Interviews with Jlin: An Ongoing Archive

The Fad­er, FACT Mag­a­zine, Inter­view Mag­a­zine, Pitch­fork, The Sev­enth Hex, Pas­sion of the Weiss, Pop­Mat­ters, Crack Mag­a­zine, DUMMY, The Guardian, The Qui­etus, BOMB Mag­a­zine, Able­ton Blog, The Cre­ative Inde­pen­dent, Rolling Stone, SPIN, No Fear of Pop, self-titled mag­a­zine, Cir­cu­la­tion Mag­a­zine, The New York­er, Cyclic Defrost, Mix­mag, and melt­ing bot.

In writ­ing my upcom­ing col­umn on Band­camp (which I hope to pub­lish in the next day or two,) I decid­ed to see how many inter­views I’d have to search for any men­tion of the term “Band­camp” and the result was… all of them, essen­tial­ly. At least it led to this handy list! I’m excit­ed to read them all soon.

The Case for Chuck Klosterman

Thanks to an episode of Peter Kafka’s Recode Media, I’ve just now dis­cov­ered that for­mer New York Times Mag­a­zine Ethi­cist, author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, and long­time men’s inter­est media-affil­i­at­ed sports and music colum­nist Chuck Kloster­man pro­nounces his sur­name kloa-ster-men instead of klaw-ster-men as I have been, shame­ful­ly – even with­in earshot of oth­er human beings on a hand­ful of occa­sions. I am will­ing to sub­mit myself for pun­ish­ment for these trans­gres­sions under the sin­gle con­di­tion that I be allowed to call him Cuck Klus­ter­fuck the next time he ends a spo­ken sen­tence with “or what­ev­er” in an inter­view – an unfor­tu­nate habit he’s main­tained for years. If my own byline had any pedi­gree in the world of lit­er­ary crit­i­cism, I would now col­lect his penance sim­ply by includ­ing those hate­ful, 90s ston­er-kid buzz­words in every quote, unedit­ed, but it most cer­tain­ly does not. I’ve searched mod­er­ate­ly hard for any rea­son to both­er con­tribut­ing any crit­i­cism of books or their authors and returned with very lit­tle. I’ve read The Broom of the Sys­tem and White Girls this year, yes, but I’d have to be a Fuck Boy to write any­thing about David Fos­ter Wal­lace, and Hilton Als’ ele­gant, genre-bust­ing mas­ter­piece is so far beyond both my soci­etal rights and per­cep­tive capac­i­ty that I wouldn’t dare utter a sin­gle edi­to­ri­al­ized peep about it – aside from a log line-length rec­om­men­da­tion – even under imme­di­ate threat of cer­tain death.

Giv­en my recent vol­un­tary relo­ca­tion to Port­land, Ore­gon and the word-y pur­suits on which I choose to spend all of my mon­ey and ener­gy, I should adore every­thing about Chuck Kloster­man and in turn he should be com­plete­ly invis­i­ble across the under-30 demo­graph­ic, yet I’ve found a spe­cial orig­i­nal­i­ty in his voice since first explor­ing it and I think it might be worth requal­i­fi­ca­tion. A good friend of mine once dug his first nov­el Down­town Owl out of a bulk box of bar­gain books she’d bought as a pre­teen, long ago and became an enthu­si­as­tic fan of his per­spec­tive and a harsh, but fond crit­ic of his per­sona. It was her copy of his sec­ond that I read first: The Vis­i­ble Man – ulti­mate­ly a sur­pris­ing­ly-orig­i­nal take on the psy­chol­o­gist of a gift­ed out­cast tale that clas­si­cal­ly exem­pli­fies the easy-to-digest yet thought­ful­ly-explorato­ry rep­u­ta­tion of his craft. Thanks to her library card, I was able to fol­low it up imme­di­ate­ly with Chuck’s lat­est, most top­i­cal work – an anthol­o­gy of past essays writ­ten for pub­li­ca­tions like The Guardian, Grant­land, and GQ enti­tled X: A High­ly Spe­cif­ic, Defi­ant­ly Incom­plete His­to­ry of the Ear­ly 21st Cen­tu­ry, which proved an impos­si­bly enter­tain­ing, even more pol­ished exe­cu­tion of The Quaint Chuck’s Expla­na­tions in non-fic­tion form, begin­ning at onset with refresh­ing brevi­ty in its intro­duc­tion.

I’m not ful­ly accred­it­ed by either side of the pro­fes­sion­al equa­tion (sports­writ­ers think I’m too pre­ten­tious and music writ­ers don’t think I’m pre­ten­tious enough,) but I’m able to write about what­ev­er I want, as long as it actu­al­ly hap­pened.”

Using “pre­ten­tious” even when just vague­ly and loose­ly express­ing oth­er read­ers’ thoughts about your work is the first of many minus­cule tech­ni­cal infrac­tions against con­ven­tion laid down in X’s arrange­ment which proves to act toward the ben­e­fit of its expe­ri­ence. If you sub­sti­tute car nerds for sports­writ­ers, I’d per­son­al­ly iden­ti­fy with this picoau­to­bi­og­ra­phy in a big way, but more impor­tant­ly as a read­er I had nev­er encoun­tered any­thing writ­ten about sports which I would describe as pre­ten­tious, per se, and that real­iza­tion could very well have birthed enough curios­i­ty to land the sale, had I been skim­ming in a book­shop, which I would’ve even­tu­al­ly been pleased with.

