Chuck Klosterman on Writing the Past and Relishing the Present

How do you go about writing a book on an era that is, for many, recent history? When Chuck Klosterman set out to write his new book, The Nineties, he wasn’t interested in representing it as a misremembered era or forcing a retrospective view into modern ideology. Rather than finding overlooked signposts that signaled events to come, he says, he wanted to capture what it actually felt like to experience that time – the anxiety and excitement around scientific and technological progress, what it was like to be limited to a few cassette tapes or CDs at a time, the physical media and musical subcultures that would later evaporate with the advent of the internet. Though easier to research than more ancient history, complications arose when he pondered the bifurcation of his audience between those for whom the release of Nevermind is a personal memory and those for whom it’s as distant as the moon landing. Would he have to explain to readers what a compact disc is?

Chuck joined Tyler to discuss the challenges of writing about recent history, the “slow cancellation of the future” that began in the aughts, how the internet widened cultural knowledge but removed its depth, why the context of Seinfeld was in some ways more important than its content, what Jurassic Park illustrates about public feelings around scientific progress in the ‘90s, why the ‘90s was the last era of physical mass subcultures, why it’s uncommon to be shocked by modern music, how his limited access to art when growing up made him a better critic, why Spin Magazine became irrelevant with the advent of online streaming, what made Grantland so special, what he learned from teaching in East Germany, the impact of politics on the legacies of Eric Clapton and Van Morrison, how sports often rewards obnoxious personalities, why Wilt Chamberlain is still underrated, how the self-awareness of the Portland Trail Blazers undermined them, how the design of the NFL makes sports rivalries nearly impossible, how pro-level compensation prevents sports gambling from corrupting players, why so many people are interested in e-sports, the unteachable element of writing, why he didn’t make a great editor on his school paper, what he’d say to a room filled with ex-lovers, the question he’d most like to ask his parents, his impressions of cryptocurrency, why he’s trying to focus on what he has in the current moment rather than think too much about future plans, the power of charisma, and more.

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