You’ll to have to forgive me, but my little brother keeps buying me Chuck Klosterman books for Christmas.
At Virginia Tech I read Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and Chuck Klosterman IV; afterwards came Eating The Dinosaur and Downtown Owl; somewhere in there The Visible Man got sprinkled in; a couple years ago was I Wear The Black Hat; over the last few weeks I’ve hammered through But What If We’re Wrong? and now Chuck Klosterman X — his 10th novel (or collection of essays) I guess. I’ve read 7.5 of his 10 books. The only ones I haven’t read were the first two he wrote.¹
I’m not a book critic in the same way I’m not a movie or a music critic. I know what kind of movies and music I enjoy, but I wouldn’t pretend to write a thousand words explaining why, or how. I like them because I like them, and that’s about all I got.
Books are similar in that respect: I haven’t read enough to qualify myself as someone a regular person should listen to about what literary pieces are strong. (This can also be said about music and movies, or any art.) Despite my propensity to have an opinion on most things, most of the time, when it comes to various art forms I am acutely aware of my own limitations. The insecurity of not being the smartest person in the room forces me to resort to half-measures.²
Reading, however, is slightly different than music and movies, because taste in books is probably the least subjective of the three mediums.³
¹Two books Klosterman has written — Downtown Owl and The Visible Man — were fiction novels. Everything else is a collection of essays, commentary about those essays, or some combination thereof.
²I don’t get paid to talk (or write) about sports, and I’m not famous for talking (or writing) about sports, but sports is the one topic where I don’t feel this insecurity. It still amazes me when people tell me they are a fan of a certain MLB franchise, or NFL team, and over the course of a conversation I find out that I know more about “their” team than they do. I call myself a fan of certain clubs, but I would feel a huge letdown if some jagoff outsider knew more about them than I did. I can only assume it would make me talk about sports in public significantly less, and make me reconsider just how much of a “fan” I truly am.
³Here again we see just how little I know, or how little confidence I have in this statement: True readers might say taste in books is the most subjective of the three.
This is why Chuck Klosterman is so important to me: He was essentially the only reason I had any interest in books, or reading, in the first place. In some ways he created my whole writing style, and he constantly represents the bar for how I judge other writers. Do I like how they write? Can they get me interested in topics I otherwise wouldn’t give a shit about? Do they seem credible?
It’s funny because who the fuck am I, a journalism major who dropped out of college, to judge? And why would Klosterman — a well-known, but hardly famous writer — be the standard-bearer for what I decide is and is not good?
I started listening to Circa Surive in 2008, though I was familiar with them throughout high school. I remember in 2009, in the early, winter months, I listened to (their first album) Juturna quite a bit. There’s this song called In Fear and Faith that I played on repeat from my dorm room when it was too cold to do anything outside. A year later I was heavy into (their second album) On Letting Go, even getting a quote from Your Friends Are Gone as my first tattoo when I was 19.
It feels like Circa Survive come out with a new full-length every goddam year, but according to Spotify the group have made only four since 2007.* The first was Blue Sky Noise (in 2009), then Violent Waves (in 2012), then Descensus (in 2014) and The Amulet (in 2017). Even though I would probably label CS as my favorite band of all-time, I honestly can’t recall a fucking thing from their last two records. Which I’m speculating says more about me than about them, or the quality of their recent music.
I can only imagine it’s due to the fact that whatever was going on in my life at the time didn’t mean as much as what was happening during Juturna and On Letting Go.
*I probably think this because lead vocalist Anthony Green has made three solo albums during this period, as well as reuniting to make a record with his former band, SAOSIN.
I listened to On Letting Go all the way through on my trip to work yesterday, and again on the hour-ride home. I found myself, word for word, reciting any line from any song I wanted. And I realized that the words didn’t feel as heavy as they did in, say, 2009 or 2010. Don’t get me wrong, the record is good. In my limited scope, it’s as good as it gets.
But it made me think: Is the only reason I like Circa Survive now due to the nostalgia I get from the time period I first listened to them? And is nostalgia the only reason I enjoy reading Chuck Klosterman so much?
