How Chuck Klosterman Made the List

Note: I wrote this last week when the events described first blew up the internet. Another site took a pass on it, so I reread and wondered if I was still just as mad as I was when I first scribbled it down. The verdict: Yes! Here’s to Irish Alzheimers!

I have a small, select group of people who crossed a certain line with me and will never be allowed back into my good graces, barring a miracle. Chuck Klosterman is high on that list.

I was reminded of this when he threw up a piece at Grantland that pooped all over tUnE-yArDs for the crime of winning the Village Voice’s Pazz and Jop Poll’s record of the year. It wasn’t so much his choice of target that bugged me as the methods used, and reasons behind aiming in that direction. Per Klosterman habit, the piece made feint, passive-aggressive stabs at its subject, qualifying all of his contempt behind insincere well-wishing for the creator of art he doesn’t like while implying the poor, misguided souls who profess to enjoy it are simply saying they do to bolster their elitist cred. Like much of Klosterman’s writing on music, it  was obsessed with the idea that critics might like things the average slob doesn’t.

Multiple Fire-Joe-Morgan-style takedowns of this post have already been penned, so I won’t attempt that. (I’m partial to this one by Scott Creney.) However, the tone and direction of his tUnE-yArDs hit piece reminded me of another, even more infuriating thing he wrote years ago, one that I believe he still deserves an enormous amount of grief for penning.

Back in 2002, Dee Dee Ramone and Robbin Crosby (late of the hair metal band Ratt) died within 24 hours of each other. The New York Times asked Klosterman to write a look back at both men for the “Lives They Lived” issue of their Sunday magazine (aka Guys Who Died This Year). Klosterman proceeded to pen one of the most rage-inducing, wall-punchingest things I’ve ever read in my entire life.

The premise of the piece (“The Ratt Trap”) is that Dee Dee’s death unjustly overshadowed Crosby’s because Ratt sold far more albums than The Ramones ever did. And no, that is not an ironic homage to the “More Money = Better Than” sketch from Mr. Show.

“The demise of Ramone completely overshadowed the demise of Crosby,” Klosterman wrote, “even though Crosby co-wrote a song (”Round and Round”) that has probably been played on FM radio and MTV more often than every track in the Ramones’ entire catalog.” In his view, The Ramones’ connection to a counterculture (punk) meant they received recognition that Ratt could never dream of because Ratt “seemed corporate and fake and pedestrian.”

Klosterman has always harped on the idea that we don’t afford populist entertainment the same attention and respect as “art.” Personally, I’d say we have the exact opposite problem these days. (Is there any TV show out there that remains un-reacpped?) But the biggest logical problem with Klosterman’s argument here–and the philosophy that runs through much of his writing–is that he when he argues on behalf of The Popular, he almost always chooses to celebrate Popular Stuff that is complete garbage.

Ratt was a terrible band. I know that’s a subjective statement, and if they’ve brought you happiness in your life, godspeed. But I would wager there isn’t a single person alive today who is listening to Ratt out of any impulse but nostalgia and/or irony. They “seemed corporate and fake and pedestrian” because they were corporate and fake and pedestrian. There’s no Vast Music Critic Conspiracy to keep Ratt off the radio. We’ve all just decided their time has passed.

You have to search long and heard in non-Internet channels to find anything Ratt-related to purchase, but I can still buy a Ramones t-shirt off the street. What does that say about which band is truly more popular? And ultimately, if selling more albums warrants more respect, we should all be writing essays about how Kenny G was a greater jazz musician than John Coltrane.

As bad as all this is, you have to wait for the last paragraph to read the real crusher.

I would argue that Crosby’s death was actually a more significant metaphor than Ramone’s, because Crosby was the first major hair-metal artist from the Reagan years to die from AIDS. The genre spent a decade consciously glamorizing (and aggressively experiencing) faceless sex and copious drug use. It will be interesting to see whether the hesher casualties now start piling up. Meanwhile, I don’t know if Ramone’s death was a metaphor for anything; he’s just a good guy who died on his couch from shooting junk. But as long as you have the right friends, your funeral will always matter a whole lot more.

First of all, I wasn’t aware that death was a metaphor competition, or that we had to assign grades of meaning to the context and societal import of everyone’s passing. But what’s even worse, reading this closer reminds you that Klosterman was essentially writing a dual eulogy in which he trashed one subject at the expense of another.

If you want to write a piece about how Ratt is a million times better than The Ramones, that’s your prerogative. Is it asking too much that you wait to do it after you’ve written an obituary about one its members? Could you have exercised your anti-intellectual muscles after writing a piece that’s supposed to mourn its subject? I have literally seen terrorists written up in “The Lives They Lived” issue who received more flattering write-ups than Dee Dee Ramone. He deserved much better.

That is how you made The List, Chuck Klosterman, and you ain’t getting off any time soon.

  • Kevin Rayfield

    Wow. I ended up here because of Klosterman quoting Jon Wurster in his giant Kiss article on Grantland. Klosterman comes up with a lot of purposely counter-intuitive, ire-raising ideas for essays but I had no idea he could take things that far. Yeesh.