on July 19, 2004
As an '80's kid growing up in rural Indiana, there weren't a lot of ways to imagine the world outside. T.v. was stupid, the movie theater was forty minutes away, and even the local library wasn't all it was cracked up to be. My conduit for fantasies of a faster, more glamorous life was the radio.
It was the same for Mr. Klosterman, as told in Fargo Rock City. The glam-metal bands of his time set out a full plate of crashing chords, easy women, and free-flowing booze. He (nor I,)never tasted any of those things personally, but the bands painted a vivid enough picture to focus on a better life in the wide world - after high school, when your mom could no longer dictate your hairstyle.
This is a light read, certainly. Mr. Klosterman's book is meant as no more than a remembrance of things past. Even his dissection of what separates "poseur" bands from the "real rockers" is a throwback - what is easily recognized as rock marketing today could get you in fistfights with your Slayer-loving brethren back in '88.
So scratch your itch for "serious" lit elsewhere - Fargo Rock City is meant for fun, and Mr. Klosterman does an admirable job of providing it.
Author Chuck Klosterman loves the big hair bands of the 80's, so much in fact that he wrote this book partly as biography and partially to defend the genre that is referred to as "Heavy Metal". In the 1980's Rock'N'Roll was renamed/evolved into Heavy Metal, at least that's what a lot of people have been calling it since. It's often ridiculed; especially the Glam/Hair bands and those are the bands that the author loves. More than anything it's not if or not you like 1980's Metal, Klosterman is a genuine and passionate writer. Whether or not you agree with his opinions you want to keep reading and he also manages to make a few points. Fargo Rock City is also autobiographical in that he shares with us some of personal experiences and puts emphasis on his teenage years and what it was like to grow up during this era. I find it interesting how Klosterman grew up in what would not even be called a small town by most, yet still managed to find and develop an interest into this kind of music. I'm from a small town as well although bigger than Chuck's and I managed to find Metal as well during my teenage years and I could definitely relate to him and some of the experiences he had. It's fun to read about Chuck's teenage years and discoveries of bands like Motley Crue, KISS, Cinderella and Poison and later what it was like for a Heavy Metalist in the 1990's when the genre was ridiculed and become uncool with the rise of Grunge music (he wrote a positive review of Warrant's Cherry Pie album when it came out and was criticized for it).
Klosterman offers an analytical point of view on this music. He makes some strong points and some of them are very valid. Particularly when he says "I have both so and so in my collection, it doesn't matter which one is better they're both part of the soundtrack to my life" and proves most opinions are just that, opinions and can be irrelevant. His view is that if a song means something to you then it automatically becomes important somehow because that song is now part of your life. He makes further interesting assertions such as when he says Rush is a Christian band (and attempts to explain why that is) or that Ozzy is bothered by people calling him a Satanist. Chuck is somewhat of a music critic and has worked for magazines and published reviews which may explain why he feels the need to explain and analyze everything. His arguments on Guns N'Roses and Axl Rose more specifically are very well thought out and he does make some valid points when interpreting what Axl felt and why Chinese Democracy took such a long time to release. He suggests that Axl's pain was real but as time went on he couldn't replicate or fake it, keep in mind at the time of writing the album wasn't yet released.
Reading about Chuck's hometown and what it was like for him actually reminded me of my teenage years. I found Rock/Heavy Metal music in a place that no one would have expected me to. His story about the ATM machine that made him rich and allowed him to buy practically anything he wanted and the way he tells it is captivating. The personal bits on his life did not downgrade the book by any means, it added a biographical factor and those parts of Chuck's life were well integrated. I particularly enjoyed the author's list of albums you'd have to pay him not to listen to anymore. I found his picks interesting and liked how he defended his picks and the matter in which he chose to validate and explain his decisions. I liked the artists he picked but wondered about some of the selections he made (seriously of the studio albums KISS released Animalize is their best?).
