Saturday, 1 May 2010

Book Review: Fargo Rock City, by Chuck Klosterman (2001)

Chuck Klosterman admits to being an alcoholic, and also admits to dabbling extensively with recreational drugs.

Many great books have emerged from the bottom of the bottle, but Fargo Rock City is not one of them.

Born and raised in rural North Dakota, Klosterman discovered heavy metal in grade five, when his brother brought home a copy of Motley Crue's Shout At The Devil. The year was 1983, and this was the beginning of Klosterman's admiration for 80's hair metal. In addition to Crue, Klosterman is a big fan of bands like KISS, Poison, Ratt, Warrant, W.A.S.P., but ultimately falls truly, deeply, and obsessively in love with Guns N' Roses.

Fargo Rock City is only partially a memoir, and it works best when Klosterman weaves stories of his growing up on the farm with his love for metal. The book unfortunately regularly veers away from what works and is mostly Klosterman's unfocused and long-winded rambles on metal topics that he cares about.

He tries to make the case that hair metal mattered, and about 270 pages later admits failure and concludes that it only mattered because rural kids in the mid-west such as himself liked it. Parts of the book are like being stuck at a party with the alcohol-breathed guy who's in-your-face and who won't shut-up trying to convince you that wrong is right, while everyone else in the room knows that he's just sad.

Most worryingly, Klosterman shows little to no appreciation of the bands that did matter: influential bands that defined and deeply influenced the genre like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Saxon, Dio, Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Scorpions, Helloween, and Accept are generally dismissed as irrelevant or just ignored.

Klosterman's admiration of heavy metal starts and stops with glam metal, the most superficial and least talented sub-genre. Any metal band that was actually good at complex songwriting, talented at playing instruments and sang about anything other than sex, drugs and rock n' roll is just too intricate to be appreciated by Klosterman's substance-abused brain.

It may be understandable that as a 1980's teenager in North Dakota Klosterman had limited access to British and European bands; and it's ok for him not to have liked anything other than glam; but an author of a heavy metal book in the late 1990's who so casually dismisses the influence of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal only insults himself.

Fargo Rock City may have been saved by its writing style: but it also comes up short. Klosterman redefines the art of rambling, meandering from topic to topic with a severe lack of sharpness and absence of focus. Long paragraphs, no sub-sections, and an almost total lack of wit do not help.

The book reaches rock bottom in a chapter entirely dedicated to dissecting, scene by scene, and almost second by second, not one, not two, but three Guns N' Roses music videos. As he tries hard to inhabit the brain of Axl Rose and interpret the deeper meaning, success, and failure of individual scenes in a trilogy of forgotten videos, Klosterman's obsession with the irrelevant comes full circle.

Published in paperback by Touchstone / Simon & Schuster.
272 pages.

The Ace Black Blog Book Review No. 40.
The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

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