Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Have Fear

In a simpler time James Brown & His Famous Flames or Huey Lewis & the News wove a series of place names into a song like "Night Train" or "The Heart of Rock and Roll," embedding a shout-out to fans listening on radios "all over the world," a tradition which obviously  originated in more personalized onstage salutes, as well as stage props like the place-name-stickered guitar case.  (Chuck Berry made a career of such songs.  The obverse of this love-of-localities is the generic joke of the lead singer so befuddled about destinations in the course of a long tour that he hails the wrong city.  "We love you Minneap - uh, Detroit!"

Several 1978 Talking Heads shows in the US heartland opened with "Big Country": Wouldn't live here, thank you very much, now here's our act.  Call this having the courage of your convictions.  "Cities," a year later, can't yet be troubled to make too sincere a retraction.

That's from Jonathan Lethem's book on Talking Heads' Fear of Music.  A short book, yes, but a whole book.  It's part of Continuum Books' 33 1/3 series (where your supposed to see a little 1 over a little 3, but blogger layout doesn't support that) where writers and in some cases musicians do a close reading of various albums.

From a music appreciation standpoint it's unnecessary.  I mean, my ears are pretty much all I need in order to appreciate Talking Heads.  On the other hand, music isn't just music but what it does to you.  And what it does to other people.  So there is something to be gained from hearing someone else's feedback, maybe.  And Lethem, who I've already enjoyed as a novelist, certainly seems keyed up about the project.


susan said...

The Fear of Music concert was one of the all time best, n'est pas? It's certainly true they never had to kowtow to anywhere once they got out of CBGB's.

The Jonathan Letham book does sound pretty interesting, but I can understand your point that there's no way you can describe music by writing about it. You just had to be there.

ps: I don't know if you have a text edit program but when I want to use fractions in a post I look under 'special characters'.

Ben said...

Being there - i.e. hearing and digging the music - is a definite prerequisite. You can't really start with the book. But I repeat/clarify, I like the book a lot. Lethem is clearly a fan and reading it is sort of like the chance to chat with him in the corner of some cannabis-filled loft.

I've never been able to find the "special characters" on Blogger. I know where they are on Word, but cutting and pasting has its own issues. I'll keep looking, though.