The truth is, I first hated Chuck Klosterman. The reason for this is simple: The first piece of his that I read was the Lloyd Dobbler essay that starts Sex, Drugs, and Coca Puffs. The premise is that every woman of a certain age wants Lloyd Dobbler, the sensitive, kickboxing, eminently quotable character played by John Cusack in Say Anything. Lloyd has awesome female friends (including Lili Taylor, whose “Joe Lies” is another of those eminently quotable pre-Vanilla Sky Cameron Crowe creations); guides his love interest, Diane Court (Ione Skye), around broken glass in a mini-market parking lot (spurring an MxPx lyric that goes, “Do you care when I tell you / step around that broken glass?” sung with all the earnestness a Christian pop-punk band from Bremerton can muster, which is considerable); doesn’t want to be part of the machine; and, most famously, stands outside Diane’s window holding a boom box above his head as Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” plays (and thereby rendering many of us women of a certain age embarrassingly susceptible to this song).
The problem with this essay? My entire response was a big DUH. Duh, Chuck. Everyone knows this. This is so obvious it doesn’t merit saying. It embarrasses me to have to read it put into words â€”Â by a dude, no less!
I put down the book and didn’t pick it back up again. But I read a few Klosterman columns in Spin, and I observed from the sidelines as what seemed like an entire generation of geeks and would-be geeks went cuckoo for Klosterman puffs. I watched, I read a little, I forgot about it. I noticed he had new books. A very trusted friend had told me, ages before, that my secret-metal-past self really ought to read Fargo Rock City, and I still wanted to. Kind of.
But I didn’t.
And then, one evening, I mixed up the start time of my writing group with the start time of my nerdy book group and found myself at a friend’s house half an hour early. I sat on her leopard print lounge-sofa thing and picked up Killing Yourself to Live from the side table to entertain myself with, thereby staying out of her way.
And that was that. I saw it, all of a sudden: the combination of self-centered semi-charm, wit, cleverness and a willingness to insert himself into things that everyone already knows, thereby making them a little different, that makes Klosterman work. Maybe that doesn’t make any sense. But imagine a story that you know that’s kind of interesting. Maybe it’s about a dead rock star. Isn’t it fun to imagine that the story would be even more interesting if you wrote yourself into it, somehow? If you and your relationship problems, alone in a car on a road trip, could perhaps add to the famous story? No, that’s not a good explanation either. But Klosterman is Klosterman (TM) because he writes himself into things everyone already knows, and he somehow, mysteriously, makes them more interesting that way. I think.
This is also, of course, why some people don’t like Klosterman: They’re not interested in him, and you pretty much have to be interested in him to be interested in the way he writes about things.
Eventually I had to put down Killing Yourself to Live and pay attention to my writing group, who had some very helpful things to say about a “story” (in quotes to indicate the fact that it was a very thinly disguised slice of the summer of 2000) that I’ve not touched since. But I have, since then, read all the Klosterman I could get my hands on. Even Cocoa Puffs. In some places, it was great that I hadn’t read him before; for instance, I wouldn’t have been able to properly appreciate the story about Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash if I hadn’t, the year before, very quickly learned to appreciate Steve Nash.
But there’s one real reason I fell for the image of Chuck Klosterman he presents in his books, and began to get that weird, sort of ooky feeling like, “I totally get this guy! We should be friends!” True story: I fell for the Klosterman thing because of one sentence. One I should have written down, but in essence, it said that the last few minutes of Guns N’ Roses “Rocket Queen” are some of the best rock music minutes ever. Not in those words, but that, if I’m not mistaken, was the sentiment.
This is true. This, to a fan of anything that falls under the rock music umbrella, should be undeniable. You have to wade through the (fake, one hopes) orgasm sounds to get to this part of the song, but then, all of a sudden, like a downpour ending when you step outside, the good part arrives. The pretty part. The sensitive part. The part so sweet it puts “Sweet Child O’ Mine” to shame.
And why am I writing about this now? Because over at Esquire.com, Klosterman has a very entertaining column up that examines the kind of music he likes, and whether it says anything about him. It’s perceptive and funny, and my favorite line is this: “it appears my dream musical creation would be a white, semigay metal band that features soaring background vocals while battling anorexia.” You’l have to read the piece for this to make sense. But you’ll also have to listen: Klosterman has thoughtfully provided little clips of the bits of music that he likes best.
I listened to a lot of them, but not all. I’m definitely with him on “Nightswimming” and “Since U Been Gone” and obviously “Rocket Queen,” but I strongly dislike both “Dance the Night Away” (especially the backing vocals) and “Layla.” But what else would I add to this list? Off the top of my head, without clips:
The end of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” where it builds and builds and builds until destroying itself.
The beginning of Superchunk’s cover of Magnetic Fields’ “100,000 Fireflies,” as Mac yelps “I have a mandolin / I play it all night long / It makes me want to kill myself!”
Pretty much everything on the Rushmore soundtrack
The palm-muted (I think) guitar bits in Jawbreaker’s “Chesterfield King,” as Blake Schwarzenbach sings “Gave her a dime / and a Chesterfield / She bent down to kiss my cheek / I was scared but it felt sweet.” Or really pretty much anytime in a Jawbreaker song where there’s a choppy, muted guitar part and Blake’s sort of chanting. There should be more Jawbreaker knockoff bands.
Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow harmonizing. Period.
Teenage Fanclub’s “Is This Music?” In high school, I thought it was bizarro bagpipes. I’m still not exactly sure what it is.
OK, I’m going to come back to this, because I’m at work without my CD collection and I want to make this list longer and better and more thorough. Also, to be honest, it needs to have some hair metal in it for sure. But no power ballads!
* You must read this post-colon part of the title as if it’s being yelped by cowboy-hat-wearing Jon on the second season of The Real World. It goes something like this: “Tar-ooo stah-oray!”