CK: “My guess is that most people reading this column are likely thinking, These are OK arguments for generally bad ideas.”
It is my general practice to choose words carefully.Not just as a writer but as a Klosterman (more on this later).So why did I start off a column with a sophomoric expletive that invokes the male genitalia?(Good question.)Why, thank you.(Hey, did you lose some weight?)Actually, I did lose a few pounds, thanks for asking. (I thought you were looking a little saucier than usual.)Oh you! (Hey, you just keep up the good work, you wildly potent ladykiller, you.)Thanks bro!
First off, the word “penis” is hilarious for all my readers under 14 (I have a dedicated pre-pubescent/early pubescent male readership, likely owing to my gig at The New York Times and my obscure 70s rock references [if there’s anything kids love, it’s dying media and 40-year-old songs about cars that no longer exist]).Second, it immediately grabs the reader’s attention.This is an old journalism secret passed down through the generations – I first learned about it from Bob Guccione, Sr. while working at Spin.His example was a Penthouse spread that included, in his words, “muff diving” and “rock hard peckers” but it can be applied to more “intellectual” publications as well.Third, this unique introduction is left to the reader’s interpretation.There are many ways in which this exclamatory sentiment could be understood.Is it meant as a simple expletive, as an analog for “crap!” for example?Is it meant to express the typically agreed upon semantic meaning of the word itself – do I have something important to announce about the male sex organ?Is it expressing a latent desire for a man’s company, his firm yet tender embrace somehow making me feel safe and frightened all at once, all the while feeling an aching protuberance in the pants region? Leaving the door open for the reader to raise these questions is exactly the point.Words, and their meanings, are up for endless interpretation, examination and debate.This was never clearer to me as it was back with dear old Grandma.
Grandma Klosterman had her “episode” back in 1986.Early one morning, while shooing away the colony of incredibly sexually-active possums that lived under our porch, she collapsed.She was never the same.All the doctors were baffled.(In retrospect, the patient care in our town may not have been the best modern medicine had to offer, but Shaky Jerry and the rest of the gang at our local hospital/muffler shop/bulk candy dispensary did the very best with what they had.)Grandma spent several nights under observation (she had to share her room with a Shetland pony named Oscar who wouldn’t take his beady eyes off her) before returning home with her new prescription wooden helmet.The transition back to regular life was not easy, especially for the rest of us.Whatever had changed in her cognitive wiring during her “episode,” one thing was explicitly clear – her language center had become a frazzled mess.The first time I was exposed to this change was at breakfast one morning.I asked Grandma to pass the butter.She stared at me quizzically for a while and then replied, slowly, “Do you mean ‘butter’ as in ‘the sound a turkey makes when it rains,’ or ‘butter’ as in ‘them really fancy mittens that Armenians wear’?”I was deeply confused and, to be honest, a little rattled, but I tried to put on a brave face for her sake.After a moment of hesitation I replied, “Uh… mittens?” to which she said, “Carve your own damn turkey, you dirty Lebanese rat!” and stormed off to iron the drapes with a stick she named “Reggie.”
She was basically like that from then on.Eventually no one batted an eye when she asked things like, “Do you mean ‘light bulb’ as in ‘a bunch of abnormally large horse cocks’ or do you mean ‘light bulb’ as in ‘the stuff negroes put in their hair to make them look all uppity.’”(Grandma was set in her ways.)In a way, Grandma’s “episode” caused me to have an episode of my own.While her incessant questioning often led to her being locked in a clothes chest until she fell asleep, it inspired an impressionable young Chuck to search for deeper meaning.As Cinderella so presciently stated, “Talk is cheap.”Words and phrases are often bandied about without any concern for their true meaning or weightier implications.Words are mere avatars for physical objects, emotions, ideas.They stand in like cardboard cutouts for what we truly want to express.And nearly every word in any language can have a different meaning depending on context, idiom, sarcasm, etc.What Grandma instilled in me is a hunger for the true, deeper meanings in the words we use and the sentences we speak.It is this meaning, this intention that is truly important to reveal.
Here’s an example.I’ve had many celebrated appearances on the B.S. Report, the #1 sports podcast among males 13 to 24 and among women 72 to 77.During these appearances, you may hear an exchange like this:
BS: OK, now that we’ve decided which “Melrose Place” character each “Road Rules” cast member would be, let’s get back to sports.So, who do you think is the best NFL quarterback right now?
Me: Well, that depends on what you mean by the word “best.”Do you mean “best” as in “the most technically skilled?” Do you mean “best” as in “the best leader on the field?” Do you mean “best” as in “the guy most likely to win football games?” Do you mean “best” as in “who statistically appears to be the most proficient?”
While others would just assume what is intended by a word like “best,” or choose to define it on their own terms and answer the question through their own subjective definition, I REALLY want to know what Bill means by “best.”I want to exorcise all the extraneous connotations, inferences and baggage that accompany the words we use and drill down to the very core of significance.Some would argue that the defining qualities of our culture’s post-modern output focus on the existence of ambiguity, duality and relativity.Well, Billy Burroughs never met Grandma Klosterman.If he did, he’d probably say something that didn’t make any sense like, “Language is a virus from outer space,” and Grandma would probably respond with something like, “You play hopscotch like a dago.”Point: Grandma.And so, without further ado, in memory of dear Grandma, it’s time for a good old-fashioned Klosterman Parse-Off!
Let’s use the quote that started this column, taken from my recent Grantland piece about the NFL, as our parse source.I will isolate chosen words and illustrate, by the power vested in me as a true blooded Klosterman, their bona fide significance.
So what do I/we mean by “guess”?Is it an assumption?A cloaked belief?Does someone’s guess actually affect reality in any substantive way?Is it just an arbitrary, random act?Does a person’s guess say more about what they rationally think is true, what they believe is true, or what they wish to be true?(Those are some heady questions, Chuck. Great job.)Thanks again!By definition, a “guess” is an estimation one makes based upon the evidence available at the time.It is a projection of reality that is occasionally educated but more often subjective.Writers hazard guesses all the time in order to further their point, and I, shamefully, am no exception.While I philosophically object to guessing, it is a necessary evil when dealing with speculative topics such as sports or music or how many times Michael Anthony played “Girl Gone Bad” on his super-sweet Jack Daniel’s bass.
Speaking of sports, let’s take a look at the biggest news story of the last few weeks, the NFL replacement refs controversy.When we boil it down, these replacement refs were essentially guessing.It became clear that they were not familiar with the complexities of the NFL rulebook and were overmatched by the situation in which they found themselves.So, did their guesswork affect reality?NO!This is what I don’t understand about the public outcry.Football is exactly the same as it always was.The refs may have gotten some calls “wrong,” but that doesn’t mean they changed what happened on the field, just the interpretation of it.Did Packers defensive player Sam Shields commit pass interference on that fourth quarter drive by the Seahawks?No, obviously he didn’t.Did the replacement refs say that he did?Yes, they did.Did the Seahawks wide receiver Golden Taint (that can’t be right…) actually catch the game-winning touchdown pass?No, he didn’t.Did the replacement refs say that he did?Yes.Did the refs, by virtue of making this call, physically change the events on the field and somehow alter history so that Golden Taint (Editor’s Note: can we have an intern fact-check this name?) actually, veritably caught the ball?NO!The reality remains intact regardless of the interpretation.This is why I don’t understand what the big deal is.So, the replacement refs saw things a bit differently than the vast majority of fans, players, real refs and all other creatures possessing both consciousness and eyeballs.Let them!It’s their right as Americans to state their beliefs, guesses and panicked decisions into a stadium microphone.Because, ultimately, their guesses don’t matter.What matters is the TRUTH, and if the truth is laid bare (in this case, via endless instant replays), then we all have won.(Except the Packers.)
So what do I/we mean by “most people”?Is it a mental construct made up of all the people I’ve/we’ve met in our lives?Is that really “most people”?Or is it some theoretical projection of how we imagine the thoughts and feelings of the entire world’s populace?Since there are billions of people on the planet to whom I haven’t spoken, is it responsible to use the phrase “most people”?If so, what do I really MEAN?Well, in this instance, “most people” is intended to represent what I project to be the readers of Grantland.If I had to actually crystallize these assumptions, I suppose I would describe the average reader as a white, middle-class male between 22 and 42; enjoys sports; enjoys fantasy sports; partakes in an ironic appreciation of 80s movies, reality television and internet memes; likes music made with guitars; lives in an urban or suburban environment; has a sophomoric, man-boy sense of humor; likes when Soul Coughing comes on the jukebox; and puzzlingly believes that Dave Jacoby possesses some semblance of talent.(Hey Chuck, wait a second here. Are you suggesting that you purposely target a certain demographic in your writing? There are some potentially racist, sexist and classist inferences to be drawn by your portrait of a composite reader… Come to think of it, this actually makes sense. Aside from a few blatant attempts to court a female audience [e.g. your Lloyd Dobler essay; your “pretending not to like porn” essay] you do have a rather white, male, 30- or 40-something, middle-class, faux-populist bent to your writing. How do you respond?)Hey, what the fuck!?I thought you were on my side.(Sorry, I thought it was an important point to bring up.)Well, you were wrong!This is slanderous and not germane to the conversation at all.I think most people would agree that you’re way out of line on this one.
An idea is any concept or notion, and can run the gamut from the brilliant, e.g. a breakthrough in medical nanotechnology, to the confounding, e.g. having another pair of boobs surgically attached to a woman’s back so her husband can honk them while she does the dishes.(Whoa, that’s pretty sexist. Kinda awesome, but still, pretty sexist.)Goddamn it, would you shut the fuck up!?(Sigh… I’m hungry.)That’s it, I’m done.(Want to go pants shopping? I could use a new pair of Dockers...)
CK: “This column can run today, or it can run in 2022. The future is the present is the future.”
The year is 2022.It is different it is the same it is different.As we march along, towards a horizon of different sameness, there are some different samenesses that are slightly more different than other different samenesses, which are, in fact, samer different samenesses.We will concentrate here on the former (the slightly more different samenesses) and peer into the future present future in all its miserable glory.With that, I give you: the year 2022.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the NBA’s biggest star.Tragically, Anthony Davis is now regarded as the biggest draft bust in basketball history.After dominating the league in his rookie year, Davis took some online classes during the off-season and became consumed with physics, relativity and wormholes.Theorizing that time travel was possible, Davis stepped into a quantum leap accelerator and vanished. He woke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is A.I., an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Davis can see and hear. And so Davis finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.
The decaying husk that doubles as the City of Detroit realized around 2015 that their greatest potential revenue source was royalties from the musical masterpiece “Detroit Rock City.”In a world-class miscalculation, the municipality sued the greatest rock band of all time for a percentage of all past and future royalties associated with the song.The infallible rock gods known collectively as KISS counter-sued, claiming damages to their reputation and arguing that the city has been benefiting for decades from free publicity thanks to the overwhelming popularity of the song.After months of legal wrangling, KISS inevitably won.Detroit, defeated in every sense of the word, could not afford to pay the damages owed to the group of aging but surprising virile rockers.At settlement, KISS were offered a deal – they could assume paid positions in city government, collect a salary and try to save the city they immortalized in song.And that’s how KISS became the mayors of Detroit.Now the city is second in the nation in homicides but first in ROCK!After their swearing-in ceremony, I bought an entire high-rise apartment building in the downtown for $900.I only stay there once a year during June’s Detroit Rock City Rocks: A Rocking Tribute to the City That Rocks the Hardest and Keeps on Rocking LIVE – Featuring the Nation’s Largest Jalapeño Popper, Brought to You by Arby’s in Association with OPECand Bristol Myers Squibb music and culture festival, hosted by visionary civic leaders and rock-hard hard-rockers KISS!(Some claim that Gene Simmons died a couple years ago and they hired a look-alike to wear the makeup and show up to budgetary meetings but I don’t believe it.)
NASA has discovered a rich energy source on the moon, which they have named Gingrichium.While highly volatile it is also very damaging to the environment, with emissions including CO2, NH3, and mini chocolate doughnuts.Shunned by every other member of the United Nations, it is the predominant energy source of America.
The slow, deliberate invasion of America by our neighbors to the south continues unabated.Examples: 1. McDonald’s, formerly a bastion of American cuisine, has yielded to pressure and released The Roñaldo, a giant waffle fry folded in half like a soft-shell taco filled with beef, sour cream and liquefied Cheez-Its.2. The New York City metropolitan area has gone from having four Spanish-speaking radio stations predominantly featuring Ranchero music to five Spanish-speaking radio stations predominantly featuring Ranchero music.3. Selena Gomez is dubbed “America’s Sweetheart” by People magazine.In response, an aging, bitter Julia Roberts posts a video on YouTube of her defecating in a sombrero.
In the election of 2016, the American people made history when they elected the first “REALLY White President” of the United States, Humphrey Buford.Born in New Hampshire to African American parents, he attended Harvard, then Yale, then Harvard again.Known for wearing pastel golf shirts with his ubiquitous turquoise slacks, he earned the college nickname “Turk,” which he had emblazoned on his skis and swimming trunks.After his father got him a job at Morgan Stanley, he quickly rose through the ranks by selling fixed annuities to senior citizens that never paid out (when the seniors would call to ask about their checks, their calls would be transferred through an endless loop of operators until they were eventually lulled to sleep by the Lawrence Welk hold music), netting the company billions.After years in finance, he became governor of New Hampshire where he famously cut spending, repealed environmental protections and amassed the largest croquet mallet collection in the country.Once elected, his first official act as President was an Executive Order to reanimate Don Henley so he could play at the inauguration.Unfortunately, it failed, and zombie Henley had to be decapitated, chopped into smaller pieces, castrated, and burned—his corporeal whereabouts have been the subject of rampant speculation after a 2019 class action lawsuit against PepsiCo claimed that trace amounts of Henley’s DNA had been found in Taco Bell’s “ground beef seasoning .”
As a reaction to the harsh policies of the “whitest” President to date, he was defeated in 2020 by the first “REALLY Black President” of the United States, DeKwan Russell.Born in Pig Ass, Mississippi, his family moved to Memphis when he was a boy after his father was tragically killed in an explosion attempting to deep fry a turkey on Thanksgiving.As the only caucasian male in his grade school, he worked hard to impress his classmates through his natural athleticism and soulful bass playing.Hoping to provide for his family, he started his first barbeque food truck at seventeen.By 25 he owned the largest independently-owned restaurant chain in the South, Memphis Willie’s Pig Poppin’ Palooza.He took classes at night and on the weekends (when he wasn’t singing in his church choir), eventually earning an MBA.His interest in social justice and blues motivated him to run for mayor of Memphis, which led to a meteoric rise to governor of Tennessee and the national spotlight.When elected President, his first official order was a directive to reanimate Wilson Pickett so could play at the inauguration.It worked, but halfway through his inauguration performance Mr. Pickett stopped singing and began furiously masturbating in close proximity to the First Lady.Secret Service men had to gun him down, which injected a somber tone into an otherwise uplifting ceremony.As a reaction to the liberal policies of the “blackest” President to date, the Republican front runner for 2024 could end up being the first “Latino” President (a Chinese congressman from El Paso, Texas).
The increased number of vegetarians among the world’s population has led to an upsurge in vegetable-based birth defects, including zucchini hands, jicama leg and cauliflower balls.
