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Chuck Klosterman Talks Villains, Drugs, and Rob Ford at the Gladstone

Pop-culture essayist Chuck Klosterman preached to his choir at the Gladstone Hotel.

chuck klosterman black hat book toronto

Chuck Klosterman fans look exactly like Chuck Klosterman. Last evening, the pop-culture essayist held court in the Gladstone Hotel, where a sea of black-rimmed eyes and scruffy faces in plaid shirts and Converse sneakers had gathered for the occasion. It was a relatively intimate setting, with less than 100 plastic chairs close to the stage and a crowd of latecomers standing in the back or around the bar. Everyone laughed at the right times and kept their phones out of sight. Whether he was speaking directly about his new book, I Wear the Black Hat, or answering host Stuart Berman‘s questions about The Spice Girls and Kanye West, Klosterman implicitly commands respect.

I Wear the Black Hat is a collection of essays about modern, historical, and fictional villains. Klosterman compares O.J. Simpson with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, deconstructs Bill Clinton, and explains why Hitler is a joke. At the Gladstone, there was a silent countdown to the obligatory Rob Ford question. Does smoking crack make Rob Ford a villain? Klosterman suggested that it makes our mayor more likeable. “He’s getting down with the people,” he said. Klosterman added that he doesn’t understand why Gawker cares so much about drugs because, “Everyone at Gawker does drugs—I know because I’ve done drugs with them.”

Everyone laughed. If someone else let Rob Ford off the hook so easily, the members of this overeducated and underemployed Queen West crowd would have flipped their lids, but this was Chuck. Through books like Fargo Rock City and Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Klosterman has developed a cult following that will, as he pointed out, “listen to me and Alex Pappademas talk on a podcast for three hours about a movie neither of us has seen.”

Klosterman speaks so well that his responses seem rehearsed, but anyone who listens to those Grantland podcasts knows he’s just that good. There’s a quickness and confidence behind his ideas that makes people back down even if they initially disagree. With his thick orange beard, Klosterman offers his fans pseudo-paternal wisdom and acceptance. Most of the questions during the Q-and-A period were constructed to impress Klosterman with their philosophical knowledge, pop-culture prowess, or flat-out fandom. He handled each one gracefully and gave long, winding answers—even when a question was, perhaps, not deserving of one.

Watching the way he handled the crowd, it was impossible not to recall the passage in I Wear the Black Hat about Pearl Jam’s public relations strategy. “Pearl Jam has always felt a responsibility to return whatever adoration was directed toward their existence,” he wrote. “The motive of that return is beside the point…To any normal person, a facsimile of gratitude is enough.”

Although Klosterman, both in his book and at the Gladstone Hotel, says that he relates more to villains than heroes, there’s not much that’s villainous about him. At its worst, I Wear the Black Hat is an overtly male, sophistic collection of essays—but at its best, it’s genuine. It appeals to a demographic of self-proclaimed intellectuals that watch way too much television. At our worst, we are full of shit. At our best, we could be Chuck Klosterman. At the very least, we can dress like him.


  • Eric

    I read the article he wrote comparing O.J. Simpson to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It presents some interesting and new information, but the whole premise is extremely weak and insulting to Kareem Abdul-jabbar….to be compared to a sociopathic killer…unbelievable! Why? Because you’re a black athlete who also acted in a satirical movie. O.J. was accepted and lauded by media, at least before the deaths of his ex-wife and Goldman. The title of the article gets him the attention the article wants, but as a persuasive essay, graded at the standards I give to my middle school English students, it deserves a C at best.

  • Gus

    Maybe this reviewer should have just written about the propensity for unfashionable males to dress alike.

  • Joe Clark


    Then again, at least we now have evidence that “overtly male” is the most damning indictment in the Torontoist repertoire.

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  • WJS

    Hipsters are the death of our culture.

    • OgtheDim

      If your culture can’t survive a guy in a ratty beard and tan pants, it wasn’t living much to begin with.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      Hipsters are the dead end of Western civilization, according to some.

      • OgtheDim

        Adbusters says the same thing about anything involving consumerism. I enjoy what they do, think about what they say, and admire what they stand for; but they do tend to cry wolf rather then listen.

        The article doesn’t differentiate between counter culture and hipster.

        That and it comes across as a 28 year old lamenting how these youngsters don’t just get what reality is.

        • vampchick21

          Up yours young people! You and your rock and roll music!

          • OgtheDim

            I’m wondering what that writer, now 33, would make of himself at 28. Me, I’m 48, and listening right now to that single by Macklemore on an alternative radio station out of Seattle via my smartphone. I like 80′s and 90′s music but life moves on. My parents once said to me that around when they were 30 they didn’t understand music anymore and gave up. Not going to do that. Which is why I think the death of civilization through hipsterism is so much toss pot self centredness.

          • dsmithhfx

            Get off my lawn!

    • vampchick21

      Hipsters are a repeat, a recycled sub-culture. when the current batch are too old to be cool anymore the next generation will recreate them under a new heading. Just like every other sub culture.

      • OgtheDim

        Ur assuming that hipster refers to a standard defined sub culture.

        Being Hipster has fragmented into thousands of bits, defined by place, purpose, age, culture or any other definition that allows some to feel they are experiencing something new, unknown by the masses, enjoyed by a few and energizing.
        The only thing Hipster thought agrees upon is what it is not:

        Tilly Hats

        • vampchick21

          that’s the same for every other subculture. and it renews every generation and is redfined. That’s kinda my point. Fops become marconis become dandies as it were.

          • OgtheDim

            Except hipster is not defined by age, necessarily.

            Its now defined by what is being experienced.

            So a person can be a baseball hipster, a food hipster, a (insert latest trendy social app) hipster.

            Its about the new, not the age.

          • vampchick21

            My point remains the same.

          • OgtheDim

            Bare with me a moment…..but if the experience which the renewal occurs around changes, how is the subcultural renewal only then defined by age? I agree, it used to be that only the young redefined culture. And young people feel compelled to redefine themselves. But now, everybody is purposefully redefining themselves, and the culture around them constantly. Thus hipsterism isn’t defined by age as those who are experiencing are not only defined by whether they are young or not.

          • vampchick21

            Age does not change my point. And focusing on that minor detail is missing my point. My point is, hipsterism isn’t new, never was new, and it’s next incarnation won’t be new.

          • WJS

            Hipsters latch onto something they can exclude you from; they add nothing to a cycle that continues in spite of their presence. They are leeches sucking blood out of actually doing something.

          • dsmithhfx

            You seem awfully young to be so cynical.

          • WJS

            Dumbass, the photo is from 1975.

          • vampchick21

            Name a subculture that DOESN’T do that dearie.

          • OgtheDim

            Post modernism as practiced calls you wrong.

          • dsmithhfx

            Is that still a thing? I thought we’d graduated to post postmodernism. Even that sounds soooo 2007.

    • dsmithhfx

      Everyone hates ‘em, everyone wants to be one. Except me, of course. ;-)

  • dsmithhfx

    Look around you, man. MacDonalds. Walmart. Bieber. Yeah, it’s been dead.