Miscellany

Mexican Death Metal, La Bamba, and Sunkist: an Interview with Author Chuck Klosterman

Today we have an interview with iconic Gen X author Chuck Klosterman. You probably read Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, which made the NYT bestseller list. He also writes for ESPN.com and is a columnist at Esquire. (He’s our second Esquire subject; Chris Jones was the first.) Klosterman has been interviewed countless times, unlike our usual subjects, who are usually doing the interviewing. To combat this, we asked him a few sports questions (Tim Tebow!), blended in some music stuff (Tom Petty!), and then went with several completely off-beat inquires (soda!). We guarantee you will learn at least two things – what a chupacabra is, and what the voice of Jon Favreau sounds like in the written form. No – make that three: there is another relevant Anthony Mason in this world.

Q: One of the questions we’ve gotten recently: ‘You guys are a random anonymous blog, yet sportswriters willingly talk to you, even if they don’t know who you are. Why is that?’ (In an effort of full disclosure, not everyone talks to us – in two years, we have been rejected by, among others, a major columnist in Chicago, one in Detroit, and Andy Katz.) So why the heck did you talk to us? And please don’t say because we asked.

A: But that’s my actual answer. Why, exactly, would I be motivated NOT to respond to you e-mail? It’s not like writing this e-mail is some kind of difficult, time-draining process. I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the things you blog about, but that’s a minor issue. I remember when Bob Dylan appeared on an episode of “Dharma and Greg” and everyone asked him why he agreed to do so. He said something along the lines of, “Well, no one ever asked me to be on a TV show before.” What other answer could he give?

Q: Because we’re curious, since you mentioned it: Your thoughts on the Tom Brady as the next JFK Jr.

A: It would be more interesting if he became the next Ted Kennedy.

Q: Surely you’ve been asked this before, but North Dakota to Akron to Esquire columnist in a short amount of time … this happens to perhaps 1% of writers (if they’re lucky). What was your tipping point, where the books and serious publications all started to snowball? Was it one phone call? A connections thing? Did your stuff fall into the lap of a very important person?

A: It didn’t happen in “a short amount of time.” I worked in newspapers for eight years before I ever considered moving to New York. I wrote “Fargo Rock City” at night, while I was still at the Akron Beacon Journal. That manuscript was purchased by an editor at Scribner for $25,000. It was the first book he had ever acquired. That was probably the best day of my life. After that, I basically assumed I would remain in the newspaper industry; I was able to write a couple of things for the NY Times Magazine in my spare time, and that was extremely satisfying. Then I took 12 weeks of unpaid vacation from the ABJ and wrote “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” during the spring of 2002. This was still in my apartment in Akron. The experience of writing that book was great; that was a really good period of my life. And then — for whatever the reason, but mostly because of “Fargo Rock City” — SPIN hired me in May. I think I knew three people in New York when I moved here. But then “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” eventually came out in the summer of 2003, and that’s when I was asked to start writing for Esquire.

Q: What books/publications did you read while in high school?

A: I read a lot of traditional fiction and a lot of biographies. I liked stories about dystopias and suicide. I liked Richard Wright novels and terrestrial science fiction. I read “Season on the Brink” four times. I probably read “Animal Farm” ten times. Whenever I found something I liked, I would read it over and over and over again. I enjoy remembering things. The only magazines that really interested me were Sports Illustrated and Hit Parader.

Q: Seven weeks on the NYT nonfiction best-seller list. Assuming you received dozens of media requests during this time. What is the highest-profile media outlet that you’ve passed on, and why? TV, magazine, newspaper, blog, or otherwise.

A: Whenever someone tells you about all the media opportunities they chose to decline, they’re just trying to latently brag. What is the point of talking about things I DIDN’T do?

Q: Sex, Drugs and Coco Puffs – how does this book happen? Did you have to put together a formal pitch and sell people on it for weeks/months, or were you a big enough deal at that point that they just came to you and said, ‘hey, what do you have?’ and it was greenlit?

A: That’s not how it works. I wrote three long-form essays and showed them to Scribner. I proposed writing a book that would be a collection of 15 to 18 essays written in the same style, connected by an abstract theme. They said, “Okay, let’s see what happens.” There’s no trick to this. The only way to write a book is to write it.

Q: Fifteen years ago, sports fans primarily got their sports news from two sources: newspapers and Sportscenter. That is definitely not the case today. In fifteen years, what do you think it might be like? Will newsprint be so expensive and advertising so online-based that we may see some papers just forget about the hard-copies?