Troubled by the dominance of synthetic pop (the word synthetic referring both to the sound of the music and the “artists” who sing it), Bono releases his first solo record.Billed as an “experimental, back-to-roots exploration of the magic of acoustic music,” Bono and his band established exacting standards for each track’s instrumentation and the overall recording process.The band plays what they call “freedom jazz,” which is essentially free jazz with a more pretentious name.The band has rabidly dedicated themselves to using traditional acoustic instruments and recording each track in one organic take.A four-piece, they consist of drums (made solely of animal skins and other naturally derived materials), piano (on loan from the Smithsonian, it was made in the early 1700s), an upright bass (or double bass or violini) and the trumpet, or, as Bono calls it, a bio-trumpet (ta me beatha in Gaelic).The bio-trumpet (which he claims is an ancient Irish tradition) is played through an unusual technique of controlled, violent bursts of air forced through his butthole.This is the signature sound of “freedom jazz” and one in which Bono takes great pride.“For centuries my people were so poor they could not afford to feed their families, let alone buy musical instruments.But this abject poverty could not kill the music they had inside them.With this record, it is my intention to carry on the grand tradition of Eire and fill the air with the spirit of Irish music.”
The character limits of Twitter and its offspring (which only increased over time, as predicted here) combined with the shorthand of texting eventually evolved into a single-letter linguistic system.This is used primarily for online/smart phone communication, although some of these abbreviated kernels of expression have infiltrated conversation amongst the young (and stupid).Below is the decoded system:
a/A = lower case designates “awesome”; upper case “amazing”
b/B = lower case designates “bastard”; upper case “bitch”
c/C = lower case designates “cool”; upper case “cunt”
D = “dumb/dick/douche” (all interchangeable)
E = “I’m hungry/I want to eat something/Eat my balls/Eat a dick/Go East on 22nd Street” (depending on context)
f/F = lower case designates “fuck”; upper case “FUCK YOU”
G = “good/great/I’m in the mood for gravy” (depending on context)
H = “How?/You’re a whore/I groomed a horse today” (depending on context)
I = “I went to the ____ and had a ____ and it was ____” (in 2022 the details don’t really matter because no one gives a shit)
J = “jerk off/whack it/stroking the ol’ durutti column” (depending on context)
K = “OK/we’re out of kalamata olives” (depending on context)
L = “LOL” = “laugh out loud” or “lick odorous llamas” (depending on context)
M = “My ___ is sooo ____” (Another opportunity for self-centered expression.Again, the details don’t really matter because no one gives a shit)
N = “no/nice!/I’m naked/the ninjas you ordered are here/ I’m naked and ninjas are attacking me/I’m naked and ninjas are attacking me (and I kinda like it)” (depending on context)
O = “of course/OMG/oh my god/my butthole is sufficiently dilated” (depending on context)
p/P = lower case designates “penis”; upper case “pussy”
Q = “Quigley Down Under was an extremely underrated film” (stemming from the Quigley Down Under resurgence of 2019)
r/R = lower case designates “ridiculous”; upper case “the ramp store is out of ramps”
S = “sweet/suck my D/score!/sing ‘Party in the USA’ from start to finish 17 times and then hang a blue handkerchief on your mailbox or they’re going to murder me/sure, buddy, anything for you/slippery when wet” (depending on context)
T = “tits”
U = “you/give me back my underwear, it’s autographed by Matchbox 20 and I want it back/I’m texting underwater!” (depending on context)
V = “Remember when people were obsessed with vampires in the 2010s? That was retarded.”
W = “boy, the weather sure is wacky today/WHAT?!/wake me up before you go-go” (depending on context)
x/X = lower case designates “kisses”; upper case “don’t come in, I’m watching porn”
Y = “why/yo/DJ Yella” (depending on context)
Z = “sleep/zoos treat animals poorly/all I wanna do is zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom and a boom-boom”
Attempting to synthesize a new antidepressant, GlaxoSmithKline begins ethically dubious clinical trials of the synthesized street drug “bath salts” on indigent populations, including the mentally retarded.The tests show that bath salts make mentally retarded people super fucked up.
CK: The key to being appreciated by pop critics is the act of taking your own music less seriously than the people who adore it (Stephen Malkmus is probably the best contemporary example). Creed seems to exemplify the opposite.
Junior year was really tough on me. Not only was it the year when my benzoyl peroxide allergy turned my face and neck into a close approximation of Liam Neeson in Darkman but it was also the year of the great Wyndham High Battle of the Bands Swindle of 1989. Every town has its own unique folklore—stories that are passed down through the generations in the way we’ve told tales since the Trojans ran off with Helen. In Wyndmere we have enough of these stories to fill the whole bookshelf in the Wyndmere Public Library. Like the yarn about how Old Man Musgrave used to teach his pet prairie dogs to play Duck-Duck-Goose. Or the humdinger about the time when Francis Grubs tried to fit 78 Rolos in his mouth at one time and went into a diabetic coma.
My own unique contribution to the tales told throughout Wyndmere today is an old story familiar to anybody acquainted with the frightening three-word combination: East German Judge. Any American who lived through the Cold War remembers well how the mere presence of an East German judge could turn a potential gold-winning American Olympic gymnast or figure skater’s life-long hopes into a wreckage of shattered dreams (cue Johnny Hates Jazz). And while the antagonist of my tale isn’t actually an East German judge, he was our school’s German teacher, Herr Deifendorfer, and he just so happened to moonlight as Wyndmere High’s Band Director, Debate Team Coach, Taxidermy Club Advisor, and most importantly, the judge of the annual Wyndmere High Battle of the Bands—a distinction bestowed upon him as having earned his bona fides as a member of the road crew in the culinary department for The Moody Blue’s Seventh Sojourn Tour in 1972.
My buddies, Dingus Jim, Bob Klondike, and Karl McMasterson started a KISS tribute band and entered the contest near certain of victory. I mean how could we lose? Dingus Jim played a six-string fretless bass in the Wyndmere Jazz Band, Bob was playing on a drum set with a snare drumhead signed by Rikki Rockett, our vocalist Karl was the only kid in school with a vocal range within three octaves of Sebastian Bach, and I had the secret weapon—a book with the guitar tabs for every single KISS song ever recorded!
And while it necessitated the invention of a game involving four 12-sided die and some old Strat-O-Matic cards to winnow down the incomparable KISS discography to just one song, we finally settled on “Mr. Speed” the B-side of the “Hard Luck Woman” single from 1976. We practiced up, got pretty freakin’ tight and prepared ourselves for Battle of the Band dominance. Of course the prospect of a first prize gift certificate to the 7-Eleven in Fargo provided all of the initiative we needed to rock Wyndmere, but truth be told, we thought if we got really good we might be able to convince Bob’s parents, who were the owners of Wyndmere’s only Swim and Skeet-Shooting Club, to finance a regional tour of what could turn into a full-fledged KISS-tribute band.
Needless to say, we slayed. I mean total rock destruction. We rocked with the white hot intensity of a thousand David Lee Roth’s jump kicking an arena-sized piñata full of ignited roman candles. It was, it was…well, shit man, we lost. We were robbed, railroaded, downright Jethro Tull-ed. You could almost hear the fucking flute as Herr Deifendorfer announced that first place had been awarded to Timmy Swanson for his dickbag solo acoustic cover of Morrissey’s “The Ordinary Boys.” Seriously, that song?! A candy-assed cover of a sissy-pants song?! I should’ve seen this coming now that I look back and remember the morning I walked into Deifendorfer’s classroom and caught him listening to The Feelies on his crappy boombox.
ANYWAY, from that day forward I knew I would never trust another so-called music critic, unless said-critic was actually me, in which case I would trust myself—guardedly. And I’ve pretty much stuck to that plan. There was a summer in 1993 when I briefly trusted whatever Kurt Loder said about Madonna but then I came to my senses upon seeing Body of Evidence and realizing that not only were Madonna’s boobs not spectacular, they were, in fact, resemblant of smushed racquet balls—but not blue. Fuck Kurt Loder and his pervy “Maddy” fixation. No thanks.
And this mistrust has continued. I may have enjoyed reading Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus but I didn’t trust them. Think about it, everybody is more or less a different person, right? And if each person’s preferences are a production of their essential self, then it follows that no other person could have the exact same preferences as me, or you, or Jim Nabors, or anybody else for that matter. SO, therefore and whatnot, it is foolish to trust any music critic other than yourself because they will necessarily feel differently about stuff than you do. As I am not, in fact, a music critic, but rather, by virtue of my employment at Grantland brought to you by Subway, am indeed a cultural correspondent from the heartland of America—not to mention, although I will, a well-selling novelist—I am exempt from said criticism of people who get paid to do criticism.
Knowing that everybody is capable of forming their own opinions about pop music and no two viewpoints will incontrovertibly ever match up with complete (Police-esque) synchronicity, pop music critics have had to gerrymander their own critical perspectives into discernible critical camps that they tend to join and then write from the perspective of. These include but are not limited to: The Lester Bangs Critic as Fan Camp, The Greil Marcus Critical Theory Camp, The Rolling Stone Magazine Every Album Besides Nevermind Recorded after 1989 Sucks Camp, The Sasha Frere-Jones Must Be Smart Because He’s Published in The New Yorker Camp, The Black Music Critic Who Thinks Tupac Was a Poet Camp, and The Pitchfork Micro-Genre Invention Hyper-Hype Formation Diplo Looked at Me While DJing and I Got a Boner Camp.
That music critics invent conventions and then perpetuate them in print, thus creating a self-reinforcing mythology shouldn’t be news to anyone. Probably my least favorite of these conventions is the tendency of music critics to take seriously music that whether by virtue of shoddy songwriting, poor musicianship, or sloppy recording not only isn’t any good, but furthermore, you can tell that the musicians themselves didn’t even take their own music seriously. The same critic who will rapturously masturbate prose over the “preciousness” of a shitty lo-fi Sebadoh record dismisses Def Leppard’s Hysteria as being “over-wrought” or “manufactured.” Yeah it’s “manufactured”—by a kickass music manufacturing assemblage team over three torturous years in a heroic creation act that rivals the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, if one of those bridge building dudes had one friggin’ arm!
I mean, jesuschrist, I’ll give you My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, or Radiohead’s OK Computer, those bands took the writing and recording of those albums seriously and they rightly receive well-warranted praise for the results. But how many beloved albums that critics heap praise over seem like they were created with the same attention and care a chimp gives to flinging feces?
With that in mind, I present to you the following records as evidence of critics fawning over music that they seem to care more about than the bands themselves.
Slint, Spiderland: Here’s a brilliant idea—if we can’t think of any parts to add to this willowy guitar line we’ll just add, wait for it, wait for it…NOTHING! It’s anti-music, it’s full of negative possibilities, mannn. Oh, and to cover up the fact that our singer can’t, you know, sing, we’ll have him whisper really reallllly quietly…AND THEN WE’LL GET REALLY LOUD AGAIN. Oh, dynamics!
Pavement, Slanted and Enchanted: Hmmmm, how do I balance this correctly? I’m a super-talented songwriter with a totally pro band. If we wanted to, we could probably make a record that Van Halen wouldn’t be ashamed of. But that would take, like, effort and everyone knows that effort is sooo 1970s. If we write sloppy songs and record them sloppily we could earn irony point, which are way better than actual record sales. But I don’t want everyone to think my band is just shitty, so how do I stay on the right side of the cool line? I got it, open for Sonic Youth on tour!
Every rap record from 1984-1994: BOOM—thwack…BOOM-BOOM-thwack. Oh the 808 again, haven’t heard that one before. How about you guys try something novel and actually play some friggin drums. Do you even care that all of these songs sound exactly the same?! It’s called “rap music” which to me signifies that the only really essential element is that the vocalist is rapping—everything else is incidental. They could rap over anything—Enya-esque adult New Age track; Foghat-riffage and When the Levee Breaks, er, breaks; hell, even Tuvan throat music. So why do all of these songs sound the same? Because (c)rappers couldn’t care less. The only thing they cared about was blowing their advance money on dookie chains. But every white pop music critic had to exercise their Kipling demons in an effort to express what a poet Rakim was or how NWA was just “articulating a post-Civil Rights, undeconstructed affront to the hegemonic powers that be in an increasingly apocalyptic LA.” Whatever, just stop sampling the same James Brown songs, please.
The Beatles, Let It Be: We’re running out of steam and we hate each other. This is the musical equivalent of a joyless marriage where we’ve all been dying to fuck a Bangkok prostitute, so let’s just lay down some mediocre tracks and hire Phil Spector to polish the turds. What, he couldn’t fix it? Fuck it, put it out anyway. You’re telling me those sheep out there aren’t going to buy it? Pass me more hash. War is not the answer. Peace, brother.
Anything by Devo: In the late 70s/early 80s, my focus as a music fan was on rock. While some music fans abandoned true rock for the next passing fad (disco, punk, new wave, funk, krautrock, anything that involved an afro, bell bottoms, an acoustic guitar or included the name Tennille), I held steadfast in my belief that, to quote BTO, we [intrepid rock fans] “ain’t seen nothing yet!” And yet, out of Ohio (one of the few states native North Dakotans can safely make fun of) comes these oh-so-clever college boys calling themselves Devo and fucking with an untouchable rock classic (“Satisfaction”) just to “demystify” it. Sorry, Mothersbaughs (that’s “motherhumper” in Danish, by the way) but I like my rock mystical just like I like my girls hot and my Hawaiian Punch cold. Some things are sacred, like the way the sun glistens off the mud flats every North Dakota autumn. Don’t shit all over my mud flats, you flammable-river having, Neil Young-hating, Venus Flytrap dick bozos!
Built to Spill, There’s Nothing Wrong With Love: This record proves that singer/guitarist Doug Martsch could have been the next Frampton. Instead he decides to write charming little slacker tunes with stoner high school lyrics like “Ain’t it strange that I can dream? Ain’t it strange that I have brain activity?” Yeah, it kinda is when you write lyrics like that. Compare that to “I watch you sleeping and then I want to take your love.” No contest. What wasted potential. Frampton must be rolling around in his grave.
CK: Swallowing your own vomit(unconscious physical reaction): A lot of unfunny bloggers have made this medical happenstance pejorative, but it’s really not that bad. Swallowing vomit isn’t all that different from swallowing Jägermeister, all things considered.Underrated.
How terrible is vomit, really? After all, it’s made up of the food and/or liquid that you recently and willfully decided to shove into your face. Its texture has likely changed, but that texture never stops smoothie bars from being mobbed during lunch hour. Sure, it smells a little unpleasant, but that’s just a trained biological response. Most human beings stopped being mindless slaves to their biological impulses generations ago (with the exception of obese people, drug addicts, alcoholics, sex addicts, compulsive masturbators, gambling addicts, children under three, those with horribly low self-esteem, and massive, massive sluts). Plus, if you vomit in your own mouth, you don’t even have to smell it. It might taste a little acidic, but I’m always hearing judges on cooking shows suggest that dishes could use more acid.Don’t whine about vomiting in your mouth just because you have an unsophisticated palate.
