We were over the moon to learn that critic Chuck Klosterman is now a citizen of Cascadia. A regular contributor to Esquire; the Washington Post; the late, lamented website Grantland; ESPN; and The New York Times (he had a great three-year run as the Sunday Mag’s ethics columnist), he tackles music, sports and more with such energetic brio that you might be forgiven for missing the rigor of his process.
His essay collections, including “Fargo Rock City” and “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs”, are dizzying reads, full of laser-beam insights meticulously stacked like Jenga blocks. In his latest book, “Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century,” Klosterman takes on everything from zombies to Steven Malkmus, Taylor Swift to Tim Tebow, and so much more. (When you’re really ready for the goods, check out the audio book version. Klosterman’s reading transcends a mere recitation. It’s more a radical real-time rethinking of everything he committed to paper in the book.) He has a reading Monday night at Powell’s City of Books.
We met up with Klosterman at Wordstock 2017. Here are a few highlights from our conversation. When you’re ready for more — including stories about Jack White, Taylor Swift and others — click play in the audio player above to listen to the full interview.
On how he tackles his subjects:
You first recognize you find something compelling. You ask yourself, “Why is that? What’s the real reason I’m interested in this?” You come to some conclusion about that, then you ask the same question about the abstraction. And you keep asking that question till there’s no questions left.
On his evolving writing style:
When you’re young and you write, you do it by saying, “I’m lonely.” But then you realize you can’t do that! You need to illustrate this. So you start writing things that construct the image of a lonely person. Then after you do that for a while, it seems too on the nose, too hacky. So then you do this other thing, writing about something, in hopes people will figure out you’re writing about something else. So you write about jealousy in a way that will make people realize your jealousy is a manifestation of your loneliness. Then you get to a next step where you’re like, “I should just say I’m lonely.”
On celebrity profiles:
The assumption when you do a celebrity profile is typically this: You’re going to have a very limited time with this person. And somehow, through the conversation you’re going to have with this individual, which might last 75 minutes, you’re going to explain why they exist. And you’re going to find something in the conversation that’s going to become a metaphor that you amplify into their entire reality. I’ve kind of changed the process. I never try to convince the person this is a real conversation. I usually just say, “Look, the only reason I’m here is because I’m a journalist and I can ask you questions your friends can’t ask you right away. None of this is real. We’re never going to see each other again. I’m just going ask you in a very overt way the things I find most interesting.” I have found that this works way better!
On how he ended up living outside Portland proper:
When I’d just moved to Portland I was downtown in the Pearl and I started talking to some guy. The Blazers come up. The guy says, “Well, the Blazers are a suburban concern. We’re interested in the Timbers here.” So I bought a house in the suburbs.