Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Collections: Chuck Klosterman IV

Featuring the articles:  Bending Spoons with Britney Spears, Mysterious Days, Crazy Things Seem Normal, Normal Things Seem Crazy, Viva Morrissey!, The Amazing McNugget Diet/McDiculous, The Karl Marx of the Hardwood, That ‘70s Cruise, In the Beginning, There Was Zoso/Not a Whole Lotta Love, Band on the Couch, Garage Days Unvisited, Something Wicked This Way Comes, No More Knives, Ghost Story, Local Clairvoyants Split Over Future, The Stranger, Dude Rocks Like a Lady, Untitled Geezer Profile, The Ratt Trap/How Real is Real/The Tenth Beatle/Here’s “Johnny”, To Be Scene, or Not to Be Seen

And the essays:  Nemesis, Advancement, I Do Not Hate the Olympics, Three Stories Involving Pants, Don’t Look Back in Anger, Not Guilty, Cultural Betrayal, Monogamy, Certain Bands You Probably Like, Pirates, Robots, Super People, Television, Singularity

And the story:  You Tell Me

Chuck Klosterman made his name as a first-rate pop culture writer with the heavy metal-themed memoir Fargo Rock City (2001), but has since divided his time between writing articles for magazines such as Spin and Esquire and publishing the occasional piece of fiction like the novel Downtown Owl (2008).  Most of Klosterman’s best nonfiction pieces appear in his best-selling essay collections Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (2003) and Eating the Dinosaur (2009).  The rest are grouped together in Chuck Klosterman IV:  A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas (2006).  Though the title is ostensibly a jokey reference to Led Zeppelin’s fourth album (technically untitled but commonly referred to as Led Zeppelin IV), Chuck Klosterman IV feels less like a watershed moment than it does a set of B-sides and outtakes.

That isn’t to say that IV is a waste of anybody’s time.  The tone throughout is breezy and fun, and though many of the pieces don’t transcend their origins as magazine articles, it’s hard to deny that Klosterman is better at writing about pop culture than just about anybody.  IV’s best articles tend to either emphasize Klosterman’s relative distance from the people he is supposed to be profiling or use their subjects to make a deeper and more general statement about our culture.  The opening piece about Britney Spears is a surprisingly engaging example of the former, as Klosterman is flustered by Spears’ apparently sincere obliviousness to the Madonna/whore complex that she nonetheless aggressively exploited in her rise to fame.  A eulogy for Johnny Carson is a fine example of Klosterman using his ostensible subject to speak more generally to cultural phenomena, as he somehow turns an obituary into a persuasive argument that the plethora of choices that we are offered in our society makes us “consciously happier, but unconsciously sadder.”  More often, the articles are well-written and engaging but ultimately disposable, as is the case with some fairly standard pieces about thoroughly-covered bands like Radiohead and The White Stripes.  A number of the snarkier essays are funny and will provide a great deal of amusement for music geeks (a list of the “ten most accurately rated artists in rock history” is a highlight), but they tend not to get beyond a surface level of entertainment.

The most interesting pieces in IV are not necessarily the best.  A 1995 story about Fargo’s local rock scene (written when Klosterman was 23) is amusingly earnest and clumsy in comparison to Klosterman’s current, mature style, and feels like the germ of what would ultimately develop into Fargo Rock CityIV concludes with what would’ve been the opening 34 pages of a never-finished novella entitled You Tell Me, the fictional story of a sexually frustrated small town movie critic (written at a time when Klosterman was in real life a small town movie critic who may have also been sexually frustrated, but who probably did not have an apparently suicidal woman land on his car, as happens to the protagonist of the story).   These diversions are interesting and provide some unique glimpses into Klosterman’s writing style.  But like too much of IV, they feel inessential, suggesting that another of the book’s subtitles should’ve been For Fans Only.

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