“Eww! I just threw up in my mouth!SMH! LOL! FML!POOP!”It all boils down to the simple fact that people just love complaining.Internet culture fully indulges this snide, crotchety world view.(Actually, crotchety is the perfect word to describe internet behavior: crotch▪etyadj1.) subject to crankiness or ill temper; 2.) play or activity involving the crotch region. Ex: The man logged onto the internet in order to engage in crotchety entertainment.)If people loving to complain is a blow job, then the internet is the hand that cradles the balls.Everyone’s favorite pastime is slagging off everything within their field of vision.You’d think the bile supply would eventually run out and people would exhaust their complaining muscles, but there seems to be no end in sight.I, for one, have decided to take a stand.Enough of this senseless derision; enough of shitting on things just to feel like a shitter instead of the shittee.Whatever happened to “turn the other cheek,” to “live and let live,” to “look on the bright side”?Just like the vomit in my mouth, this world is mine, damn it, and I intend to take some pride in it.In this spirit, I’ve made a list of things regularly criticized, debased, besmirched and besnarked and have come to their defense.Someone needs to inject some positivity into our cultural conversation, and I know just the wealthy, Midwestern, middle aged, white, heterosexual, prudish, sheltered, self-satisfied, nettlesome, verbose, intrepid, smug, wealthy, middle aged, white contrarian for the job.
Discrimination Imagine going to high school in the charming Midwestern heartland.Picture walking home from classes gazing at the sun hung high above the golden plains, dappled light shimmering across the mud groves; a lone goat bays to the sky as if to say “don’t eat my testicles.”Your senior class of 22 is split evenly between students of German descent and inbred Scotch Irish dirt bags.The German kids derisively call the Scotch Irish “McMacs” and in turn they call the Germans “Klinks” thanks to Hogan’s Heroes.When you read The Outsiders in seventh grade you could easily relate to the socially divided world of Greasers and Socs, and you imagined yourself an astute, upwardly mobile south side Soc trying to succeed in a world filled with Greaser/McMac landmines.
There is, of course, a girl from across the tracks.Rebecca Sorley was the only Scotch Irish girl who could move between the two worlds without too much fallout from either side.She stayed above the fray, maintaining an aloof but not overtly condescending attitude, as if she had already seen herself outside of this false high school dichotomy, knowing she just had to bide her time before becoming a dean’s list Animal Husbandry major at UND.The color of her shimmering copper red hair reminds you of the “soil surplus” your dad has going in the backyard (it is his favorite pile of dirt) and she speaks to you with a glint in her eye like it’s all just your little secret.Finally the day comes when she slips you a note asking you to meet her underneath the bleachers.“Come alone,” it says.
That afternoon your heart jackhammers in your chest as you make the trek across the school grounds to the football field.When you see she’s actually there, your heart pounds even harder.“Over here, Chuck!” she yells playfully as you draw closer.Just when you get close enough to touch her freckled hand, you hear a rustling from the woods behind you.Before you know it, the McMacs have rushed around you – there’s no way out.A sucker punch in the stomach doubles you over.From the tree line, a younger McMac hurls a rock that drills you in the thigh.You look around for an escape route just in time to see Dave McDevitt up on the bleachers over you.You already know what’s coming before the first drop of urine hits your head.The McMacs all fall over laughing.Rebecca laughs too, but not quite as hard as the others.The look in her eye says something like, “Yes, this is kinda funny, but they put me up to this, Chuck, and it also kinda hurts because I care about you no matter what I say later at our twenty-year reunion.”After Dave empties his bladder, they let you run home.You call your friends to tell them your harrowing story of love, loss and betrayal.Revenge plots are hatched.The next night, your friend Jerry Tollefson strikes back by sneaking into Dave McDevitt’s backyard and having sex with his golden retriever.No one is sure why that was an appropriate revenge tactic, but you keep your mouth shut.As the days go by, the battle continues – throughout the rest of high school and onward, generation after generation.
What’s the point of this hypothetical tale?Does it really make sense for this bitter conflict to exist between ethnic groups?Are the McMacs and the Klinks really so different?The answer is simple.Discrimination is a galvanizing force that unites one group against another based on prejudice.Let’s look at this sentence in detail.In high school English we all learned that prepositional phrases contain modifications or extraneous details that are not essential to the main idea.Therefore:Discrimination is a galvanizing force that unites one groupagainst another based on prejudice.You see, discrimination unites us.It brings together in a way few things can.In this deeply divided world, there are few sanctuaries where people can come together under a common purpose.Thank you, discrimination.Thank you.
Genital Mutilation Were you really going to do something that great with your genitals?
Sharks Killing Baby Seals Thanks in part to “Shark Week,” these underwater predators have become considerably overexposed, which inevitably leads to a just-as-overexposed backlash.The preponderance of Animal Planet footage containing shark attacks has resulted in a snark attack (He drills the jumper! And one!) of titanic proportions.With the assistance of high definition and slow motion, these creatures are made to look like vicious killing machines hell-bent on the violent destruction of every baby seal from the Exxon Valdez to the BP Deepwater Horizon.Since when has the blogosphere been an advocacy group for marine life?Sharks have a biological imperative to prey on animals further down the food chain.If you want to stand up to a brutal, senseless killer, tell your alcoholic uncle to stop hunting deer with a semi-automatic and use a bow and arrow like a real man.I agree that seals look cute, but think about it from a shark’s perspective.Seals are waddling tubes of blubber and meat.If chicken fingers (not chickens, but straight-out-of-the-deep-fryer chicken fingers) were just walking down the street, don’t tell me you wouldn’t routinely grab them and shove them in your mouth.Even if they had googly eyes and little nugget children, you’d bite the shit out of an entire family without even blinking.What an amazing world that would be.We could install honey mustard dispensers at every street corner.You could athletically scoop up a chicken finger that was trying to escape and everyone on the street would look at you like, “nice grab!” and even some of the chicken fingers would think, “Wow, I hate to admit it, but that was pretty cool.”I fucking love chicken fingers.
The Baltimore Orioles For the last couple decades, the Orioles have become easy shorthand for sports futility.The confluence of bad luck, bad situation (AL East), bad decisions and bad play has led to a team aura of absolute, crippling failure.It’s like the franchise is perpetually under a dark cloud.They should be renamed the Eeyore-rioles.Their fan base anticipates the start of each season like a battered woman anticipates her husband coming home from the bar.Ever since Kevin Costner banged Cal Ripken’s wife Cal Ripken retired, things have not gone well, to put it mildly.And yet, look at them now.They’re in first place and tied for the best record in all of baseball.(Unfortunately, this is akin to the likeable nerd getting the hot girl in the beginning of an 80s movie.By the end of the movie he’ll probably be dragged behind the jock’s pickup truck while the hot girl laughs in the passenger seat.But it’s still a nice story while it lasts.)If the Orioles can rise above all the negativity that surrounds them, can’t we?Come October, I think we’ll have our answer.And it’s NO.NO WE CAN’T.But thanks anyway, Os.
Rape I don’t want to make light of this subject or insinuate anything positive, as it is a truly horrible occurrence that, in a just world, would not exist.However, our 33rd President, Harry S. Truman, was a product of rape, so it can’t be all bad.
NBA Lockout The lockout was the subject of much pundit handwringing, brow furrowing, key stroking and Baylessing. (Baylessing: when smug idiots in suits put their idiocy on display by stating idiotic things on stupid TV shows watched predominantly by idiots.)For the players, it was a time of much couch sitting, Cheeto eating, club up-inning, and groupie plowing.Then it was over, and now we have all almost forgotten why it happened in the first place.Yet the specter of the lockout continues to hang over these playoffs.The condensed schedule is now the scapegoat for injuries to Rose, Noah (and almost every other Bull), Pierce (and almost every other Celtic), CP3, Griffin and now Bosh.Blaming the lockout for ruining the playoffs is, of course, a wrongheaded approach to this entire situation (hey “society” – can’t you get anything right?).If it is indeed the cause of the playoffs veering off the script, we should not be cursing it.We should be grateful.
Isn’t the whole point of watching sports to be impressed, thrilled, surprised, astounded?If the outcome of each game was predetermined, what would be the point?Take internet pornography.Why is there such an astronomical amount of content available?I mean, why don’t people just grab a few favorite clips and be done with it?People want novelty, that’s why.Sure, just like basketball, there are “rules” that govern these videos.Tab A goes into Slot A, or Slot B, or maybe even Slot C, maybe all three, or maybe gets slid between some things or smacked on some places or maybe a Tab B comes along and goes for Slot A while Tab A is totally sliding into Tab C.The point is, it’s not the actions themselves but the way in which these events unfold that make it compelling.Just like sports.Everyone predicted the Bulls and the Heat meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals.Guess what – it’s not happening.And that’s a good thing.If you don’t agree, go watch Cleavagefield for the 3,547th time.
Dying You’ll never have to see the Budweiser commercial with Pitbull ever again.Case closed.
As you may have heard on CNN, MSNBC and Rise and Shine, Horace (Horace, North Dakota’s fourth-rated morning show), it is Klosterman on Klosterman’s first anniversary. In honor of this milestone, I have collected and answered a variety of questions submitted by my readers over the last year.Since an anniversary is a time of personal reflection, I have chosen questions of a personal sort; questions that I would not normally address.Many of these questions are sexual in nature.Why so many readers would be fixated on my pale white body (or a certain 11.47cm portion of it) is beyond me, but I hope the following is of interest to you all.Just as you have grown to know me better over the last year through frequenting this site, I hope this piece will help me to get to know you more through you getting to know me more. Thanks for a great year.Without further ado, let’s start with a bang, get the balls rolling and blast off all over Year Two.
Where and when did you lose your virginity? What music did you listen to?
We were in my bedroom in my parents’ house, the polar opposite of sexy.I had KISS playing (maybe Destroyer?) because my girlfriend and I didn’t really plan for it to happen then and there.I never really thought about it before, but maybe it’s cognitively impossible for me to separate my estimation of KISS from that experience.Can I really be trusted to objectively evaluate their artistic output when it’s inextricably connected to such a sublime moment?Is my passionate dedication to their sex-charged, cocksure brand of rock a subconscious extension of my feelings toward sex?I think you just broke my brain.I’m going to go turn on KISS, clutch my Paul Stanley doll to my chest, and curl up in the fetal position (and possibly masturbate).
Did your first erection freak you out?
It did, but I didn’t realize at the time that it would be a lifelong phenomenon (hopefully).I thought it was a total aberration, like getting the chicken pox.The freak outs I really remember are the random boners at inexplicable times in inappropriate places, like church or school.I thought I was cursed.Especially since it’s pretty difficult to successfully hide it when you’re as well-endowed as Klosterman men are known to be.
Do you think your ginger complexion has prevented you from getting action over the years?
What musician would you most like to sleep with? Did any musicians ever come on to you?
My first thought was Billy Joel, not for any erotic reason but just to cheer him up.He comes across so profoundly sad, both through his music and in interviews.I suppose I feel indebted to him as a fan of his work, and would like an opportunity to lift his melancholic cloud for a transcendent bang session.Or maybe Jane Child, since you could pull her around during sex by that ear/nose chain thing.
In my experience, most musicians aren’t too thrilled by doing press and generally have their guard up, or have a general air of disinterest.As a journalist, you do your best to establish a rapport and find common ground to build upon, but it’s often not an atmosphere rife with sexual tension.There was one musician, a member of a famous duo, that I thought was potentially flirting with me.This was years ago.I don’t want to name names, but let’s just say his name rhymes with “Black White.”(Showing a person your wang counts as “flirting,” right?)
Did you get the inspiration for Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs after experimenting with all three at the same time?
I will admit to experimenting with two at a time, but never managed to pull off all three.Probably my fondest memory was when I challenged myself to combine sex and cereal.I was on my own, so I decided to dip my testicles into a large bowl of Kix (BEFORE I poured the milk, mind you) and engage in auto-erotic activities.The sackular friction was an unexpectedly pleasant sensation that I haven’t relived since.Maybe after this interview…
What are your biggest turn-ons?
Physically: Knee pits and tanned nostrils.
Mentally: Encyclopedic knowledge of 70s and 80s candy bars.The ability to sing every 70s and 80s sitcom theme song from memory.Quoting “Smokey and the Bandit” while eating ostrich jerky.
Sexier: straightforward and raunchy, or seductive and coy?
Seductive and coy in a landslide.Raunchy can be fun for a night or two, but eventually it offends the sensibilities of the little Midwestern, Catholic boy trapped inside of me.When I was writing for Spin, there was a certain female coworker with whom I had an on-again off-again flirtation.There were meetings we had in that office where you could cut the sexual tension with a knife.One day I decided I was just going to end it once and for all and ask her to sleep with me.I found an organic moment where we were alone and asked her.She looked at me like I had just asked her to set me on fire.She turned me down with sharp and brutal efficiency.The dance continued.So I called her at her desk a few minutes later and asked again.Again she rejected me, the frustration rising in her voice.So I waited until she was leaving for the day and followed her into the hallway.I asked her to drop the charade and give me an honest answer.She said something to the effect of “I wouldn’t fuck you with your mom’s dick” and spit at me.She wouldn’t drop the act! She was a master of the art of seduction, and fantastically coy to the very end.I still marvel at the conviction and dedication she had to her amorous craft.I also still wonder what her pussy tastes like.
What are your thoughts about anal sex? Do you ever employ sex toys?
I’ve never tried either, honestly.I’m beginning to think I’m rather conservative sexually, although I don’t necessarily consider myself as such.Years ago, during a trip back to North Dakota, an ex-girlfriend and I ended up fooling around in a barn that had an active stable of cows.At one point during the festivities I turned and saw a cow staring at us, and I made eye contact with it.It was an oddly chilling encounter.That’s probably the closest to a threesome I’ve ever come.
Which do you prefer: KY or Vaseline?
Well, it’s funny that you asked. When I was just knee-high on a prairie vole growing up in Wyndmere, my mom had a cheap, cure-all for what we called “face chap”. The seven mile walk to school in the morning (Wyndmere had a fleet of school busses but the school board sold them in 1977 to pay for the cement mixer needed for our town’s failed attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records’ “Largest Flapjack”) was really only near-freezing from September to May. But in order to prevent face chap, my mom would smear a thin-layer of Vaseline over my entire face and most of my neck—the back of my neck was suitably protected by my Minnesota Mudflap. ANYWAY, one morning in’82, as my mom was applying my morning skimcoat of petroleum, I noticed that it felt oddly more luxuriant. It was as if I my face was being covered with the dew-y residue of a cumulus cloud. I asked my mom what was up and she explained that we had run out of Vaseline and she was trying “something else called KY.” It took me years (and Bobby Micheletti’s slutty older sister Brenda) to figure out what KY was alternatively used for, but ever since that morning in ’82 I apply it liberally to my face every time I go skiing, attend a UND intramural pond hockey reunion, or stand in line overnight for KISS tix.
How important is foreplay?
Side 1 of Love Gun is 17 minutes and 19 seconds long, which means that whatever we can get accomplished before the record stops is fine—but we (and by “we” I mean “I”) had better be, ahem, finished, when “Tomorrow and Tonight” is done.
Have you ever made a girl squirt?
I don’t understand the question and I refuse to answer it.
What kind of lover would you describe yourself as?
In three words or less?Considerate.Vigorous.Girthy.
Is there a song that best describes your sexual style?
The first song that came to mind was “Shock Me” by KISS.Shit, I’m really starting to worry now.
What is the weirdest thing a woman has said to you during sex?