Now, dur­ing what we should hope to be the first dawn of a new microera of sin­cer­i­ty, we must rec­og­nize how valu­able it is for Kloster­man as an observ­er to be com­fort­ably engaged with his sub­jects, emo­tion­al­ly, and con­fi­dent in the val­ue of his com­men­tary in mid­dleage with­out the need to insist upon his eccen­tric­i­ty, as so many cringey, cul­tur­al­ly-daft Dads do, these days. He uses key­words in his writ­ing and spo­ken pub­lic­i­ty that should dis­miss him imme­di­ate­ly as one of these – a nos­tal­gic, out-of-time dork – but are instead some­how mag­i­cal­ly manip­u­lat­ed to serve him in artic­u­lat­ing rea­son­able, even pro­found­ly-inno­v­a­tive insight. As I have explored his bib­li­og­ra­phy and his pub­licly-expressed thoughts, I have been caught up and hinged on a sin­gle sup­po­si­tion: Chuck Kloster­man is the only white, 46-year-old beard­ed Port­land Dad you should be read­ing. Do mind that I am in no way exempt from this lens, but it’s still my job to deter­mine his via­bil­i­ty as an intel­lec­tu­al – a “thought leader,” even – for those of us who were con­ceived around the same time he was wrap­ping up his col­le­giate sen­tence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Dako­ta.

For a sol­id hunk of the Amer­i­can read­ing audi­ence, a quick, ele­men­tal vec­tor of qual­i­ty and mas­tery we look for in an essay­ist is the abil­i­ty to “tran­scend” their sub­ject mat­ter for even the most pre­sump­tu­ous and con­ceit­ed among us, usu­al­ly to deliv­er a more abstract sen­ti­ment to leave with. Here, Klosterman’s sig­nif­i­cant career expe­ri­ence is irrefutably evi­dent – in X, he achieves this tran­scen­dence organ­i­cal­ly with a flu­id­i­ty unlike any­thing I’ve read before. We can already check a sin­gle box: con­vinc­ing even a young pro­fes­sion­al twen­ty-some­thing to shell out for a phys­i­cal hard­back of con­tem­po­rary non-fic­tion requir­ing any sort of aca­d­e­m­ic effort to con­sume is going to be nigh-impos­si­ble, even though X actu­al­ly hap­pens to be the best-look­ing spec­i­men of print prod­uct design I have ever han­dled across cov­er, type, and lay­out. It’s been dif­fi­cult hav­ing to con­vince myself to give this copy back.

In the inter­est of full dis­clo­sure, I must take spe­cial care to empha­size just how high­ly I regard Peter Kaf­ka as edi­tor and inter­view­er extra­or­di­naire with­in the Media beat – well-proven to be capa­ble of hit­ting con­sis­tent­ly hard on both nov­el and old guard indus­try per­son­al­i­ties with refined, seem­ing­ly unim­peach­able stone-faced skep­ti­cism. How­ev­er, this Chuck Kloster­man inter­view for Recode Media is an unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly dis­armed dis­play of seri­ous admi­ra­tion: he intro­duces X with an out­right con­fes­sion: “It’s great. I bought it. I bought a signed copy,” which is an unex­pect­ed odd­i­ty (though not an unwel­come one – I’m glad Peter enjoys his life.) Their con­ver­sa­tion dips briefly in per­son­al his­to­ry (Chuck and his wife moved to Port­land from Brook­lyn for its prox­im­i­ty to fam­i­ly) before plop­ping down upon the sub­stance of his clear­ly superb and mat­ter-of-fact inter­view tech­nique. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a con­ver­sa­tion between Kaf­ka and any pre­vi­ous guests with whom he was quite so obvi­ous­ly alike in gen­er­al dis­po­si­tion.

The only rea­son I’m able to ask you these ques­tions is because I’m a reporter and I can ask you ques­tions now that I prob­a­bly wouldn’t feel com­fort­able ask­ing you if we were friends, so I’m not going to pre­tend that we are and I’m not going to cre­ate some fake thing where we’re going to have a rela­tion­ship beyond this con­ver­sa­tion. I’m just going to ask you the things I want to know about and I hope that you respect the fact that I’m just being straight with you. I find that that works much bet­ter.”

From the broad­est pos­si­ble pop cul­tur­al lens, Chuck’s most spec­tac­u­lar and wide­ly-cir­cu­lat­ed work, demo­graph­i­cal­ly (I assume) is his 2015 inter­view and cov­er sto­ry for GQ with Tay­lor Swift – then “the most pop­u­lar human alive.” Yes, it real­ly is worth dwelling on the image: this guy… this very Dorky Dad, just hang­ing out with the most high­ly-demand­ed teen idol who’s ever lived, sit­ting awk­ward­ly next to her in the back­seat of her car as she mani­a­cal­ly pan­ics to accept a call from Justin Tim­ber­lake. When one Chucks such a dis­tin­guished con­trast upon such a high-pro­file con­tem­po­rary medi­um, the weight of the poten­tial scruti­ny becomes pal­pa­ble, but Kloster­man antic­i­pates and braces for this (very risky) busi­ness in the only man­ner he can: acknowl­edg­ing it over and over and over again in the sec­ond para­graph of his every inter­view appear­ance.

It doesn’t mat­ter if it was com­pli­men­ta­ry or insult­ing nec­es­sar­i­ly. It would seem as though I wasn’t tak­ing her seri­ous­ly as a musi­cal artist, and the idea is that I do. That’s why I’m writ­ing about her is because I do think she’s a mean­ing­ful, sig­nif­i­cant artist. It’s not worth the risk of hav­ing the sto­ry then get shift­ed by oth­er peo­ple who per­haps just per­ceive them­selves as some­body who’s a watch­dog for cer­tain sig­ni­fiers or cer­tain ele­ments of the cul­ture and that their job is to be on the watch for this. If your sto­ry then gets moved into that silo, that’s all it’s going to be remem­bered for… It’s a touch­i­er thing now. It’s a more dan­ger­ous thing.”

In the print itself, the cov­er sto­ry is pref­aced by a very short but uncom­fort­ably-telling com­plaint about chang­ing expec­ta­tions for cul­ture writ­ers. One might rea­son­ably sug­gest that Kloster­man regards the prac­tice of call­ing out or remark­ing on “creepy misog­y­ny” as “dumb” – noth­ing but the byprod­uct of chang­ing “times.”

Some­thing you may notice in the fol­low­ing 2015 fea­ture on Tay­lor Swift is that I nev­er describe what she looks like or how she was dressed, even though I almost always do that with any celebri­ty I cov­er… If I did, it would be reframed as creepy misog­y­ny and proof that I didn’t take the woman seri­ous­ly as an artist. It would derail every­thing else about the sto­ry. It would become the sto­ry.”

