Essays: “IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas” by Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman makes his living writing about pop culture. He primarily worked for SPIN and Esquire — in fact, that’s where the majority of the essays found within IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas were originally published. In fact, the first third of the book is primarily on music (SPIN); the second third is primarily on other pop culture ideas (Esquire); and the small, third third is a piece of barely-previously published fiction.

I read Chuck Klosterman because, in many cases, I find he thinks like me. Or, rather, I think like him. Or, even more rather, we both think the same thing about the same things. And, much like with Waiter Rant, it inspires me. I read Chuck Klosterman and I think, “Hey, I could do this for a living.” Unfortunately for me, the swath of pop culture that I discuss is relatively small. As I (just) said back in the review for Feast of Murder, I am a reviewer of spectator-based behaviors: I review books that I read. I hope that my opinions spur people to pick up a book they may not have looked at previously (and, conversely, spur people to avoid bad books by ranting about them in an obnoxious manner), but I am well aware that I take up a very tiny corner of the Internet, and tiny corners of the Internet rarely inspire people to do anything other than laugh (depending on the corner).

I am okay with this. Don’t ever think that I’m not.

So while it is unlikely that a publishing company will ever offer me a deal wherein I put all my entries about the books I’ve read into a book of its own (because who would read that?), I still carry the hope that what I’m doing here is just practice for something larger. In fact, I could use many of Klosterman’s essays found in IV as starting-off points.

For instance: the first third is about music and bands and other stuff found in SPIN magazine. One of the first essays is about U2. U2 is one of my most favorite bands of all time. I think, at this point, I have every single U2 album in my iTunes library except Zooropa (this is weird to me [EDIT: as I was making the point below, I realized I also do not have Boy]). But the point I’d like to make is based on this quote from the essay “Mysterious Days”:

[U2’s] ironic distance also seems to be a product of the 1997 Pop album and its subsequent Pop-Mart tour, two projects that largely failed. “I think what happened with that record was this fusion of electronic and the club world, which was not foreign to us,” says [Adam] Clayton. “But what we should have focused on were tracks that were going to be radio friendly. We presented tracks that sounded — in a European context — absolutely appropriate to what we’d hear on the radio. That whole record did a lot better in Europe. But American programmers wouldn’t play it. I think that was where we kind of screwed up.” [29-30]

I disagree. And it took me a while to discover Pop, but it’s — yeah, I think I can say this honestly — my favorite album by U2. I just did a survey of my U2 albumage on iTunes, and I think Pop has the highest percentage of songs played. I know that I’ve put a good many of the songs on different playlists, but I know I’ve got the actual CD in my car, and when I was working and had access to a CD player for when I was receiving the trucks, Pop was what I’d pop in (because god forbid I have to listen to Tim’s ever-present Elvis Costello CDs one more freaking time — also, that pun was completely unintentional. Sorry). I think that if U2 had tried to release Pop now, it’d get more airplay. I’m not sure why; maybe because it’s not really preachy at all (“If God Will Send His Angels” and this line from “Please” aside: “Love is hard / and love is tough / but love is not / what you’re thinking of“). Pop is all about … well, pop. Discotheques, and being gone, and living life like it’s your last night on earth. I mean, come on, there’s a song all about the Playboy Mansion on this disc. Can you imagine that song next to “Sunday Bloody Sunday”? I can’t (although my shuffle has at times).

But this is not an essay about U2. This is supposed to be an essay about IV. And I’m getting off on tangents.

It comes to my attention that I haven’t used any of Klosterman’s words in this yet. Have a taste:

On “Stairway to Heaven” (in an essay where he creates allusions and connections between every song on Led Zeppelin’s fourth album to other heavy metal bands/songs/concepts):

“Stairway to Heaven” = metal power balland = Warrant’s “Heaven.” Depending on your perspective, “Stairway to Heaven” is either (a) the most popular song of the rock era, or (b) the most overplayed song in FM history, thereby making it either (c) the greatest track of the past fifty years, or (d) the only song worse than “Hotel California.” Yet the significance of this never-released single will haunt proms for all eternity. It allowed — nay, demanded — that every metal band make at least one song that your mom might like. [91-92]

For me, I choose (b) and (d). I’m not sure if Mom likes it or not. (She’ll probably tell me after she reads this, though.)

