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Talking Heads' Fear of Music (33 1/3) Paperback – April 26, 2012

2.7 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“By far the biggest name in the 33 1/3 roster of writers, Jonathan Lethem is no music critic, but an award-winning fiction writer ... His take on Talking Heads' 1979 album forgoes fiction for first-person criticism, in which Lethem's teenage self acts as a sympathetic protagonist. Even as he plumbs each song on Fear of Music for meaning and significance, he uses the album as a point against which he can measure his own growth as a listener, becoming older and wiser and hungrier for connection with each year and with each listen.” ―Stephen M. Deusner, Pitchfork

About the Author

Jonathan Lethem is one of the most acclaimed American novelists of his generation. His books include Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, and Chronic City. His essays about James Brown and Bob Dylan have appeared in Rolling Stone. He is Roy Edward Disney Professor in Creative Writing at Pomona College, US.

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Product Details

  • Series: 33 1/3
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic (April 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1441121005
  • ISBN-13: 978-1441121004
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 0.4 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I hate to be critical of this author, because I consider him to be one of our greatest working novelists. Fortress of Solitude is probably my favorite novel of the past 20 years, at least. But he should not write music criticism. There are hardly any good ideas in this book, and it is groan-inducingly bad in many places. I would never have finished it if it weren't so short. It is almost entirely devoid of true inspiration or insight. The main theme of the book is this: This album really, really blew my mind when I was a precocious teenager in the greatest city in the whole world! Variations on this theme are interspersed with dull, wooden attempts at snappy but probing exegesis. You can feel him counting the words to meet his quota.

I'm sorry to pan this, but I consider it a public service. Upped a star because of how much I respect Lethem's fiction and other brilliant essays. I can't hang with this man intellectually, but I also can't hang with this book.
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Format: Paperback
Perhaps I've been out of the loop, but the question I have reading Jonathan Lethem's "Talking Heads Fear Of Music" is when did intentional Attention Deficit Disorder become celebrated with prose in popular culture? Maybe it begins with this book. I have tried repeatedly to plough through the author's series of ramblings on The Talking Heads "Fear Of Music," and each time, I lasted about three pages before calling it quits. It's not a question of my inability to scavenge through a torrent of art history debris. I've been confronted with dada, surrealism, shamanism, post WW I Lost Generation, Post WWII Eisenhowerism/John Cage(ism) and so on for many years now.
The only cohesion on offer in this zippy little book is a continual reference to the author's pre- teenage years when he first heard the album. He refers to this as, "the boy in the room," era of his development. It was nifty the first couple of times he used the term, and then it wore out its welcome as a structural point in his meta essay. And honestly, we don't know very much about this boy in the room. Did he also play with G.I. Joe? Why was this album his only friend, and possibly a substitute for something lacking? He might have explored that a little. He mentions having a college girlfriend, and sitting on a mattress on the floor in a student's apartment with this friend, listening to Al Green, and attempting to explain why Al Green is a luminary, not only in R and B circles, but in the wider American popular culture during the Vietnam years. I enjoyed reading about his college years, and I wanted to hear more, but that sort of content was meager.
The only thing I seem to be getting from this romp through experimentalism, and I'm not sure if I'll try again to pick it up to make sense of it (Oh, I get it, Stop Making Sense!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you are buying this because you're a fan of Talking Heads, as I am, I can guarantee you that this egocentric and narcissistic book by Jonathan Lethem will anger you. I want my money back. I want my time back. Awful book.
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Format: Paperback
If you like Talking Heads (and come on, who doesn't?), and if you like Jonathan Lethem... or maybe a better way to phrase that: if you are interested in the way that Lethem's brain works, with the tangential side comments, brilliantly multifaceted paranoid obsessions and intertextual references, and finally, if you are fascinated by downtown New York in the late 70s, then it doesn't really get any better than this, does it? Lethem doesn't live in New York anymore, but it's obvious that New York has left a deep impression on the wiring of his brain, and he finds a sympathetic open circuit to plug into in this exploration of Fear of Music.

If you want to know the specific microphones Eno used to record the album, or what sorts of things the band members were fighting about when the album was produced, this may not be the 33 1/3 you are looking for. I actually love that sort of thing too, but this book is about more than that. The book covers Talking Heads, but it also covers Jonathan Lethem...and there are shades of Lionel Essrog and Perkus Tooth thrown in for good measure. It's a privilege to watch this guy's mind at work, and it's also a pretty wild ride.
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Format: Paperback
Seriously useless. Lethem's a skilled writer and his love of the album is without question, but this is not a book about "Fear of Music", it's a book about Lethem himself. Right off the bat Lethem says "I installed a program to block the internet from my computer while writing this book. No interviews were done, no outside perspectives are included." Well, thanks, I guess that lets you know what to expect: a book not about The Talking Heads' "Fear of Music", but a book about Jonathan Lethem, set against a backdrop of how he feels about Fear of Music. What are the songs about? Dunno, that's not in the book. You get Lethem's impressions of what the songs are about. Who wrote what? What were the live shows like? What did Eno do? How did the band feel about the album then, have their thoughts and feelings about it changed since then? How was the album recieved and does it stand the test of time? None of this and more is in the book. Lots of stuff about Lethem and what it's like being Jonathan Lethem and how much Fear of Music blew him away when he was 16. I suppose this is really interesting if you're a fan of Jonathan Lethem and also kind of like the Talking Heads.
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