It seems that Klosterman mostly like the 1980's Glam bands, as he pays little attention to what people who liked metal called "metal" like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Slayer and so on. He doesn't go deep into genres and stays within the stereotyped idea of "Heavy Metal" and besides KISS, Bowie and a few others gives little importance to bands that preceded the bands largely discussed in Fargo Rock City. If you're looking for a read that talks about the popular Glam bands of the day this will be in your alley but if your definition of Metal and Rock music is broader then you honestly cannot expect a book that is in any way reflective of the entire genre and that Klosterman covers all. Not that there is anything wrong with what he does here, I'm just giving you a heads up.
I think the original title of Appetite for Deconstruction would have been more proper and suitable for this book and it seems the author thinks so as well according to the. Fargo is a fun ride and definitely made me want to read the author's other books. One of the most remarkable things about Fargo Rock City is that Mr. Klosterman wrote this book before it become cool again like Heavy Metal in the advent of the 2000's with biographies such as Motley Crue's The Dirt, he really was a fan all along. If anything it probably won't make you rush to buy those albums he talks about whenever he mentions his favorite bands but. I'm not sure that Klosterman answers his initial thesis or that he really proves anything here and doesn't entirely succeeds at validating why the "Hair" bands were important and why they are important to him. Chances are even if you're not a fan of Glam Metal, don't have the slightest idea where Fargo is located you will find Chuck Klosterman's Fargo Rock City to be a least entertaining because through his writing he manages to be interesting and knows how to tell a story but it really helps if you're familiar with or like the music. Overall excellent and highly entertaining read.
on March 14, 2004
Never having had the slightest interest in metal when I was growing up, I had no reason to pick up this book until someone I trusted actually sent me his copy. I've since loaned it to another guy who was into metal in the 80's and 90's. He says it was the first book to articulate -- in eloquent, common style -- what it was that made such a lowly regarded musical form so connective with kids, and how not to be ashamed of it as if it were some curio from the past. Having finished Fargo Rock City, I can't understand why anyone would be ashamed of it either. The book starts off as an apologist act, but eventually justifies hair metal alongside any other cultural movement that got "credit" from the critics. Klosterman's book is so persuasive and sure-headed -- even as it describes typical teenage doubt and identity crisis -- that it inspires both admiration and astonishment that nobody has tried it before. And after years of massive resistance on my part, it actually made me want to go and check out Motley Crue and Cinderella. And it's extremely, extremely entertaining. I don't laugh out loud much when reading books; by my count it happened about six times with this one. ANYWAY....
on March 10, 2004
I have a different background and upbringing than Chuck Klosterman, but we are the exact same age. Much of what he wrote about in "Fargo Rock City" I can relate to: replace "Pyromania" with his beloved "Shout at the Devil" album when we were both young lads, and he might as well be describing the musical aspects of my early life. The early '80s were indeed a burgeoning time for up-n-coming metal bands, and Klosterman was correct in pursuing their history from a true metalhead's viewpoint. Laugh if you will, but the arena-ready acts Klosterman describes sold millions of records, and some enjoyed extended careers - 10-15 years, 5-7 albums. (Puddle of Mudd and Bush got nothin' on that!)
ANYWAY, I have a dim take on this book; I didn't enjoy it, which is unfortunate because I was psyched to read it, based on the subject matter and glowing reviews up front (not counting Stephen King's accolade, since King has been known to love the CRAPPIEST of horror novels). Klosterman lays it all on the line. His style is severely rambling - thought to thought, group to group - but that's not even the biggest problem. I mean, I expected a rambling memoir about '80s metal when I bought the book. The author is passionate, no doubt, but passionate about what? I'm not sure even he could answer that question. The guy self-conciously changes his mind or condradicts himself nearly every other sentence, like some teenage girl who's worried what her popular girlfriends will think if she dates the class geek. (You know, like those Molly Ringwold flicks created during the years of Klosterman's discourse.)
