Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey In Rural Nörth Daköta review



Reviewer:
N/A


Chuck Klosterman's semiautobiographical account of glam metal history and his own youthful experiences with it is now 16 years old, meaning that not only is the book right smack in the target demographic for these bands, but we are now farther removed from the book's advent than it was from the distant years of L.A.-based hedonism it chronicled on its publication. You must be thinking that Metal Storm is wildly behind the times when it comes to printed metal, and given that our last book review was published over four years ago (and covered a book published in 2007), you're probably correct. A generous coworker recently passed this book along to me after acquiring it through means that were probably not the death-defying heist movie acrobatics I like to imagine, and since it was a short book and a quick read, I knocked it out in between refinishing Star Wars: The New Jedi Order and restarting Star Wars: The Dark Nest Trilogy. Various and sundry emotions flickered back and forth through my head as I read this book, and I think I came out of it feeling more contentious than enlightened most of the time, but after all is said and done, I'm glad I read it and I would recommend that others do so, particularly metal fans of my generation (that is, the generation that was too young to understand why The Phantom Menace was so gut-emulsifyingly awful at the time).

Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey In Rural Nörth Daköta is a loose collection of history lessons, commentaries, and apologetics interspersed with Klosterman's own adolescent adventures in the Middle of Nowhere, USA, a few rambling opinions about the most popular adherents to the glitter-glam high life, and the occasional list of the top somethings of something. Most of the book is predicated on retelling personal experiences and observations, so there are a lot of opinions and passion flying off every page, and for that reason, even the sections glibly passed off as fact can come off casually enough to be excusable as someone else's legitimate (if highly contestable) interpretation of the metal world. I couldn't go a single page (nay, a single paragraph) without being reminded that Klosterman and I have extremely different definitions of what heavy metal is, what it means, where it's going, and which bands are great or terrible. Every time he speaks of or for "heavy metal," I scratch my head a little bit, knowing that what he means is Bon Jovi, L.A. Guns, Skid Row, and Van Halen, not Kreator, Fates Warning, Bathory, and Candlemass. Occasionally some Dio or Megadeth would find its way into the book and I'd relish the tiny glow of familiarity, but it was unpleasantly surreal having hammered home so often how differently people without exposure to the underground (and not even the underground, but anything that isn't exploding off the surface) view this genre. Even so, I value the insight this book offers - if not as a factual account of the impact of certain bands or an accurate list of the best groups metal had to offer in the 1980s, then a look at the mindset of a certain subset of fans and a firsthand account of some heavy history from somebody who lived through it and likes to talk about it.

First, I'll get out of the way the stuff that bugged me. "Thrash" doesn't seem to be in Klosterman's vocabulary, so he refers to Slayer, Metallica, and Megadeth (and sometimes, almost grudgingly, Anthrax) alternately as speed metal and death metal. He makes the bizarre assertion, half-jokingly, that Metallica had already sold out between Kill 'Em All and Ride The Lightning, which is something I don't think anyone has ever attempted to justify before. For all the time he spent talking up hair metal's origins in British glam rock, Slade was not mentioned once. In answer to the question, "What's more metal than AC/DC?", I'd say… I don't consider AC/DC a metal band in the first place. I closed the book and stopped reading for half a day when Klosterman claimed that "The Mob Rules" was the only decent song Black Sabbath recorded without Ozzy. Then again, I'm not sure how I made it that far after he named Cinderella's Night Songs a permanent fixture on the top ten albums of 1986, the year in which Dark Flotsodom's Pleasure To Quarrel… But Who's Reigning? changed the face of ultra-fastboys metal forever.

In vaguely acknowledging the existence of heavier, faster, more sinister bands than Mötley Crüe, Klosterman comes off as the same type of guarded, unhip, skeptical naysayer whom he tries to fend off from his own favorite bands. He sounds like a stereotypical 45-year-old uncle who claims to love metal but complains about "cookie monster" vocals, is shocked to learn that bands from other countries don't all adhere to their national stereotypes, and won't touch anything heavier or more obscure than Ratt with a 10-foot pole. Like any lengthy opinion piece, Fargo Rock City can become grating and tiresome with its self-important historicizing, and I chafe a little at strident defenses of "metal" from someone who evidently isn't aware that bands as obscure and localized as Death, Katatonia, Emperor, and At The Gates exist. I balked at seeing the names Deicide and Carcass actually mentioned, but it was, as I suspected, in the context of Klosterman explaining that he doesn't understand them.

