Specificity is not a word that Chuck Klosterman clings to in his work. Actually, he tends to avoid it all together.
Klosterman relishes the opportunity to write about anything and everything he pleases and does so with his personal flair.
The goal is to write in a way that, even if he isn’t attributed to the article, readers know it’s his, he said.
His latest, and tenth, book “Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century” is a study of how varied Klosterman’s focus can be.
From an obscure basketball game in North Dakota to the quandaries of drinking Mountain Dew and a lack of encyclopedic knowledge of J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard — the book features a collection of Klosterman’s favorite published pieces.
Many of the articles appear in their original form and feature additional new footnotes, introductions or digressions for the enjoyment of longtime or new readers alike.
Klosterman will be in Madison on Thursday as part of his book tour, but doesn’t want that to impose question topics on audience members.
“When I do these events I do a lot of questions,” he said. “Ask whatever you want. You don’t have to ask about journalism or the book, just ask anything you want.”
Q: What is it like to work within different genres of journalism?
A: It’s great!
...Most of the time in journalism you’re fighting not to be tethered to anything. When I worked at newspapers in the 90s it was difficult to do anything outside your established beat. Other writers were territorial or there was a perception that you couldn’t bring expertise to the topic because you didn’t exclusively work on it and it was an obstacle to be able to cover it.
I got real fortunate. I’m probably one of the last generalists there are in media.
Because the Internet has pushed things back almost further in the opposite direction, the assumption is if you want a profile in the media you need to be a specialist in a specific place and everyone knows it.
Like with Twitter feeds and journalists — they only use it to talk about things in their wheelhouse. A sports reporter who covers college football doesn’t tweet anything but college football.
I emerged in the early 2000s when it was still possible to cover what was interesting (to me). I had this fortunate success and have been able to keep doing it.
Q: I really enjoyed the chapter about wizards and ‘Harry Potter’ and why popular culture matters (or not). So why does it matter? More specifically, why does it matter to you?
A: Popular culture matters in a lot of different ways. ‘Harry Potter’, for example, what we’re talking about is mass culture — popular culture that is truly popular. It’s not that it has some following, it has a massive following.
What mass culture does (like ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Star Wars’ or The Beatles or when Johnny Carson was on ‘The Tonight Show’) it creates connecting fluid for people’s unshared experiences. There are young people now who are 25 and they may meet and have little in common beyond the fact that as high school kids they read the ‘Harry Potter’ books. The content of those books allows them to access ideas that are alien to them.
They use that as a first step to understanding someone else. That’s a role that popular culture plays.
The opposite is unpopular culture, art that few people can access. It would be, say, abstract visual art from France and someone could be into abstract visual art from France, but their interest is purely personal. It’s an interior thing. It’s shocking if they met someone else with that interest — they would probably think that person was ‘the one’.
... It’s the first step to understanding that someone who isn’t like you is kind of like you. That’s the utility of it.
I think that maybe in a more general sense it’s that, particularity in the United States, popular culture is the only culture we’re generating.
We’re a younger country, a capitalist country and the footprint we’re leaving is pop culture ... not to take it seriously is sort like not taking the United States seriously which is what some people in other countries do.
I was a professor for a semester in Leipzig, Germany and I taught a class on 20th century popular culture. Many German students were very upfront and didn’t know the U.S. had culture. But the kids in the class loved rap music.
So I asked them, ‘what is rap music’? And they said ‘that’s immigrant culture’. I said ‘not really’. Hip hop artists did not immigrate to the U.S. to do this. This happened because of the conditions of our country. It only could’ve come from America and that’s a meaningful thing.
Q: You mention in the forward that “Three-Man Weave” is your favorite of your published pieces and I’m sure the other articles fall in there somewhere, too, but are there articles you would’ve featured in this book if space allowed?
A: Not really. I mean, it’s a 444-page book. It might already seem long to people, but I figured if you give people previously published material you might as well give them everything.
One thing is that I did a piece with another writer named Alex Pappademas about David Bowie ... but half of the writing was the other guy.
For the most part, no. If anything there’s stuff in this book that, in a few years, I’ll wonder why I included it.
Q: What stories are you asked most about at book signings or other events?
A: The people who like my work the most, the people who seem to be my biggest — I hate using the word fans — supporters, the people most interested in me ask about “Killing Yourself To Live”.
That’s how I can tell if someone is really a fan.
It’s the book I like the most even though I think, to the world at large, that is seen as a problematic book. That always seems to be the one that, if they like the way I write, that’s the book they like the most.
People really remember anything I did involving Bill Simmons because he’s so famous. If I do a podcast with Bill Simmons it gets as much attention as putting a book out. With the exception of the people who like my work the most, the book “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” is more popular than all my other books combined almost — to some people that is my career.