But… is it? Note how des­per­ate­ly close his lan­guage comes to the com­mon white guy whin­ing about fem­i­nism clas­si­fi­ca­tion with­out actu­al­ly fit­ting the bill. Right…? It doesn’t? Sure­ly, it must be cer­ti­fied Awake through some com­bi­na­tion of key­words or for­mat I’m unfa­mil­iar with or unable to visu­al­ly reg­is­ter because Klosterman’s ass would have long been grass, oth­er­wise. These 224 words are X’s most con­tentious, which you could call impres­sive, all things con­sid­ered – he appears to care enough about his pub­lic image to curate it some­what dili­gent­ly. When a moth­er­hood blog­ger pub­lished an open let­ter in 2013 cit­ing three very ableist uses of the R-word in his work, it only took him two days to respond: “I was wrong. You are right.”

More than any oth­er writer of his demo­graph­ic, Chuck Kloster­man has a close, wary rela­tion­ship with the ever­chang­ing con­tex­tu­al bound­aries of pub­lic expres­sion. He knows when to be trans­par­ent with his feel­ings on pro­gres­sion, and he’s care­ful to avoid what could be “prob­lem­at­ic” for the sake of func­tion­ing bet­ter as a writer (I assume.) For Slate’s I Have to Ask pod­cast, he man­aged to speak exten­sive­ly about these mech­a­nisms for near­ly an hour with­out bel­low­ing any­thing defin­i­tive­ly cringey.

I can’t say it’s bet­ter or worse. It’s just dif­fer­ent, and because it’s dif­fer­ent, it makes me feel uncom­fort­able, but there’s actu­al­ly like an adver­sar­i­al rela­tion­ship with the his­to­ry of any­thing, and that some­how that his­to­ry is seen as oppres­sive. And you shouldn’t even know about it. It’s bet­ter to live in now.”

A quick jaunt from pret­ty hor­ren­dous to almost-ide­al, then. If we are to place our faith in Chuck as our last beard­ed cham­pi­on, we must hope that last sen­tence is sin­cere­ly intend­ed to be his lens to the chang­ing world. Grant­ed – even if it is the truth – it’s not as if per­sis­tent acknowl­edge­ment of one’s posi­tion can mirac­u­lous­ly wash away any sys­tem­at­ic patri­ar­chal dynam­ics involved in author­ing (or read­ing, for that mat­ter) a high-pro­file fea­ture of a young woman on cov­er of a mag­a­zine which explic­it­ly seeks most to speak to “all sides of the male equa­tion,” (are you sure about that, Condé Nast?) espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing how unlike­ly it would’ve been for me to read any­thing about Tay­lor Swift out­side of this very white man’s anthol­o­gy. Fun­da­men­tal themes of pow­er and con­trol are thread­ed through­out both his fic­tion and non-fic­tion, which is espe­cial­ly preva­lent in the Macho Big Boy cul­tures of the ath­let­ics and music indus­tries. In pro­fil­ing Tay­lor Swift – the undis­put­ed apex of the lat­ter in 2015 – Kloster­man pro­vid­ed a first­hand account of the gru­el­ing main­te­nance of a pub­lic and pri­vate per­son­al­i­ty under tremen­dous strain from said fac­tors as they were mag­ni­fied to the max by the most extreme celebri­ty.

Here we see Swift’s cir­cuitous dilem­ma: Any attempt to appear less cal­cu­lat­ing scans as even more cal­cu­lat­ed. Because Swift’s pro­fes­sion­al career has unspooled with such pre­ci­sion, it’s assumed that her social life is no less pre­med­i­tat­ed.”

I’m right there with Chuck: I’ve even found a fun­da­men­tal pil­lar in Pow­er and Con­trol rela­tion­ships sup­port­ing my own fic­tion exper­i­ments: how we attain them, how we lose them, and how best to make use of them – all of which had appar­ent­ly been quite prob­lem­at­ic for Tay­lor Swift for most of her adult life, though we wouldn’t be allowed to real­ly com­pre­hend how deep her inner tur­moil had drilled until it over­whelmed even her expert­ly-designed self-con­trol four years lat­er, boil­ing over entire­ly with such unex­pect­ed vio­lence that all of America’s pseudorur­al glam-pop-coun­try-glossy-chode-hip­sters let out a simul­ta­ne­ous, dan­ger­ous­ly-alarmed holler of OH FOR PETE’S SAKE that was actu­al­ly heard and record­ed from the over­fly­ing orbit of the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion.

It’s some­how dif­fer­ent when the hub of the wheel is Swift. Peo­ple get skep­ti­cal. Her famous friends are mar­gin­al­ized as acqui­si­tions, select­ed to occu­py spe­cif­ic roles, almost like mem­bers of the Jus­tice League (‘the ecto­morph mod­el,’ ‘the inven­tive indie artist,’ ‘the informed third-wave fem­i­nist,’ etc.). Such per­cep­tions per­plex Swift, who is gen­uine­ly obsessed with these attach­ments.”

No, it’s not only worth­while as an exer­cise in superbly ath­let­ic self-aware­ness – the Tay­lor pro­file is pro­found. I’d rec­om­mend read­ing and trea­sur­ing it with or with­out the rest of the anthol­o­gy because bizarre inter­sec­tions like these are rare to come by from any­body else. Short, sharp, and occa­sion­al­ly some­what pet­ty notions are what Chuck Kloster­man does best and most orig­i­nal­ly. Thanks to a digres­sion of Kafka’s begin­ning with “you and I are about the same age…,” he arrives (by way of REM, believe it or not) at a sig­nif­i­cant state­ment about youth and iden­ti­ty.

It seems strange to me to be into music for its cool­ness out­side of high school. That seems like that’s the only time when you’re a young per­son and you’re using art basi­cal­ly to cre­ate a per­son­al­i­ty because you don’t have a real per­son­al­i­ty yet.”

