I have successfully navigated through my sixth (6th) book by Chuck Klosterman. Five of which were collections of pop culture essays and/or loosely based gonzo non-fiction based around his experiences with rock and roll. One of his books was a work of fiction (Downtown Owl) – and a fine book it was.
But I’m here to discuss the merits, relevance and entertainment value of Eating the Dinosaur, his latest piece.
From the back cover:
“Chuck Klosterman has chronicled rock music, film, and sports for almost fifteen years. He’s covered extreme metal, extreme nostalgia, disposable art, disposable heroes, life on the road, life through the television, urban uncertainty and small-town weirdness. Through a variety of mediums and with a multitude of motives, he’s written about everything he can think of (and a lot that he’s forgotten). The world keeps accelerating, but the pop ideas keep coming.
In Eating the Dinosaur, Klosterman is more entertaining and incisive than ever. Whether he’s dissecting the boredom of voyeurism, the reason why music fan’s inevitably hate their favorite band’s latest album, or why we love watching can’t-miss superstars fail spectacularly, Klosterman remains obsessed with the relationship between expectation, reality, and living history. It’s amateur anthropology for the present tense, and sometimes it’s incredibly funny.
Q: What is this book about?
A: Well, that’s difficult to say. I haven’t read it yet – I’ve just clicked on it and casually glanced at this webpage. There clearly isn’t a plot. I’ve heard there’s a lot of stuff about time travel in this book*, and quite a bit about violence and Garth Brooks** and why Germans don’t laugh when they’re inside grocery stores. Ralph Nader and Ralph Sampson play significant roles***. I think there are several pages about Rear Window and football and Mad Men and why Rivers Cuomo prefers having sex with Asian women†. Supposedly there’s a chapter outlining all the things the Unabomber was right about‡, but perhaps I’m misinformed.
Q: Is there a larger theme?
A: Oh, something about reality. “What is reality,” maybe? No, that’s not it. Not exactly. I get the sense that most of the core questions dwell on the way media perception constructs a fake reality that ends up becoming more meaningful than whatever actually happened.
Q: Should I read this book?
A: Probably. Do you see a clear relationship between the Branch Davidian disaster and the recording of Nirvana’s In Utero‡‡? Does Barack Obama make you want to drink Pepsi††? Does ABBA remind you of AC/DC? If so, you probably don’t need to read this book. You probably wrote this book. But I suspect everybody else will totally love it, except for the ones who absolutely hate it.”
*Klosterman’s essay on time travel is probably all stuff you’ve already read. Particularly if you frequent cracked.com (not that what he writes is unoriginal – but I feel that everything that can be written about time travel already has been penned – for now.) It is entertaining nonetheless. Time travel, much like black holes and UFOs, will always be relevant (and at the very least, semi-entertaining fodder for your plane flight.) I was amused by his reference to a reference ( the urban legend that a team from Florida was predicted to win the World Series in 1997 by the film Back to the Future four years before the State of Florida had its own professional baseball team.) Indeed. The Marlins. Sadly, as Klosterman points out, this is not exactly accurate, and more precisely, it was meant as a jab to the (ongoing) futility of the Chicago Cubs.
ps) Fuck the Yankees, and the Red Sox (but not in any necessary order.)
**He doesn’t write about Garth Brooks so much as he does Chris Gains (Mr. Brook’s failed 1999 alter-ego who released a dubiously successful – see: 2 million records sold) attempt at notoriety. Also, Klosterman estimated that by 2009’s standards, 2 million records sold roughly translates to 180,000 records sold in today’s terms (when adjusted for illegal downloads and iTunes singles purchases.) Also, I should note that much like another favorite author of mine (who has featured Klosterman on his podcast several times), Bill Simmons – his “pop culture” references are slightly dated and hard to relate to if you were born after 1988.
***Again, Ralph Sampson is probably someone that most people under the age of, say, 25 would not be able to relate to. Also, if you’re not a die-hard NBA fan (which I am), this is a tough analogy to relate to. Even I (who follows the sports world, and the NBA religiously) was vaguely familiar and unable to completely relate to his essay and analogies on the man. Perhaps a better analogy would have been a more recent (see: 1990’s) bust or perhaps even a bust that occurred in the “aughts” (perhaps the Los Angeles Clippers’ Michael Olawakandi?) Just a thought. However, I will say that his essay on the National Football League (NFL) was superb.
†Rivers Cuomo’s (alleged) obsession with having sex with Asian women is exaggerated. It’s not as big a theme as the book’s jacket suggests. However, fans of Mad Men will probably enjoy Klosterman and his slightly entertaining lamenting of laugh tracks (and their uselessness.) While we’re on the topic of laugh tracks, I want to point out that the man is correct in his assertion that they are utterly ridiculous and unnecessary. Think about it. One of the compelling arguments of why TV is ruining America (which we will get to later) is the concept of canned laughter. It’s insulting, frankly, and I (much like Klosterman) cannot wait for this moribund trend to eventually kick the (proverbial) bucket.