On a possible robotic uprising:

My relationship with my toaster is delicious, but completely one-sided. [309]


Here is the entire history of rock music, recounted in one paragraph: rock music did not exist until the release of Meet the Beatles in January 1964. From that time until 1970, the Beatles were simultaneously the most artistically gifted and commercially successful rock artists on the planet. Then they broke up. And at that point, rock split into two opposing ideologies; there were now two kinds of music. The prime directive of the first kind of rock was to be meaningful and important; the prime directive of the second was to entertain people and move product. The first category comprises elements (Springsteen, punk rock, early U2, Chris Carrabba, etc.) that followed a template built by Dylan in the 1960s. The second category comprise things (Elton John, disco, everything the Stones did post-Some Girls, Michael Jackson, et al.) that followed the path KISS chose when they formed in 1973. This era includes two exceptions, which are Led Zeppelin and Prince; everything else fits into either category A or category B. And that is the entire history of rock music, completely condensed into one paragraph. [359]

Some things are only funny (or, conversely, even funnier) when noting that these essays were mostly written between 2003 and 2006. For instance:

“The point,” says Meg [White], “is being a live band.” [115]

Their last ‘tour,’ which I believe was for Icky Thump (so, back in 2007, 2008?), had to be canceled due to Meg White’s supreme stage fright.

Or this one, about a young Michael Phelps in 2004:

Everyone is going to be ecstatic about the prospect of Michael Phelps winning as many as eight gold medals in swimming, even though I have yet to find a single person who knows who Michael Phelps is. [257]

Some of what Klosterman talks about resonate completely with me. In fact, it’s almost as if he’s talking about me…

You know, fast food really isn’t that fast. I went through the drive-through today and — after I paid for my food — they told me I had to park my car and wait. “It will be a few minutes on those McNuggets,” they sneered. Doesn’t this defeat the whole purpose of using the drive-through? “We’ll run them out to you,” they said. Oh yeah, I’m sure they’ll “run.” Those trolls don’t give a damn if I live or die. [61]

Now that I use this quote, I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually told the story about the Hooker McDonald’s. I have a McDonald’s down the street from where I live (conveniently for the story, on a corner). And they have the slowest drive-through window, and the entire establishment is run by moronic tweens. And when I say ‘moronic tweens,’ I mean even more moronic than you would expect the average teenager who works at a McDonald’s to be. (And I don’t mean to slight the hard-working young Americans who are valiantly working at the McDonald’s in your neighborhood; I’m sure they’re great. There’s nothing wrong with working at a McDonald’s. There is something wrong with working at a McDonald’s when you’re thirty-four and still living with your mother, however. Just putting that out there.) I mean, who tells a driver at 10:50 p.m. that they’re on their late night menu, and McDonald’s doesn’t serve hamburgers at that time? MY McDONALD’S, that’s who. Stupid hooker manager running the hooker McDonald’s. And don’t get me STARTED on the hooker Starbucks.

Neptuna is the reason Cheap Chick became a reality; the band was her idea, and she handles all the publicity and booking. “My talent does not lie with being a phenomenal bass player,” she says. “My true talent is talking people into doing stupid things.” [189]

This is a talent I have, though probably not to the extent of this Neptuna person. “Hey, let’s go get lost in Northeast New Hampshire!” “What do you mean, bringing Rowdy the Fake Dog to Rangeley Lakes is a bad idea? It’s a GREAT idea!”

I will conclude with the best, most awesome example of It’s All About Alaina (I should start making this point in every entry) after discussing when Klosterman gets political. He doesn’t get political in the same way that Sara Paretsky got political in Writing in an Age of Silence; instead, he points out the stupidity in mass media as well as in Americans and culture as a whole. He has a wonderful essay on Johnny Carson’s death and how America will never again have a shared cultural experience like “Johnny Carson” that I pretty much quoted in its entirety in the first draft (aren’t you glad I’m on Rangeley Lake with no Internets so I have to type this old-school [in MS Word] first?), but I was probably looking at the “Johnny Carson” phenomenon too closely, considering the entire I’m With Coco movement of the past year. But this quote stuck out:

This is not the purpose of art and culture, but it’s probably the biggest social benefit; these shared experiences are how we connect with other people, and it’s how we understand our own identity. However, all the examples I mentioned are specific and personal; they are only pockets of a shared existence. They are things individual people choose to understand, and finding others who understand them equally are products of coincidence.

