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Random Rules: Chuck Klosterman

The shuffler: Chuck Klosterman, pop-culture critic and author of the North Dakota heavy-metal memoir Fargo Rock City and three essay collections, including Killing Yourself To Live and his latest, Chuck Klosterman IV.

Sleeper, "Lady Love Your Countryside"

Chuck Klosterman: I remember being interested in this record when it came out. I believe the band was dressed as astronauts. I like the voice of the singer. She seemed to have a woozy delivery. Can't remember what her name is, but she's a British girl, and she seems really interested in paint-huffing and having sex with people. That was what the song was about.

The A.V. Club: And is she for that, or against it?

CK: She seems to be advocating it.

Black Sabbath, "Smoke On The Water"

CK: This one's kind of complex. This is a live version of "Smoke On The Water," performed by Black Sabbath when Ian Gillan was in the band on the Born Again tour. Gillan was, like, the third singer for Sabbath. He came over from Deep Purple [which originally performed "Smoke On The Water"]. I don't know if this is an encore—this is a bootleg—but [Black Sabbath guitarist] Tony Iommi plays "Smoke On The Water," and kind of makes [Deep Purple guitarist] Ritchie Blackmore seem like an idiot, 'cause it's so much better.

AVC: Do you have a lot of bootlegs on your iPod?

CK: Some. I don't know, what would be a lot? I don't have as many songs on my iPod as most people, because I don't put full records on. I only put focus tracks from records on—basically, only hits.

W.A.S.P., "I Don't Need No Doctor"

CK: This is a cover of a Humble Pie song. I really think somebody needs to write a biography about W.A.S.P. singer Blackie Lawless. He's lived one of the most interesting lives of any musician. First of all, he's half Native American. For a while, he was in the Cincinnati Reds farm system. I didn't know this until recently, but I remember W.A.S.P. used to appear to be wearing baseball pants sometimes when they performed. I used to think it was very strange that they dressed like baseball players. Maybe those are just the pants he used when he was trying to make it as a third baseman. He was in the New York Dolls for a while. After they were basically in their death throes, he joined W.A.S.P. as their touring guitar player. This song was back in the '80s, of course, where they're mostly remembered for throwing ground meat at the audience. And sacrificing women on stage. And pretty much lying about the degree to which people were trying to ban W.A.S.P., which perpetuated their success. He's old. I mean, he's like 84 years old, he had a very long life. He was also in a street gang with Ace Frehley from Kiss at one point, when they were in high school.

AVC: That seems too good to be true.

CK: Well, I think it is! I know they're friends. I mean, certainly that's more believable than that he was on the Reds' farm system! I think Vince Neil from Mötley Crüe is a baseball player too. Maybe you could build a pretty decent middle-of-the-road baseball club just by finding singers from '80s metal bands.

ABBA, "Waterloo"

CK: Casual music fans assume anybody who does rock criticism would hate ABBA, but everybody who does music criticism loves ABBA. The very first time I ever heard about ABBA was actually in a Weekly Reader. Do you remember what Weekly Readers were, when you were in elementary school? It's a little newspaper they'd give you in third grade that would talk about current events. The first time I ever heard of ABBA was in a Weekly Reader, because for some reason there was a story about how disco sucked. It must have been after they had the "burn disco" night in Chicago at the White Sox game [in 1979]. For some reason, they wanted to inform kids about how the most hated idiom of popular music was disco, and the picture was ABBA. So my first exposure to ABBA was them being the ultimate manifestation of this dangerous idea of disco.

Lisa Loeb, "Stay"

CK: This is, of course, on the Reality Bites soundtrack. I was always a fan of Lisa Loeb, particularly because you kind of get the impression she sang every song either about or to her cats. They seem to be the driving force in most of her creative process.

AVC: Do you think that's common among a lot of musicians?

CK: Singing to their cats?

AVC: Being inspired by animals.

CK: Well, The Beatles were really into that. On the first George Harrison solo record, we have a song about his dogs. The Paul McCartney song "Jet" is supposedly about his dog.

AVC: "Martha My Dear" is too.

CK: Really? That could be, I guess. I'm trying to think, though, is it common?

AVC: Pink Floyd has that whole album, Animals.

CK: But those animals, they're probably supposed to be reflections of our own fears or something, right? Or how things look when you're on drugs.

Jimi Hendrix, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

This is from the Jimi Hendrix box set. Supposedly, according to Paul McCartney, the Beatles record Sgt. Pepper's comes out on Friday, and then [McCartney] goes to see Jimi Hendrix perform on Sunday, and he's performing this song already. So this is very moving to McCartney, and I can see where it would be, but I guess it would mostly serve to indicate that Jimi Hendrix is an extremely fast learner, which may not be that surprising.

Concrete Blonde, "Joey"

CK: According to my little display, this comes off a record called "Brian Hamlin," so I must have got this song from a mix-tape from a guy named Brian Hamlin, who was an outside linebacker for the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux football team in the early '90s. He's a friend of mine, so I guess he must have given me this song at some point. The funniest story I heard about Concrete Blonde is, I knew a guy who was going to college at Moorhead State University, and they had a rock-music program, where you'd learn how to play rock guitar and stuff. He was talking to the instructor, and the instructor was really into bands like Voivod and progressive metal. And this guy wasn't really into that, and said, "Well, I like Stone Roses." And then the instructor said, "Oh, well, I also like Concrete Blonde." As if somehow those bands had a relationship because they were both named after things that are hard. [Laughs.]

AVC: I guess they're both variants of rock music.

CK: I know, but then they would also be like Pavement, right? But I guess that's as good a reason.

John Fred And His Playboy Band, "Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)"

CK: He's dead, John Fred. He was trying to write psychedelic songs because psychedelia was kind of popular at the time. And I think that he thought that psychedelia was just having a bunch of unconnected things jammed into the same song, and then having it be melodic and weird.

Morrissey, "Everyday Is Like Sunday"

CK: It's a very sad, somber song. I guess Morrissey hates Sundays. He's walking around on the beach and he's typically alienated. If every day is like Sunday, every day is silent and grey. He must have had a lot of free weekends where his friends weren't around and the weather was horrible.

The Streets, "Prangin Out"

CK: This last Streets record wasn't as good as the first two, but one thing I find interesting about it is, I get the impression that Mike Skinner became a cocaine addict on purpose, just so he'd have something to write about. Like, he went out of his way to become addicted to coke, just because he had run out of boring topics. The first record was about how his life was boring, and the second record was like, "Boy, I live a boring life, but I have one interesting day." And now he could either write a record just about being rich, or having some larger problem, so I think he just did coke until he was addicted, then made the record.