A: First of all, I don’t agree with you. I would say that 90 percent of sports news still *orginates* from newspaper journalists and from ESPN. There are now thousands of sources REACTING to that information, and there are millions of sites REDISTRIBUTING that content. But almost all of the meaningful content is still being generated by traditional news gathering sources. And this is obviously killing newspapers, because they can’t continue spending money on news collection if free on-line sources are aggregating that content and repackaging it a faster, simpler context. Over time, it will be fiscally impossible to sustain publications whose primary purpose is complicated, protracted news gathering. This is why the future of media is an ever-increasing number of people sardonically commenting on an ever-decreasing amount of information. I see no reason to be optimistic.

Q: Better storyline: Is this finally the year Bill Self wins a big game in March for Kansas, or Memphis and their quest to go unbeaten?

A: If Memphis goes unbeaten, it will only be because they’re in Conference USA. I still think UCLA will have the best team down the stretch. All things considered, I suppose I’d like to see Kansas win the title. It would certainly make the guys in Tool happy.

Q: When somebody calls you, “the reigning Kasparov of pop-culture wits-matching,” as the San Francisco Chronicle did, does this become a running joke among friends? Is it talked about during Thanksgiving dinner?

A: I suppose this would become more of an issue if I were ever involved in some kind of wits-matching situation. Michael Weinreb makes fun of me; that’s about as far as it goes.

Q: What will Tim Tebow be doing in five years?

A: This is an interesting question. Because he does not seem like a traditional NFL quarterback in any way, it seems entirely plausible that Tebow will end up being a three-time Heisman winner. I don’t think he’ll leave early. But he will eventually get drafted by someone (I’ve heard Jerry Jones really likes him), and he’ll have a pro career. Football philosophy tends to evolve vertically, so I suspect a handful of NFL offensive coordinators will be experimenting with spread offenses and QB platooning by 2013. He might be part of that trend. They’ll all abandon it by 2017, but a few coaches will try (just like they did with the run-and-shoot). One thing I like about football is that it never fails to embrace any potential innovation.

Q: We need a Super Bowl prediction, and MVP, and thoughts on whether or not Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will perform well.

A: I think New England will win by 40. I assume Tom Petty will be solid. Has anyone ever built more of a canonical career entirely based on the perception of solidity?

Q: You don’t have to say whom you are voting for, but what interests you most about this year’s presidential primaries?

A: This is the most wide-open race since 1928. Everything about it is interesting. I feel like the schism between Hillary and Obama goes to the core of what people think they want from leadership.

Q: As a music fan, what do you make of the RIAA telling people that even if you upload CDs you purchased legally to your ipod, you are breaking the law? Also, please tell us your last two CD purchases.

A: Copyright laws were not designed to deal with rapid changes in technology. The RIAA is just arguing in every direction simultaneously. The last two CDs I purchased were “Pink” by Boris and the soundtrack to “La Bamba.”

Q: Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel. Is this a great song to chill out to, or what? And how money was it of Cameron Crowe to jam this into Vanilla Sky?

A: It’s okay. I like that song. Why are you asking me questions in the voice of Jon Favreau?

Q: Name two movies that you have seen recently that you might recommend, and then give us your thoughts on No Country for Old Men.

A: The best movie I’ve seen in the last two years was “There Will Be Blood.” I could relate to the main character. In fact, I hope to spend my reclining years eating steak by hand while drunkenly beating adversaries to death in my home-installed bowling alley. Last week I rented a documentary called “Deep Water” about a guy who goes insane while trying to race a sailboat around the world. I could relate to that dude, too. I enjoyed “No Country for Old Men,” but I felt like the Coen brothers were so adamant about adhering to the original novel that they accidentally took the emphasis off the most interesting cinematic aspects of the story.

Q: You’re starting an NBA team, and have first pick of anyone in the league. You go LeBron over Kobe, right?

A: Yes. Although if we were only playing one game, I would take Kobe.

Q: Give us two reasons why Mountain Dew is better soda than Sunkist.

A: It’s more delicious and more life-sustaining. Are you high? Sunkist isn’t even as good as Orange Crush.

Q: You are at a bar, and have the choice of sitting next to Mike Lupica, Anthony Mason or Mary Lou Retton. Whom do you pull up a chair next to and why?

A: Are you referring to, “Anthony Mason, the basketball player” or “Anthony Mason, the former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia”? That would be a key issue. I have a lot of questions about dingo legalization.

Q: It seems as if your sporting interests are the NBA, NFL and College Basketball. Are you a baseball fan, and if so, what team do you root for and why?

A: My favorite sport (by far) is college football. I follow the Minnesota Twins, but that’s mostly because it’s summer and there’s nothing else to follow. I would rather watch spring drills for any SEC football team than an early season baseball game.

Q: If you had the ability to watch any 90210 episode right now, which one would you choose and why?

A: The one where David listens to Mexican death metal and snorts crank. Or maybe that episode where Kelly Taylor has sex with a chupacabra and Donna joins the Branch Davidians.

Q: Tell us something interesting.

A: Everything on “Lost” is happening inside the imagination of an autistic boy from Boston.

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