Many of the author's observations are absurd, and I suppose that's his right since it's his damned book. Nonetheless, calling Def Leppard "faceless" during their heyday makes no sense to me, and worse, the guy calls half of Nirvana's "Nevermind" album "filler" in a footnote. (Later in the book he praises both Kurt Cobain and "Nevermind" - see what I mean about contradicting himself?) The author claims to love rock music, which I certainly don't doubt, but simultaneously scoffs at CDs in their entirety, saying dics were invented for the masses to simply "skip ahead" to whatever one or two songs they want, then leave behind forever like so much pop culture trash. Such sentiments seem strange to me, given that Klosterman is an accomplished music journalist who has indeed talked with many famous musicians.
I don't know. The author rightly puts down guys like Metallica's James Hetfield, who seemed to him humorless and ugly back when '80s metal was in full throttle, but to me, Chuck Klosterman himself is pretty humorless and mean spirited. I didn't find this book to be funny, despite its opinionated attempts to be so. Towards the end, things get downright depressing - and long-winded. He injects a dull teenage story about his ATM card, then later drinks himself into oblivion. (Yawn.) No one cares about other people who drink themselves into oblivion, especially incoherent writers with baseless, meandering, lame viewpoints that an eighth-grader could formulate. (Maybe Klosterman DID write this in the eighth grade!!) There are interesting takes on later '90s bands, including an astute insight into the mighty and underrated Stone Temple Pilots, but it's way too little, way too late.
Simply being ironic, negative and cynical does not make prose interesting or funny. This book drips with insecurity on every page, and I guess that's what bothers me the most in the final analysis. Dude, if you liked Cinderella, shout it from the mountaintops!! Be proud!! Shout at the devil!!
And with that, I leave you with this:
"For time is on our side/For time is an essence."
"Overture" - Def Leppard, 1980
on February 1, 2004
At the very end of his Midwestern memoir/history of hair metal Klosterman writes: "Very often, I inexplicably embrace the same ideas I just finished railing against: Part of me wants to insist that heavy metal really _is_ stupid. I make fun of the same people who loved the bands I loved (and still do). Social pressure has made me cannibalize my own adolescent experience." This serves as a remarkably self-perceptive summation of the book, and highlights its main weakness. The book veers wildly from hyper-erudite wink-wink, nudge-nudge mockery of hair metal (Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Guns N' Roses, et al), to heartfelt declarations of its centrality of meaning to Klosterman during his teen years. The same tension pervades his next book (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs), and it's a shame that just when it seems he's ready to fully commit to an idea, he spends the next several pages tearing it apart. This makes for often hilarious reading, but is also in a sense cowardly.
That said, it's a remarkably entertaining read, even for non-metal fans like me. It does help, however, to have grown up at the same time as him (graduating high school at the end of the '80s), and my reading was enhanced by memories of one of my closest friends having rather inexplicably been a hair metal fan at the time, right down to the Lita Ford and Skid Row albums. Right from the start, Klosterman links his heavy metal fandom to the utter boredom of his small-town surroundings (despite the book's title, Klosterman grew up in Wyndmere, ND and Fargo has pretty much nothing to do with the story). The fantasy lifestyles of hair metal bands were so far removed from rural life, and so predictably offensive to adult authority figures that there was a natural synergy with bored small town kids. This is hardly earth-shattering analysis, but Klosterman is presenting it from such a direct personal experience that it really resonates far more than any work of musicology or teen sociology could.
The book unravels chronologically, presenting a sort of haphazard history of '80s hair metal. All the bases are covered (from roots influences like Sabbath, Kiss, et al), to hilarious analyses of album covers, videos, and especially lyrics. There's a lot of time devoted to explaining why some bands were considered metal and some weren't (such as the whole question of whether keyboards are an acceptable instrument for a metal band), and why some were classified into subgenres, and what constituted authenticity-all highly reminiscent of my teenage years in the hardcore scene. There's the required list of favorite albums, presented with the twist of listing how many dollars one would have to pay Klosterman to never be able to listen to the album again. Naturally, he addresses the charges of Satanism and suicide advocacy that the mainstream leveled against heavy metal and-as many before him have-utterly demolishes the notion. His take of heavy metal's sexism is that to criticize it is to miss the whole point: it's supposed to be outrageously sexist and offensive. While that may be true, it's also a clever way of sidestepping the issue altogether.
