Having stalled out at about the halfway point of the last two novels I started, I’ve been on a nonfiction kick of late. I wanted to jot down some impressions of them. I’ll start with the volume that seemed to kick off the current streak and work forward from there in the next few posts:
Chuck Klosterman is (primarily) a music journalist. I recall stumbling across a few of his articles online, and I ended up adding this volume to my wish list, just to check him out. It’s one of several books I received for Christmas last year. I picked it up one evening, out of curiosity and boredom, and had a very hard time putting it back down. I’m not a fast reader, but I plowed through these essays in a few days of spare moments.
Klosterman’s forte is the “profile,” those long-form interviews that aren’t really interviews, where the journalist spends some time with an interviewee and writes a piece, generally with some sort of latent thesis, which attempts to depict the essence of the artist and/or his/her work. A good profile narrates the circumstances of the encounter with the interviewee and contains some direct quotation, but is really a lose form whereby the interviewer can go off on a variety of tangents. As such, profiles can veer toward hagiography, criticism, or arm-chair psychoanalysis. When they’re good, they’re essays in the truest sense. Going back to the French etymology of the word, they are attempts to understand.
This collection is divided into three sections. The profiles are mostly in the first section, titled “Things that are True.” Each essay has a brief introduction that contextualizes it. These sometimes connect the essay in question to other essays in the volume, explain the circumstances under which it was written or initially received, or comment on how the author’s ideas have evolved since first filing it. There are profiles here on U2, Morrissey, Val Kilmer, Radiohead, Billy Joel and a surprisingly good one on Britney Spears. What’s really compelling is that these essays are strong regardless of what you think about each of these artists. Klosterman’s reflections on them and interactions with them are the focus, and that, here, is good thing.
The second part (“Things that Might Be True”) is mostly a collection of briefer essays from Klosterman’s days at Esquire, which are often lighter fare and are more editorial in nature. I didn’t find these as substantial or memorable as those in the first section, owing in part to Klosterman’s political leanings, which are more-or-less libertarian and of a rather knee-jerk sort. There are some good things here, including “Bonds vs. America,” a take on Barry Bonds that I found compelling even though I don’t know or care anything about sports.
The final section, “Something that isn’t True at All,” is a fairly long short story, with some clearly autobiographical elements, that I found entertaining. Klosterman is, when he’s funny, a Woody Allen type character, if Woody Allen had grown up, as Klosterman did, in Minnesota, listening to a lot of heavy metal. And, like Allen, he amplifies his own obsessions and neuroses for comic effect.
I think Klosterman’s a guy whose writing you either love or hate. When he’s on his game, he’s really solid. When he’s out of his depth, not so much. For me, this was an uneven but, still, solidly entertaining collection.