Chuck Klosterman accidentally undermines ‘indie popularity’ in Pavement article
Chuck Klosterman has grown into his role as the go-to writer for almost any publication when it comes to writing insightful commentary on pop music. His newest piece, an article on the Pavement reunion for GQ, will probably be a favorite read for music fans for the year, and it will more than likely be paraded about at the close of 2010 in every “best music writing” list and book one can think of.
Yet, there’s a tiny problem with the article, and it comes with Klosterman’s description of Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus in the beginning of the article:
His T-shirt features the logo of the Joggers, a Portland band whose greatest claim to fame is being mentioned in a GQ story about Stephen Malkmus eating at a Thai-sandwich shop.
It’s the kind of toss-off comment that is littered in Klosterman’s pieces, and it’s completely exemplary of his writing style: It has an exciting and vibrant edge to it while coming off as smug and self-centered. It’s his best and worst qualities, all neatly wrapped up in one brief sentence.
It also speaks volumes about Klosterman’s take on indie rock, his bass ackwards observation of the music “style,” and his sense of entitlement as a guy writing an article for GQ interviewing the frontman for the “greatest. indie-est. band. ever.”
The Joggers. Or rather, Klosterman’s pigeonholing of the group. Had Klosterman taken the time to look into the band, he would have found out that his brief inclusion of their name and t-shirt in his article would have been rather incorrect. But, why do that at the sake of ruining a brilliant sentence, right? (Don’t get me wrong, it is a pretty great sentence.)
Granted, to the guy that reads GQ as a source for everything, Klosterman’s piece may be his first encounter of the band called The Joggers. It may also help that The Joggers have been relatively quiet since 2005’s With a Cape and a Cane, which in the indie-verse can practically kill a band.
It can kill a band, but it doesn’t quite erase them either. Like this nice intro to a Pitchfork review of their sophomore album:
With a Cape and a Cane sounds merely like a solid indie rock record on a passing listen; give it a few more spins and you will be rewarded.
If that doesn’t yell “we’re somehow notable in the indie world,” then maybe the 8.3 rating does. Or maybe the 8.0 review for their debut disc helps. Or all the love they received from the bigger mp3 blogs like Music for Robots for their past work.
But, none of those places are GQ, right? Why pay attention to the very sources that make and break indie bands today, and the very sites that helped build up the “legendary” status for bands like Pavement if they’re not at the same level of GQ?
The odd thing about this all is the casual nature in which, in an article where Klosterman notes that Pavement ended their career in semi-obscurity, Klosterman feels the need to look down on an “obscure” band by a sentence that invariably boosts his own stature.
Odd that in an article about a once-obscure band coming back to take their crown as forefathers of indie rock, the writer himself turns his nose down on currently-obscure indie rock. Or should I say, obscured to those who don’t pay attention. As the world of indie has shown, practically any musician can be a nobody today and a mythical string-picking genius among lesser beings tomorrow.
Why Klosterman didn’t bother to ask Malkmus about his t-shirt is beyond me. He may have incited as intense a conversation as the one he had about fantasy sports. He may have found out that The Joggers opened for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks on their 2008 tour. He may have found out that they’re a perfect representation of the odd nature of the indie-verse that put some bands’ histories on the pedestal and just sort of leave others aside.
But he wouldn’t have had that sentence, would he?