities" and "Life During Wartime", pop up in my mind as often as any and all Beastie Boys rhymes), but Lethem *loves* this record. His analysis is thorough and revealing, and the writing is tight. I listened to each song as I finished each chapter and considered his take on it. Because it all went down in 24 hours (the 33 1/3 series consists of brief pocket books), I'll have to revisit my marginalia to grasp what I thought, but I know Lethem's work contributed to my fuller understanding of the composition, recording, and reception of the songs that make up "Fear of Music". All praise Talking Heads!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tripp

    33 1/3 books often disappoint. This one is one of the best books about music I have read in years. Sure, I am a fan of Lethem and of postmodern writing. That might explain the difference in views. I found myself going back and forth between the book and the album, with each listen and read enriching the next experience. If you are after the production history and personal history, this one is not for you. If you want a personal (and erudite) view of a classic record, this is the book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    This starts promisingly, reminding me why I was always so interested in this album: its creepy radio ads. And it interested me that Lethem was determined to base his response to the album on his early reactions to it and his current reflections on it--no research. But as soon as I got a copy and began listening again, I found that nothing Lethem thought or theorized or thrilled in about the record was as interesting as listening to the record itself. Get a copy.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John Spiller

    I made it a quarter of the way through and gave up. I loved "Motherless Brooklyn" and "Gun with Occasional Music." Lethem's indulgent, discursive take on the Talking Heads "Fear of Music" confirms the old Onion headline, "Music History Written by the Losers."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dylan

    Some interesting bits and a theoretically promising format of song-by-song analysis interspersed with different interpretations of the album overall. Unfortunately often awkwardly anecdotal with an odd contrast between the author bombastically circling around making any good points and trying to be relatable. Just align your expectations going in - this book is not an attempt at a grounded and clear discussion of the album, but more of a personal account of what the album meant to the author as Some interesting bits and a theoretically promising format of song-by-song analysis interspersed with different interpretations of the album overall. Unfortunately often awkwardly anecdotal with an odd contrast between the author bombastically circling around making any good points and trying to be relatable. Just align your expectations going in - this book is not an attempt at a grounded and clear discussion of the album, but more of a personal account of what the album meant to the author as a child and a very loose meditation on concepts possibly related to the music with some context and history occasionally thrown in.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andy Weston

    A deviation for me, as I have not read this type of book before. Only a couple of months ago I read Lethem's wonderful Motherless Brooklyn , and found out soon after that he was a fellow Talking Heads fan. This book is an exploration into their third album. He starts by explaining the effect it had on him as a 15 year old in 1979, I wasn't far ahead of him, at 18, and can identify with much of what he writes. Whereas his dissection is almost always interesting, its still better to listen to th A deviation for me, as I have not read this type of book before. Only a couple of months ago I read Lethem's wonderful Motherless Brooklyn , and found out soon after that he was a fellow Talking Heads fan. This book is an exploration into their third album. He starts by explaining the effect it had on him as a 15 year old in 1979, I wasn't far ahead of him, at 18, and can identify with much of what he writes. Whereas his dissection is almost always interesting, its still better to listen to the album..

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ethan

    There was a whole lot of purple prose and word salad for a long while in this book. The first half more or less was a whole lot of words without saying much at all, and it was kinda all over the place. But, despite some unfortunate shade thrown at Electric Guitar, the second half was really interesting as he began incorporating more history into his essays on each song. I also really enjoyed the mini-chapters between each song asking “is Fear of Music a ______ album?” all of which were pretty go There was a whole lot of purple prose and word salad for a long while in this book. The first half more or less was a whole lot of words without saying much at all, and it was kinda all over the place. But, despite some unfortunate shade thrown at Electric Guitar, the second half was really interesting as he began incorporating more history into his essays on each song. I also really enjoyed the mini-chapters between each song asking “is Fear of Music a ______ album?” all of which were pretty good questions!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    As much as I love Lethem's novels, I was a little wary of how he'd handle a book for this series. Turns out I needn't have done, as his approach was the kind of thoughtful approach that made me a fan of this series in the first place. While I'm not sure I followed every path of thought he took, his writing did help me to crack a bit further into the shell of a band I've struggled with loving for a long time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mattia Ravasi

    Video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3LCW... Illuminating and puzzling in roughly equal measures, the puzzling parts are themselves stimulating and frustrating in roughly equal measures. It's still a brilliant take on a beautifully enigmatic record, and an exciting read for fans of Lethem or Talking Heads (and an obvious must read if you like both).

