Chuck Klosterman irks tUnE-yArDs' fanbase, while likely enlarging it

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Some people are mad at hair metal 'n' NBA critic Chuck Klosterman at the moment. This has to do with "The Pitfalls of Indie Fame," published yesterday on ESPN-offshoot commentary site Grantland regarding the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop 2011 album of the year, Tune-Yards' w h o k i l l.

Disclosure: This record was my fifth-favorite of the year at the time when I had to gather my thoughts, and there were moments early in 2011 when it was certainly my number one. However, the Midwest-born Klosterman, who is the author of eight books and has more impressive writing credentials than you do, decided to poke fun at Merrill Garbus' decadent, beats-bursting second album. He dwells on her past as a puppeteer -- the same profession as the moderately successful Jim Henson -- but mostly seems to come back to the point that the album wasn't popular enough for him to care about it sooner.

"It's been on my iTunes since whenever it came out, I know my wife loved it, and I had no problem with it ideologically," he writes. "I just never got around to playing it." Notably, Klosterman's wife is former City Pages music editor, and current Entertainment Weekly staffer Melissa Maerz. Their many ties to the Twin Cities are explored here

Maerz last contributed to the Pazz & Jop poll in 2009, but the tUnE-yArDs debut Bird-Brains was not one of her favorites of that year. She was not available for comment at press time.

Two bits of response that caught our eye since the Grantland posting include a mean-spirited pen drawing shown at the top of the post featuring the caption "Bring me the head of Chuck Klosterman," and a far-more-reasonable reply courtesy of Village Voice's Maura Johnston ("A Couple Of Supplemental Reading Suggestions For Those Who Might Still Be Confused By tUnE-yArDs' Pazz & Jop Victory"). Within, she opines that "the piece was a bit 'Old Man Yells At Cloud That He Seems To Find Gender-Ambiguous,' to be honest, complete with confused Wikipedia citations, notes about its "superficially indecipherable lyrics," and so on." And she's not alone to feel that way.

Having met Klosterman briefly at (wait for it) a Hold Steady concert a couple of years ago, and receiving some friendly pleasantries from him at the time, it's still not a worthwhile pursuit to call for his head, or even his fingernail clippings at this time. This is not as cool as a rap battle, but it should stay within the confines of commentary and not take the fake word w h o k i l l as a call to arms.

As critics are wont to do, taking a contrary position from a significant group of influential, like-minded folks can be a slightly devilish, but ultimately rewarding tactic. It did get more of us to speak out in support of this album -- 40k sold last year -- and remember, Klosterman does say "I like your record, and I hope you make many more" at the end. Even if a Grantland reader prefaces his remarks with "hey check out this puppet band" to a friend, this is still ultimately a new listener who will likely be impressed by what they encounter.

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Mark S
Mark S

I think it's hillarious that the indie rock intelligencia is getting worked up about a hair metal fans' review of the record.  Remember folks, Klosterman invests most of his time trying to justify hair metal and other music you hate.  Is it a surprise that he doesn't think this is the best record of the year?

gz
gz

The problem is Chuck's laziness. It's not that he has to give a shit about Merrill Garbus, it's that he's just trying to comprehend her through a projection of other people's future reactions. But he has no real idea what's going on in the margins. This is OK: as a cultural writer, he doesn't have to keep tabs on tUnE-yArDs. He can write about Tim Tebow or Van Halen or Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But if he's going to take on something a decent portion of music critics care - or at least have an opinion - about, he ought to do better than this embarrassing effort. No one forced him to muster an opinion on tUnE-yArDs; he's the one who cares enough about the Pazz & Jop electorate (and apparently knows it well enough to separate it into tiers of intelligence) to write the piece.But he's not being "contrarian". He thinks the record's OK. His wife likes it.  Contrarian implies an alternate take on a work, and after spinning the record once or twice and scanning her Wikipedia page, all he has is some benign encouragement. In the context of his complete surrender to the idea of understanding Garbus, her influences, her words, and her critical supporters, "I like your record" means very little. I'm sure he's a super nice guy whenever he stomps through Minnesota to check out a rock band, but this little thinkpiece was useless. But hey, maybe someone will download the album after clicking over from a Katie Baker mailbag! If we're going with the "all half-assed press is good press" concept, then a mean ol' pen drawing (still a nicer tribute than "I Killed Christgau With My Big Fucking Dick") will do wonders for the sales of Downtown Owl.

Also, Reed: please don't pull out the "most impressive writing credentials" card on someone's behalf. It's not a good look, especially since you've basically invited us to stick with, say, Spin.

Ryan Anys
Ryan Anys

Guess what, Indie Rock (or whatever moniker you would like to characterize the music with) is "rock" as in Rock'n'Roll as in Chuck Berry and Elvis and Little Richard and The Beatles and The Rolling Stones singing about girls and good times and heart break - it's not serious business - regardless of how much people delude themselves.