One thing Klosterman does an excellent job of is reminding us (a scant 10-15 years later) how big metal was in the '80s, how bands like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, and especially Guns N' Roses dominated the charts. He blames the genre's decline on the rise of the "Seattle Sound" and Kurt Cobain's appearance on Headbanger's Ball in particular. Intriguingly, he points out that Axl Rose loved Nirvana and wanted them to open on the Guns 'N Roses / Metallica tour. Throughout the book, the prose is liberally scattered with the pop culture references Klosterman is known for. The danger in this is that he occasionally misses something you would think he'd know (for example, I'm surprised that in his mention of Junkyard he didn't note that their guitarist was in the wildly influential DC hardcore group Minor Threat), and occasionally errs (his definition of straight-edge is inaccurate, which is disappointing from someone who makes a living showing off his pop culture chops). I'm sure metal fans could do a good job tearing the book to shreds, but for the rest of us, Klosterman's done a very credible job of showing why metal was such a big deal to so many people back in the '80s. For all the book's flaws, it's hard to imagine a more readable account of heavy metal.
on November 17, 2003
Chuck Klosterman's book of heavy metal criticism is really a book about himself. He reveals, by writing about the music he loved growing up, all the attachments teenagers make to the music they glom onto.
As a teen growing up a few years before Klosterman, I was much more likely to be listening to Whitney Houston and, later, Crowded House and old Fleetwood Mac. (See, you don't have to be a heavy metal / glam metal / hairband fan to be embarrassed about the musical choices made as a teen. Especially Whitney Houston.)
Still, I couldn't deny the power of "We're Not Going to Take It", "Livin' on a Prayer", or "Sweet Child O' Mine". While I looked down my nose at those who had the AC/DC posters in their bedrooms or wore their Rush T-shirts, I can now see that they, like everyone else, were just finding a niche and a passion to make those years bearable.
Klosterman is revealing himself - where he's come from and where he's arrived. The loss of his innocence seems to coincide with the rise of the Seattle sound (or, as he puts it, Sasquatch Rock).
Perhaps my story could be told similarly (except my innocence would coincide with Whitney marrying Bobby Brown).
on September 10, 2003
"Fargo Rock City" is an autobiographical look at how the heavy metal bands of the 80's affected the author, Chuck Klosterman, during his youth in North Dakota. It consists of a lot of rock criticism, defense of the heavy metal genre and unsparing self-revelation from the author. It is also very funny throughout. I freely admit that I really enjoyed "Fargo Rock City", but that I am biased because I am the same age as Klosterman. Even though I wasn't a big heavy metal fan in my youth, I'm still familiar with the bands he talks about and picked up most of his cultural references. If you don't remember seminal releases from Van Halen, Mötley Crüe, or Guns N' Roses, groups which are discussed extensively in the book, "Fargo Rock City" may not be that fascinating for you. Nevertheless, you can still enjoy Klosterman's funny stories (e.g. about trying to maintain his hipster credibility while his CD collection contains material from widely mocked hair bands like Poison and Warrant) and his analysis of the bands of his time and how they were slain by their flannel-clad successors.
"Fargo Rock City" is an entertaining counter-argument to the convential rock criticism of 80's metal from a fan who grew up on Ozzy and Crüe. Klosterman is likeable and self-deprecating but also opinionated and knowledgeable -- the right combination for a rock critic. I thoroughly enjoyed "Fargo Rock City".
on June 17, 2003
At first, I was a bit disappointed by the book and then I read the epilogue. Why wasn't it more of a memoir? Why was it filled with so much analysis? Then, I realized that isn't really the point of this wonderful book. Klosterman has made me a fan for life. What wins me over his unbashed honesty. I've long held that the lowest critic life form is that of rock critic. Klosterman calls them on their pretension. He hammers away at what I have always believed is that music is important if it touches you. My MP3 collection has Sinatra and Warrant. Who cares who is better, both form the soundtrack to important parts of my life. Klosterman tells some hilarious stories and his takes on music and life is so refereshingly honest that I can't stop smiling. He isn't mean or nasty--just tells it as he sees it. DOn't agree? That's ok. I learned more than I ever imagined about '80s heavy metal (some which I finally realized I liked about 10 years too late) and I suspect I would have gotten more out of the book if I had understood all the references, but I loved what I read anyway. Except for the passage where he compares the Gospels to GNR Lies, this book really does rock. Isn't that the most important thing?
