Friday, December 15, 2006

Book-A-Day #151 (12/14): Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman

This isn't exactly a memoir, and it's isn't exactly a history of heavy metal in the '80s. (Though it's much more the latter than the former.)

Klosterman has very little in common with me -- he's several years younger (a whole high-school generation -- I'm class of '86; he's '90 -- which means the cultural referents are very different), came from a very different part of the country (rural North Dakota vs. suburban New Jersey), and like almost none of the same bands. But I still find his take on rock 'n roll fascinating. There's a quote from Jonathan Lethem up front to the effect that he'd never read such a great book about music that didn't make him want to buy a single record -- I'll second that thought. If you're passionate about some kind of popular music, you'll probably like this book (even if you can't stand hair metal).

As far as I can tell, our common points of reference for the period this book covers are Appetite for Destruction and the first two Def Leppard albums. Otherwise, Klosterman was listening to Ratt and Cinderella (boys listened to Cinderella? I never knew) and KISS, while I was vaguely transitioning from generic rock (Springsteen, Rush, Who, Stones, Styx, etc.) in high school to only slightly less generic "alternative" rock in college (R.E.M., U2, They Might Be Giants, Elvis Costello). While reading this, I tried to work out when my own metal period was (nearly every boy in the '70s and '80s had one), and decided that it probably only lasted from about '82 to '84, given the records I could remember buying and listening to. Metal didn't really take with me, though some of my friends (the more stoner types) were metal-heads. But, in my circles, most of the people I knew liked "new wave" or just "rock." (And, thinking back, my guilty pleasures were bands like Duran Duran rather than like Twisted Sister.)

Klosterman also spends most of this book talking about the cheesiest kind of "hair metal" (he's particularly fond of Motley Crue; this book is, in large part, an attempt to rehabilitate their reputation and present them as at least the Aerosmith of the '80s), and I was, I'm afraid, a classicist in my metal period (Ozzy, old-school Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, and only a very little bit beyond that). So, yet again, I have to take his word for it about the kind of music fan he was; I'm sure I knew people who thought like he did, but I never really talked music with them.

Klosterman isn't afraid to have quirky theories about music and life (though nothing here quite reaches the epic insanity of Killing Yourself To Live's extended comparison of the various members of KISS over the years to Klosterman's important girlfriends), and he's very entertaining to read. And anyone who actually liked hair metal will love this.

Finding a major rock critic whose cultural touchstone is KISS rather than the New York Dolls or the Stooges or the Velvet Underground is also great -- even if I don't actually like KISS any better than those other bands...

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

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