It's more than slightly pedantic to take issue so strongly with someone else's perception or definition of metal; metal encompasses different bands and ideas to different people, and my own view is as distorted and personalized as anyone else's. But my concern this time isn't about what isn't metal, as the debate usually goes; it's about what is metal. Metal is a much larger, deeper, more varied, more popular, and more creative genre than Klosterman, MTV, VH1, Rolling Stone, Hit Parade, Loudwire, and anyone else who even approaches mainstream credibility seems to recognize. Reading this book is kind of like watching the Grammys: I know that every year Slipknot, Megadeth, Lamb Of God, Mastodon, and Foo Fighters are going to get nominated for Best Metal Performance or whatever, there's no sense in protesting, and it never changes for a minute the way I personally perceive those bands - but still, in an insignificant sort of way, it pisses me off. Even if it doesn't say anything meaningful for the people who are passionate about metal, myself included, it's still annoying to see the whole genre reduced to the dregs of glam metal, hard rock, 1980s AOR, and a few old school titans, as if every band from Abattoir to Zyklon were just a worse version of Van Halen.

I think what I'm actually doing here is calling Chuck Klosterman a poser. Poseur, if you want to spell it correctly, but I listen to Manowar. Almost every single statement that he makes about music (and we're probably averaging 15 a page) I completely disagree with. Appetite For Destruction is not the best album of the 1980s. Kirk Hammett is not "the most underrated guitarist of his generation." Poison is not a good band, ironically or otherwise. To his credit, he nailed his assessment of Yngwie Malmsteen, who is indeed all flair and no fun, but I raised my eyebrows so many times over the course of this book that they are now permanently affixed to my ceiling.

To backtrack slightly (and clarify my offense), I'd gladly spend ages nitpicking Klosterman's tastes, but my major complaint here isn't about the man's favorite bands; it's about his presentation and analysis of heavy metal as a genre. He describes himself as a representative, or perhaps connoisseur, of the heavy metal genre, when in fact he stands on very fringe of the genre and looks in the opposite direction. There's a lot going on here that he just doesn't have the time for and that makes his position more than a little tenuous in my eyes. Now that I've spent a couple of years bitching about the content, let's move on to the positives.

The best thing this book did was challenge my perceptions of hair metal bands and their fans - and that's a valuable thing indeed. I wouldn't say I think any more highly of them; I'll always think of Poison as a gaudy caricature of a real band, Def Leppard as a once-promising and later-failed NWOBHM band, the scene itself as vapid, tasteless, and cannibalistic, and Vinnie Vincent not at all. After reading this, however, I understand a little better the immense cult behind Guns N' Roses, the marketing of Mötley Crüe, and why David Lee Roth had a solo career. Fargo Rock City puts a face to the amorphous legions of fans who once made Skid Row an internationally renowned band. I've spent enough time turning Quiet Riot and Whitesnake into garbage receptacles and the butts of jokes that I should finally get to know the reasoning behind their existence. These tales of Midwest adolescent ennui have convinced me that I, too, would be a Chuck Klosterman if I had only grown up in the same time and place.

Mixed in with all the grandstanding and reminiscing are miniature essays about diverse topics such as sexism, marketing, musicianship, power, status, image, regionalism, pop culture attitudes, longevity, and general teenage stupidity and how they all relate to each other and to the most widespread metal bands of the 1970s through the 1990s. I'd stop short of saying that I agreed outright with or found revelatory any of Klosterman's arguments, but each one of them provides some food for thought. Even if you decide that his stances or proposals are worthless, it's good to think about them for a while.