on July 15, 2002
The author of Fargo Rock City is only a few years younger than me, and growing up in the 80s when all of my friends were into bands that touted big hair, tight spandex, makeup, and songs about girls, cars and partying, Klosterman's book was a fun flashback to those days. Images of high school keg parties where Motley Crue and Bon Jovi were the party tunes of choice began to flood my brain.
I must admit that other than an Iron Maiden cassette and Def Leppard's "Pyromania," I was not much of a metalhead and usually laughed at those bands' depiction of women and obsession with having the proper look and "attitude" over real musical originality. But again, growing up in the 80s, you couldn't avoid glam metal. It was everywhere, and the author of this book reminds you of its dominance of the charts.
Klosterman really doesn't go into much detail about life in rural North Dakota in the 80s. I think the book's title is misleading and may just be a cheap capitalization of the Coen Bros' film Fargo. The author also does not do a scientific or cultural critique of 80s metal, and that's OK with me. The book is more of a personal memoir of how 80s metal was played out in his adolescence - drinking, going out with friends, working lousy jobs, etc., and I laughed along with his typical teenage antics and interpretations of the whole metal scene - what girls liked which bands, heavy metal magazines, record shopping, etc.
I always wondered what these metalheads did after the depressing nihilism of grunge took over corporate rock in the early 90s. Metal took itself so seriously on the eve of "Smells like Teen Spirit," (think Yngwie J. Malmsteen) could it ever step back and see how silly it really was? As soon as grunge hit the commercial airwaves, hair metal fans went into hiding, denying their desires to copy the look of Rikki Rocket or Sebastian Bach.
Klostermann really waffles with this issue. Writing the book in 2000, he looks at 80s metal like the hipster music writer he now is. Back in 1987, he probably thought Husker Du was a Scandinavian dish served with Lutefisk at Christmastime and would have watched as his friends beat the living vinyl out of any nerdy indie record collector in school. In Fargo Rock City, the author gives the impression that he is older and wiser, and that 80s metal was just another example of his teenage impulsiveness and rash behavior. I sometimes doubted if any praise he gave 80s metal was genuine, and that he was one of the reformed metalheads who was embarrased of his musical tastes in the 80s and was coming clean with it in the present age.
Still, if you grew up in the 80s (or just like to read about a little-mentioned era in rock music), the book will bring you many laughs and some intelligent conversations among friends.
on June 26, 2002
I got this book as a gift from a friend who dubbed me the "last heavy metal hero"(ha ha)! Although I know his assumption is way off course, I do know my music, including my share of "metal". The author of this book, for the most part, seems to know his share of metal and music in general but pretty much, this book misses the mark. To start off, Chuck Klosterman contradicts himself bigtime and he spends so much time sarcastically ripping on most of the bands mentioned, that I find it hard to believe he calls himself a fan! Secondly, it appears that he is trying way too hard and this is something I really can't explain, even being a writer myself! It is just the vibe I got when I read this book. Lastly, his facts aren't totally correct! For example, right at the closing of the book, he tells of being at a show in 1996, where Jani Lane of Warrant, asks the crowd to please sit through some "new" songs off the DOG EAT DOG album and then they would play their well known hits. "Sorry Chuck but DOG EAT DOG was released in 1992, which means in 1996 those songs wouldn't be considered new...and DOG EAT DOG happens to be the best album Warrant ever recorded." It would have been the Warrant 96 album! Oh well, I guess it's true that there are just critics and then there are musicians who really "tune in" to music and listen in a different way! Who knows, maybe I am the last heavy metal hero but it's better than being nobody's hero at all!!!