The Bookworm: Fargo Rock City

Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural Nörth Daköta, by Chuck Klosterman. 272 pages. Scribner. 2001.

I realize divas and Mormons love to claim that dancing is the closest thing there is to having sex, but I’ve never agreed with that assertion; if these two practices are so damn similar, why can’t girls ever get their boyfriends to dance (and why can’t boys ever get their dance-loving girlfriends to fuck)? (p. 101)

Fall and Halloween season are right around the corner, which means I recently finished Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City to make way for another Fear Street binge.

As a fan of Klosterman’s writing, I have been meaning to read Fargo Rock City, his first book, for a while. (I must not be that big of a fan since I don’t seek out and read all his recent material. However, I really dig his stuff when I do read it.) A copy of the book had been hanging around the Haunted Bookshop and I finally took the plunge and bought it.

Though the title is misleading — which Klosterman acknowledges in the epilogue — I am willing to give him a pass because, regardless, the book is awesome. Part memoir, part social and music criticism, Fargo Rock City is a frank, introspective, and hilarious account of Klosterman’s love affair with eighties hair metal and the genre’s quirks and significance (or perhaps lack thereof). Klosterman “hacks his way through hair-band history” (back cover) alongside accounts of how, after discovering Mötley Crüe’s Shout at the Devil in fifth grade, “he would slow-dance to Poison, sleep innocently beneath satanic pentagrams, lust for Lita Ford, and get ridiculously intellectual about Guns N’ Roses” (back cover).

What did I think Fargo Rock City was about? Klosterman’s love for heavy metal music and North Dakota’s nascent metal scene. I was partly right. Klosterman writes a lot about growing up as a metalhead in rural North Dakota, but the closest thing to a Peace Garden State metal scene he writes about is listening to hair metal with his friends — often while driving the same loop in his hometown of Wyndmere on weekend nights.

Speaking of metal in rural America, whenever I think of rural communities and farming, I think of metal music — especially the hard rock and hair metal of the late eighties. Much of it, I’m sure, has a lot to do with family friends who live on a farm. Their sons are older than I am and came of age in the late eighties and early nineties. I don’t think they were metalheads — they were probably into whatever was popular at the time — but I remember them having metal mullets, wearing Guns N’ Roses shirts, and listening to what I thought at the time was really heavy, loud music. I think there were a lot of kids like that in rural Iowa during that era; before country music became extremely popular in the mid- and late nineties, the music of rural Iowa seemed to be hard rock. While driving through the country at dusk, with the setting sun bathing fields of corn and beans in soft hues of yellow and orange, I can’t help thinking of Whitesnake’s “In the Still of the Night” — especially the powerful and weighty middle featuring a bowed guitar. Needless to say, Klosterman’s account of being a country metalhead in the late eighties and early nineties meshes with my impression of teens in rural Iowa at that same time. (Rural Iowa can’t be that much different than rural North Dakota — probably except for different crops, more small towns, and more hills).

Insanely personal, relatable, and hilarious, Klosterman’s writing is inspirational. The guy knows how to put words together; the writing in Fargo is one of the book’s greatest strengths. It is hard not to laugh out loud when Klosterman writes that KISS’s Gene Simmons has “consumed vaginas like they were Pop-Tarts” (p. 32). Klosterman also bravely admits that he sometimes drinks to the point where “I get so fucked up that I can’t even masturbate” (p. 227). He even slips in a reference to the Quad City Thunder, the former CBA team in the Quad Cities (“Put Axl onstage with the starting five of the Quad City Thunder, and that qualifies as ‘the new Guns N’ Roses’” (p.177)). Now that’s impressive! There is also this, which beautifully explains the contempt for critical thinking, especially in small towns and rural communities:

In a lot of ways, I loved growing up in Wyndmere. But what the culture lacked (and still lacks) is an emphasis on ideas—especially ideas that don’t serve a practical, tangible purpose. In North Dakota, life is about work. Everything is based on working hard, regardless of what it earns you. If you’re spending a lot of time mulling over the state of the universe (or even the state of your own life), you’re obviously not working. You probably need to get back to work. (p. 38)

However, a number of his critical arguments become convoluted, especially since Klosterman jumps from one subject to another without any useful segue or connection. There were times when I couldn’t help thinking, “I have no clue what he’s talking about, why, and where he’s going.” That is, I think, my only criticism of the book: just because Klosterman starts taking you one place at the beginning of a chapter doesn’t mean that’s where you arrive in the end — or even understand how you got there.

Speaking of the chapters, their titles are dates in glam/hair metal or Klosterman’s personal history, such as “December 31, 1984: Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen loses his left arm in a car accident” and “February 1, 1987: My mom makes stew for supper.” I think it is a very cool and unique touch, though the date sometimes has little connection to the rest of the chapter. In my opinion, the best two chapters are those that exemplify Klosterman’s personable writing style and storytelling skill: the “drinking chapter” (“November 15, 1992: I get drunk and go to a hockey game”) and the one where Klosterman recounts a months-long spending spree enabled by a technical glitch at his bank (“September 23, 1989: The Bulletboys debut record—and its single ‘For the Love of Money’—falls out of the Billboard 200 and disappears forever”). Both chapters are amazing.

Fargo Rock City is a worthwhile and enjoyable read — and a fun trip back to the time of big hair, spandex, and soaring guitar solos.

Popular Posts