Killingsworth, Guest, Klosterman, Rundman

I'd let slide my subscription to Paste Magazine, an ever-booming music/culture periodical that I'd read since they began a few years ago. The whole Paste empire (magazine, on-line retail, record label, etc) has been very supportive of my music career, and the magazine has given glowing reviews to my here for their kind preview of my Public Library album. When they first started publishing back in the early '00s the magazine really reflected the views of the founders of the Paste-empire...excellent and fresh writing with a subtle slant toward suspiciously-Christian musicians and artists who were being taken seriously in the mainstream hipster culture. I think their first issue cover was of Victoria Williams and Marc Olsen (of the Jayhawks). Much to the delight of the original two Paste Magazine founders, the magazine kept succeeding and succeeding, and eventually I think it got purchased by a big company of some kind, the magazine staff got switched around a bit, and they became very well-known and widely-read. In that process, in my opinion, the content lost a lot of its original core values and niche appeal, and the issues got cluttered up with articles about such non-musical stuff as food reviews, video game reviews, and LOTS of coverage about movies. My subscription ran out sometime last year, and I just didn't have the energy or desire to renew.

BUT, in December I knew I would be spending many hours snuggling on the couch in my in-laws' living room over the holidays, so I wanted a good magazine to read, and I went to Borders and bought the December issue of Paste, pictured here. The cover story promised an interview with filmmaker and musician Christopher Guest, and that sounded like a very interesting read. Eventually I did end up beneath a quilt on my in-laws' couch and I did break out the Paste magazine to check out the feature story on Guest.

I spent four years as a rock journalist myself (R.I.P. Showcase Music Magazine in Chicago), and I've read more entertainment journalism that most folks ever will in a lifetime, but I don't think I've ever come across a feature story written quite like Jason Killingsworth's interview with Christopher Guest in December's Paste Magazine. You can read it for yourself by clicking here, so you know what I mean in these comments. It was so weird and jarring that I had a hard time getting through the whole article (my wife Dawn gave up on it after a few columns), but kept reading and reading, wondering where exactly Killingsworth was gonna go with this piece. When it ended, I couldn't decide if I thought the whole thing was lame or brilliant. Whatever it was, it was an bizarre way to present a cover story for a national magazine. The writer had guts, at least. I think the truth of it is one of the following two options:

LAME: Obviously, Christopher Guest gives horrible interviews. Apparently Killingsworth had heard rumors about this fact before the interview began, so he knew he was in for a challenge, and when the time came to talk to the man face to face, he dropped the ball. Then, out of anger or embarrasment or both, he retaliated against Guest by writing a overly ridiculous and sarcastic story about the brief and boring exchange he had with his subject. I've interviewed a few celebrities back when I was writing for the paper in Chicago, and I think if I ever got such lame replies from my interviewee, I would've pressed harder as the journalist. I found myself wanting to put these words in Killingsworth's mouth:
+ "Do you think that doing press interviews for your new film is a waste of your precious time? Do you have so little respect for me as a writer that you would treat me with such disregard?"
+ "Don't you owe it to your film studio, your cast and crew, and everybody who poured months of their lives into this movie, to take their hard work on this film seriously? Shouldn't you be grateful that my magazine wants to put you on the cover?"
+ "Wouldn't it have been wiser for you to tell your studio that you refuse to do any press for this film 'cause you hate giving interviews? They're paying for your transportation and hotel for this press junket, right? Wouldn't it have been the right thing to do to cancel the whole thing, out of respect for your employers?"
But nope, Killingsworth never said any of that stuff. Now THAT would've been a good interview! Maybe he was too starstruck by a man whom he really idolized.
In addition to wanting answers to these questions, I would've written the piece in a whole different way. Imagine how interesting it would've have been for Killingsworth to take Guest's terrible interview participation, and comment on the psychology behind Guest as a filmmaker and comedian! But instead, he appears to have been so insulted and frustrated by Guest that he decided to write the article drenched in rambling, boring, and outrageous much so, that the average reader would probably not even want to continue reading.
***Okay, so that's the situation if Killingsworth article is LAME.

