Jonathan Lethem's latest is a book in the 33 1/3 series, Talking Heads' Fear of Music, a tribute to Talking Heads brilliant, seminal album, one of the greatest records of all time. In Wired, Geeta Dayal interviews Lethem about his book and the approach he took, and leaves me drooling for the chance to read it myself:
Lethem chose not to take a journalistic approach with Fear of Music; there are no interviews with the band members, Eno or anyone else involved in the album’s creation. “I didn’t want this to be a kind of post-mortem reconstruction,” Lethem said. “I wanted the entire record to spring from my encounter with it — the tangle of ideas that continued to stick from that experience.”
The core characters in Lethem’s book are the band’s four members. “What I was arguing for was the sanctity of the foursome,” Lethem said. “The collaborative unit of more or less equal parts.”
Fear of Music, Lethem said, turned out to be “really slippery” as a subject. The album seemed to raise more questions than it answered.
“Is it the band? Is it Eno? Is it David Byrne? Is it 1979? Is it punk?” Lethem said. “I’m still really interested in unearthing, excavating in that book the feeling of that band, and what they signified. Even the dress and the haircuts and the weird clarity of the song titles, and the arty minimalism of their album designs — all of this seemed to be saying something.”
Lethem’s passion for the group comes through forcefully in his writing. “Talking Heads were the definitive New York rock band,” Lethem declares in the book. “Manhattan band, if you want to give the outer boroughs to the Ramones.” Later, he writes, “The violence of my identification with Fear of Music remains durably interesting to me even after I debunk it by shifting into this bland generational perspective, even after I admit it really isn’t violence, except in a there’s a war in my mind kind of way.”