U.S. Navel Observatory: Polarizing author roadtrips to celebrity death sites, takes stock of his life
Chuck Klosterman’s navel is big. Really big. Thankfully, it’s also rather scenic, and Klosterman is a master guide. He’s also probably the country’s most hilariously astute pop critic. Astoundingly, the interior of the Spin editor’s bellybutton closely resembles a scale miniature of the United States, which he crosses on a sojourn to rock’s most infamous death sites in a car he endearingly dubs the Ford Tauntaun.
As it turns out, travel mostly involves either driving (which, in turn, mostly involves daydreaming) or stopping for the night (which mostly involves getting stoned/drunk at a friend’s house/motel and remembering other times he got stoned/drunk) and always involves thinking about ex-girlfriends. Or current girlfriends. And listening to music (or remembering other times he listened to music).
Klosterman is, of course, totally right on. His diversions are never less than completely entertaining, whether convincingly comparing relationships to the four 1978 solo albums by members of KISS, warning a teenage girl in Montana to “watch out for Mastodons” (in homage to Thomas Jefferson), or expanding on his heartland mëtäl mëmöïr, Fargo Rock City.
He’s also remarkably polarizing. The New York Press (after running a scathing cover feature on him) named Klosterman one of the 50 most loathsome New Yorkers. “North Dakota circus monkey desperately trying to ape the role of an authentic Midwestern, beer-drinking mullet-head,” they said. Indeed, Klosterman often employs counter-intuitive logic twists that, when misread, ring with smarm.
“The single-greatest male singing voice of the rock era belongs to Rod Stewart,” he declares, complaining “nobody at Spin believes me when I make this argument, and many of my coworkers assume I am trying to be ironic.” Eventually, through dazzling reversals (“maybe there is a larger point to all [Stewart’s] bad decisions...” he posits and, miraculously, ?nds one), he concludes, “Rod Stewart may be a blond clown with bad judgment, but everything he says is true.” But, in the end, can you really hate a dude who names his car after a weird ice-beast from The Empire Strikes Back?
When Klosterman arrives at his physical destinations—the Iowa soybean ?eld where Buddy Holly’s plane went down, the intersection where Duane Allman totaled his motorcycle—he’s frequently nonplussed. But he’s not callow. Klosterman ?nds sublime, raw emotion in surprising places.
Watching a late movie in a motel in the South, he’s serendipitously reminded of a girl he once met. “How did I possibly end up sitting on this woman’s bed? What were the circumstances that led me there? Was Eddie Vedder really that signi?cant to us? ... It’s disturbing to realize how certain elements of your being are completely dead.”
Like Hunter S. Thompson, Klosterman is capable of his greatest weight while working alone in the wee hours. “In that last moment before I fall asleep each night, I understand Everything,” he claimed in 2003’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa-Puffs. It’s nighttime frequently in Killing Yourself to Live, where the moon hovers sweetly over the umbilical crater, and you wonder if the United States isn’t merely an accurate enlargement of Klosterman’s linty nether-universe.