Armchair Sociology, The Chuck Klosterman Way

May 21st, 2008 // 35 Comments

chucker.jpgInspired by James Mollison’s The Disciples, which collects photos of music fans “mimicking the manners and dress of their particular heroes,” Chuck Klosterman has written another think piece in which he a) describes the awkwardness of interviewing rock stars, b) recalls his own milquetoast adolescence, c) drops Best Week Ever riffs in the most pretentious manner possible (“I had never realised that the defining quality of a diehard Radiohead fan was the wearing of a diagonal strap across one’s torso. What does that even mean? What do these people hear on Bodysnatchers that makes this visual determination so self-evident?”), d) makes an ASS out of U and ME (“at its highest levels of achievement, rock’n'roll is supposed to serve as ‘lifestyle music’ It should have the potential to inform every single decision about being alive. And for these photogenic goofballs, it obviously does”), e) drops a list and f) leaves for Uranus (“Yet within the competitive context of life, these fanatics are almost certainly the winners”). Note that “interacts with the freaky goons he’s describing” is not included.

I spend a lot of time thinking about fanatics and I’ve concluded that the following 10 artists have the most dedicated, least rational fan followings:

1. Slayer

2. Tori Amos

3. Sublime

4. Kiss

5. Bruce Springsteen

6. Black Sabbath (particularly the Tony Martin era, for some reason)

7. Jimmy Buffett

8. Iron Maiden

9. Guided By Voices

10. Morrissey

My suspicion is that highly prolific artists – especially ones slagged off by cultural elitists – unknowingly present themselves in such a way that audiences recognise elements of themselves within the sonic iconography. If a musician a) ignores public criticism while b) producing a substantial body of work, an unwavering fanbase will self-select itself. They will see the artist as extra-human, will feel they “understand” how that artist’s music reflects (and replicates) their own experience, and will immerse themselves in the musician’s catalogue. The Smiths did not exist to be liked by anyone; either you loved them or you didn’t care. Within the idiom of fanaticism, there is no benefit to emotional caution. You have to go all the way.

…Which brings us back to the pictures in the gallery above: they are group portraits of those who have gone further than all the way. These people do not simply allow an artist to represent who they are; they are now trying to represent that artist to other people. Spanish philosopher George Santayana described this process as “redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim”. He was not incorrect.

…Yet within the competitive context of life, these fanatics are almost certainly the winners. The purpose of good art is always twofold: it’s supposed to help us see ourselves, and it’s supposed to help us understand something greater. These people can do that simply by looking in a mirror. I mean, who needs music when you already have yourself?

And in the competitive context of life, the writer who can write a long column for a major newspaper about the psychology of a type of fan without ever interacting with one is the winner. I mean, who needs a quote when you already have yourself?

Wanna be in my gang? [Guardian]

  1. GhostOfDuane

    Janet Jackson has to be added to that list. Her fans are hilariously delusional. They perceive everything that Madonna and Mariah do as a slight to Janet. Madonna announces a tour? That old bitch is just trying to upstage Janet. Mariah releases an album? That fat whore is steppin on Janet’s toes!

  2. nosebleed

    And in the competitive context of life, the writer who can write a mid length column for a music blog about the psychology of a type of writer who is focusing on a certain base audience of fans without ever interacting with the original writer or said fans is the winner. I mean, who needs a quote when you already have yourself?

    Copy paste, insert sarcasm, see?

    I can do that too!

    I WIN

  3. Cam/ron

    Chuck, STFU and tell us stories about your life as a Motley Crue nerd in Bumfuck, ND.

  4. Camp Tiger Claw

    I like Chuck Klosterman.

  5. Vince Neilstein

    you BEST not be dissin on Chuck Klosterman.

  6. Chris Molanphy

    @Camp Tiger Claw: Co-sign. Chuck’s overexposed, but the only thing more overhyped than Klosterman is blog-hate on Klosterman.

  7. MayhemintheHood

    I don’t get the Guided By Voices one. Maybe it’s because they’re one of my favorites, and i’m just too delusional.

  8. Audif Jackson Winters III

    So, this intentionally half-baked piece would have been improved by quotes from some Parrotheads? I don’t really get the criticism.

  9. Anonymous

    Tool should be added

  10. Paul D

    Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City is one of my favorite books of all time.