††Barack Obama are both widely popular. However, Pepsi is inferior to Coca Cola, and Obama is (probably) inferior to a lot of other politicians (and former Presidents.) The analogous line Klosterman draws between the two is that they are both readily available, enjoyed by “youth”, and are (somewhat) products of advertisement more than, say, substance. An interesting chapter in my assessment.
‡Theodore “Ted” Kazcinksi (the UNAbomber – UNiversities and Airlines bomber) was quite the genius. Much like Stalin, however, he was a criminally insane murderer. He began studying (and going insane) at Harvard at age 16, and was a professor of Mathematics at Cal before his 25th birthday. However, his disgust with “Californication” and the bastardization of contemporary society (namely: pop culture, television, the development of land for futile purposes) led him to resort to violence in order to get his manifesto (Industrial Society and Its Future) published in the Washington Post and New York Times. It should be noted (to those who are unaware) that the UNAbomber would probably have never been caught had his own brother not recognized his writing style (at this insistence of his wife) and turned him in to the FBI (for $1 million dollars.) It should be further noted that the money his brother received from information leading to the UNAbomber’s arrest was distributed to his brother’s countless victims and their families. Klosterman points out that in 300 years, the UNAbomber’s Manifesto will ultimately become a well-respected an influential look at the genesis (or exodus) of the erosion contemporary western thought. I do not disagree.
‡‡In the two reviews of the book I read (one prior to purchase, and one after completing the book), the individuals criticizing the book disagreed with Klosterman’s comparison of David Koresh and Kurt Cobain. I do not know enough about either man (even through new insights presented by Klosterman) to form an opinion. Again, I was too young to appreciate Nirvana when they were “big”, and likewise too young to understand what the government was doing in Waco and Ruby Ridge (which eventually led to the Oklahoma City bombing.) Conversely, Cobain’s influence led to Pearl Jam (which is slightly less atrocious than what happened at the hands of Timothy McVeigh and his accomplices.) It is interesting to note that I finally understand Cobain, however. I now understand what led to his (alleged) suicide. You see, (according to Klosterman), Cobain could not grasp why people loved his music, and he actively engaged in activities to make people hate him (which actually made them like him more.) Furthermore, he was loved by people he hated (which alienated him) and eventually drove him mad. There are some outstanding quotes from Cobain in the book that lend further insight to the matter. I suggest picking it up and reading about it further. It’s worth it for those of you who ever wondered why the hell Nirvana was so popular (I always thought it was because America was sick of hair metal in 1990 like America was sick of boy bands in 2000.) I was (slightly) off target.
To wrap things up, I mentioned that I’d discuss why television is ruining society. Klosterman goes as far as to quote a book released in 1977 (before the advent of the internet or HBO) titled Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, which argued:
“[T]elevision is not a neutral, benign instrument or tool. The book’s author argues that in varied technologies and institutions such as militaries, automobiles, nuclear power plants, mass production, and advertising, the basic form of the institution and the technology determines its interaction with the world, the way it will be used, the kind of people who use it, and to what ends.
The author argues that far from being “neutral,” television predetermines who shall use it, how they will use it, what effects it will have on individual lives, and, if it continues to be widely used, what sorts of political forms will inevitably emerge.
The author’s first argument is that while television may seem useful, interesting, and worthwhile, at the same time it further boxes people into a physical and mental condition appropriate for the emergence of autocratic control.
The second argument concerns the emergence of the controllers. That television would be used and expanded by the present powers-that-be was inevitable, and should have been predictable at the outset. The technology permits of no other controllers.
The third argument concerns the effects of television upon individual human bodies and minds, effects which fit the purposes of the people who control the medium.
The fourth argument demonstrates that television has no democratic potential. The technology itself places absolute limits on what may pass through it. The medium, in effect, chooses its own content from a very narrow field of possibilities. The effect is to drastically confine all human understanding within a rigid channel. What binds the four arguments together is that they deal with aspects of television that are not reformable.”
I agree that (outside of sports programming) television is a universally BAD thing for society. However, I do not agree for the above reasons. Perhaps this is because I fail to grasp the depth of the above arguments. In any matter, I agree with Klosterman, Koresh, Kazcinski and Cobain more than I do with Jerry Mander (the author of the book) about the merits of destroying television. I suppose the philosophical question at hand is: If television was destroyed universally tomorrow, would you be able to live a continued existence of happiness. Insert the word “internet” where I typed television and ask yourself the same question. Then think about the damage television has done (and is doing to our society.) Very thought-provoking in my opinion. Well done, Chuck.
Overall, I give the book four stars, and strongly recommend it. It’s his best pop culture reading since Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs (but not as good as his novel Downtown Owl.) It should still be purchased. And much unlike music, you really cannot steal it with ease (although I did.) That being said – you should buy this book (and at the very least – borrow it from someone who did, in fact, purchase it.)
I just picked up Chuck Klosterman’s newest book: Eating the Dinosaur, and to commemorate the occasion, I figured I’d briefly review his 5 other books.