“I’m going to fuck the fag right out of you.”It was during a one-night stand, so I never gained closure on that particular comment.Does she just regularly say inappropriate, offensive things during sex?Did she actually think I was gay and experimenting – was she trying to make a statement about the sexual potency of her gender?I’ll never know.Although I don’t think it worked because I still get the tingles whenever I see pictures of Peter Scholari.
Have you ever slept with one of your groupies?
For a while I was fixated on the rumor that came out about Derek Jeter a few months ago.It claimed that, after sex with a “groupie,” he would call a limousine service to drive her home and waiting in the limo would be a gift bag of Jeter memorabilia for the woman to keep in remembrance of their night together.If true, it’s both a totally insane and diabolically smooth gesture.I wish I could claim such a system with the groupies I’ve slept with.Instead, my move is normally weeping uncontrollably in my pillow until she sees herself out.
P.S. Is that an offer?Call me.
What is the absolute worst sexual experience you have had?
Probably the hand job Myra Steinberg gave me while watching Schindler’s List in her UND dorm room.
Have you ever been caught masturbating in a really strange place?
Does an elevator in the Empire State Building count?
What is the difference between fucking and making love?
Fucking is living in the moment, and you can say and do things you would normally wouldn’t say or do in regular life, like exclaiming “tenderize my meat!” or sticking six fingers in a butthole.Making love involves staying inside yourself and your committed relationship.Each has its pros and cons.
Do you think that Internet porn has affected people’s sexuality negatively or positively?
I addressed this in some detail in Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.I’m generally disturbed by the effect internet porn must be having on our society, especially teenagers.When I was young, you had to work and sacrifice blood, sweat and tears for every glimpse of a nipple.Now, a teenage boy can call up Puerto Rican midget anal creampie bondage videos in a fraction of a second.I’m not convinced that that’s a good thing.Then again, being a connoisseur of Puerto Rican midget anal creampie bondage films, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.
Do you think sex addiction is the most fun addiction to have?
Either that or PEZ.
Prostitution: should it be legal?
I used to do this thing whenever I picked up a hooker. Right before I put the money on the bed I would sing the final lines of the Bee-Gees’ “Paying the Price of Love” to the prostitute:
I’ll build my world around you/ I was nothing when I found you/ Paying the price of love/
CK: “He has no intrinsic coolness, and he has no extrinsic coolness. Yet Billy Joel is great… unlike 99 percent of pop artists, there is absolutely no relationship between Joel’s greatness and Joel’s coolness (or lack thereof)…Every one of Joel’s important songs—including the happy ones—are ultimately about loneliness. And it’s not ‘clever lonely’ (like Morrissey) or ‘interesting lonely’ (like Radiohead); it’s ‘lonely lonely…’”
Sometimes I have to state the obvious just to make sure my obvious is, well, OBVIOUS.It’s obvious that Billy Joel is not “cool.”He’s never dressed better than “substitute teacher” level, he never plugged an electric piano into a distortion pedal and shredded on a blues riff in “B,” and he’s definitely not singing the hook on a Drake track anytime soon (although, if he did, their combined cries from the great existential drift might tear a hole in the fabric of time).It should also be clear that B.J. is lonely.I mean lonely.I’m talking serious, borderline cat-lady-who-wears-pajamas-all-day-and-eats-nothing-but-microwaved-Salisbury-Steak LONELY.
Loneliness is a condition fabricated and affected by many artists, but is only truly achieved by a select few.You see, being tortured moves units.Giving the audience a glimpse into your personal abyss set to music is a toe-tapping car crash – we can’t help but crane our necks toward the wreckage as we bob our heads to the beat.So, in this marketplace of misery, how does Joel achieve unassailable authenticity?How can he, unlike the pretenders, actually reach this rare, ascetic artistic state?The same way Joe DiMaggio achieved his captivating level of gentlemanly precision and excellence; the same way Patton used his God-given grit and determination to inspire his frightened, inexperienced troops; the very same way a young, upstart director captured the imagination of a nation with a little film no one believed in called Avatar (maybe you’ve heard of it?).How does Joel do it?He does it with good, old fashioned American realness.
Let’s consider some of B.J.’s competition in the loneliness game.First – the master of mope – Morrissey.The supposedly asexual Morrissey (totally gay) would like you to believe that he spends all day alone in a “bedsit” under the gray skies of England reading Oscar Wilde and sighing deeply about his unappreciated genius and unrequited loves.In reality, the Moz spends his days in a palatial hacienda under the bright sunny skies of Southern California, reading Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and banging Mexican man-boys.Not bad (even if you don’t like to bang man-boys).Now on to “tortured genius” Thom Yorke (potentially gay).He would like you to believe that he spends all day gazing out of the window of his shabby-chic Oxford flat, contemplating the detached and isolated existence that urbanization and technology has created under the auspices of bringing us closer together.In reality, he is likely playing with his cherubic children at a playground in some posh gated community, laughing heartily between bites of Hob Nobs and sips of Earl Grey.Do these sound like lonely existences?Are they really creating their art from an enormous vault of bitterness and alienation buried deep in the recesses of their souls?Have either of them ever eaten sixteen cans of Vienna Sausages and consumed two bottles of bourbon in one sitting before passing out in a bubbling pool of their own vomit and feces?Please…
Unlike Joel, Morrissey and Yorke have mastered the art of artifice.They have created well-defined personas and now pen each lonesome lyric from this “Morrissey” or “Yorke” perspective instead of from the actual Morrissey or Yorke perspective.And yet, people absolutely worship their artistic output, and allow their songs to touch them deeply, as if they are legitimate comments on the human experience.They write songs about forlorn characters while simultaneous pretending to be forlorn characterS themselves!That’s like your favorite author being James Cahn’s character in “Misery” and your favorite book being the book he wrote crazy Kathy Bates.It’s two levels of deceit down!How anyone could stomach, let alone respect or cherish, their songs is a mystery to me.If art isn’t honest, if it’s not predicated on authenticity, then what is it?
I have been lucky enough to spend some time with Billy both as a journalist and as some sort of enabler/compatriot /confidant (I wouldn’t go so far as to say “friend” as I doubt he truly allows anyone close enough for that distinction).While I confess that my access has given me an enhanced appreciation for his work, and a deeper understanding of the man who created it, this occurred after my initial estimation of Joel’s artistic merit.Authenticity is really all that matters here, and having first-hand supporting evidence shouldn’t compromise the integrity of my opinion.The fact that he once called me “the son [he] never had, and probably would have molested,” doesn’t contaminate or corrupt the validity of my previous arguments.Somehow, deep down, I just knew he was authentic, but now I know.If I have previously revealed myself to be a bit of “Doubting Thomas” when it comes to the personal pain of artists, let’s just say that, from the hours spent with Billy, I’ve seen holes big enough to drive a tractor trailer full of gear from Van Halen’s 1984 tour through.
When I think of my time with B.J., I often think of something he said to me as we were leaving a cozy, lacquered wood restaurant to go back out into the cold New England air and return home.He turned to me and whispered, “My coat could warm a thousand maggots, and any one of those fuckers could grow up to be a Mark David Chapman with a mean set of antlers and fucking laser vision.”He began walking toward his car and softly added, “I should have gotten the pot pie” and then, quieter still, “bearded fag-ass…” before he trailed off.Admittedly, we had been drinking.He started with a fine bottle of Baltic Cabernet and then moved to scotch, and I stayed pat with my sole intoxicant of choice – Mountain Dew with six maraschino cherries (hold the stems).I offered to drive, even though my eyes were twitching and my intestines were vibrating like a washing machine on spin cycle from the ninety-six ounces of Dew I foolishly consumed (free refills!).Before I could take the keys, Billy collapsed across the hood of the car and screamed “Moo goo gai pan!” viciously at the carburetor.I quickly retrieved his keys from his coat pocket and deposited him in the passenger seat.Here was my chance.His guard was finally down and he seemed more real, more in touch with his pain than he had been all day.I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get deeply personal with a music legend, and my mind was spinning as I began to drive slowly through the winding roads back to one of his seven rustic vacation homes.
I started by asking him if he believed, as I do, that personal pain was essential to creating great, credible art.“Have you ever seen a squirrel masturbate?” he asked.“I never have, but apparently they whack off all the time.They’re hyper-sexual creatures.Didn’t know that, did you?I’ve heard there are instances when one starts ‘doing it’ and it draws a crowd, and all those furry little perverted bastards all sit around and watch this exhibitionist on his branch go at it.It makes you think.”I asked him if he was suggesting that he felt this way about the creative process, or about performing in general.“You think that I think that I’m some fucking rodent jerking off in a fucking tree?I’m one of the top recording artists of all time.I won six Grammys.Are you fucked in your skull, Klosterson?Did all that Mountain Dew make you shit your brain out?I thought I smelled something.”(There was no smell.)
I decided to change course and asked him if he had any musical ambitions that he hadn’t fully achieved.B.J.’s head slumped against the passenger seat window.“You know why the Holocaust really happened?I mean, the real motivation behind it?Hitler was afraid that the Jews had plans to activate the spaceships buried underneath the pyramids and return to their home planet.He couldn’t allow that, not with the knowledge that spies from the moon of Gorgon had just infiltrated his communications.Even you can appreciate that.I’m not saying this excuses what happened, not at all, but it puts it in some fucking perspective, you know?That’s what ‘Big Shot’ was really about, originally: Hitler trying to stick it to the Gorgonians.But no, the record company suits said it was too ‘intergalactic’ and ‘controversial’ and to ‘bring it down to Earth.’Scumfucks.What do they know about the reign of Zaldor?Jackfuckingshit.”And with that, he began to drift off to the deep, satisfied sleep known only to the gifted and the mad.“Good night, Billy,” I said softly, resisting the urge to gently kiss his lovably furrowed brow.“Pot pie,” he mumbled in return, “pot pie.”
The next morning, after frantically searching every unlocked cabinet and drawer for old Polaroids of Christie Brinkley nude, I attempted to resume my line of questioning over coffee.The previous night did not go exactly according to plan.We had an enjoyable weekend, and I certainly gained some insight into the man and the songwriter.But I was here for something more.I was on a quest to reveal what makes a true artist, what pain and frustration propels a human being toward greatness.I wanted to get at the heart of his inspiration once and for all to uncover what made him so real.I began asking about his childhood (cheap, I know, but I was desperate).After a little while, he began dropping his guard.
“You know, when I yelled ‘Trouble in the Suez!’ at the end of second verse of ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire,’ what I was really expressing was the anger and pain of my childhood,” he revealed (finally!).“Specifically, my mother had a nervous breakdown after I was born.Postpartum depression, whatever you want to call it.She couldn’t shake it. One time…”Joel turned his head, and for about two full seconds gave a thousand-yard stare out into the void before coming right back to our conversation.“One time… she tried to physically shove me back into her womb.I was fourteen…She was very ill.”
“Look, I was bullied in school, all that stuff.But you know what makes up for all that shit?Dropping a load on Elle MacPherson’s tits.Did you know I dated her before Christie?And don’t even get me started on Christie…When I was single again in my late 50s I could still pull down girls in their twenties.I married one – she’s was the first host of ‘Top Chef.’Look at me – I’m overweight, bald, kinda beat up looking.I could nail a college girl right now.And not a slob either, like an 8 or a 9.It’s insane!”
As much as I tried to steer the conversation back to the pain, the disappointment, the struggles, Billy just wanted to talk about “tail.”Given what he’s been through, I guess I couldn’t blame him.Like his hero John Lennon said, “Whatever gets you through the night.”So, as much as I wanted to end this piece a certain way, things don’t always work out as planned.In honor of that, I’ll let B.J. have the last word.
“I don’t care what anyone says, being a famous musician or a rock star – it’s fucking amazing.I realize people have their problems; everyone has their demons.God knows I’ve got mine.But how can you sit around and whine about living out your dreams and making millions?I don’t care if it’s checking into Betty Ford or plowing into Betty the cocktail waitress – you find a way to straighten yourself out, you keep living, and you soak it in when you can.If there’s one thing I hate in this world it’s whiners…Whiners and Armenians.”
My addition on Grantland to the needlessly large heap of Teblowhards (yes!) can be essentially summarized by the following: Tebow is a man of Christian faith who inspires a faith in his fans akin to his own faith in God/Jesus.Now, one could argue that religious faith could not and should not be compared to faith in the outcome of a relatively meaningless sporting event; that rooting for any professional athlete or sports team requires an irrational faith, as odds of winning a championship are firmly stacked against both fan and team; that faith in an athlete, who has tangible skills and a quantifiable track record of performance, is a very different faith than the one in which people engage when worshipping an unseen higher power; that Faith No More is a way better band than Blind Faith.And if you did argue any of those points, I’d see your point.But still, that connection I made is pretty good.
Enough with faith, let’s attack this from a different angle.This time of year, my thoughts naturally turn to my boyhood home in North Dakota.The holidays were a magical time there, with the familiar, comforting scent of roasted elk dung, a warm mug full of beet cider, and, if you were lucky, maybe even some chocolate covered pebbles under your pillow (the trick was to gnaw the chocolate off without chipping a tooth… I was a pro).It was a classic slice of Americana; the pure embodiment of cheer and goodwill.There is only one recollection I have that mars my otherwise perfect holiday memories.
Keithy Appleton was known by most in our town.He worked at the general store, restocking shelves and doing other odds and ends.He said hello to everyone he saw in his trademark cheerful manner, and once he knew your name he never forgot it.He was a simple man, owing mostly to the fact that he was half-retard.But Keithy always had that light in his heart and shine in his spirit, and he became a lynchpin of our community.One day, after a series of severe rainstorms, Keithy got to working with some mud out in the field behind the general store.I guess he must have liked the feel of it because soon he was out in that mud every day after his shift at the store.Before long, he must have had an epiphany and realized why he was irresistibly drawn to mud, and began working in secret.After a few months of seclusion, he started telling everyone in town that he was putting on a big show on Christmas Eve and everybody needed to be there.
Nearly the whole town arrived that night for Keithy’s big event in Cransky’s Field.It was a crisp, clear night and the stars shone like tiny celestial spotlights, all trained on our Keithy.He had white sheets thrown over indistinguishable forms in the field and, once everyone had arrived, he began removing the sheets to reveal his prized creations – crude sculptures done with his precious mud.Everyone was a bit taken aback by this turn of events.I think most townspeople assumed he’d lead everyone in some Christmas carols, or maybe ask everyone to help him decorate some big pine he dragged out of the woods.As I scanned across his collection, I saw his Piggy (which looked more like a melting turtle), Tractor (which was basically a mound of dirt with a wagon wheel placed on top), Sammy Davis, Jr. (he used a dead possum for the microphone) and Santa (which more closely resembled a leprechaun masturbating).
There were many other sculptures that, due to the ravages of time, I can no longer recall.I remember, as a child, thinking it was all pretty neat, but looking at the adults, they seemed generally befuddled.Some were going up and congratulating the artist for his achievements, while others seemed hesitant and confused.Before long, it appeared the entire town was divided right the down the middle between those who would exaggeratedly praise Keithy and those who felt uncomfortable with that reaction, who felt it might be patronizing and instead said little or nothing.Narrowly does a Christmas Eve pass by without me thinking of that night, full of confusion and division.(It’s hard to let a Thanksgiving pass without also having thoughts of Keithy, as the next year he made himself a Thanksgiving dinner out of his beloved mud, ate it and died of barium poisoning.)
