Jonathan Lethem on Talking Heads' Fear of Music (33 1/3 / Continuum)

For Lethem, “Life During Wartime” is the band’s pinnacle, and the song is still a hell of a thing to hear. (A point about Talking Heads not often enough made: they cooked. Byrne was the funkiest white man in pop until Flea showed up.) But most of the iTunes generation has never heard it. 

– James Verini, writing about Lethem's take on the Talking Heads' album Fear of Music in the New Yorker's Culture Desk blog.

Here's the iconic version of their song in Jonathan Demme's concert movie, Stop Making Sense – very probably the time & place where I fell in love with the Talking Heads. Here is David Byrne, outside of the legendary Big Suit, just his wiry self and the rest of the Heads and a kickass touring band.

This new entry in Continuum's epic & much-loved ongoing series about classic albums, 33 1/3, is just the latest to demonstrate how a well-matched author with the right band & album can reignite a true fan's love for an album recorded years ago – or lead new fans to a great band for the first time. The complete list of books in the series is available here

Diving deep with Lethem, it's a real journey of re-discovery for me. He's clearly a bigger fan of the Talking Heads than I ever was, and it feels to me like he brought his entire suite of creative powers to this book. It's short but powerful, sentimental, obsessively focused, and insightful. 

The NYT Book Review summarized it this way earlier this month:

This is from a true fan who is now a writer who writes beautiful books. I began to wonder if my copy of the record “Fear of Music” could hold up under the weight of all those words. I put it on and listened. It can. It’s a great record.

Fear of Music
Jonathan Lethem
Continuum | 9781551121004 | $12.95 | Apr 2012


The 33 1/3 series continues to develop and grow - the latest elimination round from the 2012 Call for Entries was just posted. 471 proposals were sent in, 94 were chosen to continue on to the next round.