Let’s start at the beginning: Fargo Rock City
I must admit, it’s been sometime since I read this book, and it’s since been stolen (see: “borrowed”) from my collection. I don’t recall much about it, other than the countless hair-metal references and what it was like growing up as an isolated nerd in North Dakota. It was an entertaining read, and I recommend checking it out someday. Unfortunately, I don’t remember enough about it to give it a fair review here. But I’ll say this: If you like metal, and long for 1980’s pop culture nostalgia, you will probably dig it.
Next up is perhaps his most famous work (probably because the title includes the word “sex”): Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs This book was actually pretty cool. However, there wasn’t as much sex, drugs, or cocoa puffs as you’d imagine (in fact, I don’t even recall any cocoa puffs.) Rather a collection of Mr. Klosterman’s pop culture musings and views on contemporary American culture and how music, pop art and to a lesser extent – drugs play a role in the sorry excuse of a zeitgeist we call “American Culture.” From serial killers to 80’s basketball to Guns ‘n Roses cover bands, the author leaves no pop culture stone left unturned (seriously, the man explores porn, the Sims, the Real World and Christian Rap all in entertaining depth.) All in all, it’s a fine (and often times hilarious) read, and I strongly recommend adding it to your collection.
The third book by Klosterman is titled Killing Yourself to Live and it is perhaps my second-least favorite book by the author next to Fargo Rock City. It’s got one helluva title, but (in my opinion) that’s about it. The book centers around Klosterman visiting the death sites of various American (and British) musicians in search of some existential answers to questions he hasn’t yet asked – and may be answered by the connections (if any) that exist between the room that Kurt Cobain ate buckshot in, the hole in the ground that Lynard Skynard’s doomed flight met its fiery end and the New York sidewalk that John Lennon suffered his fatal shooting on. In the end, the reader is left not with an understanding of the transcendence that accompanies that tragic death of musicians, but rather an uneasy (and uncomfortable) perspective on what it’s like to get high with Mr. Klosterman off swag in a rented Ford Taurus and (more disturbingly) the sometimes (graphic) details of various sexual encounters he has had with women who ultimately left him. Would I recommend this book to others? No. Would I name a song after it? Yes (if Black Sabbath already hadn’t.)
Chuck Klosterman’s fourth book is appropriately titled Chuck Klosterman IV. Makes sense, right? The full name of the book (subtitle included) is: Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas, and it is perhaps one of my favorite works by the author. Unfortunately, this book was borrowed (see: stolen) without my permission (by a culprit to this day that has never been found.) What’s awesome about this book is that it is essentially a collection of very candid interviews with a very diverse group of individuals that lacks absolutely no candor nor prejudice, and is rather revealing and brilliant. Klosterman interviews a variety of celebrities from Radiohead and Bono, to Britney Spears and Val Kilmer. Beyond these incredible interviews (that read more like drunken confessions that the subject would later recant embarrassingly upon sobering up and realizing what they had revealed) are a series of cultural theories and revelations that Klosterman demonstrates to his readers from his brilliant assertion of “Advancement Theory” to the fundamental differences between the “nemesis” and the “archenemy” (which, I might add, gave me inspiration to my piece on the “Hierarchy of Douche.”*) In the end, it’s a very entertaining read, and something that shouldn’t just be reserved for reading on transcontinental flights, but something that belongs in your permanent library.
And this brings us to Klosterman’s first work of …FICTION! Yes, his fifth book (and first novel) Downtown Owl, is my favorite book to date by Klosterman, and I’m going to tell you why. The best way to describe this novel is by likening it to a Cohen Brothers film (the dark ones.) Downtown Owl is the literary equivalent to Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Blood Simple, and to a lesser extent – Burn After Reading. Yes, Downtown Owl is a dark comedy. Tragic, witty, morbid and satisfying. Much like the Cohen’s do in their films, Klosterman perfectly recreates a (somewhat) exaggerated slice of America and takes his readers back in time to the early 1980’s. The book takes place in Owl, North Dakota and centers around four very different characters and the lonely, desperate, and often times entertaining existences they live in this small, rural North Dakota town. Cut off culturally from most of America, the characters of this novel are tragically destined for nothing special in life, but all experience events that are extraordinary relative to their benign existence. The novel crecendos (see: climaxes) in a way that would make Alejandro González Iñárritu proud. In the end, most of us will be able to relate to the mindless depression that can permeate when you believe your life is stuck in neutral, and smirk (sadly) at the tragedy that is the perpetual struggle between one’s pipe dreams and one’s current reality (known colloquially as life.) This is a must read. So read it.
And this brings me to Klosterman’s current release: Eating the Dinosaur. I haven’t started it yet (although I have read the exerpt on football that ESPN.com featured on their Page 2 – which, may I add, was incredibly insightful and entertaining, even to those who have no interest in the gridiron.) I’m quite anxious to dig into this one and come back with a review once I’m finished.*The Hierarchy of Douche is as follows:
III. Douchebag (unaware that his actions are offensive/annoying) > II. Asshole (quite aware that his actions are offensive/annoying) > I. Badass (An asshole that does not give a fuck about how he acts to the point to which he becomes cool, and worthy of idol.)