Kloster­man is debat­ably exempt from the tra­di­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic abstract of “objec­tiv­i­ty” for the vast major­i­ty of his notable work because of its stat­ed pri­ma­ry sub­ject: his “inte­ri­or life.” Per­haps the suc­cess of his voice could be at least par­tial­ly attrib­uted to his devel­op­ment of an exis­ten­tial mus­cle – a per­spec­tive unique enough to enter­tain, yet no less rec­og­niz­ably Mid­west­ern with which he’s been able to reflect par­tic­u­lar­ly clear­ly on the pro­fes­sion in tan­dem with the expe­ri­ence he’s accu­mu­lat­ed over the course of his career.

You know, when you’re young, you’re a real emo­tion­al writer if you’re a writer… If I was a young per­son now, I would be incred­i­bly attract­ed to the idea that when you’re 22 you can be a nation­al writer, which was impos­si­ble when I was 22.”

In a way, Kloster­man does sur­mise that it was indeed its objec­tiv­i­ty that media lost, and that writ­ing is no longer a “one-way rela­tion­ship,” but a sort of ridicu­lous dance in which “many peo­ple feel the rea­son they’re con­sum­ing media is to respond to it… that it’s not for the con­tent.” I would remind old Chuck that there are very few func­tion­ing adults out­side of acad­e­mia or retire­ment in the Unit­ed States who spend much of their time read­ing any­thing sole­ly for the sake of absorp­tion, and the dis­par­i­ty between those who were and weren’t was expo­nen­tial­ly greater in the past. The sto­ry of Amer­i­can media is defined by its cycles of wan­ing and wax­ing democ­ra­ti­za­tion, but many of the more tra­di­tion­al avenues in the busi­ness have bet on the “two-way rela­tion­ship” to keep them rel­e­vant.

My own favorite chap­ter of the col­lec­tion is a 2500-word per­son­al essay con­struct­ed for Grant­land to answer a sin­gle incon­gruity: “Why is watch­ing a pre­re­cord­ed sport­ing event less plea­sur­able than watch­ing the same game live?” Some form of this ques­tion has at least mild­ly trou­bled every Amer­i­can since the 1960s, includ­ing myself, and Kloster­man man­ages to pro­vide an enter­tain­ing and con­cise analy­sis of this plight through his own wis­dom. In its short pref­ace in the vol­ume – which was writ­ten “in 2008, in Europe, when [Chuck] was pre­tend depressed” is the sto­ry of his encounter with a house-paint­ing stranger, to whom he explains the meter for suc­cess in his opin­ion-man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­fes­sion, as he sees it: “If a large num­ber of strangers seem to think one of my opin­ions is espe­cial­ly true or wild­ly wrong, there is some­how a per­cep­tion that I am suc­ceed­ing at this voca­tion.”

Last week­end I was in a hashish bar in Ams­ter­dam. It was post-dusk, pre-night. The music was ter­ri­ble (fake reg­gae, late-peri­od Eric Clap­ton, Sub­lime deep cuts.) I was sit­ting next to a British stranger with a shaved head and a speech imped­i­ment. Our con­ver­sa­tion required sub­ti­tles, so I imag­ined them in my mind. He told me he had lost three fam­i­ly mem­bers with­in the past year: his moth­er, who was six­ty-six; his uncle, who was fifty-six; and his sis­ter, who was forty-six. He said he’d just turned thir­ty-six. He asked if I saw a pat­tern devel­op­ing. “Yes,” I said. “But only numer­i­cal­ly.“

I asked what he did for a liv­ing. He said he was a house­painter. He asked me the same ques­tion about myself. “I man­u­fac­ture opin­ions,” I said.

“Real­ly?” he asked. “How do you know if you’re any good at that?”

“By the num­ber of peo­ple who agree or dis­agree,” I said in response. “If a large num­ber of strangers seem to think one of my opin­ions is espe­cial­ly true or wild­ly wrong, there is some­how a per­cep­tion that I am suc­ceed­ing at this voca­tion.”

“That’s inter­est­ing,” said the bald British man who could bare­ly speak. “I guess house paint­ing is a total­ly dif­fer­ent thing.”

Rarely are sit­u­a­tions or dis­cus­sions that begin with back in my day actu­al­ly con­struc­tive in any sense, but Chuck Kloster­man appears to be the excep­tion. If you’re will­ing to indulge him, you may find your­self reas­sured. He now writes from a remote cab­in (with WiFi,) was tor­tured – like all of us – in sift­ing through and com­pil­ing his old work for X, and finds its index to be his favorite part.

Explor­ing the index from a book you cre­at­ed is like hav­ing some­one split your head open with an axe so that you can peruse the con­tents of your brain.”

He is will­ful­ly and com­plete­ly igno­rant of the Har­ry Pot­ter fran­chise, yet able to sin­cere­ly wit­ness and con­vey the nuances of back-to-back Creed and Nick­el­back con­certs in a con­fi­dent, fas­ci­nat­ing tech­nique of which any oth­er music or cul­ture writer would deprive you. He is “almost embar­rassed” by his emo­tion­al attach­ment to the Char­lie Brown peanuts. (See: Chuck Kloster­man on Char­lie Brown.)

I haven’t watched A Char­lie Brown Christ­mas in at least twen­ty-five years, sole­ly because I can’t emo­tion­al­ly rec­on­cile the final scene.”

You’ll notice that his entire answer to the live tele­vi­sion deba­cle is – again – entire­ly about con­trol (or the lack there­of.) In fact, his rela­tion­ship with and desire for con­trol also con­tributed to his choice of pro­fes­sion.

Part of the rea­son I became a writer is because it was this com­plete­ly con­trolled real­i­ty where I could do this thing by myself where you’d go out and you’d do the inter­views and stuff, but then you’re back by your­self, tran­scrib­ing and then writ­ing. Then, when the sto­ry is done and you send it off, that’s the end. Now that’s the mid­dle. Now it’s like, when the sto­ry is pub­lished, it’s the mid­dle of the process very often because the con­sumer feels dif­fer­ent­ly now.”