  24. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    Lethem being Lethem and nerding the fuck out over his most important Talking Heads record. Your mileage will vary depending on, well, how you feel about any of that. But if it's your kind of thing, you'll dig it for sure.

  25. 5 out of 5

    pianogal

    I enjoyed this one. It was interesting to get someone else's take on this album. it's not my favorite Talking Heads, but I like a couple songs on it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Vanyo666

    Too personal for my taste, even though it is quite informative about the making of the album. Lethem has a tendency to write about himself all the time and what the album and the times meant for him.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Osvaldo

    At my wedding the DJ played Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place" during the dinner portion of the reception. The best man came up to me at the sweethearts table and said, "I know a guy that is obsessed with the Talking Heads." "I'm kind of obsessed with the Talking Heads," I replied. "You're who I meant." And it's true. Case in point: In preparation for reading Jonathem Lethem's contribution to the 33 1/3 book series on The Talking Heads album Fear of Music, I listend to the album daily for a fe At my wedding the DJ played Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place" during the dinner portion of the reception. The best man came up to me at the sweethearts table and said, "I know a guy that is obsessed with the Talking Heads." "I'm kind of obsessed with the Talking Heads," I replied. "You're who I meant." And it's true. Case in point: In preparation for reading Jonathem Lethem's contribution to the 33 1/3 book series on The Talking Heads album Fear of Music, I listend to the album daily for a few weeks. It wasn't that I had never heard it before, but I have always been more of a Remain in the Light guy, and my favorite version of "Life During Wartime" is the full band live version from Stop Making Sense (love the version of "Heaven" on there, too). I just needed to make sure I had listened closely and knew it well before I allowed Lethem to influence me too much. And then while I read it, I made sure to listen to the song each chapter was about before reading, on repeat during reading, and then again after reading, which meant that over the time I was reading what is a brief book, I listened to each song 3 to 6 times through. When I was finished with the book, I listened all the way through again. The book is pretty fantastic. Simultaneously reverent and doubting of the source material. Loyal to the obsession of the 15-year old version of Lethem that first heard the record and willing to deflate that nostalgia when necessary. Zappa may have said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but fuck Frank Zappa - Lethem does as good a job as one could possibly hope for in exploring Fear of Music for not only what is in there, but what it may say about the trajectory of the Talking Heads and David Byrne. He also does a fantastic job of mining his own childhood for ways to understand the earnest self-consciousness of growing up. Fear of Music is too wound up in that adolescence for him to try to write something uninfluenced by it. As he (brilliantly) writes: [The 15-year old version of Lethem] "arranged himself in a posture of such abject identification with Fear of Music that he no longer can imagine who he'd be had he never heard it. Fear of Music wrote the boy, in other words. Which I suppose means that what you hold in your hands is a book Fear of Music wrote about itself." But still most of the book is not about Lethem, or only about him in the sense that the listener can never be separated from the active interpretive practice of listening - and each section dealing with a song seems to crack it open revealing a multi-faceted core that belies the driving simplicity of these songs with an unearthed complexity of sound and meaning. Between the song chapters are chapters that ask questions of the album itself - "Is Fear of Music a Talking Heads record?", "Is Fear of Music a Paranoid record?", "Is Fear of Music a Text?", etc. . . so at the micro and macro levels, Lethem has the album covered. If you love the Talking Heads, read this book. If you are interested in smart music writing that eschews being overly-academic, but does not over-simplify or talk down to you, read it. If you love Lethem's writing (which I generally do), read it. Maybe I should give this five stars. Fuck it, I will.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jasun Horsley

