Dispatch from a Chuck Klosterman book reading
Chuck Klosterman has just emerged from a back room at Boswell Books on Downer Ave., and apparently has been given a lot of coffee from the attached Starbucks. He’s just been introduced by proprietor Daniel Goldin, who was just feverishly arranging chairs for what has become an overflow crowd of mostly 20-40 year-olds.
It’s 7:20 p.m., as Goldin delayed the start of the book reading for the journalist/essayist/pop culture commentator’s new work of fiction, Downtown Owl. Some attendees are caught in traffic due to Jazz in the Park, Summerfest, and fireworks spectators. The faces are expectant, as the King of Pop has just died. Klosterman is perhaps best known for his coverage of music and pop culture – in particular a best-selling book called Killing Yourself to Live in which the writer visited famous rock and roll death sites.
So the author doesn’t even bother to say hello for the first 10 minutes. He’s like a prisoner let out of solitary after decades and thrown into the arms of his people. Wound up like a toy, Klosterman has the affectation of Quentin Tarantino when he talks: punctuated, annunciated, and all over the place.
“[Jackson] may have lived the strangest life in American history,” he proffers. “I’m not saying it was the best life America has ever seen.”
Klosterman proceeds to give a living history that the many fans and stars giving tributes on the news are not talking about. While many are talking about a favorite song or video, the author is audibly examining Michael Jackson’s life and how weird it’s about to get due to what happened during MJ’s last days.
“It’s been 20 years since anyone said anything nice about him, really,” Klosterman postulates. “It’s weird because no one really feels close to him. They can be a big fan but he’s been so insulated that no one ever got to see him.”
When he segues into the personal experience of the gestation of a book, Klosterman explains that by the time a book has been written, created and toured upon, it’s an old subject to an author. He realized talking to interviewers that he was using up all the personal experiences in his life (the previously mentioned Killing Yourself is often more about his old girlfriends than music), and that they were reading into things that even the writer didn’t realize were there. There were certain fears entering the area of fiction, therefore.
Klosterman reads a passage from Downtown Owl that’s pertinent to this, the only time he’ll read from any work during the hour-long appearance. It’s a passage in which Horace considers that the schoolteacher is better off being alone just like him. Horace had a wife who died, but he’s content with the 20 years they did have together and now enjoys the solitude.
“Now, reading that I realize that maybe it was my own worries about getting married,” says Klosterman, who’s due to march down the aisle in September.
“I’m interested in the psychology of attraction, and in the case of Julia the schoolteacher, what happens when someone doesn’t love you back. It ends up being more autobiographical than [my non-fiction work]. There’s the way we feel, and then what we are supposed to feel – what we’re obligated to feel … then there’s that middle area where it’s a negotiation.”
When the Q&A began in earnest, audience members were most interested in Klosterman’s views on subjects ranging from music criticism to romantic comedies to being provocative for the sake of being provocative. The frequent columnist for Esquire admits that he’s more independent than most music critics and so doesn’t pander to any particular audience. He acknowledges that perhaps we’re less happy as people because of the expectations put on by TV and films towards romantic relationships. Finally, he addresses whether “I should be interested in something because I know it’s important or a big thing, but I know I’m not.”
Before signing books for the eager crowd, Chuck Klosterman previews his next book due in October, a series of essays on a slew of topics called Eating the Dinosaur. He tells the throng: “if I had one piece of advice to give writers or someone starting a band that I’ve learned, just be aware that what you do gets frozen in time. And they are going to ask you at 78 about things you wrote at 28 and expect you to feel the same way. Don’t compromise what’s important to you. Be unapologetic about your lifestyle.”