Considering Chuck Klosterman kicks off his new book of essays, Eating the Dinosaur, with a piece about the inherent lack of truth in interviews, especially his own, it only makes sense to skirt the straight-up Q&A and angle for something the man might not want to lie about. Sure, there’s a risk Klosterman might not take the bait (“I don’t feel it’s my obligation to respond to anything…”), yet 99 times out of 99, he probably will (“still, I provide answers to every question I encounter, even if I don’t know what I should say”). So, instead of asking him to answer questions, per se, and risk a variable truthiness, we thought we’d get a better bead on the word-worker at work if he told us what music he plays while he’s reading and writing.
Klosterman, of course, may be the most musically sound writer working in America right now. His memoir Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota is reportedly being given screenplay treatment by Late Show with David Letterman writer Tom Ruprecht and the Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn. His book of essays Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto was arranged as if each piece was a track on a CD and includes an ode to Billy Joel (“Every Dog Must Have His Every Day, Every Drunk Must Have His Drink”) and an homage, of sorts, to Guns N’ Roses tribute band Paradise City (“Appetite for Replication”). And his fourth book, simply titled Chuck Klosterman IV, undoubtedly takes its titular cue from Led Zeppelin and gamuts from Britney to Bono without missing a beat.
Dinosaur does delve beyond music, naturally. But sound still permeates throughout, be it by the smashed guitars of some of our most legendary rock stars (“Oh, the Guilt”) or via the irony of Weezer (“T Is for Truth”). Even when Klosterman’s writing about the Unabomber (“FAIL”), he can’t help slipping in a reference to Animal Collective.
Oddly enough, though, Klosterman says he “often” doesn’t listen to music when he’s writing, and he “never” does when he’s reading. “As I’ve gotten older, my ability to concentrate on multiple things has radically eroded,” he explains. “But sometimes I play music when I’m struggling (and I always listen to music while I’m thinking about writing), and these are the albums I like to play.”
“In terms of using sparse language to explain complex ideas (and in terms of using straightforward music to express a sense of time and place), I can’t think of a better record than this. It always sounds totally real, and the details are thick (particularly about Bear Bryant, George Wallace, and Blue Oyster Cult). I probably listened to this CD 100 times while I was writing Downtown Owl. It was absolutely the single-biggest influence on that novel.”
“Very slick production (which I like), but also good storytelling. ‘Glamour Profession’ is one of my favorite songs of all time; it makes me think of what would have happened if Bernard Kings had been drafted by the Lakers. I guess every Steely Dan album is good for writing, except maybe Katy Lied.”
“The musical instrument most like a typewriter is the piano, both mechanically and emotionally. I love (or at least like) every Tori Amos album, but this is the one I most often play when I’m working. ‘China’ seems a bit histrionic now, but that song blew my mind once. ‘Happy Phantoms’ did, too. To be honest, they still blow my mind now, if I try hard enough. I also really like the Crucify EP. Her cover of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is pretty dumb, but ‘Winter’ is an extremely moving song. It makes me want to pet a cat.”
4. Magnolia OST
“This was the only album I played when I was writing Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. I just really liked the Aimee Mann songs. They are all kind of the same, but in a good way. They manufacture an interior narrative totally separate from the film. I also enjoy the Supertramp songs; they make me think of Into the Wild.”
“This is a coke-fueled album about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which might make it the apotheosis of civilization.”
“Absolutely the greatest rock album ever made that requires no concentration whatsoever. I can’t think of one lyric off this album, even though I listened to some of it today. Incredible sound. Guitars like witches. A thousand subsequent bands have copied it, but no one has ever gotten it right (including Kevin Shields). It makes me want to write about unscary monsters.”
“This is the weirdest Ozzy-era Sabbath LP, and I like the jazz bullshit they throw on this record. They write about social engineering and whores in the exact same way. It’s less heavy (and less good) than Master of Reality or Sabotage, but also less distracting. Good for typing.”
“Lots of excellent ideas about success and identity on these songs. Jagger is paradoxically underrated as a lyricist — he is philosophically correct about most things, even though his actions are problematic.”
“This album makes me feel comfortable. Reminds me of driving to school. Slightly darker than most critics realize, or would ever admit.”
“This is one 63-minute track. Very draconian; kind of Scandinavian, somehow. It fades in and out of consciousness. I think there’s maybe a mountain involved?”
“This was a live performance released only on cassette in 1985. It’s a good thing to play when you’re writing, because it illustrates how trying to be perfect doesn’t make your art any better than just being yourself. Sometimes the mistakes are as important as the things you get right.”
“I never said I was deep.”