    I would add Ani DiFranco to the list. I’ve never liked her, but I know people who’ve actually stopped listening to her music because most of her fans are so obscenely, mindlessly obsessed.

  11. Ned Raggett

    @Cam/ron: Chuck, STFU and tell us stories about your life as a Motley Crue nerd in Bumfuck, ND.

    Cosign, forever and ever, amen.

  12. Captain Wrong

    @MayhemintheHood: GBV, I totally understand. However, I’m in a town where one of the two cool record stores is run by a raging GBV fan who has released a ton of GBV and side projects on his own label and has the claim to fame of a large portion of their used vinyl coming from Bob Pollard himself. My view might be skewed but, I think the fact that there are enough GBV fans who will buy every inch of tape released to the public (and the band seems more than willing to accommodate that)is what we’re talking about here.

    Now Sabbath and Buffett, I don’t know about. Especially Buffett. I’ve never met a 24/7 Parrotthead, and god knows I’ve been in enough situations where if I was going to, I would have. So, I’d add Ani DeFranco and, the band that should have topped the list, Insane Clown Posse. How has no one mentioned them? Is this just a regional thing?

    But seriously though, seeing a group of males in their early 20s, unironically wearing clown makeup as an everyday thing, tops anything else any other fans do. These people aren’t just fans, they are identifying with a tribe. It’s really interesting sociologically even if the music is dreadful and the people are the kind of folks you’d normally want to steer clear of.

  13. revmatty

    Who is Chuck Klosterman? I’m not being funny, I know I’ve heard the name before but other than writing for the Guardian should I have any idea who he is?

    That said, it’s an interesting bit of navel gazing he wrote there.

  14. Cam/ron

    @Captain Wrong: “It’s really interesting sociologically even if the music is dreadful and the people are the kind of folks you’d normally want to steer clear of.”

    Indeed, there are teen Juggalos who commit arson and act like gangstas in my town. It is Faygo soda’s fault.

  15. Cam/ron

    @revmatty: Chuck is a music writer whose best work was “Fargo Rock City,” his autobiography of growing up as a metalhead in North Dakota. He wrote a few amusing stories about goths at Disneyland and Morrissey’s cult of male Latino fans in LA, but his amateur, sociological assessments of pop culture are usually a chore to slog through. Plus, his voice uncannily resembles that of the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons.

  16. Anthony Miccio

    @ihatethekids: I’m glad you think I’m winning!

    I’m a big fan of Fargo Rock City, I really only hate when Klosterman OD’s on the pretentious rumination (obviously I have no right to say one MUST interview people, but he sure makes a lot of hifalutin claims about the little people based on some obviously staged photographs and little else) or that his stance is generational, and if you disagree with him, you’re a self-denying intellectual. Like if you think Pamela Anderson isn’t the hottest person alive.

    I think he’s at his best when he’s either admitting how idiosyncratic his take is (which probably doesn’t sell as well as the My Cocoa Puffs People stuff), or getting out his head a little.

  17. Anthony Miccio

    @Anthony Miccio: Getting out OF his head a little (by talking to people), I mean. “getting out his head a little,” ew, sorry.

  18. Clevertrousers

    I haven’t got my Kloster-hate on in ages. But then again, I never really cared enough to get all that worked up in the first place. Still, I think he was a dickweed for dismissing Bob Stinson’s death in that lame book of big rock deaths of his.

  19. amandacobra

    Chuck Klosterman writing self-deprecating footnotes to amateurish articles on the Fargo rock scene in his early days as a music journo = entertaining

    Chuck Klosterman ruminating on the deep existential meaning of pop music and why it affects the psyche in a way that questions the…….(sorry, couldn’t even stand to keep that going) = a beating and a half

  20. tristax

    “My suspicion is that highly prolific artists – especially ones slagged off by cultural elitists – unknowingly present themselves in such a way that audiences recognise elements of themselves within the sonic iconography. If a musician a) ignores public criticism while b) producing a substantial body of work, an unwavering fanbase will self-select itself. They will see the artist as extra-human, will feel they “understand” how that artist’s music reflects (and replicates) their own experience, and will immerse themselves in the musician’s catalogue.”

    Sounds like my experience with the Fall.

  21. KurticusMaximus

    Klosterman’s first two books were good. After you’ve read those, you’ve read everything he really has to say. I can see how people get irritated at the over-exposure, but as long as you read those books before the over-exposure sets in, you’re fine.

