Recently I tried to explain to my Ladyfriend the premise behind DC Comics ‘Final Crisis’ miniseries, sending me into a frantic explanation of Jack Kirby’s career at DC, his creation of the New Gods and the Fourth World, the last five years of DC continuity and why even though Batman was a skeleton cradled by Superman on the cover, he’s actually okay. She’s a wonderful woman, but sometime during my explanation of the Anti-Life Equation she got that look indicating that while she is in fact listening, she would prefer being run over by a lawnmower.
This is not unlike reading Chuck Klosterman in 2009.
Now friends, please believe, I am a former lead tenor in the Church of Chuck’s choir. I still smile fondly when asked to fetch a copy of ‘Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs’ [though I agree with coworkers who suggest reading the book backwards for maximum enjoyment]. But by the time I finished ‘Killing Yourself to Live’ I began suffering a crisis of faith. KYTL is a book that spends just as much time looking at Chuck as it does the subject it’s supposed to be investigating [the relationship between rock music and death]. Chuck knows he’s writing a book, and he knows you’re reading it, and he wants you to know he knows. Or, as an old friend in the days of Livejournal summarized it,
“Whenever I read Klosterman, I can’t get over the notion that he’s *trying* to make me want to sleep with him. Not me, specifically but…well, yes. Me specifically.”
Yup. Thing is, Chuck has always been the sort to write what Chuck wants to write about, and then try and stretch it into some sort of universality, all the while admitting in the same essay that what he’s trying to do can’t really be done. It’s barely a technique, it’s more of a parlor trick, “I know it’s unfair to link A and B, they’re not even remotely the same….but then again, when you look at X, Y, and Z…I’m just saying.” Klosterman provides the evidence in a fashion where the only way you can interpret it is his. It’s an attempt to silence your critics before they can speak, and it means you never have to actually rectify or change your behaviour, in a ‘admittance is the first step to recovery” sort of way. Like, I know I’m selfish because I’m an only child and am used to having things my way. This is why I am selfish, and why I will continue to be so. After three books of this sort of thing, you can spot the wizard behind the curtain.
Eating the Dinosaur is Klosterman’s return to the nonfiction personal essay that made his name, following a respectable if forgettable foray into novel-writing with 2008’s ‘Downtown Owl’. Among the topics on the agenda?
- The confusing act of interviewing, and why anyone would succumb to it.
- The release of Nirvana’s sophomore album and the Branch Davidian disaster in Waco, Texas.
- Time travel as used in the Terminator films.
- The music of Rivers Cuomo and the films of Werner Herzog.
- Football as a metaphor for democracy and America.
Wow. Take a look at that lineup. Couple that with the liberal peppering of shots against web culture in general and bloggers in particular and it becomes rapidly apparent that Klosterman is becoming the indie Glenn Beck, increasingly uncomfortable in the age he finds himself and waxing philosophical for a bygone era of pop culture.
Now friends, I’m a forgiving sort and as a man who believes culture reached a zenith sometime in 1998, so I can certainly understand Klosterman’s attachment to the era that defined him. That’s not the primary problem of Eating the Dinosaur. No, the problems are twofold.
1. As previously mentioned, nothing Chuck discusses is ever as interesting to Chuck as Chuck. Klosterman has created a certain type of literary entertainment with himself at the centre, and it’s obviously worked for him all this time, but it’s become all he knows how to do. When Chuck writes about football, no matter how much he muses about the revolution of the forward pass, it will always come back to Chuck’s personal experience of watching football, what it means to him. When he wonders about interviewing, he’s not wondering why the layperson will answer questions on Christmas buying habits to a local reporter, he’s thinking about why, when in Germany [as a distinguished lecturer, no less], he answers questions for a German newspaper which will then be translated into a language he doesn’t understand for an article he will never read. Well, how hard for him. I mean shit, for a guy who thinks blogging is a major waste of time, the shiftless navelgazing of the uneducated, there are whole portions of his work that sound eerily similar to about 300 schlubs out there with a free WordPress account. *cough* See what I did there? I refer you to the earlier paragraphs admitting without owning. It seems more and more like Klosterman’s just bummed his gimmick’s being coopted.
2. The second problem with EtD is more formal. As Klosterman navigates the various thought threads of his essays, he assigns his paragraphs numerical designations. So in the Cuomo/Herzog essay, when he starts by discussing the history of Weezer’s Pinkerton, that’s 1. When he moves on to Herzog, that’s 2. When he goes back to Cuomo, that’s 1A, when he inevitably muses on himself, that’s 3, and so on. I’m sure he wanted to subvert the narrative form, but it just comes off lazy. He never has to try and link his points together, he can just slam on the brakes, type a new number and carry on. Maybe he’s appealing to the short attention span of today’s web savvy reader, I don’t know.
I like Klosterman, I do. I just think it’s time he figured out that his appeal is in how he interprets others, not himself. Because honestly? He’s kind of fricking boring.
Better luck next time.