Hunting the wild Klosterman

By CAMILLE DODERO  |  October 5, 2006

Four years passed, during which he wrote about things like eating nothing but Chicken McNuggets for a week (this was eight years before SuperSize Me). Through a series of well-timed coincidences, he then landed an arts-section newspaper slot in Akron, Ohio, where he received a hefty $30,000 raise. So he bought a computer. Meanwhile, he didn’t know anybody in Akron. “I said, ‘If there’s ever a chance for me to have written a book, it’s now.’ ”

That manuscript became Fargo Rock City, his first-person testament to obsession — in this case, late-’80s hair-metal bands like Def Leppard, Winger, and Whitesnake. As a joke, Klosterman printed his home phone number in the introduction and strangers started calling. One of them was ex–Talking Head David Byrne, who invited Klosterman (who’d posed in a cornfield for his dust-jacket photo) to read alongside he and Dave Eggers in New York City. There, well-connected editors in the audience offered him the sorts of high-profile bylines (Spin, New York Times Magazine) that J-school kids from North Dakota dream of, although Klosterman claims he never dreamed bigger than a daily-reporting job in Minneapolis. To this day, he’s often quoted as saying — and thus solidifying his regular-dude persona — “What do you do when your real life completely usurps your dreams?”

Since then, Klosterman has been hired to badger the likes of Britney Spears, Bono, Steve Nash, and Billy Joel (who consequently hates him) and repackage these inquisitions as glossy-magazine ruminations. He says he asks questions that intrigue him personally (like why Spears chooses to dresses provocatively); often his profiles end up being insightful, clever meditations on concepts like self-awareness, persona, authenticity, and how those abstractions relate back to his subjects. He can also be funny: he once said to Robert Plant, “On ‘Whole Lotta Love’ you say you’re going to give some girl ‘every inch’ of your love. But you’re British. Why don’t you use the metric system?” Or when Spears tells him that if she wasn’t a pop star, she’d be a schoolteacher . . . or an entertainment lawyer. He counters, “For a moment, I think this is a joke. But it’s brilliant. Schoolteacher, entertainment lawyer, pop star, African warlord — what’s the fucking difference?” And the breadth of what he covers — sports, reality TV, KISS, tribute bands, breakfast-cereal ads, Olive Garden meals, himself — tends to net him disparate followers.

Klosterman’s prose is windy and gonzo and almost always first person. His essay style reads like a volley of whiskey talk. It’s like being out drinking with friends, when someone randomly declares that people who say they like “every kind of music except country” are “the most wretched people in the world.” That causes a barstool sparring-match about old country versus Nashville country versus alt-country; Toby Keith and Lucinda Williams and Uncle Tupelo are all presented as evidence for points no one will later recall. But then someone will have to piss, someone else will remember they’ve been meaning to tell the story of how their friend once danced with a serial killer, and the dialogue will move on to John Wayne Gacy. That’s how a Chuck Klosterman book flows, except one voice orchestrates the entire conversation.

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