Chuck Klosterman [Interview]
Trainwreck’d Society has managed to draw in some very fine actors, writers, musicians, etc. to share a few words with us. But, what happens when we ask a modern messiah of the world we pretend to be a part of on a daily basis to say a few words? Well we just might find out that despite an effervescent presence to so many, maybe they are just like the rest of us!
Chuck Klosterman may not be a name that the average person gets too excited about, if they know of him at all. But for music nerds and journalism enthusiasts alike, he ranks supreme. Even if you aren’t a vinyl collecting, Starbucks swilling hipster, you have probably read his work. In fact, if you’ve ever read a single article in Spin, GQ, The Washington Post, and on and on, the odds are in his favor that you have read his words. All of this on top of the fact that he has penned 7 books including novels, essays, and a hilarious memoir/history of glam memoir.
To be frank, it was pretty nerve racking to come up with questions to ask this cat. I’ve been doing the music blogging thing for about 4 years now, which is probably just enough time to become comfortable with associating with or around musicians, but to still feel grateful for their existence. But, this guy? If you were given the chance to talk to one of the founding fathers of the profession you pretend to be in on a daily basis, what the hell would you ask them? Interviews are a part of this man’s way of life. He is the master of his trade. Or at the very least, he actually gets paid to do it! While hopeful degenerates such as myself continue to wallop in the muddy waters of semi-professional blogosphere, guys like Klosterman continue to reign supreme as one of the real creators of the majestic words. Chuck is one of the last great successors of pop culture journalism to come out of the wood works, and sadly will probably be one of the last. One of the last writers to come out just as the internet was becoming the number one source for everything, but before we relied heavily on a social media outlet to get “news”. For better or worse, times have changed since Chuck released his first book in 2001. Thankfully though, we still have legends like himself around to keep the whole scene grounded. Let’s hope he doesn’t give up on us, as we as a collective seem give up on something that was once so pure and beautiful.
Alright, soapbox is gone! Now, sit back web based fans and check out what the legendary journalist Chuck Klosterman has to tell us about journalism, Germany, and so much more. Enjoy!
What initially drew you into the world of journalism? Hunter? Lester Bangs?
Oh, neither of those guys. I was just the kind of teenager who always read the newspaper, so when I went to college I majored in journalism, mostly because it seemed like a field of study that led to a definable job (i.e., you got a degree in journalism and subsequently became a journalist). I was naturally interested in writing and talking to people, so it worked out. I had absolutely no idea who Lester Bangs was when I was in college. I’d read some Hunter Thompson books and really liked them, but I never thought to myself, “I want to be like this person.” Although I must admit: There is no better person to be compared to than Hunter Thompson, even if that comparison is totally inaccurate. Because the moment that happens, people start giving you free drugs.
It’s been a decade sing your first book was released. How long did it take for the shell shock to wear off when you realized you are now a famous journalist. Did you ever realize a journalist could still be a celebrity?
I have no idea how to answer this question. What basically happens is this: You go through a phase where people suddenly ask, “How does it feel to be famous?,” and you invest a lot of time and effort into denying that this is true. You exaggerate the degree to which it is uncomfortable, and you act totally shocked my the accusation. But then you eventually realize that the only people who get asked that question are people who are already semi-famous, so you kind of conclude, “Well, I guess that happened.” And then you try to stop thinking about it, because it seems so idiotic. But you never really do.
You have been quoted as saying “it’s better to be known for one thing than for nothing”. If you’re career didn’t become so diverse in subject matter, and it all ended today? What would you want to be your “one thing” to be remembered for?
That’s a difficult question. Maybe DOWNTOWN OWL or this story.
] But it will probably end up being my participation in that LCD Soundsystem documentary, assuming they eventually start showing it on TV. Television defines people far more than writing; this is why appearing on television is dangerous.
Journalism or fiction: which is more difficult to create?
Journalism is a reactive art form. Fiction is a creative art form. I would say fiction is at least twice as difficult.
What is the most interesting and/or frightening experience you have had in your career?
The way people reacted to SEX, DRUGS AND COCOA PUFFS.
What are your thoughts on hapless bloggers (such as myself) trying to move into the world of music journalism with little to no experience?
Go for it. It’s a good way to make a living. If you enjoy thinking about music and writing about ideas, there isn’t a better lifestyle. You might not get rich, but what kind of person believes they deserve to be rich? Only people who were born that way to begin with.
Wikipedia informed me that you spent a summer as the Pcador Guest Professor for Literature at the University of Leipzig. How did a summer in Germany treat you? Enlightening in some way? What exactly were you doing abroad?
That was a goofy four months. I was asked to teach two classes at the University of Leipzig. I’m still not sure whose idea this was. One class was on 20th century popular culture. The other was just a regular creative writing class. I somehow overlooked the difficulty of living in a country where I did not speak the language. I rode my bike a lot. I ate a lot of spaetzle and rotisserie chicken. The students were smart and super-interesting. They were both obsessed and repulsed by the U.S. They would argue that America has no actual culture, yet they were unilaterally fascinated by hip-hop and David Foster Wallace. I showed them an episode of FAMILY TIES and it blew their minds. They had a lot of questions.
How do you choose the publications you write for? Is there a criteria a magazine or paper must meet in order to have you appear in their pages?
Everything is situational. I can sometimes be convinced to write anywhere for free. But the two main criteria is my specific level of interest and the amount I’m being paid. “I just work here, man.” I’m no different than anyone else.
Considering that your words are holier than Truthspeak to so many musicheads and wannabe music writers across the globe, I have to ask: Is it officially “okay” to have your music featured in advertisements? Was it always actually “okay”?
Selling a song to a commercial does not change the reality of the music whatsoever. The song is still the song. However, there’s a certain kind of serious, judgmental music fan who will always view a song differently if it’s used in an advertisement, and that person will subsequently question the motives of the musician. So the real question an artist needs to ask themselves is, “Do I care what serious, judgmental strangers assume about my artistic intentions?” And I think the answer for most rational people is, “Sort of.”
Also in your obviously professional opinion, what city do you consider the epicenter of rock and roll music today?
Some place I’ve never been before.
What was the last thing that made you smile?
Either my wife or Hannibal Buress.
Chuck Klosterman is also a sports nut! Check out sports related column at Grantland.com. Also check out the trailer for Shut Up And Play The Hits, an LCD Soundsystem documentary Chuck has had a big part in. Learn more at his he website. His latest book, The Visible Man is available now from Simon and Schuster.