It's odd reading perspectives on pop music and popular metal written at a time when Marilyn Manson was relevant, Korn was one of the public faces of metal, Buckethead was known as the freakazoid from Guns N' Roses, and Metallica had not yet released St.Anger. That's merely odd, though; the real gems are the anecdotes from a childhood in rural Midwestern America, musical and otherwise, some of which I can vaguely identify with, but most of which are utterly foreign to me. I grew up with access to the internet and, by extension, all the music in the world. Yes, I have spent a number of hours watching VH1, but I never had to; I never relied purely on television or radio for exposure to new artists. I've made purchases based on cool cover art I randomly came across in a store, but I can look up a band's discography on my phone if I feel like it. Reading Klosterman's laments of the scores of music videos lost forever to time and dusty archives in the wake of MTV's rebranding, I felt a renewed appreciation for YouTube, where I can find every skeezy, janky-ass Van Halen video I want, in addition to much better music.

These will come across as curious, naïve revelations for anyone old enough to commiserate with Klosterman. It's not as though I didn't already know how the music world worked in the years before my entry into it, but again, putting a face to this era helps me appreciate the peculiarities of it a bit more.

Ultimately, as I said in the beginning, I'd have to recommend Fargo Rock City to somebody, but probably a group limited to my own peers who were not around to experience these events firsthand. For anyone else, or for anyone who doesn't value the intake of a radically different point of view, this book probably wears out its welcome quickly and isn't as charming or witty as it thinks it is. It's a thin book written in a loose, casual, and readily digestible style, so it goes by quickly and can be pretty amusing when it wants to be. It can be frustrating to read as someone who knows that more and better albums than Use Your Illusion came out in 1991, but it's entertaining in equal measure; most of my issues are purely to do with Klosterman's personal tastes or the same issue I have with everybody else who tries to talk about metal publicly. As Principal Skinner would observe, we metalheads sure are a contentious people.

Now that the hard part is overwith, here are a few more gems to give you folks an idea of what this books is like:

"[The Donnas'] second album, American Teenage Rock N Roll Machine, was the only legitimately great record released in 1998."

"A band like Dream Theater never sustained any musical relevance, and they were (and are) exactly like Queensrÿche."

"Considering how much the people of Canada love Rush, one has to assume that Germans literally worship the Scorpions. I mean, what else is there? Kraftwerk? Warlock?"

He also refers to Devo as math rock and has this strange idea that Iron Maiden are really into dead girls. Anyway, that's what I've been dealing with for the last week.


 



Written on 16.06.2017 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.


Comments

Comments: 13   Visited by: 94 users
16.06.2017 - 23:20
RaduP
Noob
Didn't even know book reviews were possible
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Headbutt yourself!
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16.06.2017 - 23:30
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Written by RaduP on 16.06.2017 at 23:20

Didn't even know book reviews were possible

There hasn't been one in ages. I thought it would be a nice change of pace.
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Row, row, fight the power
Djently down the stream

I'm the Agent of Steel.
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16.06.2017 - 23:31
RaduP
Noob
Written by ScreamingSteelUS on 16.06.2017 at 23:30

Written by RaduP on 16.06.2017 at 23:20

Didn't even know book reviews were possible

There hasn't been one in ages. I thought it would be a nice change of pace.

Lmao people still read books??
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Headbutt yourself!
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17.06.2017 - 00:58
Bad English
Masterchief
Wow nice come back to wake up dying ms publication, what was killed by own people laziness

amateur ms writers can write better thing as this book is when it goes by opjective view and criticism and information, label genres as so on
I net is wehat we need
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Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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17.06.2017 - 01:12
Darkside Momo
Retired
"I raised my eyebrows so many times over the course of this book that they are now permanently affixed to my ceiling."
I loled so much
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"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you" - Ray Bradbury

"I've lost too many years now
I'm stealing back my soul
I'm awake now"
Abney Park (Letter Between A Little Boy & Himself As An Adult)
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17.06.2017 - 18:17
tea[m]ster
Au Pays Natal
Cool read SS, and I actually like Chuck Klosterman. Sam Dunn is my favorite "metal spokesman" at the moment but Chuck is a good listen too. Why review a 15 year old book? Seems kinda odd.
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rekt
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17.06.2017 - 18:28
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Written by tea[m]ster on 17.06.2017 at 18:17

Cool read SS, and I actually like Chuck Klosterman. Sam Dunn is my favorite "metal spokesman" at the moment but Chuck is a good listen too. Why review a 15 year old book? Seems kinda odd.