All of this heated debate about Tebow reminds me of that cold December night.Is Tim Tebow as quarterback-challenged as Keithy Appleton was mentally-challenged?Maybe.There’s a strong possibility.I’d say almost certainly now that I think about it a little more.Should Tebow receive special understanding and treatment because of this, or should such condescending efforts be avoided, as uncomfortable as it all might be?Should an evaluation of Tebow be granted certain concessions due to his simple understanding of the world around him or should he be evaluated using the same measures as everyone else?These questions are just as derisive now as they were under that clear North Dakota sky thirty years ago.
The one thing I learned from that childhood experience is that you’re never going to get townsfolk to all agree on anything.Some people even argue just for the sake of arguing.So for every Tebow defender there will be detractor; for everyone who is in awe of his undivided faith in God and his own abilities, there will be someone who will point out that he can’t throw a football very well.It’s just the way of world.In Tebow’s view, while he may have some talent on the gridiron, that talent is God’s gift – he’s God’s creation, it’s God’s field and it’s God’s ball.Regardless of how you feel about TT’s faith and his abilities, you have to admit this: he’s an exciting player to watch.If he can keep it up, he’ll suddenly make Denver football a must-watch, and who wouldn’t enjoy that every Sunday?So, regardless of your beliefs, let’s all hope that Tebow keeps a firm hand on God’s balls for years and years to come.
It’s been an incredibly busy time here in safe confines of the KlosterKave.I’ve been sketching out a new book, researching a long-form piece for Grantland, and cultivating a richer, hardier autumnal beard with a steady diet of jerky and gravy.I’ve been away for too long, and for that I’m truly sorry.As a small token of penance, I am unveiling here a project that has been in the making for some time – my Ultimate Music Fan Survey.It’s in two parts, ten questions each.It should only take a few minutes to complete, although this is not to discourage you from devoting significant contemplative time to certain questions.There are serious philosophical inquiries of incredible gravity contained within these links, so please go at your own pace.Feel free to spread the word to fellow music aficionados – the more responses, the more reliable data.Once responses start to taper off, I will post the results here – I might even use pie charts.For now, please enjoy.
CK: “My prediction: I think in the next five years that something is going to come along that’s going to be an even shorter version than Twitter. I think it’s going to be a ten-character thing. It’s going to be like Twitter but there will only be ten characters and the idea will be you will just basically write what you’re commenting on and basic reaction. You’ll just write, ‘30 Rock. Underwhelmed.’”
The quote above was taken from an interview I did not that long ago with Gothamist.Typically, I do not volunteer personal information in interviews, especially the fact that I live in New York City, for obvious reasons.Most of my readers think of me as “the outsider critic from North Dakota” or “the bearded pop-culture sage from the plains” or “that smart guy from the middle of nowhere whose first girlfriend was an anthill after a rainstorm.”This is my identity, the one I’ve cultivated throughout my career, and I’d hate to alienate my readers with thoughts of me grabbing a kale salad at a vegan lunch truck on my way to see John Hodgman and Das Racist perform in Brooklyn at a benefit for a Williamsburg co-op while listening to The Best Show on WFMU on my sustainably harvested earbuds all the while tweeting incessantly about how #OccupyWallStreet is the first protest movement in the U.S. with the possibility to affect any real change since Vietnam.That Chuck Klosterman is a bag of fuck.
I’ve always held that a person’s more contemptuous tendencies grow in direct relation to the size of the city they call home.For example, if you take a young man from Peoria, IL and move him to Chicago, he will become that much more of a self-satisfied asshole relative to how much larger Chicago is than Peoria.Think about every friend you’ve had who moved to a larger city.After about two years of them steeping in the smog-and-smug-filled air of a megalopolis, you can barely stand to be in the same room with them.The volume of their speaking voice has gone up six decibels, they are 900% more opinionated yet 400% less informed, and they developed some sort of dairy allergy so they won’t even split the jalapeño poppers with you.Now, the logical question that follows is: am I, the originator of said theory, subject to it?Well, of course not, and you don’t have to be either.This phenomenon happens to those who don’t expect it; those unaware of a large city’s pull and infectious power. Having created this theory out of my own thoughtscape, it is a small part of me and therefore I am inherently immune to its effects, much like how every vaccine has a bit of the illness from which you are being inoculated.I cannot be hoisted on my own petard because my petard is a concept, a concept that I conceived and therefore cannot fall victim to because its significance is imbedded in my consciousness, probably before I was ever even conscious of it myself, a kernel of truth that has grown throughout my person and eventually became so powerful that it sprouted out of me and into this piece so that it may now pollinate the blogosphere and inseminate your thoughts and, if your thoughtscape’s soil is fertile, sprout its truth through your person and protect you from the evils of big city elitist self-righteousness and general dickishness.
But I digress.
The one-on-one interview is a format that often does not allow for elaboration or exposition.Having made my bold prediction regarding the future of Twitter (in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have wasted that nugget on a crappy regional interview), I needed to turn to this forum to better explain and exemplify my idea.We, as human beings and products of our environment, have developed a diminished attention span, one that is collectively decreasing every year.Because of texting, smart phones and the bounty of content available immediately on the internet, we are lacking what our grandparents would refer to as “patience.”If there is a 20 second commercial before a YouTube clip, the vast majority of us would think fuck this and move on to something we can watch instantly without burning those precious seconds.(Why we as a culture willingly choose to spend portions of our precious time watching kitten videos and other mindless, user-generate content but are disgusted by the thought of trashing a few seconds on a commercial intensely labored over by a multi-million dollar advertising company is another story.)Simultaneously, technology is engineering everything down to smaller, sleeker versions of the original.A computer used to take up the basement of an entire building at MIT.Now people carry them around in their pocket and call it a phone.Everything is getting physically smaller (except skyscrapers, burritos and dildos), if it’s even still physical at all (can’t exactly hold an album of mp3s in your hands on the way back from Sam Goody these days, now can you?).When I was a kid, everyone wanted a Tonka truck, especially the dump truck because you could fill the bed up with dirt (North Dakota’s most precious natural resource).But when Hot Wheels finally made their way to the Dakotas, the paradigm completely shifted.Dirt immediately went from being the state’s second most popular toy to its fifth, an all-time low.And when Micro Machines hit the stores?Forget it.The day they were released, the scene inside the Fargo Kiddie City made the Tet Offensive look like an Algonquin tea party.And I’d really rather not revisit the horrific images of the Great Polly Pocket Massacre of 1989.The point is, people increasingly want their products and their information scaled down, and they want it fast.Short, sweet and fleet.
When Twitter was first introduced, it was met with a combination of nerdy glee (yay, another online forum to make me feel like my existence matters) and stodgy consternation (who the fuck cares?).Now of course it is part of our national discourse, and a limitless repository for idiocy, one-liners, self-promotion and dick pics.The essential question that I and many of my fellow writer-types asked during its rise – what the hell am I going to do with 140 characters? – now feels charmingly naïve.For anyone under 16, 140 characters reads like a tome.All we want and need are sound bites, the more easily digestible the better.Twitter is now giving us a Triple Whopper when all we desire is a Doritos Late Night All Nighter Cheeseburger Dorito. A Doritos Late Night All Nighter Cheeseburger Dorito gives us all of the flavor with only a fraction of the consumption time (and a much less horrifying ensuing bathroom experience).It’s the natural progression of things.
It’s clear that Twitter is quickly becoming outmoded with all its extraneous language (verbs, adjectives).In order to stay ahead of the curve and jump the trend and tip the point, I’m championing this new format of abbreviated tweet-like correspondence now with several examples of how it might look.I’m still playing with the exact character limit, so I did not hold myself to any regimented standard.With more experimentation and data analysis by me and my staff, the right limit will bear out.I recommend trying it on for size and using it yourself in your daily life – feel free to tweet your examples to me at @KlosonKlos on (dinosaur) Twitter – since it’s only healthy to embrace the future, even if the future is a mongoloid with three teeth.Behold the future of social interaction.
My editor over at Scribner seems to think that in order to most successfully implant my new novel The Visible Man in the nation’s zeitgeist at a time when I’m competing for space in the limited attention span of my target demographic group (15-25 years old, male, underemployed, ironic, girlfriend-less), I should utilize every facet of the Chuck Klosterman synergy machine. So in addition to the excerpt that I published on Grantland (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7055947/visible-man), the book-trailer-mini-movie (http://youtu.be/8spoh_AGbYA) that the forward-thinking folks at Scribner put together, the Visible Man beer cozies that Scribner is marketing in conjunction with PBR, and the “I ♥ The Visible Man” t-shirt that I’ll be wearing on next week’s episode of VH1’s Best Week Ever, I’m going to offer another excerpt to you, my loyal readers, here at Klosterman On Klosterman.
So, enjoy, Constant Reader. Spread the word, and do, please, buy a book.
“Anyone who thinks that Cool Ranch Doritos are superior to the tried-and-true Nacho Cheese flavor is basically an idiot.”
I couldn’t understand why Marcus was so adamant about a fundamentally stupid debating point. To the best of my knowledge, black people didn’t even eat Doritos. I mean, if you think about it, Doritos seem like an exclusively white snack—kind of like Fig Newtons or Nutter Butters. Like Loggins & Messina, they just don’t seem to cut across racial lines. Not, by the way, that Marcus was actually that black. At Berkeley we used to call him Marcus Marcuse because of his decidedly white bourgeoisie brand of radical politics that he inherited from his Huxtable-like parents.
“For Chrissakes Marcus, why do you even care? Make a federal offense out of it why dontcha.” My impatience with this particular little dispute was mostly indicative of a sort of frustration that I’d been feeling towards Marcus for some weeks. “Y’know, I’m really sick of your bullshit, dude.”
“Yeah, I know, Marcus. And it’s friggin annoying, ok?”
Marcus always backed down—probably because he had been trying to get me out of my ringer tee and corduroys since our first grad school Psych class eleven years earlier. It probably hasn’t helped that my career as a psychiatrist has been at least moderately successful while Marcus still spends his days folding tortillas at El Guapo Burrito where we had our one, unfortunate, date so many years ago. We both know that the subtle subtext of our relationship is basically that he’s stuck working a shitty dead end job at the burrito shop that he once took me to in a misguided attempt to get in my pants via the slacker “I’m just a regular guy who could give two shits” pose that would lead a guy to Actually Take a First Date to a Burrito Shop; while I’ve gone on to a string of romantic relationships with a) a lawyer who defends migrant laborers pro bono, b) a long-distance runner training for the 2008 Summer Games, and c) the guy who recorded the first Strokes demo.
I could see his pride suffering another defeat and it pained me. “Forget it. No biggie.”
“Oh well? Whatever? Nevermind?”
At the mention of the Nirvana line we had shared together what seemed like thousands of times,my mood immediately lightened—Kurt had that effect on me. He was, after all, the voice of our generation.
“Yeah Marcus,” I responded. “ Ohwellwhatevernevermind.Just buy the stupid bag of Cool Ranch, these munchies are having their way with me.”
Ever since Y___ walked into my life I’ve reverted back to these adolescent-like protections against the insecurities I was now feeling. Getting high. So much like a companion, the old routines were as welcoming as a familiar song on the radio. Scratch that—who listens to the goddamn radio? It was like when your favorite song came on your iPod Shuffle when you’re on the fourth mile of your morning run. Like the time when that old Mary Lou Lord song “Some Jingle Jangle Morning” that pissed off Courtney Love so much unexpectedly came piping, cassette-to-mp3 lo-fi tininess, through my earbuds during one morning’s particularly grueling tricep flab-reducing run. Getting high. I listened to that Mary Lou Lord cassette while stoned out of my 10th grade mind quite a few times back then. It used to be my dad and now it’s Y___.
Always men.Always these problems.Always the same remedies. Getting high.
CK: “What’s most disturbing is the amount of Internet porn that has absolutely nothing to do with sexual desire… notably the endless sites showing men ejaculating on women’s faces while the recipients pretend to enjoy it; this has about as much to do with sex as hitting someone in the face with a frying pan.”
The quote above is from one of the most intentionally prescient pieces I’ve ever written.For a while I was convinced that it singlehandedly inspired recent porn video aggregator sites, such as pornhub, and considered legal action until my lawyer convinced me that they were inspired by jerking off.One thing it indisputably inspired was a bewildering number of responses from people with disturbing frying pan fetishes.Apparently certain people do receive sexual pleasure from hitting another person in the face (or elsewhere) with a frying pan.I mean, occasionally my wife and I will put on an episode of “Hell’s Kitchen” and play “naughty chef” but I’m much more of a “balls cradled in a muffin tin” kind of a guy than a “crack me across the chin with a sauce pan” type.I thought the frying pan simile was about as far away from sexual gratification as possible, but I guess I underestimated the depths of filth and debauchery that some of my more “adventurous” readers are willing to go for a physical thrill (thanks for reading guys, but please stop sending me those videos – I have neverand will never visit fillitwithaskillet.com).Be that as it may, my culinary descriptor was just the creamy icing atop my logic cake.My real point remains valid, true and unchallenged – a man completing a sex act on a woman’s face clearly has NOTHING to do with sex.
Let’s stay in the realm of cuisine to further illustrate my point.Say you really enjoy dining out with your significant other.So, one night you go out together to an expensive restaurant and order an indulgent five course meal.You start out during the first course sitting across from him or her, then you try eating the next course sitting next to each other to enhance the intimacy of the evening, then maybe you try eating the next course while standing behind your companion while he or she is bent face down against the table and, since you are a considerate partner and diner, you reach around to make sure your partner’s napkin doesn’t slip off his or her lap.Needless to say, dinner is going quite well; you’re really eating the shit out of this dinner.You can begin to tell dessert is on the way – anticipation starts to build, but that doesn’t slow you down from knocking out the rest of that entrée course.Now you can really tell that the crème brulee is on its way to the table and it looks incredible.But just after you crack open the caramelized top and get ready to dig in, you start flinging spoonfuls of the brulee into your partner’s face, getting it in his or her eyes and hair, and a little up the nose, all the while saying “yeah, you like that, don’t you?”Would a true gourmand engage in such uncouth behavior, especially toward a fellow foodie?Does this act have anything to do with an actual, enjoyable dining experience?I won’t even dignify this hypothetical question with a hyper-hypothetical response.
(Mandatory sports section, brought to you by Grantland.Grantland: brought to you by AOL, Zune and the McDonald’s Arch Deluxe.)
Just because two things appear to have a seemingly obvious connection or corollary doesn’t mean they veritably do.Many connections taken at face value to be implicit in fact obscure the true tributary networks that connect and shape our reality.These false linkages are exposed by people every day when they look a little deeper at something they would typically take for granted.I was reminded of one such fallacy on Monday while watching the Washington vs. Dallas game. (Nine field goals!Talk about riveting! I bet if soccer had uprights that were worth three points above their goal MLS could get a TV contract that would make the NHL’s look like the LFL’s.)To the average sports enthusiast, American football is all about the touchdown.The feeling when those two balls get pounded (one ball awards six points for penetrating the end zone and the other scores one point for putting it between the posts) is the height of exhilaration.I myself am guilty of feeling the titillation that results from a finely sculpted human specimen exerting his will and inserting himself into the promised land.The object of power and desire (the football) is finally where this man has fantasized about putting it, and even if just the tip crosses the plane, it counts.The player has scored, and his fans erupt in celebration.
