Friday, 17 May 2013

"Fargo Rock City", Chuck Klosterman

Easily mentioned in the same breath as Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" or Giles Smith's "Lost in Music", "Fargo Rock City" could tempt the reader in thinking they were set fair for a tongue in cheek rite of passage tale linking North Dakotan life with a slightly troubling obsession with Heavy Metal. 

This would be a mistake.

In the afterword Klosterman confesses he had wanted to name the book "Appetite for Deconstruction", which in many ways would be a closer analogue to what is contained within. While there are undeniably entertaining elements of personal reflection, many of which are connected with the rural location of Klosterman's upbringing, this is a much more thought provoking work which rewards the reader that thinks about the concepts introduced, and locates music in a wider social context.

That said there are points of autobiography which both entertain and challenge. When the work was initially released a lot of attention focused on a frank exposition of Klosterman's relationship with alcohol, which juxtaposes a clear admission that he has a problem with a conclusion that deep down, he doesn't really care. It's a difficult bit to read, and coming late in the book it serves to twist your opinion of the author. More entertaining perhaps is the discussion of what music is a good accompaniment to sex, and what elements of Heavy Metal resonate with this most, which in most rational readers is going to cause a wry smile and a shake of the head; but then thinking about it, my sole contribution to this from my youth was a request from long departed girlfriend that we distinctly not have Tangerine Dream playing when anything like that was likely to happen, so maybe I'm in no position to comment.

It helps if you were born in the 1970s, so you can identify with the social change that swept the ground from underneath Heavy Metal with the rise of the Seattle sound and Grunge in the 1990s. Klosterman neatly paints a picture of hubristic anticipation surrounding the release of Guns 'n' Roses double album "Use Your Illusion" in 1991, and how it masked what, in retrospect, was the much more significant arrival of Nirvana's "Nevermind". To me this resonated a lot, I clearly remember being distinctly perplexed that Nirvana could sell out their December 1991 concert in Edinburgh, thinking that "this was indie music, it doesn't sell anywhere out". Seismic social changes often happen without us noticing.

For all that the language can sometimes jar - to read that Vinnie Vincent's "Invasion" is "like a Tasmanian devil whirling towards vaginas and self destruction" can stop even the most hardened of readers in their tracks - this is nonetheless an engaging read. Approach it without a burden of expectation and you'll leave more informed and, if nothing else equipped with a rich vein of anecdote to punctuate a musically related conversation.

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