Air guitar! ...Zipped my way through cultural pundit Chuck Klosterman's highly entertaining ode to vintage 1980s hair metal, "Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey In Rural North Dakota", last weekend. It's a good romp, with lots of shout-outs to vintage metal madness like Motley Crüe, Winger, Warrant, Van Halen and et cetera. Being the highly suggestible consumer rodent I am, after finishing it I ended up buying a discounted copy of Guns 'n' Roses Greatest Hits while shopping the other day, and I blushed with guilty shame. I am 33, and I bought my first Guns 'n' Roses album.
Klosterman's one of my favorite music critics, and writes a monthly column in "Spin" magazine. He does a fine job evoking what it's like to grow up in a nowhere town where heavy metal was the only escape from blandness, and how music can change your world. "Fargo Rock City" is a decent mix of trivia, analysis, memoir and humor. The funny thing is, I'm not even a big hair metal fan -- but the themes are universal. And even Klosterman is semi-apologetic about his admiration for "Girls, Girls, Girls" and "Paradise City" long after they stopped being hip. Hair metal was everywhere in my misspent '80s youth, and even though my personal tastes leaned more toward Depeche Mode, Howard Jones and Erasure (yeah, I was one of those kids), hair metal was like air -- you couldn't help inhaling some of it. So while I'm not up on all of Klosterman's references, I still had major '80s flashbacks when you start talking about Poison and Lita Ford. It's a light read, but it speaks to anyone except for those cultural elitists who sneer at the very thought of Tawny Kitaen writhing on a car hood in a Whitesnake video.
And that Guns 'n' Roses CD? You know, back in 1987 if asked I would've told you they were trendy metalheads, they were more my skateboarding brother's speed, and I had some synth-pop to listen to while I pined over women wistfully. Maybe I'm just angrier now, because suddenly a cheeseball ballad like "November Rain" sounds like a long-lost friend. It's still cheeseball, but now it's nostalgic cheese. Gosh darn it, sometimes we need a little Axl Rose screeching in our lives. And I can't help but turn into a Beavis & Butthead head-rocking fool to some of Slash's riffs. Uncool? Yeah, but dang it, they don't all have to be Elvis Costello tunes, do they? Rock on.