Some would say that the touchdown is the most exciting climax in all of sports, especially late in a game when the defense has been fighting hard all day only to get woozy, fall asleep and give it up in the final seconds.I can only imagine the dejection felt when making that walk of shame back to the locker room to wash off the dirt that just won’t seem to come off.On the other hand, the victor struts off the field walking on air, but also with an afterthought of wonder about the defense’s big muff and its supposedly impregnable protection.To many, this act is the lynchpin of the sport; the foundation upon which it has built its empire of cheap Nike jerseys and Papa John’s commercials.It disturbs me that people rabidly enjoy an act that is perversely and erroneously regarded as the ultimate achievement.It’s the equivalent of buying a steak based solely on its sizzle.Touchdowns have absolutely nothing to do with football.
Taken at its base elements, football is not a game of points – it is a game of yards.Each set of downs is a ten yard fight, with the offense attempting to establish position in the opponent’s territory while the defense battles to preserve it.The struggle for field position, the push and pull for yards, is the true backbone of the game – everything else that happens on the field is predicated on this undeniable truth.While touchdowns present an obvious sweet release, the real game is grinded out between the hash marks.While this fact remains abstruse to the majority of fans, elite players know this all too well.Take Pro Bowl special teamer Dante Hall for example.Called “The Human Joy Stick,” Hall was a return specialist that would jerk this way and that, drive hard up the middle, and take it to the hilt nearly every time he was left unprotected.And yet even Hall, a flashy player if there ever was one, understands that it’s simply about yards.“The game is all about field position.Defensive and offensive lineman control the game and true sports fans know that,” Hall once told somebody.So while the millions of fans who every weekend scream, yell, moan and groan (or get drunk and slather goo all over there face and chest to demonstrate their dedication) may in fact be passionate, they are likely missing the entire point.And that’s what baffles me about internet porn as well.
How did we become a society that so often misses the point?How do we regularly engage in activities that are supposedly meaningful only to misconstrue the entire enterprise?A woman getting a facial isn’t about sex or desire, it’s about denigration.Football isn’t about touchdowns, it’s about yards and field position.Ultimately, I suppose this is why I was drawn to writing in the first place – to help others get the point.If my work can help people see the point, accept the point and internalize the point – I mean really put the point inside them – then I have done my job.I started writing online at Grantland because it doesn’t really matter to me where they get the point, just as long as they really get it.Sometimes readers may have to suck on the point for a little while before they really let it in, and that’s OK.Some points aren’t easy to swallow.Eventually I know that the point’s time will come, and afterward I will be showered in loads of feedback from my readers.And that’s really what it’s all about.
CK: “I’m shocked by anyone who doesn’t consider Los Angeles to be anything less than a bozo-saturated hellhole. It is pretty much without question the worst city in America. The reason “Walking in L.A.” by Missing Persons was the most accidentally prescient single of 1982 was because of its unfathomable (but wholly accurate) specificity: Los Angeles is the only city in the world where the process of walking on the sidewalk could somehow be a) political and b) humiliating. It is the only community I’ve ever visited where absolutely everything cliché proved to be completely accurate.”
There aren’t that many great songs about Los Angeles—it’s true, look it up. I did. There’s actually a Wikipedia entry for “List of Songs About Los Angeles” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_songs_about_Los_Angeles). Scrolling through the songs on the wiki entry constituted more research than I’ve done for half of my Grantland pieces this year. Man, I’m winded from all that research.That was almost as exhausting as going to cocktail parties with Noel Gallagher, or setting my DVR for pointless sporting events (Shh, I’m trying to make it seem like I’m working really hard so Bill keeps backing the Brinks truck up to Kasa Klosterman.If he asks, tell him I’ve been looking pale and rundown).There are lots of really horrible songs about L.A. on that list. Most are just forgettable and only a few are any good. Really, the only truly outstanding ones I could find are Cheech Marin’s “Born in East L.A.”, Public Enemy’s “Burn Hollywood Burn”, and Liz Phair’s “Dogs of L.A.” Every other song on there pretty much sucks. Shit, Red Hot Chili Peppers have like seventeen bad songs on there all by themselves.
It’s hard to write great music about shitty places. That’s why there aren’t any good songs about shopping malls, dentist offices, South Dakota, or the World Cup (ok, so the WC isn’t really a place, but whatever). And L.A. is one really god-awful place that I hate now as much as I did when I wrote the above quote in my well-selling road narrative Killing Yourself to Live. The fact that Missing Persons, a competent but ultimately derivative New Wave act, could pull off the single most quintessentially “L.A.” song ever written and make it good to boot (eat a dick Randy Newman) is a testament to the unending surprise gifts that pop music bestows on us in so many unexpected ways.
For whatever reason, the blogosphere latched onto the above quote—maybe because while the blogosphere is supposedly an ethereal, almost metaphysical location, it seems to emanate from the computers of L.A. and the nearby San Fernando Valley denizens (and its porn peddlers) as much as any single place. Some people took exception to my characterization of L.A. as a “bozo-saturated hellhole” but I honestly don’t think there’s a city in the whole USofA that even rivals L.A. in terms of suckitude. None of the traditional whipping boys even come close.
Take, for example, Phoenix, a city much derided by the East Coast establishment residents of cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Phoenix is often held to ridicule for its postmodern sprawling, horizontal development that devours the desert around it as it expands exponentially in circumference, and lack of a tenable water supply (did I mention it’s in the fucking desert?). In 1950 Phoenix had a modest population of 106,000. By the end of the century, the city had grown so absurdly rapidly that it could count 1.3 million residents on its rolls. And while the city lacks a center of critical mass that defines the vertical cities of the Northeast corridor, there has to be a reason why so many people would want to live there. Look, an elitist critic might second guess the implied motives of over a million people but that’s just never been my style. There has to be something attractive about Phoenix, right?
You bet your sweet ass there is. When Thunder Dan Majerle, formerly of the Phoenix Suns, opened Majerle’s Sports Grill in 1992 (the year in which he was voted an NBA All-Star despite the fact that he didn’t even start for his own team) he almost single-handedly reinvented the Celebrity-Athlete-Sportsbar-and-Grill franchise while taking it to dizzying new heights. At any of the four locations of Majerle’s a diner can feast on reinvented sports bar staples like Slam Dunk Shrimp (seasoned shrimp tossed in wing sauce and served with celery, carrot sticks and buttermilk ranch dressing; also available with Chili Pepper Garlic or Teriyaki) or Baxter’s Boneless Buffalo Wings(tender all white meat chicken, tossed in your choice of sauce, served with celery, carrots and ranch dressing; available in Mild, Medium, Maniac, Chili Pepper Garlic, Sweet Barbecue, Teriyaki and Traverse City’s Secret Sauce).
Majerle’s might be the single best (albeit in four locations) sportsbar in the country…if it weren’t for the contributions of a uniquely Phoenix pair of celebrities’ own contribution to the city’s Celebrity-Athlete-Sportsbar-and-Grill scene. At Alice Cooperstown, co-owners Alice Cooper and Randy “Big Unit” Johnson have created a unique culinary space where “jocks and rock meet.” When the seminal shock-rocker Cooper (whose “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is one of the few non-Kiss songs that could actually pass as a Kiss song) decided to retire to the golf courses of Maricopa County who could have predicted that he would team up with the Arizona Diamondbacks hero to further establish Phoenix as the definitive Celebrity-Athlete-Sportsbar-and-Grill city in America? There isn’t another city in the nation that can match Majerle’s and Alice Cooperstown’s combined jalapeno-and-nacho cheese topped dominance.
ANYWAY, I shouldn’t have to defend Phoenix, or any other great American city against the lamefest that is L.A. Missing Persons were right when they penned their synth-driven diss 30 years ago and they’d be right today if VH1 brought them together for a reunion on Bands Reunited where they could play that song for us all just one more time.
Look, the collective persons that comprised Missing Persons weren’t the first persons to lament that obvious fact that nobody ever walks in L.A. From the freeways to the traffic-induced smog, the automotivization of L.A. had been a well-known sociological principle of the city for some time. But in 1982 nobody had yet reduced this known known to quite the Camus-like level of the Absurd in quite the same way as “Walking in L.A.” had managed. The second verse and its transition into the chorus encapsulates this Angelean Absurd especially well:
I don’t know could have been a lame jogger maybe/ or someone just about to do the freeway strangler baby/ Shopping cart pusher or maybe someone groovy/ One things for sure he isn’t starring in a movie coz he’s/
Walking in LA/ Walking in LA/ Nobody walks in LA/ Walking in LA/ Walking in LA/ Nobody walks in LA/
When I wrote that the song captured both the “politics” and “humiliation” of actually walking down the street in the city it was this above section that best stood out to me. The implication is that if someone actually was walking down the street in L.A. they would have to be either a) an escapee from the local Special Needs Home b) a deadbeat drifter of the post-Vietnam type, or maybe c) just some guy who is really poor and not very cool at all. Nowhere else in America would it matter in quite the same humiliating way. Only in L.A. is walking both a socio-economic and aesthetic marker.
So yeah, “Walking in L.A.” hit the nail on the proverbial head. It was wonderfully descriptive while remaining eminently fun to listen to—an unusual coup. Looking back, I’m not sure why I thought the song was “accidently prescient” because, honestly, I’m not entirely sure what that phrase even means. I mean, I wrote it, so I probably meant something by it, but I’m not really sure what. Maybe I was thinking that Missing Persons only stumbled upon the central motif of the song? Or maybe its accidental nature has something to do with what I called the song’s “unfathomable specificity,” but then again, I’m not really sure what that means either. Shit, looking back on it, that paragraph may be the most purposefully prescient thing I ever wrote in terms of its unfathomable vagueness.
As a New York Times Bestselling Author and Professional Critic (as certified by Grantland, Spin, and VH1) I guess I’d better salvage this particular little meme. My description of “Walking in L.A.” as “accidently prescient” will have far more cultural cache if I could just situate it within an appropriate context. Hmmmm, but what critical device would afford the meme the proper theoretical weight needed to rescue it from the dustbin of critical mishmash?
I’ve got it. Dear Reader, let me present to you…
THE TOP TEN MOST ACCIDENTLY PRESCIENT SONGS OF 1982
1. Missing Persons “Walking in L.A.” – See above.
2. The Alan Parsons Project “Eye in the Sky” – Of course it took a prog rock band to have the foresight needed to see the advent of a Surveillance Society in which each of us would be forever watched by the all-seeing eye of the Foucaldian Panopticon:
I am the eye in the sky/ Looking at you/ I can read your mind/ I am the maker of rules/ Dealing with fools/ I can cheat you blind/ And I don’t need to see any more/ To know that/ I can read your mind/
3. The Clash “Rock the Casbah” – The Persian Gulf War, the 1993 World Trade Center Attack, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, 9/11, the War on Terror, the Iraq War—The Clash lit a match they never could have imagined would burn so ferociously.
4. A Flock of Seagulls “I Ran (So Far Away)” – With this saccharine sweet slice of synth perfection, A Flock of Seagulls anticipated the entire comedic repertoire of Adam Sandler, whose post-The Wedding Singer success would have been unthinkable without this song and the nostalgia it inspires in really stupid people.
5. Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder “Ebony and Ivory” – Riggs & Murtaugh, Stockton & Malone, Dave Chapelle & that guy Neil who writes his bits with him, Obama & Biden…nuff said.
6. Wall of Voodoo “Mexican Radio” – NAFTA became legally binding on the first day of the year 1994. In 1982, “Mexican Radio” peaked at #21 on the New Zealand pop charts (its highest position in any country). 1994 minus 1982 equals 12, which is the reverse of 21, which, if you add the two digits together, equals 3—the magic number. Got it?
7. The Motels “Only the Lonely” – I’m married, which is mostly great—tax breaks, guilt sex, someone to wash my ringer tee’s—but there’s one thing about getting married that really sucks. I don’t get to go on any of those cool dating websites like Match.com, Fish in the Sea, JDate (oh, the joobs that exist on that site), etc. Sometimes, I lie awake at night on the sofa and dream up entire date scenarios with fictional people that I’ve met through one of these sites. I want so badly to know who I would be matched up with. A cute university librarian with a cat named Mittens? A chick bassist in a rock band who moonlights as a bartender in a cool Williamsburg hangout? Maybe a former shooting guard from the Bismarck State College Women’s basketball team who now is an attorney for the ACLU? It could be literally anyone!
8. Duran Duran “Girls on Film” – Uh, Pornhub anyone?
9. Toto “Africa” – Is there any more pressing geopolitical concern than the plight of African nations and the impoverished people who live there? Doesn’t it just break your heart to know that literally millions of African children are surviving on less than a dollar a day? Toto deserves our admiration for seeing this human rights crisis before any of us—even Bono. There’s a call that all of us must heed, to serve, to do what’s right, to help save Africa:
The wild dogs cry out in the night/ As they grow restless longing for some solitary company/ I know that I must do what’s right/ Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti/ I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become/
10. Musical Youth “Pass the Dutchie” – Little black kids in a band! Not some post-Jackson 5 boy band New Edition nonsense but an actual band! This could have been the future. Unfortunately, because of the success of the insufferable rap music that took over the Urban airwaves right after 1982, millions of musical black youth now only dream of standing on stage in a XXXL wife beater while waving a white towel as their rapper-buddy hoarsely shouts over a cd of their “music.”
So I guess “Pass the Dutchie” was kinda the opposite of “accidently prescient,” wasn’t it? Unless you consider that half of what passes for rap music today is some colloquial update on “passing the dutchie.” That is, unless it’s about killing people, doing new hokey-pokey-esque dances, or nasally whining about how nobody understands what you’re going through (I’m looking at you Drake!). Whatever, doesn’t matter. I’m not even really sure what any of this means and honestly, I haven’t listened to “Walking in L.A.” in at least a dozen years. But books are pretty big things and you have to fill them up with an awful lot of stuff. By the way, my new book comes out this month, it’s called Downtown Owl: A Novel and you should buy it, it’s purposefully prescient in an unfathomably vague way.
CK: What’s so distinctly compelling about this season of Louie is how everyone seems to collectively realize that what C.K. is doing is not only cool, but also authentically artful and unnaturally profound. There’s no debate over its value because there’s no contradictory position to take. It’s not polarizing in any important way: If you’re watching this show, you intuitively know it’s fantastic.
If you couldn’t tell from the quote above (GrantlandEatFreshWhatWouldYouDoForaKlondikeBarJournalismMoneyPit), I truly enjoy Louis C.K.’s work.He views life with the kind of unromanticized pragmatism that really resonates with me.While he is likely a millionaire a few times over, on the show he portrays himself as an everyman (albeit a very funny everyman), simply trying to find balance in a life that often feels like it takes place in a cement mixer.While he is often thoroughly embarrassed, thwarted, confounded, defeated, and inconvenienced, he puts his head down, soldiers on, and continually does what he thinks is right.The show’s moral center brings me back to the lessons of my humble Midwestern childhood.When I was growing up in North Dakota, my grandmother used to have a saying that she claimed was passed down from my great-great-great-grandmother.While the exact origins are a bit murky, there’s one thing I do know – its message is as true today as it was the first day it was spoken.It goes like this: You may be knee deep in pig shit, but at least you’re not chin deep in horse semen.