And any notion otherwise is laughable - which is why so many people get riled up with Bono and MCA and whoever else assumes bully pulpit of sorts to make stump speeches about their "pet issues." Because, who cares? Who are these characters? And what makes their opinion (because that's all it is - an option formed based on whatever research they've personally conducted - which no one can quantify or validate) important? I should listen to them because they sang a song and had a hit record? That's pretty funny.

Indie Rock has the some problem - a band or "artists" message is only important to them. And anyone who gets caught up enough to be upset if a particular "artist" is criticized needs to quit saying baahhh so much and get out of the pasture a little more often.

To the point of laziness, gz is the lazy one for failing to examine Chuck Klosterman, for if they had, they would have realized Chuck is in essence a satirist, and is satirizing  Garbus, tUnE-yArDs and the Village Voice et al. Because whether you realize or not, none of the a fore mentioned are wearing any cloths.

Reed Fischer
Reed Fischer

GZ, I feel like I've known you for a long time. Quite a comment, and many points well-taken.

Perhaps the bigger issue here has nothing to do with tUnE-yArDs, and everything to do with Chuck Klosterman. Here's a guy who inspired a good portion of people about my age to seek their own voice within music criticism, and actually ask questions with substance when speaking to artists. I've loved enough of his past pieces on several artists I don't particularly like (U2 and 50 Cent come to mind), I've read his books, and I admire his work ethic exhibited in the past. Klosterman at his best is some rewarding reading -- and a lot of that was in Spin, yes.

I guess I'm not ready to flush all of that down the shitter because I didn't like what he said about tUnE-yArDs. I ESPECIALLY didn't like the footnote, "The idea of anyone advocating the merits of Fischerspooner now seems totally ridiculous." But "My December" didn't make me give up on Kelly Clarkson either. Maybe that makes me a tad bit more protective than I should be. And I'll get off the couch now.

Heading to the "half-assed press is good press" topic for a second. (Incidentally, I had to check on Wikipedia to discover that Downtown Owl was a Chuck Klosterman book, but I'm not going to offer my thoughts on it based on that alone.) Look at the majority of music criticism! It seems like reviews only come in the TLDR or 140 character format these days, and in neither case are they helpful, memorable, or fun to read.

I stand by my assertion that this is a contrarian piece -- as you put it, an "alternate take on a work" -- because he's not just going through the music-writer motions and linking Garbus to three cool bands in his iTunes and calling it a day. True, he invented a narrative that (possibly intentionally?) paints himself as a lazy listener, and found a few running gags. Many long-time Klosterman readers characterize his recent writings as self-parody, but at least he had an interesting "self" to begin with. A lazy Klosterman, sadly, is still a more worthwhile read than loads of today's scared-shitless music writers who aren't willing to take a chance with their words, but still get a Pazz & Jop ballot to play with anyhow.

As he says in the opening paragraph, "If you effortlessly understood 100 percent of this article's opening sentence, you can probably skip the rest of the piece." I did, and you did too. For different reasons, we both should've heeded that advice.

Reed Fischer
Reed Fischer

GZ, I feel like I've known you for a long time. Quite a comment, and many points well-taken.

Perhaps the bigger issue here has nothing to do with tUnE-yArDs, and everything to do with Chuck Klosterman. Here's a guy who inspired a good portion of people about my age to seek their own voice within music criticism, and actually ask questions with substance when speaking to artists. I've loved enough of his past pieces on several artists I don't particularly like (U2 and 50 Cent come to mind), I've read his books, and I admire his work ethic exhibited in the past. Klosterman at his best is some rewarding reading -- and a lot of that was in Spin, yes.

I guess I'm not ready to flush all of that down the shitter because I didn't like what he said about tUnE-yArDs. I ESPECIALLY didn't like the footnote, "The idea of anyone advocating the merits of Fischerspooner now seems totally ridiculous." But "My December" didn't make me give up on Kelly Clarkson either. Maybe that makes me a tad bit more protective than I should be. And I'll get off the couch now.

Heading to the "half-assed press is good press" topic for a second. (Incidentally, I had to check on Wikipedia to discover that Downtown Owl was a Chuck Klosterman book, but I'm not going to offer my thoughts on it based on that alone.) Look at the majority of music criticism! It seems like reviews only come in the TLDR or 140 character format these days, and in neither case are they helpful, memorable, or fun to read.

I stand by my assertion that this is a contrarian piece -- as you put it, an "alternate take on a work" -- because he's not just going through the music-writer motions and linking Garbus to three cool bands in his iTunes and calling it a day. True, he invented a narrative that (possibly intentionally?) paints himself as a lazy listener, and found a few running gags. Many long-time Klosterman readers characterize his recent writings as self-parody, but at least he had an interesting "self" to begin with. A lazy Klosterman, sadly, is still a more worthwhile read than loads of today's scared-shitless music writers who aren't willing to take a chance with their words, but still get a Pazz & Jop ballot to play with anyhow.

As he says in the opening paragraph, "If you effortlessly understood 100 percent of this article's opening sentence, you can probably skip the rest of the piece." I did, and you did too. For different reasons, we both should've heeded that advice.

maura
maura

Intentionally? C'mon Reed. Why should he get a pass on this point? Especially given the huge audience that Grantland has? 

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