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