In my mind, this perfectly encapsulates the sturdy, stout-hearted attitude of the simple folk I was surrounded by growing up, and the people I attempt to surround myself with to this day.This saying was a family motto, a comforting piece of wisdom that we could always turn to in times of trouble.It’s possible that it originated long before the Klosterman clan even settled in the U.S., and as such it felt like a piece of our heritage; a brilliant torch passed from generation to generation.
In my first Home Ec class in junior high, I crocheted our family credo onto a pillow for my final project, and was promptly threatened with an “F” and a possible suspension if I didn’t redo it and “clean up the language.”I steadfastly refused.Instead I brought my grandmother in to speak with my teacher, Ms. Ackerman.Ms. Ackerman had recently moved into town from Chicago by way of Baltimore, and was clearly a little too “big city falootin’” for Grandma (her words).And Grandma told Ms. Ackerman as much during their meeting, defending our family motto with passion, vigor and honor, as well as suggesting that if Ms. Ackerman “hadn’t laid down with all those colored boys in the dirty ghetto and spent some time in the fields like a real woman” Grandma wouldn’t have had to waste her time with this little meeting, especially when she had some eggs to pickle.Needless to say, I got an “A” and my family’s reputation remained unblemished.
Now, what does this have to do with a comedian whose show is inextricably linked to New York City, the polar opposite of everything my grandmother held dear?Well, it’s about sensibility.While there are many things that go on in Louie that my grandmother would not have approved of, the true backbone of the show is his dedication to his daughters (family) and his quiet will to go on no matter what the obstacle (pig shit).In addition to having no stylistic analog in sitcom history, his core message is one that everyone I know, from the hipsterier-than-thou rock critics to my Uncle Pete in Minnesota, can appreciate and enjoy.Literally everyone I know who has seen the show has enjoyed it.Who can take a stand against caring for your children through quiet determination?Certainly no one I know.
This brings me to a sentence I wrote on Grantland a little while back on which I’ve gotten an agonizing amount of feedback.It is from the introduction to my cheeky and topical “Rock VORP” column, and it reads: “We’ve [humans] almost totally conquered polio, racial intolerance, and werewolves.”OK, I admit, I was being a little flippant, but ultimately I stand behind the statement and its message.Yet, I’ve gotten bytes and bytes worth of nitpicky emails attempting to parse, dissect, convolute and misinterpret my meaning.Like this excerpt from Scott in Portland: “According to the World Health Organization, from 2009 to 2010, 23 previously polio-free countries were re-infected due to imports of the virus.Clearly, in the macro view, the overall numbers of those infected have been dropping dramatically in recent decades, but when there is clearly a frightening resurgence of a disease, is it really appropriate to casually bandy about baseless conclusions like ‘almost totally conquered’ in name of some ill-conceived attempt at humor?Don’t you find that irresponsible?”First of all, Scott, your dreadlocks probably smell like a combination of dumpster juice and Ichiro’s jockstrap.Second, I wrote “almost.”Fuck, if dealing with all this scrutiny, criticism and whiny, snarky attacks is the spoils of writing on the internet, I think I might go crawling back to GQ on my hands and knees, promising that I’ll even do that article about The Mentalist that I swore I’d never write.Hey Scott, do you know ANYONE with polio?What’s that???I can’t hear you…No??? You don’t???EXACTLY.In my decades-long existence on this planet, I have never seen, met or high-fived anyone who has polio, who has a brother with polio, who has a polio-stricken pet iguana, or otherwise has encountered a polio victim.Never never ever Andre 3000.
See, I count myself among the grand tradition of American empiricists, like Billy Beane or Ira Robbins (the guy who edited the Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock).As such, I value things like “physical evidence” and “personal experience.”I know polio is almost totally conquered just like I knowLouie is fantastic – I examine my own thoughts and experiences, take cues from my surroundings, and draw conclusions.Easy.Let’s just say for the sake of argument that there’s some 8-year-old girl in Guatemala, for example, who actually has “polio” (I know, it’s absurd, but stick with me here).I could put myself in her place and imagine what her life might be like, what her opinion might be of season two of Louie, or how much she misses CBGB’s, or whether she prefers gordidas or chalupas, but that’s just a thought experiment.It would say more about me, the thinker, than about “her,” and it wouldn’t advance our discussion at all.While the exercise may contain a shred of “empathy,” it doesn’t yield any data, facts, evidence, or real, usable information.It’s just spinning cognitive wheels for its own sake – like a monkey pretending to jerkoff a banana while listening to Velvet Underground while pooping on a hippo whose favorite artist is Warhol.
Let’s take the one thing I’m surest about in this random, imperfect world – that KISS is the greatest hard rock band of all time. How, among the legions of rockers who have rocked, rocked hard, rocked well, rocked tough, rocked loud, and did it all for the enduring glory of rock, did I come to this conclusion?Simple: I used my five senses.The smell of hairspray and sweat mixed with grease paint; the feel of patent leather boots and the smooth plastic of the Ace Frehley figurine in my pocket; the awe-inspiring pageantry of a stage show complete with dazzling lights, superhuman tongues, blood, extraterrestrials, pyrotechnics, and virile tufts of auburn chest hair; the sweet, tropical taste of exotic fruits as I take swigs from my customary two-liter bottle of Hawaiian Punch (I smuggle one into every concert I attend); and, finally, the blistering sounds of driving, melodic, artfully-crafted, sexually-charged rock and roll the likes of which no other artist or artists have ever approached.I know it because I can perceive it, I can physically feel it, and I can evaluate it based on prior experience.It is undeniable.It is, in a word, truth.
You see, if there is one thing I’ve learned from my years as a cultural critic it is this – you can’t be a fence-sitter.You have to take a position, formulate a rationale based on the evidence in front of you, and go full speed ahead.When I was younger, I used to go to great lengths to accrue different points of view, reading books on different cultures, subscribing to both the National Review and The Nation, and acting a bit like an intellectual tourist, gathering a scrap of aesthetics here, internalizing a piece of consequential ethics there.I went on like this for a number of years before I made a monumental decision – I will not let these outside forces, these others, these strangers shape my thoughts, my very cognitive processes.The basic things that make me unique, that make me exist, will be mine and mine alone.I will define my reality.Therefore, if I like Louie and everyone I know likes Louie then there’s no contradictory position to take.If I’ve never seen a person afflicted with polio then it’s surely only months away from being completely eradicated.And if I’ve never seen a bigot actively discriminate against a fellow human being based on race, and if I’ve heard my friends use the term “post-racial” a few times, then racial intolerance is about to meet gender discrimination on the scrap heap of terrible ideas.We don’t live in a world of our own choosing, but we can do what we can to close the gap.Whatever gets you through the pig shit and, God forbid, the occasional deluge of horse semen.That is the way unironic, earnest, middle states dwellers live their lives and I, being one of them, do my best to carry the fire.Grandma would be proud.
CK: There were sporadic exceptions to this rule, but those minor exceptions only served to accentuate its overall relativist take on human nature: Nobody is totally positive and nobody is totally negative, and our inherently flawed assessment of those qualities hinges on where we come from and what we want to believe. And this, of course, is closer to how life actually is (which is why The Wire felt so realistic). It’s a more sophisticated way to depict the world. However — from a fictional, narrative perspective — it ends up making the message a little less meaningful. If nothing is totally false, everything is partially true; depending on the perspective and the circumstance, no action is unacceptable. The conditions matter more than the participants.
I have a confession to make. It’s about something I’ve never felt comfortable admitting to anyone. And I mean nobody at all—not my mom, not my best friends (then or now), not any of my girlfriends, one-night-stands, or 10-minute feel-ups in the back of the Mercury Lounge. No, with this one I was Bob Woodward and the secret was my Deep Throat. Even a few years ago you could have promised me that KISS would play a private concert for my birthday party every year for the rest of my life while Erika Eleniak reenacted the cake stripper scene from Under Siege and Kelly Kapowski fed me Starbursts with Skittle centersif I would divulge the secret and I would have still refused. But with the passage of time and the comfort that comes with growing into one’s true skin I’ve decided it’s time to come clean, to shrug off this awful burden that I’ve shouldered like a one-legged sherpa humping a canvas of butchered yak parts up the Himalayas. It’s time.
I voted for Ronald Reagan.
Are you still there? Look, I don’t expect that all of you will forgive me…but what price honesty? Writing for Grantland—a primarily sports blog owned by one of the largest corporate behemoths on Earth—provides me the comfort that comes with a more well-rounded audience than my years at Spin afforded me. I have some cover now, I can finally really start keeping it real.
I mean, it’s true, I voted for Ronald Reagan for President in 1984. It happened, it’s recorded, it’s history and even Mayor Daley couldn’t change that now. But “Whoa, whoa, whoa, waitasec,” you say. “Chuck, how could you vote for Ronald Reagan for the office of the Presidency in the year 1984 if you were only 12 years old?” And I’d be forced to respond that yes, you’re right Dear Reader, I didn’t actually vote in the Presidential election but I did cast a ballot in the Wyndemere Junior High School mock election and the ballot I cast was unequivocally for the incumbent President of the United States, the 40th to hold said office, Ronald Wilson Reagan. I took out my trusty Berol Black #2 pencil and I put a fat Ian MacKaye-esque X in the box for the Republican President because I knew that he was my guy. And while at the time I didn’t know why Ronald Reagan felt so right to me, I knew that there was more to my newfound political convictions than just a willingness to break from my family’s loyal Minnesotan support for our former Senator, Walter Mondale. You see, I may have come of age in North Dakota but I was born and most of my family still resided in Minnesota where the former Vice President was practically canonized. Indeed, Minnesota was the only state Mondale carried in the 1984 election and every living Klosterman in the Land of 10,000 Lakes did their part to support ol’ Walt. I still remember the Klosterman family cookout back in Breckenridge that summer on the Fourth at my aunt’s house. While my cousins and I lit the ends of our sparklers from the glowing citronella torches ringing the yard, my parents, aunts and uncles sat on the patio drinking wine coolers, mocking what they perceived as the President’s shortcomings—his brillcremed corporatism, his embrasure of the emerging Christian Right, and most importantly to them, his seeming tranquility in the face of staggeringly complex issues at home and abroad. What so many Americans loved about Reagan, his stout resoluteness, his stark refusal to compromise his principles, they took as a sign of his moral and intellectual shallowness. These people thought they were better than the President of the United States and even though they were my family members and I loved them dearly, I loathed them for their seeming-superiority.
My conservatism was born on that Fourth of July and while these new convictions may have lacked content, my newly understood temperament was pointed like an arrow to my future—I knew then what I know now, I am a conservative.
Reagan’s second term in office and the lone term of Bush 41 coincided with my formative educational years—junior high through my first two years of undergraduate college at UND—and the tenor of those eight years seemed to perfectly match my developing moral, political, and aesthetic sensibilities. Look, I don’t need to rehash Reagan’s many accomplishments here. No matter what our political leanings, I think we can all agree that in an age that was becoming increasingly complex socially and technologically, and when individual subjectivity was beginning it’s inexorable slide towards postmodern detachment and relativisitic uncertainty, President Reagan (and to a lesser extent George HW Bush) was able to relieve our fears through the steely, determined, fixed assuredness of his convictions made real through every word and action. He was the true north of our moral compass—well, President Reagan and Michael Knight.
The example that Reagan presented was matched in kind with the education I was receiving at Wyndmere High. I’ll never forget the day in Mr. Heinsohn’s 10th grade U.S. History class when we debated a little thought problem regarding the Civil War. We were almost finished a lengthy unit on the war when Mr. Heinsohn asked us to think about whether or not the nation and by extension the world would have been better off if the South had won the war. When the class initially reacted with outrage, Mr. Heinsohn laid out his devil’s advocate case—if the South had won, the giant federal republic that was fully formed at the beginning of the 20th Century would never have been anywhere near as powerful or ambitious as the United States came to be. By extension, he suggested, the U.S. never would have entered the final days of WWI, piling on the carnage and making the humiliating terms of surrender even worse for the Germans, thus precluding the conditions for the onset of WWII and the half century of proxy wars in the Third World War that we call the Cold War.
I wasn’t buying it, none of us were except Derek Boyce—who in the 8th grade had a wicked Judas Priest jean jacket but by now had traded in his Motley Crue and Iron Maiden albums for New Order and R.E.M. cassettes. Derek and I used to be good friends but we started to drift apart towards the end of our freshman year. He used to sit with me at the hesher table in the cafeteria but he ditched us for a hybrid table of punks and New Wave aficionados (plus Karl Hagman, who in 8th grade claimed he was kicked out of his house and was living in a hole in the ground covered with a cardboard box in a meadow behind the Little League fields. Debbie Gullo once found a tube of “Stay Erect” in his backpack!). I still liked Derek, he was a funny and smart guy, but I just didn’t really get him anymore. I mean, here we are in class and he’s arguing in support of the South in the Civil War.
The South. Who were for slavery. Ridiculous.
I said as much, loudly, in class but Derek and Mr. Heinsohn wouldn’t give in. I’ll never forget Derek saying repeatedly, “It’s not that easy.” Of course it is, I railed, it’s simple, black and white, right and wrong. The South was for slavery and the North was against it, it’s simple morality. Mr. Heinsohn stepped back and out of the conversation as Derek went on about the moral position of the South’s advocacy of slavery being more complicated than a simple for-or-against and that, anyway, the war and its effects were about a lot more than just the implied-moral positions of the institution of slavery. I listened and I understood but I wouldn’t give in to his moral calculus. I distinctly remember, and for the very first time, thinking to myself, here was a person (Derek) who is defending a position only because he wants to seem smarter than the rest of us. At the time I didn’t understand the various philosophic dimensions of his argument but I would come to see his moral obscurantism as a projection of a murky, ambiguous moral order of which I wanted no part then—and now.
In time though I came to recognize the philosophic differences between competing moral (and eventually aesthetic) sensibilities that were broadly being referred to as the Culture Wars by the time I was a sophomore at UND. On my team were the Conservatives, Absolutists, and Universalists who spoke to my own critical temperament. Plato’s eternal, timeless Forms that reduced existence to a dualist cosmology of reality and representations. Edmund Burke and his insistence on Order, Tradition, Values, and Stability as the pillars of a civilization endangered by the radicals of the French Revolution. Even T.S. Eliot’s, whose poetry I despised, defense of an enduring temporal order in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” helped me to construe the world as one in which the intelligible was also describable in terms of properly right or wrong distinctions (plus, T.S. is the best set of initials outside of R.W. McQuarters).
I also saw clearly who my critical enemies were. I despised the Pragmatists—from John Dewey and William James to Richard Rorty and Stanley Fish—their insistence on contingency and context as the grounding for truths always struck me as the sort of copout that Derek fell back on when he said that the Civil war debate wasn’t “that easy” to settle. I also loathed the Postmodernists I was being introduced to, especially Foucalt and all of his “power and knowledge” bullshit.
More than anything though, it was Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, which I read in my Introduction to Western Thought course that most impressed and influenced me. When I read it I was left dumbstruck—like Cameron, post-Ferrari plummet. While I found his pop-music criticism waaaay out of touch, his critique of the degree to which liberalism’s cultural relativism had eroded the soul of America while leaving us incapable of discerning Truth with a big ‘ol Platonic capital-T seemed to me the perfect diagnosis of our cultural backsliding.