While Klosterman’s voice is pleas­ant to some­one like me, nei­ther it nor him­self nec­es­sar­i­ly belong to The Peo­ple. In his X review for Paste Mag­a­zine, B. David Zar­ley pro­claims essays to be “a love let­ter to a moment,” con­clud­ing that Chuck is “’effec­tive­ly nar­cis­sis­tic,’ prov­ing that cul­ture essays can teach us some­thing about our­selves and the peo­ple around us.” For The Wash­ing­ton Post, Justin Wm. Moy­er notes “it’s hard to think of anoth­er writer who could make a 30-page, deeply report­ed essay about a North Dako­ta junior-col­lege bas­ket­ball game inter­est­ing,” sug­gest­ing that this new col­lec­tion marks Klosterman’s ascen­dance from crit­ic to philoso­pher. From what I’ve read to date, I would counter that he has always ful­filled the term to the extent of its use­ful­ness in the 21st cen­tu­ry and is even now begin­ning to rede­fine it. Last Jan­u­ary, he braved the “dystopic” Google Gates to speak crit­i­cal­ly for a crowd of Googlers, describ­ing them as “an umbrel­la over the entire cul­ture,” and urg­ing cau­tion and reflec­tion in the com­ing future to keep them from doing “some­thing bad.” His engage­ment with them – espe­cial­ly dur­ing the Q&A – is a fas­ci­nat­ing insight into the Greater Google Mind, and I would encour­age any invest­ed par­ties in Chuck Klosterman’s role as a philoso­pher to watch the talk in full. I was unfa­mil­iar with “the boat-sails-wind anal­o­gy” before I read James Murphy’s inter­view for LCD Soundsystem’s “last album.”

Your life is a boat, the sails are your emo­tions, and drugs are the wind. When you’re a kid, your boat is small and your sail is huge, and drugs are like a hur­ri­cane.”

Con­trol x Time = the Kloster­man beat. I sup­pose this must be what oth­er enter­tain­ment writ­ers are refer­ring to when they accuse Chuck of nos­tal­gia traf­fick­ing, but I can’t be so sure. Though I’d like to think my own snout for the stuff is espe­cial­ly well-tuned, I am unde­ni­ably from a dif­fer­ent plan­et – even audi­to­ri­ly. All but one or two of the musi­cians inter­viewed through­out X were entire­ly unknown to me by name, which Klosterman’s voice man­aged to make even more com­pelling – not to men­tion the includ­ed sto­ries of ath­letes and the sports indus­try, which include sto­ries of the human ego, para­noia, and com­plex dra­ma that always man­age to tran­scend their set­ting when artic­u­lat­ed with such dex­ter­i­ty.

I’ve nev­er before writ­ten a book review of any sort – nor am I defen­si­bly qual­i­fied to com­pare cul­ture writ­ers – but with good ole’ Chuck, I dove much fur­ther in order to tack­le one very impor­tant ques­tion: should Kloster­man be rec­om­mend­ed read­ing for any­one under 30 above or along­side best­sellers like George Saun­ders or ground­break­ing essay­ists of col­or like Hilton Als? In many a case, I must con­clude by say­ing, sim­ply, that some­thing of val­ue would be for­gone if we shunned Chuck, even if his insight is old news to all but the most rudi­men­ta­ry yokels. I have lit­tle to offer women or peo­ple of col­or, but I’d bet X would prove itself worth a library trip for any idiot white guys in their lives who may be falling far behind. I don’t know of any oth­er voic­es who are in a bet­ter posi­tion to intro­duce these issues, nor any who are quite so prac­ticed at han­dling them del­i­cate­ly. While Jen­na Wortham-lev­el read­ers will gain lit­tle to noth­ing from this exam­i­na­tion or the ecol­o­gy of its sub­ject (and will like­ly find them­selves paus­ing momen­tar­i­ly for a deserved jest before mov­ing on and return­ing to their high-lev­el plane of com­plex neolib­er­al com­men­tary,) but most of their less-aWok­en fathers should find in Chuck a man they can tru­ly trust, who man­ages to con­sis­tent­ly dis­till and artic­u­late the need-to-knows of the most com­plex pop cul­ture and pop sci­ence con­ver­sa­tions with­out using any of the aca­d­e­m­ic lan­guage found in most insti­tu­tion­al dis­course which dad­dy finds too con­de­scend­ing and super­flu­ous to bear. Those read­ers who’ve absolute­ly fuck­ing despised my voice so far in this essay should give Kloster­man a go – I take as much time as I can muster to fid­dle with and sea­son the words in con­text like this work because I basi­cal­ly enjoy the bull­shit, yet I’ve found both X and But What If We’re Wrong? remark­ably refresh­ing and impres­sive exer­cis­es.

[These are] the cul­tur­al con­di­tions in which I was raised under and which I pur­sued jour­nal­ism under. That was part of the thing that drew me to the idea of being a reporter was I was like, this is some­thing I can do, I think. My abil­i­ty to detach my per­son­al emo­tions from what I am inves­ti­gat­ing, while not per­fect, I can do this. And now it turns out that the oppo­site is what’s desir­able. I think it’s real­ly going to change the kind of per­son who goes into media going for­ward.”

Read­ing Chuck Kloster­man is going to be per­turb­ing, but true sin­cer­i­ty is almost always uncom­fort­able. Com­pre­hen­sive­ly, his non­fic­tion rep­re­sents per­haps the most impor­tant pos­si­ble behav­ior to encour­age from both the crit­ic and his read­er­ship because it incu­bates and exudes sin­cere curios­i­ty and a gen­uine inter­est in learn­ing to lis­ten. From the per­spec­tive of quan­ti­fied soci­etal con­tri­bu­tion, I’d argue that Klosterman’s craft is a sig­nif­i­cant­ly more hon­or­able and worth­while pur­suit than greater aca­d­e­m­ic lit­er­a­ture in its unique and enter­tain­ing treat­ment of sub­jects the estab­lish­ment tends to pul­ver­ize into minu­tia. Unless he’s broke and/or book­ish, buy X as a gift for your Dad and have a go when he’s done. If noth­ing else, at least read the Tay­lor Swift inter­view, okay? If he doesn’t enjoy the book, I’m always avail­able if one or both of you need to blow off some steam: give me a call at (573) 823‑4380. (Nor­mal text mes­sag­ing / talk­time rates will apply.)


