Hanging With: Chuck Klosterman
Chuck Klosterman has been here before. Not here literally, in Looney Tunes Records on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, where he killed time one recent afternoon between readings at Boston University and the Brattle Theatre. But he’s been here fi guratively, in the netherworld between staged events and actual experiences that journalism often straddles. Journalists and their subjects can’t truly hang out as friends would, he pointed out, because the objective of their time together is to create an experience for readers.
In this case, the goal was to see what Klosterman does when he’s not penning the hilarious, deeply human celebrity profi les and pop culture essays collected in his new book, “Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas.” These magazine stories have led Klosterman to kick it at home with Val Kilmer and take a high-speed jaunt through Dublin with Bono, so Klosterman knows a thing or two about the art of the interview. It’s just that lately he’s found himself on the other side of the tape recorder, and the change has caused some discomfort, as suggested by his white T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Fictional Character.” When Klosterman travels to promote his books, he usually spends his limited free time watching ESPN and getting to know the mini-bar in his hotel room. But when he has the chance to explore a new city like Boston, which he had visited once before to interview Aerosmith, he usually seeks out record stores and bars. Not that he buys much music, though. Music critics tend to get most of their CDs for free, and he’s not a vinyl snob who collects obscure imports. He doesn’t even own a record player.
But he clearly loves music and has a keen eye for the often bizarre graphic gold mine that is album art.
As he perused the bins at Looney Tunes, he kept up a steady stream of witty banter — even comparing his own strawberry blond beard to the thick facial hair Bob Seger sports on the cover of his 1978 album, “Stranger in Town.”
“I’ve been touring a lot, so I can really relate to Bob Seger now,” he said, laughing.
He paused at Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy,” whose cover features elfi n children climbing naked over rocky terrain. “You couldn’t have this cover anymore,” he said. “You’d get accused of pedophilia.”
Zeppelin is one of Klosterman’s favorite bands, but it’s not among his top five. That would be KISS, the Beatles, Steely Dan, Guns N’ Roses, and Black Sabbath. It’s not surprising to fi nd so much hard rock on the list. Klosterman broke onto the national scene with 2001’s “Fargo Rock City,” a mix of memoir and music criticism that includes a loving celebration of the heavy metal bands he adored as a teenager. Before the book’s publication, Klosterman worked as a cultural critic and music writer at small papers in Fargo, N.D., and Akron, Ohio.
“Every single element of my life has changed completely in five years,” he said over pints of beer at Charlie’s Kitchen in Harvard Square.
Because Klosterman’s writing is all deeply rooted in his own experience, he has found that his readers often develop a strong personal connection to him. In the early days, this means that he often went out drinking with people who attended his readings.
“They were people exactly like me, they were like white guys my age who listened to Tesla in the ’80s,” he said with a laugh.
Klosterman’s audience has broadened since then, as has his subject matter. He spends a lot of time thinking about how culture is affecting our lives, particularly how our increasing abundances of choices, from cereal brands to hot new bands, is making us unhappier because we constantly feel like we’re missing out on the latest and greatest. Much of Klosterman’s writing is devoted to exploring how specifi c trends and pop culture personalities, as well as our own foibles, affect our lives. “I would like to be a historian in the present tense,” he said. “It’s so much easier to do things retrospectively.”
As Klosterman unfolded his lanky legs from a booth at Charlie’s and prepared to head over to his reading, he had the kind of moment the rock stars he writes about usually have. A young man at the bar turned abruptly to shake his hand and tell him he’s a big fan.
Klosterman smiled graciously, looking sheepish and happy. He’s working on a novel now, but don’t expect him to give up the role of interviewer anytime soon.
After all, he’s still got some dream conversations in mind; he’d love to interview Alan Greenspan and Axl Rose. And he knows he’s qualifi ed, at least when it comes to the latter: “I’ve probably thought more about Guns N’ Roses than 95 percent of the world.”
Tags: Books, Journalism