In his book “Downtown Owl,” author Chuck Klosterman voices an (I presume) semi-autobiographical reservation about celebrities. The character Mitch says he would never put up a poster of a famous person in his room because that famous person certainly wouldn’t have a poster of him.
So for this reason I decided that if I ever met Klosterman, I would not get a picture with him. And on Wednesday, when he came to speak at a local pub in Washington, DC, to promote his book “I Wear The Black Hat,” I did not ask for one.
I took this, but mainly just so this blog post would have a visual element to it:
The crowd included both long-time fans and people who were (somehow) interested in him but (oddly) unaware of him. While some people asked esoteric questions about his canon, several people asked pretentious questions about “I Wear The Black Hat” and his notions of villainy, both real and imagined, that evinced they’d read neither “Black Hat” or anything else by him.
After his reading from the book, he said he wasn’t sure if anyone would have any questions – but I had one on the launch pad and shot my hand up. With reassured surprise on his face, he gestured to me and said, “Oh. This guy does!”
I asked him that if “Downtown Owl” were made into a movie, who would he cast as the book’s leads. This was a terrific question to open on because, he said, the book had recently been optioned for a movie. Everyone cheered, until he pointed out that – because no one there had heard about it – it meant the story didn’t have a happy ending.
He said Adam Scott, from “Parks and Recreation,” had asked to produce the film, with Lizzy Caplan (goth chick from "Mean Girls") as the school teacher and Phillip Baker Hall (book cop from "Seinfeld") as the old man. (Mitch would have to be an unknown teenage actor.) Scott may have just been using the option to his book as a means to promoting his own company, Chuck said, because he let the option expire and no one else is biting at it.
Chuck also said that his surrogate in the book is the old man; I’d always thought it was Mitch. Go figure. Adam Scott can sleep when he’s dead.
One of the reasons Klosterman has such a broad fan base is because he has a (likewise) broad interest base. He can engage equally well on TV as on sports or music. Topics he touched on Wednesday included:
· The question: “In the American story, is Washington the villain?” which Chuck demurely avoided answering (because it was a stupid question) by responding, “Do you mean the city or the person? Because I don’t know anyone who thinks George Washington is the villain of America!” (Everyone laughed and he moved on.)
· The question: “Would you rather have hair for fingernails or fingernails for hair?” He said the latter, as that would make him like a human rhino, whereas the former would make him a lazy werewolf. This seemed like a witty response.
· More people have bought/read “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” than his other seven books combined.
· His favorite book is “Killing Yourself to Live,” but he would never write anything like that again because it’s a) unethical to expose people he’d dated as much as that book does and b) his wife would never let him.
· Some critics dislike him because he made it “acceptable to write about dumb things” (like “Saved by the Bell”).
· The human mind is the source of all emotion, but we’ve been so conditioned to believe that it’s actually our heart that the mind creates the illusion of “heartache” in our chest when we’re sad.
· In terms of sheer ability, Lebron James is better than Michael Jordan, but in a one-on-one match Jordan would win because he’s so competitive. Lebron wants people to like him, and would see such a match as an opportunity to promote both of their brands. Jordan would see it as an opportunity to embarrass another player. “Michael Jordan is really a f---ed up person intellectually.”
· The worst concert he’s seen in the last year was by a band called the Japandroids, which I have never heard of. He described them as “friendrock” – ie you’d only go if you were friends with them.
· He confirmed to me that a “conservative North Dakotan” political operative he dines with in “Killing Yourself to Live” is a colleague of mine. So there – no picture but a “This guy!” and a mutual friend.
He closed with an anecdote about villainy, to tie back into his book. When people say that villains in stories are more “interesting” that’s not what they mean. What they mean is the villains are more real, whereas heroes don’t seem real. You can understand a villain’s motivation because deep down you are a selfish person. When you see Walter White sell meth, you understand the impulse to break the rules to help your family – and if you enjoy it and you’re good at it, why not keep doing it?
“There is an innate human fear that goodness is made up. When you’re 8, you want to be like Superman. But when you grow up, you really want to be like Lex Luthor.”