This is how I interact on a daily basis. My conversations with Brad are almost entirely pop-culture-based. “Did you see last night’s episode of How I Met Your Mother?” “Oh, that Barney Stinson!” Terri and I talk about books. Kerri and I have our own brand of pop culture references: our personal pop culture, if you will (though every time we hear the Kinks’ “Lola” on the radio, even if we’re not together, we notify the other somehow and diverge into the Futurama reference of “Leela” and Zapp Brannigan). It is coincidence that Kerri and I both watched Futurama on Adult Swim; we didn’t set out to have that joint knowledge. Brad got into How I Met Your Mother first, and I caught on when I moved into the apartment and found that Amelia watched it. That’s how friendships work: we create our own culture. But a collective-consciousness like “Johnny Carson,” where everyone knows who he is and what he sells even if you’ve never actually seen The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson (like me) is probably dead and gone.

Oh, the sun came out again and I should head back outside. I’M ALMOST DONE, I PROMISE. As I’ve said many-a-time, I watch a lot of TV. A lot. And even though I talk at the screen (to my sister’s continuing dismay) and become overly-emotionally-involved with the characters (I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT LOST, SEE?), I don’t get wound up by TV too much. (She says, tongue-in-cheek.)

Don’t get pissed off because people didn’t vote the way you voted; you knew this was a democracy when you agreed to participate, so you knew this was how things might work out. Basically, don’t get pissed off over the fact that the way you feel about culture isn’t some kind of universal consensus. Because if you do, you will end up feeling betrayed. And it will be your own fault. You will feel bad, and you will deserve it. [286]

And that’s the best advice I can give anyone like me who watches too much TV. I don’t feel betrayed by FOX for cancelling Arrested Development anymore; I see it was a business decision. But enough people know it was a stupid business decision that I’m okay with it in the end. The end of Lost didn’t bother me, and I don’t care if it did other people. Because I don’t feel betrayed.

The other essay that I was going to quote in its entirety but then realized that this entry has 2500 words already (1000 of those words are Chuck Klosterman’s, in my defense) was his essay called “I Wanna Get Free,” in which he details why America will never experience a revolution. I highly recommend everyone go out and read that one essay. Here: it’s on page 338, and it’s only four pages long. Remember that the next time you go to your local Barnes & Noble / Border’s.

Okay, the final point, and then I’m done. Chuck Klosterman managed to find another person — besides me, and besides the entire writing staff of Lost — who tells stories that go nowhere.

This is the Journey story:

“I’d seen Journey in 1980 or ’81, opening for the Rolling Stones at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia,” Mr. Graziano begins. “Journey comes out onstage, and Steve Perry takes the mic and says to the audience: ‘You know what you guys just did? You just made Journey the number-one band in America.’ But the crowd was like, ‘Fuck you, we want the Stones.’ They threw bottles at him. So then we’re in the Grand Wailea Hotel in Maui on our honeymoon — this is four years ago — and we run into Neal Schon and his wife at the hotel bar. We introduce ourselves, and I tell him I remember seeing him in Philadelphia twenty years ago, and he goes, ‘Oh man, I remember that show, Perry opened up his fucking mouth.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, man, they were throwing bottles at you guys,’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, they fucking were.'”

That’s the whole story.

At first, I am substantially underwhelmed by this anecdote, mostly because it has a beginning and a middle but no discernible conclusion. [87-88]

I DO THIS ALL THE TIME. I AM KNOWN FOR THIS IN CERTAIN CIRCLES. I am impressed, amazed, and inspired. If this dude who met some other dude from Journey can get into a book, I can for my story about the woman with the tick, right?


Grade for Chuck Klosterman IV: 4 stars


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