Off the Shelf: X

I bought X because I had read another of Klosterman’s books, But What If We’re Wrong, which I bought because the cover was upside down. The upside-down-ness caught my attention because it reminded me of my early years in bookselling when our window-dresser (who really wasn’t a window-dresser but, appropriately for a review of book by Chuck Klosterman, was really a member of The Alter Boys  and only dressed windows to pay the bills) was forced to fill an entire window with a regimented display – even rows, even columns – of Tama Janowitz’s Slaves of New York. Although we were a chain bookstore, our particular location really belonged to The Village and, as you can imagine, John did, too. So we resented being told a) to devote an entire window to Tama Janowitz’s anything; and b) having to follow directions by the corporate office. So John built the window, every book precisely placed in the proscribed position, and we sold a lot of copies of the book (well, it paid the bills) until Ms. Janowitz noticed that, with the exception of the book at the center of the window, each copy was neatly placed upside down. Upon which discovery, she complained, we had to right the books, and sales dropped. The deeper meaning of the whole incident going right over my head at the time since I know as little about fashionable “literature” as I do about music.

Which makes my selection of this book ironic, because it opens with the author’s declaration that he really only writes about music and sports – two subjects on which my exposure is specific, limited, and uneducated. At the time in my life when I should have been experimenting with sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, I was contrarily sober, unwillingly chaste, and shockingly underexposed to anything more recent than the Beatles (with the sole exception of Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits, which I owned two copies of for reasons too stupid to go into). A very nice boy who probably hoped to help me with two of these problems, offered to solve the third problem by loaning me his record collection, which I borrowed two or three inches at a time, and played sequentially, listened to studiously, head cocked to one side like Victrola’s dog. Hm. Interesting. I wonder why people like this – what was it called again? – Sex Pistols. It sounds just like, what was that other one, Throbbing Gristle. Unpleasant name. Hm. Later, in the proper context of sex and, well maybe not drugs but a lot of undergraduate alcohol, I came to appreciate a wide range of strange and mysterious sounds. This musical education gave me an appreciation for a variety of music across the spectrum, and no appreciation for the craft of making music.

So a lot of this book went over my head. The inside gossip and satire – with the exception of the article he wrote for The Onion about the Beatles, about whom I have a surprising amount of knowledge due to the obsession by another boy with the Beatles — meant nothing to me. But I enjoyed looking up and listening to the music he wrote about on the internet, learning about Spirit’s Taurus, and I probably would have listened to more except my husband came home from the gym and turned on the Olympics. But most of the musical pieces were beyond my experience since they describe groups – Kiss, AC/DC, Van Halen – that were at their peak of popularity just before my musical awakening. (I know Stairway to Heaven only because it was The Slow Dance song at junior high dances due to its length.)

I related more to the sports stories, oddly enough. The first one is a great piece about two teams you’ve never heard of, playing a game that meant nothing, but is won by the underdog and I always root for the underdog. I appreciated the pieces about Tim Tebow and Tom Brady – two subjects every New Yorker has strong opinions about. Or at least we have strong opinions about Tom Brady, and this story confirms every suspicion we have about him. And we all had strong opinions about Tebow while he was warming the bench for the Jets (although we’ve mostly forgotten him now). At that time, I happened to fly to Jacksonville (I also went to Jackson that trip – although not that far apart, you can’t get from one to the other without going through Charlotte, which I did waaaay too much that trip) and spent an hour ride listening to a Jaguar fan’s complaint that we had taken Tebow, reluctantly, and condemned him to the bench, while they would happily have taken him and played him, and loved every moment of it.

Sprinkled between these two subjects are, oddly enough, topics I know more about. Zombies (check, and agree they are overdone, though I think his passing analysis of vampires overlooks the TV edition of Buffy); Charlie Brown (went to the Charles Schultz museum on my honeymoon, check); and Harry Potter (he is one up on me here, having never read or watched any of the Harry Potter books; I read one, and agree completely with his opinions on this topic). Essays like these are why I enjoyed But What If We’re Wrong so much.

I enjoyed this book and plan to skim it again after the Olympics so I can listen to more of the music he writes about. Well, maybe not the KISS.

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