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Professor Jonathan Lethem Authors New 33-1/3 Series Book on the Talking Heads' Album, "Fear of Music"

Fear of Music book cover

In Professor Jonathan Lethem’s latest book, Fear of Music, the author and critic takes on the Talking Heads’ seminal 1979 album for the Continuum Books' 33-1/3 series, which pairs authors with important popular music albums.

"Talking Heads' Fear of Music is an album that takes alienated, dystopian urban landscapes and the persona of the neurotic bohemian misfit and exalts the latter as a way of understanding and enduring the former,” says Lethem, who joined Pomona College in 2011 as the Roy E. Disney Professor in Creative Writing.

“It arrived in my life in 1979 seeming perfectly designed to help the 15-year-old Jonathan organize his own teenage apprehension and anxiety into something halfway attractive -- at least to himself. That's to say, listening to it, as well as allowing me to laugh and dance to the tune of my own fear, also helped me get a first glimmerings of how I could convert that stuff into some kind of sensibility."

In an article on, writer Brian Gresko says Lethem’s pairing with the Talking Heads makes perfect sense: “Both can’t escape being identified with New York – or, in Lethem’s case, Brooklyn – and despite working in disparate modes, each brings the formalism and precision of the high arts to popular forms.”

Lethem is embarking on a short book tour for Fear of Music, beginning April 19 at Claremont’s Rhino Records (235 Yale Ave.), accompanied by bands playing Talking Heads classics. At Rhino and at Skylight Books in Los Angeles on April 29, Big Mess will play after Lethem reads selections from his book. On June 6, Winterpills will be the musical guest when Lethem reads at the Watch City Brewery in Waltham, Massachusetts.

The 33-1/3 series examines popular music albums from the last several decades, exploring the story behind the album, as well as the authors’ perception and criticism of the work. Fear of Music is the 86th title in the series. Other authors in the series include John Darnielle PI ’95 of The Mountain Goats examining Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality; critic Douglas Wolk, who wrote about James Brown’s Live at the Apollo; and social and technology historian and critic Eric Davis, who wrote Led Zeppelin IV.

A prolific writer, Lethem is the author of eight novels and five short story collections, as well as two collections of essays, a comic and a novella. His book Motherless Brooklyn (1999) won a National Book Critics’ Circle Award and a Salon Book Award, and his recent essay collection The Ecstacy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. (2011) was nominated for a National Book Critics’ Circle Award.

In 2010, he wrote They Live, a critical examination of the 1988 John Carpenter film, for Deep Focus, a Soft Skull Press series similar to the 33-1/3 series but for films.

He is also the author of Gun, with Occasional Music (1994); Amnesia Moon (1995); As She Climbed Across the Table (1997); Girl in Landscape(1998); Fortress of Solitude (2003); You Don’t Love Me Yet (2007); and Chronic City (2009). His comic, Omega the Unknown, was published in 2007. He is the editor of The Vintage Book of Amnesia (2001) and the 2002 Da Capo Best Music Writing: The Year’s Finest Writing on Rock, Pop, Jazz, Country and More, and the co-editor of The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (2011). He has contributed essays to Rolling StoneHarper’s MagazineBookforum and