Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, December 19, 2004


I finally had a chance to read J-Lo's lengthy comment from last week on my brief report from the middle of reading Chuck Klosterman's account of growing up in the '80s a heavy metal fan on a farm in North Dakota (which he wanted to call "Appetite for Deconstruction," and got talked into the much wittier, catchier, more accurate "Fargo Rock City"). I saw J-Lo's comment last Sunday and skimmed a couple paragraphs, but that day was very busy getting ready for a trip (non-drug, I should add, given J-Lo's extended drug analogy), and on the trip I had very limited web access. Got back Friday night with a bad cold and did very little webbing yesterday as I rested and slept. Feeling mostly better today.

Finished Klosterman's book a few days ago in the hotel room (work-related trip, spouse and child left behind, to everybody's chagrin). And I had all sorts of comments, but so much has happened in the meantime that it's an effort to recall. Which is an indication of the book's impact. Enjoyed reading it -- Klosterman's witty and ingratiating, and I laughed out loud at one joke (which I don't remember). Sad to bid the book adieu when it was done, as is often the case -- I can never read it fresh again. But a couple days later I was annoyed by Klosterman's memory.

It's a teen music fanbook written 8 or 9 years after the fact, by a pro music critic in his late 20s. And the book's key line (I'm not going to look up the exact wording) is that as for 99% of people, music doesn't mean as much to Klosterman now as it did when he was a teenager. And I must fall into that 1%, and that's what I'm looking for when I read about music -- a passionate feeling for music. Passion does not equate with naivety, though in theory I have no problem with naive passion.

Klosterman's attitude is perfect for a daily newspaper critic. Most people do indeed have a casual relationship with music. Nothing wrong with that. But most people who buy music books (even second hand for a few bucks, in this case) have a more intense relationship with the stuff.

I was continually reminded of Nik Cohn's Rock From the Beginning, one of the first rock histories, and one of the first I read (as a teenager myself -- my pal John de Roo turned me onto it, as he did so much other music and ancillaries), and still one of my faves. Cohn shares Klosterman's topic, except it's about '50s and '60s Top 40 rock, not '80s Top 40 metal. They both refer to the stuff as flashy and trashy. But Cohn still loves it. He's unconflicted. Part of the difference is that he was 22 when he wrote it, not 28, and those six years put a large gap between one and teenagerdom. But part is that Cohn is more into the music-as-music.

When Klosterman says that without the glam makeup big hair ROCK personae at play in metal it would have been just as boring as real life, I think, THIS is the problem with rock criticism. Rockcrit is proud of its musical ignorance -- which in this case is exponentially compounded by musical indifference. Klosterman has passages where he evinces sincere enthusiasm for certain songs and groups (Guns 'N Roses chiefly), and he knows a catchy chorus when he hears one. But he lacks faith in the inherent worth of the catchy chorus, and he lacks faith in the inherent worth of the rockin' beat. Or, rather, sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. Aaarrgghh. In high school I was a Beatles-Dylan-lovin' punk-jazz-folk-classical music snob, liked AC/DC & Zep (one of my bands covered "Highway to Hell"); disdained the metal persona, but couldn't deny the ROCK as ROCK, couldn't deny the rockin' beats, rippin' riffs & catchy choruses. Klosterman may have been a metalhead, and he may be slick writer, but he just doesn't get it. Or, to give him the benefit of the doubt, he's more interested in persona studies than music. In which case he should be a fashion critic. And if he thinks I'm kidding, he's got another think coming. Not that there's anything wrong with fashion criticism. And -- persona studies have their place in music writing -- they can be darned interesting -- I've been blogging some of them myself, Sandburg's influence on Woody Guthrie's persona, for instance, a few weeks ago -- but if it's a music book, I want some insight into the music-as-music. Klosterman isn't completely deaf to music's charms (obviously), but he's ambivalent.

Nik Cohn said something brilliant that's always stuck with me -- writing a great pop song is a knack. A lot of metal guys had it. Klosterman knows this, but backs away from it, doesn't embrace it, seems embarrassed by it.

One of the book's jacket blurbs says it all. Some book critic says (and I'm not looking up the exact words, sorry), "What fun! Great read! And the best part is, it doesn't make me want to go out and buy a bunch of music! Bonus!" Should have been a warning.

By the way, I've confirmed that commenter J-Lo is not Jennifer Lopez, but a dear friend of mine who shares her initials. Thanks for writing, commenters -- keep those cards and letters coming!

You have a great blog here! I will be sure to book mark you. I have a fashion tip site. It pretty much covers fashion tip related stuff. Check it out if you get time :-)
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