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Talking Heads’ ‘Fear of Music’ Revisited by 33 1/3 Book Series

Talking Heads
Lawrence Lucier, Getty Images

Writing about music, they say, is like dancing about architecture. But the 33 1/3 book series does it more gracefully than most, looking at some of the most important albums of the rock era with a collection of short tomes that can offer everything from an oral history of the records to highly personal reflections on the music’s meaning. This week, the 1979 Talking Heads album ‘Fear of Music’ gets the 33 1/3 treatment, courtesy of author Jonathan Lethem.

Lethem, an award-winning novelist whose honors include a MacArthur Fellowship, offers a take on the album that “scratches obsessively at the album’s songs, guitars, rhythms, lyrics, packaging, downtown origins, and legacy, showing how ‘Fear of Music’ hints at the directions (positive and negative) the band would take in the future,” according to the publisher. “Lethem transports us again to the New York City of another time – tackling one of his great adolescent obsessions and illuminating the ways in which we fall in and out of love with works of art.”

Released in August 1979, ‘Fear of Music’ found the band working with producer Brian Eno for the first time, resulting in such classic Talking Heads songs as ‘I Zimbra,’ ‘Life During Wartime,’ and ‘Heaven.’ Although it rose no higher than No. 21 on Billboard’s album chart, and wasn’t certified gold until 1985, ‘Fear’ was critically hailed from the beginning, and its experiments with world music proved highly influential — not only on the band’s future releases, but on rock during the ’80s in general.

If you’re on the fence about purchasing it — or just can’t wait until later this week when it reaches stores — Continuum Books is offering a pre-release glimpse at Lethem’s ‘Fear of Music’ book. Click here to have an advance look at the first 23 pages.

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