    I was surprised to see so many negative reviews of this book. What's not to like? At one point Lethem remarks that his identification with Fear of Music as a teenager was so strong that you could have placed the album where his head was and it would have adequately represented his inner self. If you haven't ever felt that way about an album, book, or movie, this isn't a book you should read. Lethem isn't doing standard music criticism or cultural analysis--thank God, who needs more of that?--he' I was surprised to see so many negative reviews of this book. What's not to like? At one point Lethem remarks that his identification with Fear of Music as a teenager was so strong that you could have placed the album where his head was and it would have adequately represented his inner self. If you haven't ever felt that way about an album, book, or movie, this isn't a book you should read. Lethem isn't doing standard music criticism or cultural analysis--thank God, who needs more of that?--he's exploring the strange liminal zone between his own psyche and a rock album that got so deep under his skin (like Byrne's air) that it had a hand in forming it (his psyche). But then, some people don't know shit about the air. For Lethem writing this book, everything seems to be up in the air. That's the point. Lethem can't tell where Fear of Music ends and he begins, or vice versa, and the reader isn't supposed to know either. And it comes directly from his heart to you. What Lethem can do as well as any music writer I've ever read, however (as he also showed in his novel You Don't Love Me Yet), is describe musical progressions and effects in coherent language that somehow captures the essence of music and meaning, that merges forms, creates prose that sings the praises of songs that narrate, so the music and the analysis get together, load their trucks, burn their notebooks, and change their hairstyles. This is one of those abilities that mystifies and humbles me: I don't know how Lethem does it. I can only absorb it admiringly and, as with great music, enjoy its ineffability and my own incapacity to understand how he does it. Ironic, because Lethem's Fear of Music is kind of about that: Lethem's still-adolescent fumbling, joyful, jerky, melancholy, intense, searching, desperate, weary and inspired attempt to come to terms with his inability to understand Fear of Music and, at the same time, his inability not to at least TRY. Maybe that's why some people didn't like it? Too naked, too honest, too raw--like Fear of Music the album, Fear of Music the book offers no comfort or solace besides the comfort and solace of forgoing comfort and solace: "I ain't got time for that now." Fear of Music has been my favorite album for thirty years. My favorite song was Heaven, which is about a bar where they play your favorite song, all night long. (How's that for an infinity loop?) I had never read anything else by Lethem before I read his little book. It did not disappoint, which in itself is about as likely as a party where everyone leaves at exactly the same time. Lethem writes like a building on fire, like he's flat on his back, with no regrets, like he's a little freaked out, like he's charged up, like he's got it figured out, like he doesn't know what he's talking about, like there's a party in his mind, like he's inside a dry ice factory. It's a good place. He gets his thinking done. This is the book I read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    James Klagge