I was also taking a lot of English courses at UND and I found myself taking sides in a canonical battle I felt drafted into the services of. On one side were the Modernists—Joyce and Woolf at the outset of the 20th century, Pynchon and Gaddis and their eventual heirs Wallace and DeLillo, with all of their ambiguity and complexity on one side. They were lining up against who I call Storytellers—the Victorians like Dickens and Austen, turn of the century writers such as Henry James and E.M. Forster or even the great writers of the contemporary page-turner like Stephen King. These Storytellers eschewed perspectivism and ambiguity in favor of a more reader-friendly narrativity that didn’t confuse or obfuscate either the messages or the enjoyment of the work.
Years later, in 2002, B.R. Myers would so perfectly capture my preference for the Storytellers and their unpretentious prose in his A Reader’s Manifesto. When the book was released I was hard at work on the essays that would become my New York Times Bestseller, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto. I found Myers’s attacks on DeLillo, McCarthy, and others of the Modernist/complexity tradition sympathetic to my own frustrations, not only of literature but also music, television, and movies. Myers’s book, along with Closing of the American Mind, provided a theoretical underpinning for what I had come to understand as my own conservative persuasion. Actually, I’ve never admitted this until now but the original subtitle of SD&CP was actually A Conservative Manifesto but my editor at Scribner, Tom Doodleberry, thought we’d lose Urban Outfitters as a retail site for the book if it had “conservative” in the title.
ANYWAY, I don’t want to go into another defense of Breaking Bad along the lines of my Grantland piece. You read my argument, I’m standing by it, and if Jason Whitlock doesn’t like it, he can go shove a few more handfuls of nachos down that cavernous food receptacle of his. That guy! I’m actually kinda annoyed my New Best Buddy didn’t defend me a little more passionately on the B.S. Report. I mean, obviously Whitlock is going to side with The Wire, he could’ve been Prop Joe’s stunt double for crying out loud.
Look, I love The Wire, I honest-to-god really do, but the truth of the matter is that there were times when I was watching the show and I couldn’t help thinking to myself:
Y’know, this is really friggin impressive and all, it’s quite a staggering accomplishment, but are these problems really as complex and as intractable as Simon wants us to believe? I mean, yeah I get it, systems and institutions are structures that can limit the available options and potentialities of the individuals who comprise them, but don’t these guys have a choice? Couldn’t Wallace just go to school and study hard? Couldn’t McNulty just quit the force and go do something else with his life? Hey Nicky Sobotka, here’s an idea, howabout you quit being a low-level racketeer and spend more time fondling your girlfriend’s perfect tits? Prezbo, not reaching the kids, not making a difference? Figure it out, work harder, get it done!
Smart people like David Simon, because they can imagine an existence of such complexity, expand every problem of life into the dimensions of that complexity. So that the simple black-and-white, should I stay or should I go set of real choices that individuals always have the power to make gets forgotten and the world slips a little further into the chaos that Burke feared would bleed across Brittany and into England. Fourteen year old kids in the ghetto go from teenage mischief to mugging old ladies on the street, Presidents defend Oval Office blowjobs by saying it depends on what your definition of “is” is, and bands capable of writing fun, exuberant rock records give us Daydream Nation instead. Breaking Bad teaches us the higher fidelity that each of us has the power to do what is right—or maybe what is wrong. The Conservative knows this truth and so wants us all to make the right choices.
CK: “Contrary to what you may have heard from Henry Rollins or/and Ian MacKaye and/or anyone else who joined a band after working in an ice cream shop, you can’t really learn much about a person based on what kind of music they happen to like. As a personality test, it doesn’t work even half the time. However, there is at least one thing you can learn: The most wretched people in the world are those who tell you they like every kind of music ‘except country.’”
First off, let me say that I despise anything that was conceived from, with, or over ice cream.When I found out that ELO’s “Strange Magic” was written about a woman who would perform a certain sexual act with ice cream in her mouth, it immediately went from being my fourth favorite ELO song (behind “Evil Woman,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” and the soaring “10538 Overture”) to my very least favorite.I can’t even listen to it now without wanting to rip Jeff Lynne’s beard off with my teeth.In fact, I’m philosophically opposed to any corruption of the purity of ice cream.Ice cream in and of itself is a simple and perfect joy, and should be unspoiled by conspiracy, eroticism, artifice and false adornments.The creation of these augmented, posturing contrivances and gimmicks that now fill the ice cream marketplace – your Ben & Jerry’s, your Klondikes (sorry Bill), your Chipwiches, your Blizzards – are all mere perversions of an intrinsically unimprovable creation.Together they threaten to degrade an already-immaculate dessert.If you put too much make-up on a beautiful woman, she begins to look fake and kinda frightening.If you put “fudgy whale-shaped mini-choco bars with swirls of real fluffernutter and caramel filled Combos” on top of pure joy, you junk up the joy.These are the things that keep me up at night.
Now on to music.
Having served several tours of duty in the trenches of music writing, I would oft listen to my colleagues drone on and on about how people’s opinion of certain bands somehow said something about their character.Statements like, “If you don’t see that the Arctic Monkeys are a revelation, you’re a fucking fool – a certified retard.Mark my words, they’re going to be important for the next decade,” or, “Are you seriously suggesting that Journey is better than Radiohead?You really are a dopey, corn fed, bearded fucking idiot.”Judgments like these are made all the time between friends, on message boards and in the back pages of Kerrang.Yet, how does this continue when the very argument is entirely futile?It is clear in the history of human civilization that aesthetic taste and preference signifies nothing.For instance, Hitler was a painter, Charles Manson wanted badly to be a pop star and tried out for The Monkees, and Pol Pot was a huge Bay City Rollers fan (although he had to sing all their songs in his head from memory since he soon destroyed all record players and had everyone who could carry a tune eaten by ravenous trained monkeys).Does knowledge of these monsters’ artistic predilections provide some invaluable insight into their character, their personalities or the depths of their evil?No.It means less than zero.There is no rationale I’ve heard that will convince me that taste is a logical meter to judge a person’s worth or temperament.It’s about as accurate as evaluating an individual’s personality based on their favorite flavor of ice cream.
Punk rock zealots in particular will harass me on this point with claims that grass roots music opened their eyes to a new “D.I.Y. ethic” that transformed their worldview, or that straight edge hardcore helped them take positive steps toward “sobriety,” or that the political message of some marginally talented garage band with intense body odor convinced them of the merits of vegetarianism and the power of “community action.”I make no bones about my feelings toward punk or its blind devotees –it’s juvenile music made by talentless malcontents that has no meaningful impact on society apart from engendering terrible fashion and damaging the profits of soap manufacturers.Music does not have the power to change the world – just ask an ex-hippie.So, do some dyed in the wool punk fans constitute an about-face of my theory?Not when punk is barely music.Let’s look at this issue through the lens of professional sports (Sports Analogy Time, brought to you by AT&T – AT&T: Rethink Possible).Let’s say the twelfth man on the worst NBA team (who is surely in the running for worst player in the NBA) has a tattoo of the Tasmanian Devil on his chest.Does this mean that any NBA player who gets this same tattoo will suddenly have his stats plummet and will soon be on his way out of the league?In other words, does the underside of the bottom of the barrel really dictate the rules for the majority?(I mean for this to be rhetorical and for the answer to be laid plain, but in case you fell asleep during that paragraph, the answer is “no.”)
But the worst characteristic of punk fundamentalists is that they generally eschew all other types of music for their “nonconformist” brand of sloppy power chords and machine gun drums.(The second worst thing about punk is that Tim Haggerty went out with Christine Windell during my junior year.I still can’t believe she’d rather make out to Crass records than cuddle to “Dream Weaver” in the back of my Plymouth and discuss the dizzying heights and chasmal lows of the latest Bob Seger record.Sure, maybe I didn’t have cherry red combat boots or wear a sleeveless Buzzcocks t-shirt but I had a full grown beard at 14 – what’s more of a testament to virility than that [other than the fact that kloster means “giant cock” in German]?)Punk fans become completely immersed in their sweaty subculture to the exclusion of everything else, and that’s the fatal flaw of many “genre fans.”
In my view, it’s quite simple – if you’re a music fan, you’re a music fan.Assertions such as “I like punk rock” or “I like everything except country” are fundamentally absurd and contrary to the very notion of fandom.When you identify yourself as a fan (abbreviated from “fanatic”), or engage in the behavior that signifies fandom, you must be devoted, and that devotion is not to be taken lightly.When you consciously decide or are unconsciously compelled to give yourself over to the life of a fan, there are no half measures.You can’t perpetually stand with one foot in and one foot out of the batter’s box (AT&T!).You’re all in.And you must dedicate your complete and total loyalty, support and devotion to the entire artistic endeavor and all of its visionaries.You become a “patron” of the art, a mini-Medici, and you cannot pick and choose a favorite genre any more than a father or mother can choose a favorite child, or a surgeon can choose a favorite pancreas.Saying you like every type of music “except country,” is like an art critic saying he likes every movement in painting “except Cubism,” or a philosopher saying he respects every theoretical position “except utilitarianism,” or a Yankees fan saying he likes every Yankee “except Nick Swisher, because he’s an unfathomable douche,” or a golfer saying he likes golf “except the 11th hole,” or a cow thinking “meatballs are gross.”It’s completely incongruous, like when my pet chinchilla tries to hump the toaster oven.When you are a devotee, your loyalty cannot be divided a la carte and arbitrarily end at some subjective line in the sand.Oscar Schindler didn’t think to himself, “I like zee idea of saving Jews’ lives, but I’m not so fond of every Jew… maybe I’ll just save zee hot ones – zee kloster men and zee frauleins with zee giant boobs.”
It is in this spirit of deference and respect to the art form that is music that I give you the following list of rules for true music fans.This is not meant to be an exhaustive list but merely some key guidelines to follow that will ensure that you stay on the righteous path of fandom.As additional maxims are conceived by me or submitted by readers, we will revisit this list in hopes of one day creating a complete and prescriptive doctrine for proud, dedicated music fans everywhere.
RULES FOR MUSIC FANS
You Can’t Wear the T-Shirt of the Band You Are Seeing in Concert
I’m certainly not the first one to suggest this, but this rule needed to captured here and codified if we are to take this endeavor seriously.The lameness and redundancy of this act should be self-evident.I’ve only ever witnessed one exception to this rule, and it was when my buddy Walt Humphries and I went to see AC/DC during the Ballbreaker tour.Walt got so hammered in the parking lot that he puked right before we entered stadium and got some of it on his shirt.As I took my seat and prepared to be rocked with my usual pre-concert ritual – insert earplugs, jump up and down four times to get the heart rate up, wipe off glasses, kiss my KISS Army membership card, thrust my right fist in the air and hold it up for exactly twelve seconds to pay homage to those who have rocked before me, and crack open my two-liter bottle of Hawaiian Punch – Walt bought a new AC/DC tour shirt to change into.Unfortunately, in his drunkenness he grabbed a women’s medium instead of a men’s and spent the rest of the night looking like he’d be more at home at a Soft Cell concert.He was also still so drunk that he kept leaning on me and occasionally needed me to hold him up.I can’t begin to tell you how many gay slurs were thrown in our direction, but I can tell you this: when a three-hundred pound biker sitting behind you at an AC/DC concert says, “Why don’t you two fairies kiss?” to you and your friend, just do it, because when you say “no,” what he does to you in the men’s room is much, much worse.
When Listening to Ronnie James Dio, You Should Sit or Crawl Around on Your Knees
This is simply out of deference and respect to one of the greatest diminutive rockers of all time.
You Can’t Sing Along to a Song in Public Unless You Know Every Single Word
We’ve all been there.Someone you know starts singing the words to a song only to stop, then start again, then stop, then start again at the chorus, then stop again until you wish you never heard Steve Miller Band again.To put an end to it once and for all, and make the world a fraction less irritating to live in, you can no longer sing the words to a song unless you know every last single fucking word, “ooh”s and “ahh”s included.This especially goes for rap songs.No one is impressed when you act like you know all the words to a Biggie song only to say the twenty words out loud that everyone else in the room has memorized too.Acting like your rapping the rest of the song in your head isn’t fooling anyone.If you don’t know the words, spare us your “illiterate guy with fetal alcohol syndrome at a karaoke bar” routine.Side note:If a song exists in two languages – e.g. Falco’s “Der Kommissar” or Nena’s “99 Luft/Red Balloons” – you have to know all the words in both languages to sing (bilingual versions of Pitbull songs do not count).
You Can’t Dance to the Song of an Artist Who is Dead
This is the ultimate “rubbing it in someone’s face” move.Talented musicians pass away and insensitive people all over the planet continue to dance to their songs, completely carefree and totally oblivious to the fact that the genius who brought the song to life is himself dead.Dead!I can only imagine how someone like Michael Jackson felt after passing away and then witnessing his music’s resurgence after his demise.It must have been infuriating, like everyone was just dancing on his grave.One minute, most people didn’t want anything to do with him, thought he was a deranged pervert, and completely wrote him and his life’s work off.Next minute, his heart stops beating and everyone wants to dance to his songs again as if his eradication was some kind of twisted party.I bet MJ is just sitting up there, up on a Neverland cloud, waiting for people to die so he can pull out his strangely pale penis, slap it across the offender’s forehead, and tell them just how cruel they really are.Side note: regarding bands, if 50% or more of its members are dead, you can’t dance.
If You Witness Someone Listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Moving and/or Dancing in Any Way Resembling Anthony Kiedis, You Can Murder Them on the Spot
This should be classified under the law as “justifiable homicide.”I recognize this law isn’t on the books yet, but I really don’t think any jury would convict you.In the meantime, vote “yes” on Prop 15.
If You Are a Straight Male and You Earnestly Enjoy Lady Gaga, a Penis is in Your Future
Let’s face facts here.While she has broad appeal, Lady Gags is a musician specifically targeting women and gay men.Both of these demographics (with the exception of lesbians) enjoy romps with the penis.One could counter by saying that straight men like her because she barely wears any clothes, but c’mon.You can give a Daewoo a really fancy racecar paint job but it’s still a freaking Daewoo, know what I’m saying?It’s not a stretch of logic to suggest that she, in a way, functions as a gateway drug, or a small, seemingly innocuous way of embracing hidden desires.I’m not saying it will happen 100% of the time, and I’m not saying exactly what the encounter with the penis will entail, I’m just saying something will probably happen and we should all recognize this as the reality.(The same logic applies for straight male fans of True Blood.)
You Can’t Have Sex for 24 Hours after Dancing to “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”
Dancing to this song is making a commitment to its message of good, clean fun.For 24 hours afterward, sexual contact of any kind is forbidden.You can dance and party and play Parchessi and drunkenly race slot cars all night long though.After all, you don’t want Jermaine Stewart looking down from heaven at you banging later with tears in his eyes, do you?I didn’t think so.
You Can’t Wear a Hat While Listening to Men Without Hats
Wearing a hat is the ultimate symbol of success and sophistication in Australian culture.If these poor outbackers can’t afford hats, it just seems vulgar to rub your opulence in their faces.
You Must Agree that the Band from The Lost Boys is the Best Fake Band in the History of Cinema
Two words: sax player.I’ll acknowledge that they get a good run for their money from Marvin Berry and the Starlighters, and E.G. Daily in Better Off Dead, but again: sax player.
Every Copy of “The Stroke” by Billy Squier Must Be Destroyed