Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Review: Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman

Reviewed by Christina

Full Title: Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural Nörth Daköta

: 2001

It's about: Chuck Klosterman, a pop culture critic and essayist, describes his teenagerhood while providing an informal, opinionated history of 80's heavy metal. It's an unusual blend of memoir and music journalism.

I thought: Multiple people have told me that I would like Chuck Klosterman. So when I saw Fargo Rock City was a selection in the Dead End Follies Book Club, I was all "OK Chuck, let's rock." (I was also motivated by the North Dakota connection- I lived near the Canadian border when I was a kid, and you just don't see many books that have anything to do with NoDak life.)

And yes, those multiple people were right; I did like this book. Mr. Klosterman is funny, clever, and articulate. I really enjoy a good piece of music journalism, and even though I don't have any connection to 80's heavy metal I still related to a lot of the book. Chuck and his adolescent friends felt the same way about Metal as I did about Alternative ten years later: Society and The Establishment just don't "get" it! Mainstream pop sucks! People who say they like "all kinds of music" aren't to be trusted! "Sell outs" are the lowest of the low!

But I didn't always like the author himself. Chuck Klosterman has a strong personality- he's kind of an arrogant schmuck. He has some really stupid ideas about women, like how we are disloyal and overly emotional, and the section in which he lamely defends the sexism inherent in heavy metal REALLY pushed my buttons. Reading Fargo Rock City is like listening to a knowledgeable but extremely opinionated friend babble on about his favorite subject; eventually that friend is bound to get on your nerves. Like when he wants to talk to you for hours about every favorite metal album and why he likes it. Luckily with a book you can skim the boring parts. I don't think I'd like to be cornered by an inebriated Chuck in a bar.

But you know, 85% of the time I spent reading this book I was happy/amused/entertained, even though it's mostly about a subject I don't care about. And that's a real testament to Klosterman's writing skills. His chapter about theatrical satanism in metal is brilliant. And I really dug the moments when he mentioned the bands I knew and loved in the 90's. I'll definitely seek out more of his writing. And, since it's been over ten years since Fargo Rock City was published, I'll be curious to see whether his voice and/or opinions have changed over the years.

Verdict: In-Between. If you grew up with heavy metal and you like a really opinionated critic, you'll probably love it. Otherwise, you might not.

Reading Recommendations: There's a really good review of this one over at Illiterarty. And you can check out the book club discussion here.

Warnings: SWEARS and some sex talk.

Favorite excerpts: "Another good reason to hate heavy metal is Ted Nugent, or-- more accurately-- people who are like Ted Nugent. Every time I go to a big rock show, I see herds of these kind of men, and they always make me wish I had the power to give people polio."

"If your cassette collection had too many other nonmetal artists, you were bordering on being one of those goddamn eclectics who really didn't love anything. One of my primary theories as a junior high kid was that people who claimed to like every genre of music were liars and hypocrites; they lacked backbone. I never trusted open-minded people."

What I'm reading next: Still My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead