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 issue?

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?

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8 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. josephk2 #

    Nicely said! I was just ranting about this to some friends. But I kept sprinkling in phrases like “[this writer] is a dick!”, so I appreciate your more thoughtful, even-handed approach.

    And, we must ask ourselves, would a band that wants to be taken seriously claim the “fame” of being mentioned in a GQ article?

    And, in addition to sounding small-minded and smug, wouldn’t the greatest sin for someone who writes for GQ be coming across as one who is out of touch and unhip?

    Insulted Joggers Fan

    P.S. And hasn’t Malkmus been wearing Joggers T-shirts for a while? This wasn’t a one-off plug for a lesser known group to make himself seem cool/gracious. He’s a real fan, as are many! God bless him.

  2. johngrant #

    It’s difficult for me to understand how Klosterman’s innocuous but accurate, albeit dismissive, comment about the Joggers, “invariably boosts his own stature.” He also dismissed himself a couple of sentences earlier as “some bozo,” merely describing the setting and apparatus of the meticulously “indie” Malkmus.

    Klosterman’s examinations of ethic vs. aesthetic, regardless of topic, must economize his many cultural references to stay on topic, and to his credit utilizes oodles of footnotes for referential expansion. Snarky? Sometimes. Insightful? Mostly.

    It’s a fairly safe bet that the Joggers got more Google hits in the days since the GQ article than in the years before it. If I were the Joggers webmaster I’d ruch to post the CK/GQ sentence on the home page. Stature boost goes to the band.

  3. Leor Galil #

    Klosterman, a writer I should note whose work I’ve consumed voraciously, regularly inflates and deflates his own stature in almost any piece of work. He’s happy to play the sap who somehow gets all the girls (‘Killing Yourself To Live’), but will be happy to remind you that it’s him who’s writing for GQ, he has the power to ordain Malkmus as higher than himself and Joggers as normally-beneath his own writing with the exception of some fashionable paraphernalia.

    And yes, he does have a precarious position to balance in examining every detail in order to properly place it in his article. And yet, it’s befuddling how he managed to not even look into Joggers in the first place. Obviously, talking about fantasy sports with Malkmus is one hook that no other music journalist will parlay through their reporting, so I can sort of understand why the shirt didn’t come up immediately. But, to just dismiss the band when clearly Malkmus is a big enough fan to wear their shirt during an interview? Something’s amiss.

    I would say that, yes, this year (or in the past few years), The Joggers got more hits because of this piece, simply because they’ve kept quiet the past few years. But at the start of their career, they got named dropped in Rolling Stone, The Washington Post and on a handful of music blogs right on the cusp of becoming trend-setting sites (admittedly, I could not track down the positive press from Rolling Stone, as their website is a bit lacking, but, if the band has that on their booking agency’s website, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt). They had quite a bit of clout when they started, and, though it’s a shame to say it, the indie-verse tends to have a short attention span when it comes to new bands. If they don’t produce enough, they may get forgotten. (Remember Clap Your Hands? Those guys were huge in ’05, but after their sophomore disc received ok reviews, they’ve basically kept quiet and so has the public… at least the non-rabid fans.)

  4. nmkoschmann #

    Chuck Klosterman’s joke about the Joggers was harmless. It probably made music fans feel more fond of the Joggers, not less. If you were already a fan, wouldn’t you think “Hey, I’m on the inside here!”? And if you weren’t, but you were reading the article about Pavement, wouldn’t you be at least momentarily curious to hear the Joggers?

    I think listing media sources that have blessed the Joggers is a pretty tone-deaf way of defending them — it’s like a freshman at college trying to convince people that they’re smart by blurting out their ACT scores. If you think the Joggers are good, explain why! Be descriptive, qualitative. Tell a story about one of their shows. “I saw the Joggers open for Talkdemonic in 2004, and the lead singer’s MUSTACHE had more real soul than Chuck Klosterman’s whole face!”

    I think the premise of your post is cheesy, and I wonder: did you write this post because you were really feeling it, or because you thought maybe by throwing up a quick comment and link on the GQ article, you had a quick way to score some readers?

  5. Leor Galil #

    That’s quite an allegation: I did not post a link to this piece on the GQ article, and I don’t know who did. But clearly they felt the same way I did.

    And yes, “I was really feeling it,” when I wrote this post. The thing is, Klosterman didn’t question their abilities as a band, or their songwriting or anything else. That’s why I didn’t write about that, because Klosterman didn’t bother touching upon it.

    And that was the point. Klosterman didn’t touch upon anything about the band before tossing them off. My reasoning for listing the sources that gave the band praise wasn’t “tone deaf” as you say: Merely it was to show that, unlike Klosterman’s assumption, they are known, they have been written up in other places and they aren’t just some band on a t-shirt who have finally reached some fleeting form of fame thanks to Klosterman.

    I think many a fan was pissed off at Klosterman’s toss-off of the band, because that’s what it was: A toss-off. It’s hardly about the band being good or bad, because that’s not what Klosterman made it about. He made it about whether or not they were noteworthy (which are two, unfortunately, distinct things in pop music that don’t always go hand in hand), not about the band’s talent. Because he didn’t even bother to look into the band.

    I think you missed the entire point of my “cheesy” post. I understand what you would have wanted it to say, but does that make the message and point of my post any less worthy of what I was trying to accomplish?

    So, don’t blame me because a reader/Joggers fan/someone I clearly don’t know posted this piece somewhere else on the Internet and you came expecting something else. And don’t pass out unwanted advice where it isn’t necessary: That, above all else, has the appearance of “a freshman at college trying to convince people that they’re smart by blurting out their ACT scores.”

    There are millions of ways to tell a story, but that doesn’t make those that you didn’t come up with/that you hoped to find any less of a tale.

  6. Leor Galil #

    By the way, just looked at the GQ article for the comment. I don’t know who’s username is “Josephk2,” but, in any case, I don’t have an account with GQ’s site to comment on the Web site, nor did I post that. So please, think before you type and allege that I was trying “a quick way to score some readers.”

  7. nmkoschmann #

    Sorry for alleging that you posted that link. I was wrong. But I think it’s fair to say you wanted your post to be seen by those who had read the QC article, to be seen as part of the conversation surrounding the GQ article. I think that it would be disingenuous if you say you weren’t trying to score readers with a blog post about this “issue.”

    And touché to you, for reversing what I said about a “freshman at college.” But if you can effectively write a response to Chuck Klosterman, shouldn’t you be able to handle a response to your own writing? I stand by this: quoting Pitchfork and Rolling Stone reviews in this context is not convincing. Are you trying to make the case that the Joggers are big (non-obscure), or good? I think both — you tell us how good Pitchfork thinks they are, plus mentioning Pitchfork and the Washington Post is a way of showing us how big the band is. And I’m unconvinced either way.

    I’m still missing the point of your post.

  8. Leor Galil #

    I think that’s a bit of a redundant statement. Anything written on this site is meant for people to be read. I wrote the post so that anyone could read it, not necessarily just those who read the GQ article.

    And clearly you miss the point of the post. The reason I quoted the Pitchfork review and made mention of the other places Joggers were written up was to display the band’s notoriety. What’s the best way to show how well a band is known? By quoting well-established and respected music sites that give a band good cred, which inevitably establishes that band’s name. I’m saying in the realm of indie music, they have a name, and one that’s been established by the music blogs/sites/magazines. If I were to say it any simpler I would need a picture book.

    The entire issue I had with Klosterman’s piece – and I reiterate this for a third time – was with the misinformed take on the band’s status, not their music. And you’re asking for something completely different.

    Yes, I can handle a response to my writing, but you don’t even seem to be reading it. You’re asking for apples when I’m giving you oranges. Others have written in with legitimate responses to my writing and I’ve answered them. I’ve even answered your mismatched response!

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