Further Reading

The Email Chic

In all like­li­hood, you have heard of Elec­tron­ic Mail, but I’ve noticed that much of our audi­ence (and 18–25 year olds in gen­er­al) have been con­sis­tent­ly estranged from it, despite its preva­lence in news media. Per­haps it’s not imme­di­ate­ly evi­dent as the coolest thing, but if “stay­ing informed” and grass roots-ing brands are still as hip as they appear to be, email newslet­ters should soon become so groovy that you’ll begin leav­ing the house for a down-the-street cof­fee shop just to be seen read­ing them.

Wel­come to the won­der­ful world of aggre­ga­tion.

In many ways, email newslet­ters are the antithe­sis of (and med­ica­tion for) Facebook’s school of rumi­nate aggre­ga­tion. You know — the doc­trine that will for­ev­er be remem­bered as the orig­i­nal intel­lec­tu­al cat­a­lyst for the down­fall of human civ­i­liza­tion. The skim­ming and the jump­ing… how many Face­book users could I fool by sim­ply send­ing fea­tured images, head­lines, and abstracts for social cards with­out any hyper­linked des­ti­na­tion? Could I man­age to get Don­ald Tump elect­ed Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States by way of Scrolling Hyp­no­sis, alone?

Stay­ing informed is a habit of time-hon­ored tra­di­tions. Gramps has stopped by Bill’s Gen­er­al Goods every week­day morn­ing for twen­ty years with a hand­ful of change because The Sleep­yville Mon­i­tor is a part of his iden­ti­ty — depen­dent upon- and account­able to his trust. We’ve con­tin­ued into 21st cen­tu­ry news media as if a dig­i­tal equiv­a­lent of his read­er­ship would be so dif­fi­cult to fath­om that lega­cy pub­li­ca­tions are best-off forc­ing the stan­dards of print onto the web instead of invest­ing in research/experimentation, which is why the fuck­ing New York Times still sends your hand­set away to a sep­a­rate mobile ver­sion of their site — a hor­ri­ble rem­nant of brows­ing from the oughts that’s rarely seen on blogs, these days, much less on prop­er­ties of titan­ic news pow­er­hous­es.

For what­ev­er rea­son, most of the indus­try has behaved as if Grandpa’s sort of rou­tines no longer exist in day-to-day life, but — if any­thing — our Auto­mat­ed Hell is vast­ly more sat­u­rat­ed with them, no? Unless you’re sequestered away in a dili­gent­ly self-made Email-Free Zone, you’re receiv­ing shit dai­ly. I, myself, am con­sid­er­ably proud of my ~60,000 unread emails, and I’ve con­ced­ed to the vast major­i­ty of the pop­up opt-ins I’ve encoun­tered since short­ly after our launch because I rarely found myself visiting/reading unde­sir­able web.

I don’t email” is a sen­ti­ment I hear from young peo­ple often, which is per­fect­ly fine. I don’t vote!

If it’s true that “nobody wants that,” nobody should be par­tic­i­pat­ing in the demo­c­ra­t­ic process. Yes, I’ve expe­ri­enced the no patience for more than 300 words phase of life, and I under­stand whole­heart­ed­ly the desire to retreat for­ev­er from it all. I would much rather exist in an old, open farm­house with a wife, a gar­den, no inter­net, dusty old lit­er­a­ture, and two ancient Bent­leys than spend all my time craft­ing mirages in a black mir­ror, but nei­ther cow­ardice nor neg­li­gence are options for us, right now. This coun­try doesn’t have room for any more.

That’s not to say that you should be expect­ed to read 6 hours of news a day — it’s the media’s (our) job to main­tain our own acces­si­bil­i­ty, and for this, daily/weekly newslet­ters are an unbe­liev­ably effec­tive method. The meta-aggre­ga­tors in today’s indus­try are often paid exclu­sive­ly to ease your diges­tion, both inde­pen­dent­ly and by mast­heads.

Dave Pell is a superb gate­way from the for­mer — an aggre­ga­tion leg­end. His dai­ly cor­re­spon­dence — called NextDraft — is more often than not the ide­al front page of the day.

I’m ask­ing those of you youths yet with­out your own read­ing habits to trust my taste — if not my author­i­ty — and explore some options from my own inbox. 

Ulti­mate­ly, you just can’t replace a lega­cy die-hard-news shop for a good polit­i­cal brief­ing. The POLITICO Play­book is the most time-effi­cient way to keep up with U.S. and World pol­i­tics as you walk about your life, and many of The New York­er’s newslet­ters are a great long­form, much more visu­al com­pli­ment. For a slight­ly less-chaot­ic, but still rel­a­tive­ly unproven alter­na­tive to the for­mer, try Axios AM.

It’s no secret that Medi­um has been on the decline, late­ly — and it’s always required a par­tic­u­lar sort of tol­er­ance — but The Dai­ly Digest still deliv­ers a few impor­tant essays, occa­sion­al­ly. And of course — there are options by reg­u­lar­i­ty and top­ic, which you can fid­dle with here when logged in. On the more inno­v­a­tive end of the indus­try, there’s The Out­line’s newslet­ter, which — being the prop­er­ty of a more delib­er­ate, gor­geous, open-web pub­li­ca­tion — is a bit under­whelm­ing, but then again… why aren’t you just look­ing at the site, any­way? The Pud­ding’s out­put may be sparse, but — again — just… look at it. I can’t claim to have made much use of the infor­ma­tion pre­sent­ed in their gor­geous visu­al essays, but it sure is fas­ci­nat­ing.

The Verge’s Com­mand Line is often so clever, it can almost make tech news engag­ing. (Our very own The Toneis direct­ly mod­eled after it, visu­al­ly.) WIRED’s newslet­ter isn’t bad either– it’d be excel­lent if its par­ent web­site wasn’t so fuck­ing bro­ken.