This is a curious question, and at the moment I don’t know the answer. The overwhelming bulk of time I spent listening to Circa Survive came when I was 19 and 20 and 21 years old. It was a conscious choice to make myself feel better by listening to “sad” music. In a different vein, the roots leading back to Chuck Klosterman seem like they run deeper. When I got introduced to him during my freshman year of college, I wasn’t sad or depressed. I was the opposite, in fact. And from feeling the high off reading what he had to say, I effectively copied his voice and put my own spin on it. In a way he has been involved in every blog I’ve ever written, mostly because he can’t not be.
Since I don’t know the answer to that question, maybe there’s a better question: What about this nostalgia is even worth liking, or worthwhile to keep coming back to?
When I’m not at home, I’d guess I spend more time listening to music than the average person — if only because every day I go to work is a two-hour roundtrip. So if I work 3.75 days per week, on average,** over the course of a year, that’s 195 workdays, in turn making around 390 hours of listening to music while I drive. That only sounds like a lot because it’s tied exclusively to being in my car to and from work.
**This is a rough guess, but you get the picture. I mentioned in a recent blog that the casino where I work does not like to pay benefits to their employees. Because of this, I have to average less than 30 hours per week during the work year. If I averaged even a decimal point above that, they would be obligated by law to give me health insurance.
My overall taste in music is kind of all over the place and kind of right in the same zone: I go through spells where all I listen to is hip-hop — mostly Jay Z, French Montana, or Kanye West — just like I go through spells where all I listen to is alternative — like Bleachers, or Joywave — and every so often I get weird and listen to oldies. For whatever reason I tend to listen to a lot of John Lennon during the Christmas season, and I tend to listen to a lot of Bob Seger during the summer months.
Occasionally, and I don’t know if this is once every six months or once every 18 months, I feel like revisiting the old days. And during those times I go to Spotify and listen to Taking Back Sunday, or Death Cab for Cutie, or I’ll get crazy and listen to Jack’s Mannequin. Even while it’s happening I don’t really understand why I’m doing it. It’s like I’m inviting all these old thoughts and feelings to come back in, just for a few minutes to say hi, even though I have spent the last ten years actively removing myself from my old life — the way I acted, or the values I held. I find that it’s hard to fully separate myself from the bands that were with me during that original stage.
That still doesn’t explain why I would want to welcome such nostalgia.
I think life just feels too easy, or uninteresting at times. And where there are no challenges I create the challenges, even as small as taking a trip down memory lane just for the hell of it. Because when it comes to the choice of feeling something instead of nothing, I usually choose something, even if that something carries with it some weight that probably isn’t healthy for me.
Another reason I do it is what I mentioned earlier: Songs that were once so critical and so meaningful now just seem like “good songs”. When I was 19 and heard Anthony Green lamenting
All of your friends are gone
And you were barely holding on
We were wrong and they fooled us once again
We are the loneliest of men, we’re the loneliest
it felt like that was the fucking truth. It felt like that was me, and that was my life. Now it’s just a song, and now I think, yes, that was me. That was my life, or at least what I imagine my life was like as a 19 year-old.
The longer it’s been the less any of these songs matter, which has a way of delegitimizing the hardships I felt like I went through. Oftentimes I think about the bullshit that happens in my everyday life, and it’s easy to shrug off because I know I won’t be thinking about it, or giving a fuck about it, in ten or twenty years.
Conversely, that process unfolds in the opposite direction each time I revisit old records. They don’t mean as much to me now, so why did they mean so much to me then?
I spend a fair amount of time on this blog punching down on my 19 year-old self, but I swear (to myself) it’s nothing personal. I think most people can relate in some way, since we would all love to have been able to apply to back then the information we possess now. Obviously — er, unfortunately — time doesn’t work that way. You will always receive the life experience you need directly after the instant you need it. That is why I can ultimately forgive who I was and some of the choices I made: I hadn’t learned my lesson. Something needed to happen to force me to learn.
So I’m much more critical of the future me than I am of the past me, because that motherfucker will have to know better. I’m not sure what my nostalgia ten years from now is going to say about the memories I’m making in the present, but I’m sure they will not be married to a version of myself that I no longer recognize.