TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 September 2005
Chuck Klosterman's first two books were highly entertaining if sometimes exasperating melanges of pop culture and memoir. In this third book his writing is just a snappy and sharp, but there's a lack of focus that makes it several notches weaker than those. When his pop-culture addled wit and insight are aimed directly at something like '80s metal, or contemporary film, or breakfast cereals, the results can be amazing. However, he can also descend into weak or muddled rants, and when he becomes the main subject, it's just not that interesting. Unfortunately, the main subject of this third book is largely himself and his tortured love life.
The premise that Chuck's going to go an Epic road trip (on Spin magazine's dime) to tour famous American rock and roll death sites proves to be mere pretense for an extended trip into Chuck's head as he drives cross-country. Sure, he visits a lot of places where people died, like Skynyrd, VanZant, Buckley, Holly, Cobain, et al, but he rarely has anything interesting to say. Very occasionally he does, such as pointing out that Sid Vicious' inability to play the bass was what made him the perfect punk icon. The best part is probably near the beginning, when he visits the Rhode Island site of a club fire during a Great White show which killed almost a hundred people. He discovers a site of pilgrimage and reflection (and coke snorting), and embarks on an excellent diatribe against the prevalence of ironic distance in modern music fans and how the people at the Great White show were the most authentic music fans around.
However, despite nice bits like these, the focus is on Chuck's current and ex-girlfriends -- which gets annoying for a number of reasons. Probably the foremost of these is how in all his writing he self-deprecatingly paints himself as an awkward music geek, and yet here he is describing these multiple smart, sexy, rockin' women he has to chose between. Poor baby. Of course he describes the rise and fall of his various relationships in relatively humorous fashion, but it still comes across like so much self-indulgent navel gazing. There are some nice parts, like an imagined fourway conversation with the women in question, and a bit where he compares each to a member of KISS that is probably pretty funny if you know anything about KISS (I don't). He's a pining romantic at heart, and as one with a somewhat similar composition, I could identify with bits and pieces, but it all gets tiresome by the end.
Stylistically, the writing is what one expects. Sharp, crackling stuff, with loads of digressions, asides, tangents, obscure references, and laugh out loud parts. Music fans will have plenty of little tidbits to keep them going, such as an interpretation of Radiohead's "Kid A" as unintended soundtrack for 9/11 (rather forced in my mind), the relative popularity of Pearl Jam to Nirvana when Cobain died (misguided analysis in my mind), the "truth" of Rod Stewart's voice (somewhat better: "Stewart may be a blond clown with bad judgment, but everything he says is true"), and the universal popularity of Led Zeppelin (ridiculous: "they are the only group in the history of rock n' roll that every male rock fan seems to experience in exactly the same way") , and best of all, a moving explanation of why The Replacements make him cry.
Overall, if you like his writing, you might as well read this: it's quick and there are enough good tidbits to keep you going. However, lets hope that his future books will find more focus. The only other thing I'd add is that for someone who spends a page explaining the difference between "pot people" and "coke people" (in a very funny way) and why he's a pot person, he recounts enough coke anecdotes to make you wonder about his self-classification.