Then there’s War Is Bor­ing-a tactical/tech news site? I recent­ly dis­cov­ered. “From drones to AKs, high tech­nol­o­gy to low pol­i­tics.” I wouldn’t describe it as a pri­ma­ry read for me, but it’s still nice to see what the Big Boys are up to, once in a while. (I am most­ly just wait­ing atten­tive­ly for the U.S.S. Iowa to be put up for auc­tion.)

If you’re a filthy word nerd like myself, it’s like­ly you’ve seen a Tweet or two from the Hag­gard Hawks account — Paul Antho­ny Jones’ high­ly-edu­cat­ed mus­ings on “obscure words, lan­guage &ety­mol­o­gy facts.” After an excel­lent few years of play­ful indul­gences, the project now has a whole Dweeb­Net with a newslet­ter that always fas­ci­nates, if a bit dry­ly. What did you expect?

The Poet­ry Foun­da­tion can also be eas­i­ly con­vinced to send you their Poem of the Day, and biweek­ly newslet­ter.

The Meta Media

Colum­bia Jour­nal­ism Review’s always the pret­ti­est to look at when it comes to cov­er­age of indus­try, and their squeaky-clean per­spec­tive won me over quite quick­ly. They send their ultra-clean, edi­tor-com­piled Week­ly High­lightsevery Thurs­day. The Amer­i­can Press Insti­tute’s listisn’t a bad idea, either. Then, of course, there’s Harvard’s Nie­man­Lab, which offers after­noon and Sat­ur­day morn­ing emails. All three often cite the Pew Research Cen­ter, which offers its own palette of email lists, should you find your­self hun­gry for d a t a. Though, I do not, and I enjoy them.

Land­ing on the “home­page” of even the most famil­iar online pub­li­ca­tions can feel daunt­ing and imper­son­al, but hav­ing an author­i­ty on the indus­try (hope­ful­ly, with some sense of humor) parse the tor­rent and deliv­er it unto your per­son­al inbox can ease the read­ing process into a much more inti­mate, sen­si­cal, enjoy­able, and pro­duc­tive expen­di­ture of your valu­able time.

For a pub­li­ca­tion of our scale, the rou­tine of a newslet­ter can act first as a sim­ple reminder of our exis­tence, and mature into a way to reach out direct­ly to our audi­ence in a dis­tinct­ly mag­a­zine method­ol­o­gy — one which per­vades a real, con­se­quen­tial rela­tion­ship with con­sumers.

Pfaall for President

My favorite short sto­ry of all time was pub­lished by the South­ern Lit­er­ary Mes­sen­ger in the sum­mer of 1835. It com­piles all of my favorite sto­ry ele­ments into one painful­ly tedious body: absurd prop­er nouns, com­plete­ly unbe­liev­able premis­es, lighter-than-air craft, explorato­ry con­text, and an utter­ly unsat­is­fac­to­ry after­taste. Tech­ni­cal­ly, it’s a hoax, and could only have been spawned by the most frus­trat­ing com­ic of them all — Edgar Allan Poe. If you find your­self one day read­ing his col­lect­ed works cov­er-to-cov­er, The Unpar­al­leled Adven­tures of One Hans Pfaall is how you’ll be intro­duced. I’m sure the ‘ole sadist would be pleased at the thought of you crawl­ing your way through his exhaust­ing thir­ty-page-long descrip­tion of the bellow-mender’s space bal­loon and its bizarre jour­ney.

Orig­i­nal­ly, I’d remem­bered incor­rect­ly — a bit of light research says Pfall was a bit too absurd to be over­whelm­ing­ly believed, but it was believed — that an indebt­ed labor­er obses­sive­ly con­struct­ed a DIY diri­gi­ble which he flew to the moon before man­ag­ing to con­vince a lunar­i­an to use it to deliv­er his sur­gi­cal­ly-detailed chron­i­cle of the jour­ney to be read pub­licly in front of his township’s civic lead­ers, only to have the scoop exclu­sive­ly bro­ken by a small arts peri­od­i­cal. In fact, it caused enough hub­bub to inspire an entire subera of sim­i­lar­ly-styled hoax­es, many from the orig­i­na­tor, him­self.

It’s no secret that Poe was as bit­ter as he was bril­liant, so I’ve found myself again and again won­der­ing, late­ly, what/if he would have spo­ken amidst his country’s 2016 elec­tion for Pres­i­dent. As I’ve known him — much more inti­mate­ly than most; much less than a few — I would posit that his bril­liant, suf­fer­ing mind would’ve been locked in the most pro­duc­tive year-long mania of his career. He was the sort of extra­or­di­nary man who was dis­gust­ed by the exis­tence of any­thing less. I think he would’ve played the tricks of Search Engine Opti­miza­tion, engage­ment, and news aggre­ga­tion with a verac­i­ty that could’ve swung an elec­tion, if we accept the recent ver­dict against some good-humored Mace­don­ian ado­les­cents.

His laugh­ter would be abrupt­ly stayed, though, if you told him that ten per­cent of the adult pop­u­la­tion is illit­er­ate, two cen­turies lat­er and twen­ty years into the sin­gle most pro­found renais­sance in the his­to­ry of human com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Though a near­ly-equiv­a­lent upset could prob­a­bly be had by inform­ing him that his best-known work by a vast mar­gin has since been The Raven, but I’ll spare you that sub­ject for a less-top­i­cal dis­ser­ta­tion.

How do I begin an argu­ment about intel­lec­tu­al dis­par­i­ty in Amer­i­ca? You got the Pres­i­dent you deserve…

Deserve” is no less igno­rant of a con­cept as “truth,” so that’d be awful­ly hyp­o­crit­i­cal. Not that hypocrisy gives me any sort of pause, what­so­ev­er, as a pur­vey­or of fake news. Per­haps I should begin with an overview of Extra­tone’s bias on adver­tis­ing.

Total advertising revenue we have received to date: $0.
Total number of advertisements that have appeared on extratone dot com to date: 3.
Total number of advertisements for non-defunct companies that have appeared on extratone dot com to date: 0.

