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Chuck Klosterman | 07.05.07

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book_iv"Media notoriety allows me to sell more books to a wider audience, which gives me more freedom as a writer. There is a commercial benefit to having people know you exist. But there is no social benefit whatsoever."

 

 

 

 

 

 

at Left Bank Books, St. Louis, 7 p.m.
Reading from IV (Scribner)

Chuck Klosterman is my new best friend. Chuck Klosterman and I live parallel lives.

For one thing, he's a music journalist. So am I (in addition to being an artist manager, publicist, editor and dogwalker). Point two, he was born in the Midwest and moved to New York to pursue his true passion of writing. (Ohio's the Midwest, right? Or...wait. Is Ohio considered the Northeast?) Me, I was born in the Midwest (Missouri definitely is the Midwest) and moved to Portland, Oregon, for a grand total of three weeks before admitting failure and moving home. (I wasn't pursuing anything, I don't think; merely looking for something...else.)

But I digress; this piece isn't about me, but my new BFF (can I call you Chuck, Chuck?). Chuck talks to a lot of famous musicians; based on the essays in his latest book, the recently reissued IV, this list includes Britney Spears, Bono, Robert Plant, Billy Joel, Jeff Tweedy. And me, well I've talked to...well, Rick Springfield, for one. And Thomas Dolby. And I answered the phone when Jay Farrar called to talk to my writer; does that count?

book_chuckkSo maybe Chuck and I don't live parallel lives; maybe I made that up. But we both write, and listen to music (perhaps a bit obsessively, I'll admit), and at times have been known to think ourselves more clever than we probably actually are. (Well, I suppose I'm speaking for myself here, Chuck; maybe you really are the epitome of clever.)

Chuck argues that he's not a celebrity by virtue of writing about celebrities; rather, he says, he's just a guy who "never had to get a job." He scoffs (I imagine; we conducted this interview via email) at my inquiry as to how his celebrity has impacted his life for better or worse. "I'm only ‘famous' to other journalists," he says. "I can't imagine anyone outside of the media sphere classifying me as a celebrity, unless they happen to be the kind of insane person who thinks a ‘celebrity' is anyone who's more famous than they are." [Wait—was that a dig by my new best friend? No, no, couldn't have been; I am in no way an insane person, not even by my mother's rigid standards.] "But even within that (highly specific) context," he continues, "I suppose there are certain upsides and certain downsides. Media notoriety allows me to sell more books to a wider audience, which gives me more freedom as a writer. There is a commercial benefit to having people know you exist. But there is no social benefit whatsoever. On balance, I would say the impact on my life is negligible."

I suppose that "selling more books" comment is a perfect jumping-off point to mention my new friend's new book tour, which begins Thursday, July 5 in St. Louis at the historic and independent Left Bank Books. "The best part [about book tours] is the actual book reading, particularly the question-and-answer segment," Chuck tells me. "You also get a lot of free pens, which is cool. The worst part is taking off my belt at the airport."

If you've never read a Chuck Klosterman book, and if you enjoy the sort of rambly, conversational, present-tense-type writings on pop culture and music (very much like you're reading right now! Hmm...maybe we were separated at birth), you'll very much enjoy his writing. You'll learn things about people famous and trying too hard (tribute bands, anyone?), and about the author, and maybe even about Life with a capital "L." Or maybe you'll just be entertained; that's good enough in and of itself, isn't it?

You'll be surprised at the honesty Klosterman gets out of his subjects. For instance, did you know that Billy Joel attempted suicide early in his career by drinking half a bottle of furniture polish? Or that he was horribly depressed when interviewed for The New York Times Magazine in 2002? As Klosterman explains, "Generally, the best people to interview are the very, very, very famous or the completely unfamous. People in between tend to be less interesting, because they are not motivated to say anything true." Which may explain why I like interviewing the up-and-comers (er...unknowns) as much as I do: They aren't about the image or the spin or the stories their publicist told them to tell; they're about, well, what motivates them. Which is, let's face it, the best thing to be about in life, ever. I'm talking passion, baby.

Reading the essays in IV, I'm entertained far more than I often am with music journalism. Klosterman generally lays it bare: not just the facts, but also his opinion of his subjects, and theirs of him. It's not dry, objective journalism; it's more in your face. You're along for the ride when Bono pulls his Maserati to the curb and gives four teenagers a ride. You, too, drive up in front of Val Kilmer's New Mexican ranch and admire his bison.

With all the places he's been and people he's met, though, surely Chuck's done something in the name of journalism he regrets? "The stupidest thing I ever did was probably accidental. For all I know, the stupidest thing I ever did is something I perceive as wise. I guess I once got a tattoo in order to have something to write a sidebar about, but I don't regret that; I wish I had gotten one that was bigger, actually."

Aspiring journalists, take note: Chuck Klosterman's coming to town, and he's ready for your questions. I'd suggest asking for the story behind the tattoo. Who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired to lay down your own ink, whether on skin or paper. Either way, follow your passion and etch what's in your heart. Oh yeah, and beyond that? Be prepared to bullshit. | Laura Hamlett

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