    As for that list, 1, 3, 4, and 10 are self-evident. The rest are overwhelmingly up for grabs.

    I mean, are Tori Amos fans really that much crazier than, say, anybody who attended Lilith Fair? Are Sublime fans that much crazier than 311 fans? And are Sabbath fans that much different than Maiden fans? And where are the teeny-boppers? They’re crazier than almost any adult is.

    What about the punks? Or Marilyn Manson fans? Or Insane Clown Posse fans? Or European metal fans? I mean, really, there are some pretty ridiculous fanbases out there.

  22. GhostOfDuane

    @Clevertrousers: I liked CK until I read that book. No one trivializes Duane’s death, dammit! He brushed over tons of major deaths so he could ruminate on his own failings ad nauseum. Ruminate on this failing, Chuck – you totally fucked that book up.

  23. amandacobra

    I’m gonna go ahead and award this thread with the coveted

    MOST TIMES THE WORD RUMINATE OR SOME VARIATION THEREOF HAS BEEN USED ON IDOLATOR IN ONE DAY AWARD

    congrats! let’s all go hit the showers.

  24. Clevertrousers

    @GhostOfDuane: Seriously that was such an exercise in dickhead navel-gazing d-baggery. Ugh.

  25. KinetiQ

    “self-select itself”

    You there, reader at home – try this. Go stand in front of a full length mirror and self-select yourself. Tell yourself you are the one selecting you.

    It’s like a really shitty koan.

    anyway.

    I’m not sure what interaction you’d expect him to undertake. He’s hardly writing a rigorously researched academic thingamajig. And what, you’ve never met a fanatic? Please. If this were an academic journal I would understand. Best I can tell he’s just talking out his ass and all the references he needs to do that are, well, his ass and a keyboard.

    But I don’t see why he thinks these artists are unaware of their influence on the lifestyles of their fans. A direct causal relationship between musicians/bands and fans is a bit more of a stretch, especially when he disregards any other influences (cohort? what cohort?). Of course, then he’d have to admit, if even just partially, that he wore ripped jeans because everyone else was doing it. But no! I’m a rugged individual who thinks for himself!

    I think somebody needs to take a sociology course.

  26. natepatrin

    I still have a hard time taking Klosterman seriously thanks to that NYT article where he depicted Gnarls Barkley as the sole brainchild of super-genius Danger Mouse mildly augmented by some whatsisface named Cee-lo (who has… gang tattoos!!!). On the other hand, I can’t bring myself to hate him after reading that New York Press article that went on and on about how his face looked like an ass — if that’s what we get from his detractors, maybe I should just be apathetic towards his work instead.

  27. Clevertrousers

    @PrinceHal: Nah. It just blows. Nice try, dood.

  28. PrinceHal

    Killing Yourself To Live (aka “that lame book of rock deaths”) OWNS YOU.

    He says time and time again in that book that his initial intentions mutated as he was writing it and it became a completely different animal. It really doesn’t focus too intensely on ANY rock and roll deaths, actually, more on what those rock stars and the circumstances surrounding their deaths can tell him about himself/rock fans. And I find his personal shit in that book legitimately touching, so yah boo sucks.

  29. Michaelangelo Matos

    @avoncobra: Fargo Rock City isn’t about the Fargo rock scene.

  30. Anonymous

    I find it hilarious that a blog that blathers on at length about its own navel-gazing ideas would call someone out for not getting a quote. When was the last time Idolator picked up the phone and got a quote that wasn’t cut-and-pasted from another web site?

  31. Maura Johnston

    @rockfan: Because the pace of blogging and the pace of writing commissioned features are *so* similar. How much a word do you want to guess the Guardian pays?

  32. amandacobra

    @Michaelangelo Matos:

    Nope, it isn’t. But an essay towards the end of Chuck Klosterman IV most certainly was. It’s his collection of ten years of essays for various publications.

  33. Dick Laurent is dead.

    @tristax: Mark E. Smith for President.

  34. encyclopediablack

    How ICP remains off the list is a mystery to me. That said, I don’t mind Klosterman. Sometimes, he gets a little full of himself, sometimes he makes a good point.

  35. J DTZR

    @Paul D: “Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City is one of my favorite books of all time.”

    You need to read more books.

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