BRILLIANT: Maybe the only reason I kept reading the article at all was that I was once in Killingsworth's journalistic shoes, and I was dying to know how he was gonna tie a big bow on the end of this interview. But for whatever reason, I was compelled to keep reading...maybe because of the weird capital letters, the exaggerated language, the total spastic nature of it all. Was he putting his own little spin on Guest's entire career of caricaturing showbiz (from "Spinal Tap" to "A Mighty Wind" to this new film) by couching the article in a similarly snide package? Perhaps the brilliance of Killingsworth's writing was that it was so fresh and unusual, especially for a major national glossy magazine. Maybe the craziness of the writing serves to provide contrast with Christopher Guest's rudeness and aloofness, proving even more clearly how inappropriate and unlikable this filmmaker really is. Or maybe Jason Killingsworth is so brilliant that I don't really "get it," but it's brilliant anyway. I don't exactly know how to explain it, but this article has stayed with me longer than most any other interview I've read in recent years, and I'm certainly gonna view Christopher Guest movies in a new way after reading it.
***So that's the argument in support of the writer.

What do you think?

As I considered blogging about this, I Googled the writer to see if he had any comments floating around online, and sure enough, I found Killingsworth's Blog, and a posting about all the hate mail he's received about this article. Alas, still not really any justification by Jason himself about why he wrote in such a way.

In other literary news, this afternoon I finished reading Chuck Klosterman's book Fargo Rock City. In my previous blog posting I mentioned how much I was loving this book. Well, I think about 3/4ths of the way through it really took a nosedive. Klosterman seems to lose the focus that made the start of the book so wonderful, and he veers off into sad tales of his personal life and lame nostalgia trips through his wild-man days as a college rock journalist. The magic of the early pages of the book comes from a picture of Klosterman's innocent and sheltered small-town life, and the window to a new and unknown world offered by the music and personas of 1980's Heavy Metal. The wonder and awe that Klosterman expresses in the early part of the book is what gives his love of the music its authenticity. But the nosedive occurs when Klosterman loses his innocence, and the music he describes takes a back seat to triple-thinking cultural paranoia and literal alcoholism.

There are beautiful moments to this book, however. I've got dozens of opinions about the issues Klosterman raises: elitism, the value of art, rural Midwestern dysfunction, musicianship, etc. Too many topics, not enough years in life to blog about all this stuff....

I'll tackle some more on another day. But thanks to Jason and Chuck for offering some good mental content for me to chew on in this new year.


Anne said…
Hmm. Well, I read his article and I read his blog. I don't see the need to send him any hatemail. I read it as if he was writing from the POV of an eccentric character you might find in one of Guest's mockumentaries. The Parker Posey character. Sort of wierd, kind of painful, but also funny. I think it's cool that he used such an unusual writing style to write up an interview with someone who does pretty painfully unusual movies.
Steve said…
Jonathan, like you my Paste subscription has lapsed (though I've received two free issues recently). I know we've talked about our frustrations with the magazine. After reading your blog, I was especially curious to read the Christopher Guest interview. I'm not sure what I expected--maybe Guest to be a total tool and Killingsworth to be witty and funny. But I didn't get that at all. Guest may not have been an engaging subject, but he wasn't a jerk, just dull. Killingsworth reminded me of a high school kid with an inside joke that no one really cared about. It was very immature. The early issues of Paste struck me with their integrity. I think they understood they were targeting a somewhat niche audience, and showed a great deal of respect and acceptance to the eclectic collection of music and writings they evaluated. My biggest reaction right now is one of simple disappointment with the magazine. Letting something like this be published under their name, let alone on the cover, showed exceptionally poor judgment. I was actually considering giving a subscription another shot. I don't feel comfortable doing that now.
Rimbo said…
I can't really comment on what's changed about Paste over the years -- I've only been a subscriber for about one -- but I totally agree with you about the article. I wasn't sure what to think. I'm such a huge Christopher Guest fan, and I think I'm on the same page as Steve. He's a terrible dull interview subject, but I don't think he's trying to be a jerk, just sidestepping the usual anecdote-heavy, recycled interview. But I was really disappointed. If you're going to have a boring interview, that's fine, but don't put my favorite filmmaker on the cover just to sell it to me.

Popular Posts