Fargo Rock City
I saw Chuck Klosterman speak at Calvin College’s Festival of Faith & Music about a month ago, and one of the funniest things he said was he originally submitted his heavy metal history book, Fargo Rock City, as an academic book about the history of metal and the fascination of rural and surburban America with it. This is funny for a number of reasons: 1) there is far too much swearing for it to be an academic book, and 2) the book is largely opinion-based and features tons of Klosterman’s famous mind trails where he goes off into completely different subject for analogy or comparison and 3) who writes an academic book about a frivolous genre like heavy metal? Klosterman explained that for some strange reason, a woman at one of the academic presses actually read the book and sent him a pretty funny email explaining that the book is good, but it should be more memoir than academic history book. Fortunately for us, the North-Dakota born culture critic followed her advice, and wrote one of the essential modern-day books about music on a much neglected yet hugely popular genre in rock history.
One of the things I like most about Fargo Rock City is Klosterman doesn’t try to explain some deep ingenious meaning behind metal music or legitimize it in anyway, but rather pretty much says that heavy metal music is for the most pretty meaningless and shallow, but so is a lot of music. He explains that doesn’t remove its significance in culture, which heavy metal (more specifically glam metal) was absolutely huge in the 80’s. Klosterman talks about why he loved metal so much as a kid, from the first moment he heard Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil to his incredible fascination with Guns ‘N’ Roses and why Axel Rose is so relatable for rural Americans. Klosterman states that it’s not because of the fear surrounding the Cold War or some other dramatic historical event, but rather that the 80’s were a boring time in America, especially rural America, and heavy metal brought a welcome entertaining and controversial escape for teens.
As someone who didn’t grow up in the 80’s and rather grew up in the grunge/post-grunge era, my view of heavy metal has always been a negative one, so it was fun to read a book of someone who absolutely loves it and to see what it meant to them in their formative years. I have never been a fan of bands like Van Halen, Guns ‘N’ Roses or KISS, and if nothing else, this book makes me want to revisit their music to give it another shot viewing it from a less jaded perspective.While he doesn’t try to inject any deep meaning into the music like so many critics do, Klosterman does make it clear how entertaining and thrilling this music can be.
It is pretty humorous to compare Fargo Rock City Chuck Klosterman to the Klosterman of today. In Fargo Rock City, we find a brash, even careless writer with a ton of talent, which compared to today is pretty funny considering the guy who wrote an entire chapter on his personal drinking history is now The Ethicist columnist for the New York Times and sort of the Malcolm Gladwell of pop culture. That being said, Klosterman has no doubt written better books since, but as a music fan, Fargo Rock City makes for fascinating and unique read about a rarely-discussed genre.