Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Where the Boys Are

Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota by Chuck Klosterman

Let's go back in time to 1991. In Mobile, Alabama, an adolescent Brady was hunched over a guitar in his bedroom trying to figure out how to play Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, and Booker T & the MGs songs. Meanwhile, somewhere in western Pennsylvania, the big-haired, acid-washed jeans-wearing girl who would later become his wife was playing her Zeppelin records backwards and slow dancing to Skid Row's "I Remember You" at the YMCA.

Sure, in 1992, I would start listening to The Replacements, and gradually wean myself off of Warrant, but my love for the heavy stuff never quite went away. So, at first glance, Chuck Klosterman's book was most definitely for me.

Fargo Rock City has some truly inspired moments, such as the "jack factor" chapter, wherein Klosterman creates a list explaining how much money he would have to be paid never to listen to specific metal records again, and why. This stems from a mistrust of "essential records of (insert musical genre here)" lists, because no record is truly "essential" and if you were really stranded on a desert island, you'd want a screwdriver and potable water, not a stack of Radiohead albums.

Also nice is the chapter where Klosterman explains the use of satanic imagery in heavy metal, and why Marilyn Manson is kind of brilliant ("It was easy for a vocal minority to turn drugs into the postmodern Lucifer... However, Marilyn Manson was the first metal guy smart enough to capitalize on a new era in spook rock: In the 21st century, Satan can be smoked, snorted, and shot").*

So, reading this book was like being told that everything I thought about music in the 8th grade was not only right, it was genius. And I like being told that I was cool in 8th grade, because in reality, I was probably not, and wouldn't have been regardless of whether I was listening to Paula Abdul or AC/DC.

But, if you're going to write a book about heavy metal, at some point, you're going to have to address gender, and here is where Klosterman fumbles big time.

(BIG DISCLAIMER: This beef encompasses a mere two chapters in a book I otherwise thoroughly enjoyed. So let's not throw the Warrant out with the Whitesnake.)**

First, he sets up straw phalluses like the Whitesnake video for "Here I Go Again," then seems to expect brownie points for pointing out that it's sexist. The conclusion he comes to on the whole issue of sexism in heavy metal is: "Life makes art. Life makes heavy metal. To attack sexism in the latter is no different from pretending it doesn't exist in the former."

As an argument, this is about as convincing as saying, "Since God created man, and man made the Transformers, the Transformers are like a gift from God."*** Klosterman is just side-stepping the question.

However, this is not my main problem with the book. My main problem with the book is Klosterman's barely concealed contempt for female metal fans (or music fans for that matter). He seems to believe that men are somehow hard-wired for band loyalty, while women are fickle, mindlessly squealing for the next flavor of the month. At one point, he says, "Bands who depend on support from females inevitably crash and burn." Sure, this may be true of bands who depend on support from teenage females, but then, those groups aren't even "bands."

About six years ago, I wrote an essay about how female rock and roll fans are regarded. It was late one night, and I was feeling crabby about some lyrics in a Who song. I buried it in the blog here, because it's kind of long, but you can read it if you wanna. It sums up all my feelings about Fargo Rock City and gender.

That aside, if you ever slow danced to Skid Row at the YMCA and liked it, or played your Zeppelin records backwards, or knew all the words to "You Shook Me All Night Long" without actually knowing what they all meant, this book is for you.
* I firmly believe that the cautionary video Hell's Bells: The Dangers of Rock N' Roll created far more metal fans than it deterred.
** "Down Boys" is a really good song.
*** Thank you again, Clerks 2


Gwen said...

You are a brilliant human being, Mary, and this post makes me remember why we get along so well.

You're right about the need to distinguish between not just teenage girl fans and female fans in general, but also the bands that CATER to teenage girls and those that attract an older audience. Usually those that cater to teenage girls are completely manufactured and condescend to their audience--writing songs about how they don't care what you look like, they just want to find a kind girl to love while they're out fucking super models. Who on earth would WANT fans to be loyal to, and not grow out of, these "bands"? I HOPE there aren't too many 25-year-old Backstreet Boys fans out there.

And knowing you makes me less ashamed of my heavy metal, dancing to "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" with Joe P. in the the gym after the football game and thinking it was AWESOME, days.

Although I REALLY wish I could have avoided that discussion where my mom decided she needed to explain to me the meaning of Warrant's "Cherry Pie."

mary_m said...

Gwen, as a feminist who rocks out, what are your feelings about Guns 'N Roses? I'm curious.

Gwen said...

Oh, dear. Ok, I can't seriously even try to justify G'nR. I mean, their songs are often overtly misogynistic (and homophobic), and women's only roles in the G'nR world were as the slut whore golddigger who deserves bad things to happen, the occasionaly super-foxy muse, and as groupies to provide unlimited sexual access. From a feminist perspective, I can find no redeeming value.

And yet..."Appetite for Destruction" is the only album from my heavy metal days that I have held on to. I never actually listen to it (though I did download "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Sweet Child o' Mine" onto my iPod and found them helpful jogging motivation), but I could never part with it. There is something sort of perversely enjoyable about Axl Rose's willingness, if not outright intention, to gleefully offend any and everyone. I get the feeling that he just takes great joy in getting people all riled up and acting like he would CARE that they call him racist or sexist or whatever (although he apparently DID care enough to go onstage with Elton John).

So I have just resigned myself to the fact that I will always harbor a certain admiration for a band that says really horrid, detestable things, because they say them with such bravado that I just can't hate them, or anyway can't hate the music they produced. And Axl Rose now seems so obsolete I couldn't really be bothered to have any emotional reaction to him.

Side note: back in college, when I had really long, super-curly hair, I once dyed it jet black and went as Slash for Halloween.