    Probably my favorite album of all time. That doesn't make this a great book, but it made me greatly interested. Someone once said: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" (sometimes attributed to Martin Mull, this author attributes it to Frank Zappa on p. 33). But even if so, reading about music can still be interesting and fun, even if not in the same way as listening to it. And of course it helps to be quite familiar with the music already. This book has a nice balance of comme Probably my favorite album of all time. That doesn't make this a great book, but it made me greatly interested. Someone once said: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" (sometimes attributed to Martin Mull, this author attributes it to Frank Zappa on p. 33). But even if so, reading about music can still be interesting and fun, even if not in the same way as listening to it. And of course it helps to be quite familiar with the music already. This book has a nice balance of commentary on lyrics, on music, and on general background and context. And the author is a novelist who is intelligent and interesting to read. He was captivated by the album when he was about 15, and he writes about that experience. I was 24 or 25 when the album came out. In any case, we were both in that susceptible age when music makes an indelible imprint. In the late 1970's I was living in LA doing a PhD at UCLA. I had a friend who was doing an MA in Film, and he was into the punk scene there. He had grown up in Pittsburgh and knew Chris Frantz (TH drummer) from high school. So he introduced me to the TH music as soon as it came out (1977). I saw the TH perform at UCLA outdoors on 11/19/78 and then at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland on 12/18/78. In fact I met them briefly before the Agora concert b/c I helped the chef (a friend of my brother's) prepare and serve the pre-show dinner that was catered for them. (Another "connection": one of my prof's at UCLA--Rogers Albritton--had known Jerry Harrison (guitar/keyboards) at Harvard when Harrison was a student there.) I found the author's commentary and contextualization unfailingly interesting. One thing that I have always wondered about is the transition in "Memories Can't Wait" at 2:22 or so, where the lyrics are "Everything is very quiet." It is a most wonderful moment, and I have always wondered how to characterize it. Is it a key change? The author (p. 71) calls this point "a musical transition that is also a release" and that "a harsh wheeling pitch now smooths itself into mournfulness." On p. 105 he comes back to this passage and says that the song "changes gears." I appreciated that the author was as fascinated by this passage as I was. Having mentioned that this was (probably) my favorite album of all time, I decided to offer my top-10 list, in chronological order: Beatles, Abbey Road (1969) Derek and the Dominoes, Layla and Other Love Songs (1970) Who, Who's Next (1971) Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street (1972) Roxy Music, Stranded or perhaps Country Life (both in 1974) Bob Dylan, Hard Rain (live) (1976) Talking Heads, Fear of Music (1979) Richard and Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights (1982) Neil Young, Ragged Glory (1990) U2, Achtung Baby (1991) Clearly a baby-boomer, stuck in the past.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Garrett Peace

    Possibly my favorite 33 1/3 book I've read so far. You can see my thoughts on the others on here as well, although I'll note that, in many ways, this resembles the Murmur book. This isn't really about the album Fear of Music or, at least, not so much about its recording, the historical context, and so on that the other 33 1/3 books I've read have focused on. Instead, it's about the deep and intense relationship that can develop when one encounters a certain piece of music at the right time (usua Possibly my favorite 33 1/3 book I've read so far. You can see my thoughts on the others on here as well, although I'll note that, in many ways, this resembles the Murmur book. This isn't really about the album Fear of Music or, at least, not so much about its recording, the historical context, and so on that the other 33 1/3 books I've read have focused on. Instead, it's about the deep and intense relationship that can develop when one encounters a certain piece of music at the right time (usually, and in this case, at a young age). Lethem gives astoundingly detailed analyses of the songs on Fear of Music, so much so that it starts to get old after a while, but Lethem's focus on "the boy in his room" (i.e. his teenage self) and his relationship with the album is what makes this book so fascinating, as he clearly and thoroughly documents the relationship between the record and the boy and the tension within himself between the boy and his older, more knowledgeable, present counterpart. Such a relationship and the tension that comes with it through age is something that I can relate to all too well, and his descriptions of his obsession with Fear of Music are also quite familiar. It's true that Lethem's prose can become overwrought, as well as laughably over-analytical in interpretation, but it's hard to fault him for it too much: it's kind of the point. In that regard, I would say that Fear of Music (the book) is similar to the recent documentary Room 237, which shows several wide-ranging interpretations of The Shining. Sure, you can take Lethem's interpretations as completely valid. They're certainly well- and idiosyncratically-argued. But the point is ultimately found, for me, not so much in the interpretations so much as in the act of (obsessive, over-analytical) interpreting. That's what I ultimately think this book is about and Lethem does a fine job of showing that - almost too fine, really, as it starts to get grating near the end (as other GR reviews will tell you). Still, as a music obsessive, I related thoroughly to Lethem's book-length portrait of "the boy in his room." Like the album Fear of Music (my personal favorite Talking Heads record), Fear of Music the book resonated quite strongly with me.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.