Wednesday, May 20, 2009

DC, San Antone and the Liberty Town, Boston and Baton Rouge

Chuck Klosterman keeps me up at night. And not in a good way. I just can’t figure it out. I’ve read all of his books except for that novel that he wrote because his first hack at noveldom in Chuck Klosterman IV was painful for me to read and I thought was surely just an exorcising of Creative Writing demons. On paper, Chuck Klosterman should be my hero. I should have posters of Chuck Klosterman on my wall with little comet shaped stickers around his head and I should, much like I once spelled out the Poison logo in lime green thumbtacks on my bedroom wall when I was 10, have some sort of CK logo drawn somewhere on a notebook at work as a secret tip of the hat to the Klos. But I don’t. In fact, there are times when I grapple with whether or not he is the most irritating and self-flagellating human on the face of the Earth or not.

It just doesn’t make sense. Again, let’s go back to his numbers. He’s a former small-town rock writer. Me too! He’s a sports nut. Hey, me too! He not only admits to being a slave to, but also genuflects at, the throne of pop culture which is something I am ashamed to admit eats away more and more free Amanda RAM with each passing day. He is so self-centered as to see parallels and life lessons between all his failed relationships and inner-neuroses and, say, the Lakers /Celtics rivalry. Yep, I think I am that important sometimes too. So why do I sometimes feel like I hate him so much?

I think he is a good writer. Not a fantastic, great, burn-your-likeness-on-the-moon type writer (typewriter?) but an amusing read. In fact, I love Chuck Klosterman IV because I think it shows what he actually is, a great magazine writer. Not a manifesto writer. Not the Thoreau of our age put into some sort of pop culture Cuisinart. He writes entertaining articles about things like why Mexicans love Morrissey and how bizarre it is to go on a cruise with Journey and Styx and their fans. My favorite part of IV is the part where he re-visits one of his first columns that he wrote as a music journalist back in North Dakota covering the Fargo scene. I get particular jollies out of it because, as a writer, it’s always incredibly humbling and laughable to go back and read something that your cocky, younger self wrote when you were pretty sure that you were the Carl Sandburg of local music media, only to realize that you were trying so hard that it’s kind of amazing that the pages of the weekly didn’t actually emit a groaning sound when opened.

I love the fact that he footnotes the more laughable lines from the piece and adds perspective from Six Years Later Chuck. Again, I find him to be an incredibly self-absorbed and self-congratulatory person so I’m conflicted over whether that bit of self-critique is actually humility or just a chance for him to stare at old pictures of himself and remark on what a handsome fellow he has always been.

Now comes the part where I tell you why I think I hate Chuck Klosterman. Other than his collected articles and bits and pieces of his essays, his writings are collectively like the literary equivalent of “The Heart of Rock and Roll” by Huey Lewis and the News. And I don’t mean that in a good way. I can’t fault Huey Lewis for finding a cheap gimmick and riding it like a hooker he cashed in his Harrah’s chips for. What’s the easiest way to elicit a reaction out of the largest number of people? Say the name of the city they live in. “Hey, that’s us! I know that thing he just said! I am familiar with that! I live in that city! I feel a bond with this artist and therefore find this song to be, inherently, kickass.” That’s what Klosterman does and it bugs the shit out of me.

“Words words words words words words (Band Name) words words words words (Failed, Kitschy Two-Season TV Show from the Late 1980’s That Band Could Be the Musical Equivalent Of) words words words (Name of Nintendo Game You Played in 4th Grade) words words words (Awkwardly Shoehorned-In Life Topic Which Could Be De-Mystified by the Aforementioned Pieces of Pop Culture Detritus). "

If you are a Chuck Klosterman fan, fine. But ask yourself, do you like him because you feel like his frame of reference is similar to your because he mentions songs that you know, bands that you like and movie characters that also annoy you? If so, do you (and it’s fine if you don’t, I just happen to) feel kind of like that’s kind of cheap? Like going to an old folks home and offering them pudding or a screening of Gone With the Wind just to lure them into the naptime room. And yes, I do sometimes refer to Chuck Klosterman’s work alternately as “the naptime room.”

Then there’s the dealbreaker. The fact that Klosterman regularly paints himself as Chuck Klosterman: Heartbreaker, Ladykiller and All-Around Pants Earthquaker. There’s something either laughable or disturbing about his instance on fitting in, at any opportunity, another mention of his ability to break the hearts of girls far and wide. I may be blowing that out of proportion and it might only be a minor theme in his work but let me just A/B his angle and the angle of someone whose work doesn’t make me stabby, Will Leitch. Despite many reprimands from some male friends (imagine a sports nerd version of the song “Leader of the Pack”, minus the fatal motorcycle accident, when you imagine this conversation) telling me that Will Leitch is no good and he roots for the Cardinals and he’s just a hayseed who got too much blogfame too fast and I shouldn’t think so highly of him, I dig Will Leitch. When I want to read something that I feel akin to, I read something like Life of a Loser. Not in some self-deprecating (that’s not the one where you poo on yourself, by the way), Sassy magazine grunge layout kind of way. But because I just can’t identify with Klosterman’s self-absorbedness and bravado about just how clever he is. It doesn’t matter whether or not you think Chuck Klosterman is the wittiest thing since Oscar Wilde bread because Chuck Klosterman thinks so already.

So maybe I’m in the minority here. Maybe everyone else gains some sense of comfort like when the Downy bear falls into the pile of freshly laundered and folded towels when they read a Chuck Klosterman book and hear him drum on incessantly about his life, his insecurities and how he is completely irreverent because he likes hair metal in a non-ironic way. But I think it kind of murders my soul a little bit every time I read it.

Let’s see if I can explain this in a more Kloster-tastic fashion. You know how we all know that song “18 and Life” by Skid Row? You know how when someone sings it at karaoke, everyone sings along because we all laugh about how we all actually like that song and know the lyrics to it? You know like how Ricky was a young boy who had a heart of stone, worked 9 to 5. * Well, you know that part about where Ricky had tequila in his heartbeat (huh?) and his veins were burning gasoline (ouch!) and he fired his six shot in the wind and shot a kid? That kid is my literary patience and Chuck Klosterman is Ricky. There, better?

* He worked his fingers to the bone.


Grandpa Walton said...

How does one ruthlessly destroy a writer? Lavishly praise his mediocrities.

Good night, Amanda.

Anonymous said...

less writers = better life for the rest of the world.