As of this moment, adver­tis­ing is Google, more or less, which means they are one of the few com­pa­nies on Earth with the sort of cash flow to even con­sid­er attempt­ing to craft a stan­dard of mali­cious­ness (the only use­ful spec­trum I could come up with that could accom­plish the goal of “elim­i­nat­ing finan­cial incen­tives that appear to have dri­ven the pro­duc­tion of much fake news.”) I sup­pose the first author­i­ty on intent would be the Church, but I — a fake news writer — have been unable to arrive upon the method Jesus Christ would choose to go about elim­i­nat­ing com­mu­nion.

But The Lord has for­sak­en this place — we have only Google, now, and — as the res­i­dent omnipo­tence, it is They alone who can stay what They have made. So per­haps that smelly gen­tle­men won­der­ing aloud about the “sec­ond com­ing” on the bus stop bench is actu­al­ly smarter than you, but unable to fore­see the dig­i­tal set­ting of his apoc­a­lypse. If Google is our neo-God, sure­ly Walt Moss­berg is now the pope. Yes­ter­day morn­ing, he addressed Face­book (neo-Hell,) com­mand­ing them to behave like the “media com­pa­ny” he believes they are. I would like to imag­ine that Mark Zucker­berg is hiss­ing, cur­rent­ly.

He cites a Pew Research Cen­ter study that was con­duct­ed this past Spring, which found that “44 per­cent of the U.S. adult pop­u­la­tion got at least some of its news from Face­book.” I’d like to point all 2000 of my greasy, thump­ing, slan­der­ous fin­gers at the begin­ning sen­tence of the next para­graph, though: “but that puts a heavy respon­si­bil­i­ty on Face­book…”

Why?

Who exact­ly is plac­ing this bur­den on Face­book? Have we actu­al­ly reached the point of social media as a pub­lic ser­vice? Per­haps their influ­ence on the country’s psy­chol­o­gy is enor­mous enough to exempt from all of the cheques that guar­an­tee free­dom of infor­ma­tion exchange.

Thank God… per­haps Far­mVille shall final­ly face its Day of Judge­ment. All the requests from one acquain­tance of mine are stress­ing me out, and fed­er­al employ­ees have not forcibly changed their foul-ass col­or scheme yet, so I can­not nav­i­gate deep enough to block her with­out becom­ing phys­i­cal­ly ill. Don’t get me wrong — hang­ing Mark Zucker­berg by the Neck Until Dead for trea­son would make for quite a spec­ta­cle, but I can­not help but won­der if you have for­got­ten one of your most irri­tat­ing expres­sions: don’t blame the mes­sen­ger. I hate to be rude, but POTUS Tumper is the def­i­nite sign: you are respon­si­ble for your choic­es and your igno­rance. Voli­tion in informed media con­sump­tion is the only effec­tive weapon with which one should com­bat decep­tion.

For some per­spec­tive, know that I came shame­ful­ly close to falling for a fuck­ing phone scam a few days ago. I didn’t end up cost­ing my com­pa­ny, but I came with­in inch­es of doing so. I hadn’t expe­ri­enced such all-con­sum­ing embar­rass­ment in a decade. But — as life expe­ri­ences tend to be — it was hum­bling, and prepara­to­ry — I’m sure — for the next time I must iden­ti­fy dis­hon­esty.

I appre­ci­ate the sen­ti­ment of per­son­al­i­ties like Moss­berg and the effort they expend in the name of my pro­tec­tion as a user, but I must be allowed to dis­cern the nature of con­tent for myself, espe­cial­ly when using a ser­vice who’s CEO is pub­licly cry­ing “we do not want to be arbiters of truth our­selves.” Whether or not Face­book has the cash to delib­er­ate on, design, or redesign algo­rithms and/or oth­er soft­ware to com­bat inau­then­tic con­tent sources is irrel­e­vant. Max Read’s account of the process as it relates to the elec­tion is the sharpest one-take I’ve seen thus far. In it, he sug­gests that the sheer size of Facebook’s audi­ence “would seem to demand some kind of civic respon­si­bil­i­ty.” And — while it is now unde­ni­able that it is “the most effi­cient dis­trib­u­tor of mis­in­for­ma­tion in human his­to­ry,” I must speak for the gen­er­al read­er­ship and note that when we are “mis­led,” it is out of our own fail­ing dili­gence, intel­lect, and/or edu­ca­tion as bal­lot-eli­gi­ble adults.

As far as myself and my edi­to­r­i­al course are con­cerned, it is tremen­dous­ly dis­re­spect­ful to remove a reader’s voli­tion in their con­sump­tion. If there is “blame” for the votes in this elec­tion, the sin­gle polite course of action is to leave it on the vot­ers, indef­i­nite­ly. Any alter­na­tive is what we’d brand an acute theft of will. Voli­tion in informed media con­sump­tion is the only effec­tive weapon with which one should com­bat decep­tion. It’s not a con­tentious sen­ti­ment — assum­ing com­pe­tence from all par­tic­i­pants when leg­is­la­tion or demand are con­cerned. If it were, the safteynet wouldn’t be focused on such a small por­tion of dig­i­tal dis­in­for­ma­tion as mis­ag­gre­gat­ed news rep­re­sents, but instead on the high­ly-potent cul­ture of Google AdWords cons, or the long­stand­ing insti­tu­tion of email phish­ing. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not the biggest fan of Zuckerberg’s Cul­ture­suck. I found­ed our flag­ship pod­cast around rep­re­hend­ing it, and see plen­ty of evi­dence that it’s pro­found­ly effect­ed West­ern psy­chol­o­gy in a star­tling way, but attack­ing the issue in an eth­i­cal con­text is tremen­dous­ly inef­fi­cient, if noth­ing else.

Yes, it would make for an enter­tain­ing sto­ry, watch­ing Google and Face­book hurl their mass­es of cash at the 9th com­mand­ment, but it’d be much bet­ter spent remak­ing the crit­i­cal read­er­ship in Amer­i­can soci­ety. A fed­er­al pro­gram to con­front the ~10% adult illit­er­a­cy rate might be a bet­ter place to start.