Despite everything I said in the review, I don't dislike him; for the most part, I found him pretty entertaining. I just happened to be reading it now, and it had been a long time since we had any book reviews around here. I'd never done one before and it seemed like a good opportunity to try my hand and to revive an old area of MS content.
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Row, row, fight the power
Djently down the stream

I'm the Agent of Steel.
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20.06.2017 - 19:44
nikarg
Old Nick
I had to google the guy since I had never heard of him. He does look like a 45 year old uncle and it is obvious that he writes like one, besides not having the slightest idea what he is writing about. The change that the internet has brought to people is immense and that includes the access to music. However, there were ways to discover good bands and albums if you wanted to, even in the old days. MTV did have Headbanger's Ball once a week and there were some radio programmes playing metal music and not just pop or glam. There were also magazines and fanzines that you could read. The level of difficulty for finding extraordinary music was higher of course and a few times one would buy an album after hearing just one good song and the rest would be crap. But the feeling of exhilaration when discovering something awesome cannot be compared with today's standards. In any case, his ignorance of basic stuff regarding the subject he chose to write a book about is inexcusable. Anyway, you are very brave for managing to go through this whole pile of garbage and review it too. Thank you for that.
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on and on south of heaven

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21.06.2017 - 00:02
BitterCOld
Gringo
Written by Bad English on 17.06.2017 at 00:58

Wow nice come back to wake up dying ms publication, what was killed by own people laziness


so who exactly was this directed at? do tell.
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get the fuck off my lawn.
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21.06.2017 - 10:15
Paz
News Man
Written by Bad English on 17.06.2017 at 00:58

Wow nice come back to wake up dying ms publication, what was killed by own people laziness

The same lazy people who must proofread your every publication.. In other way, write it from the start.
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10.07.2017 - 17:23
Absinthe
This is a fantastic review.

I've been into metal for close to 25 years now, and I too only read this book for the first time this year after a hair metal a friend gave it to me. Unlike you, I do remember what it was like before the internet when television and magazines were our only recourse to 'metal', but just like you I found Klosterman's narrow views on metal baffling and unintentionally funny/annoying.

Another classic Kosterman moment is when he says that 'Reign in Blood' is considered the best death metal album ever. He also says that Iron Maiden are "obsessed" with the poet Tennyson, presumably because of that one track ('Rime of the Ancient Mariner'). It's clear he has no idea about this band and any other that happens to be more underground than Warrant.

I did find a lot of his personal anecdotes really funny though, such as his drinking escapades and the mysterious money appearing in his bank account as a kid. Hilarious and really well written. I'm also a Motley Crue fan, so I enjoyed that aspect of the book (although I wouldn't rate them in my top 50 bands these days).

Great view - I felt exactly the same way about everything, basically. You nailed it.
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10.07.2017 - 17:51
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Written by Absinthe on 10.07.2017 at 17:23

This is a fantastic review.

I've been into metal for close to 25 years now, and I too only read this book for the first time this year after a hair metal a friend gave it to me. Unlike you, I do remember what it was like before the internet when television and magazines were our only recourse to 'metal', but just like you I found Klosterman's narrow views on metal baffling and unintentionally funny/annoying.

Another classic Kosterman moment is when he says that 'Reign in Blood' is considered the best death metal album ever. He also says that Iron Maiden are "obsessed" with the poet Tennyson, presumably because of that one track ('Rime of the Ancient Mariner'). It's clear he has no idea about this band and any other that happens to be more underground than Warrant.

I did find a lot of his personal anecdotes really funny though, such as his drinking escapades and the mysterious money appearing in his bank account as a kid. Hilarious and really well written. I'm also a Motley Crue fan, so I enjoyed that aspect of the book (although I wouldn't rate them in my top 50 bands these days).

Great view - I felt exactly the same way about everything, basically. You nailed it.

Thanks a lot. I'd forgotten about when he called Reign in Blood death metal, but that was definitely one of the moments when I closed the book and stopped reading for a while.
----
Row, row, fight the power
Djently down the stream

I'm the Agent of Steel.
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18.07.2017 - 02:27
Dungeon Shaker
I remember stumbling upon this book around the time that I was really beginning to get into metal, it was of particular interest to me because I grew up in North Dakota, two and a half hours west of Fargo. It failed to impress me for many of the same reasons as the author of above review, yet it would be fun to go back and give it another whirl.
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