The last segment of Minnesota Public Radio’s Wits series at the Fitzgerald Theater took place on Friday, the same night as Minneapolis’ hugest fashion show, Voltage, meaning that local citizens were forced to choose between the two. Luckily, the audience who are into seeing Craig Finn of The Hold Steady and writer Chuck Klosterman are a demographic who have probably been bullied about their own fashion choices for their entire lives, so they didn’t mind missing Voltage.
When I got to the theater, I ran into several fellow journalists of the decidedly man’s man variety, like Jay Boller of Vita.mn along with Mark Brenden and Raghav Mehta of the Minnesota Daily. Let the banter about athletes and heavy metal begin!
I have to admit that I went solely to see Klosterman. I’m a huge, dorkish fan of his, so much so that I went along to “observe” an interview with him when I was an editor, just so I could meet him. If he hadn’t existed, I might not have gone into journalism at all. He was one of the first writers to prove that the media we all feel guilty about liking can be the subject of enlightening essays that are both entertaining to read and free of pretension. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs spawned hundreds of copycat low-culture writers, me included.
As the segment began, I was happy to decide that I liked the host, John Moe. Dressed in a snappy getup, he matched Klosterman’s wit easily, all while owning the fact that the chairs were so tall that feet had no choice but to awkwardly dangle. Klosterman had more trouble with this.
Talking to Klosterman one-on-one is different than seeing him live. In conversation, he takes on a genius-like hunchback posture that involves lots of swaying back and forth in deep thought. Onstage he becomes an eternally 17-year-old charmer, embracing all awkwardness and turning it into hilarity. The best uncomfortable moment came when they were on a call with comedian Maria Bamford, talking about the title of her new album, Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome. Trying to understand what one of these unwanted thoughts was, Klosterman revealed that he had been imagining the two balconies of the Fitzgerald falling down and crushing the audience, to the point where he pictured himself lining the seats with C-4. The most embarrassing aspect of that, he pointed out, was that he had actually determined a specific type of explosive, instead of just saying “dynamite” like a normal person. He’s certainly not normal, but that’s a good thing.
When the time came for Klosterman to read aloud, he turned down the opportunity, saying he hates listening to authors read aloud. Instead he played us a series of songs he enjoyed as a teenager, explaining his theory that the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” is about dealing drugs.
Craig Finn premiered some songs that he has recently written, this time opting for an acoustic guitar. The switch, oddly enough, reminded me of Bright Eyes. The sensitive warble, the nasal voice, the smart lyrics—how had I notheard this resemblance before?
I would have liked to see some more Craig and Chuck riffing, but overall the conversation at Wits was entertaining enough to not make me too bummed I’d missed Voltage.