On the charts for June 20, 1987, five of the top six albums were by Whitesnake, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Poison, and Ozzy Osbourne. If this means nothing to you, move along; nothing to see here.
For those still reading, need I even mention Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Ratt, Cinderella, and Warrant? Author Chuck Klosterman wants you to remember and care, even if the music was as disposable as the hairspray.
His 2001 book Fargo Rock City salutes the 1980s era of hair metal as something important. He provides a somewhat chronological, sometimes autobiographical, mostly unapologetic tour of topics in his theme’s general vicinity. If that sounds loose, it is.
Klosterman is often funny, and occasionally philosophical, in his defense of musical acts that were critically maligned in their day and have not fared better since. He gets most of his laughs acknowledging, in detail, the ridiculousness of it all (his description of Poison: “three lovely ladies who were actually three guys from Pennsylvania and a dope fiend from Brooklyn”). Yet he saves his true ridicule for those elitists who turned up their noses when teenagers like Klosterman turned up the volume on the likes of Shout at the Devil.
This is where the philosophy comes in. Klosterman thinks that:
[P]op music doesn’t matter for what it is; it matters for what it does. The greatest thing about rock ‘n’ roll is that it’s an art form where the audience is more important than the art itself. Whether or not [Mötley Crüe’s] “Home Sweet Home” was terrific is almost irrelevant; the fact that a million future adults believed it was terrific is what counts.
Klosterman never confronts the question of why 1980s hair metal counts any more than other music that was popular at a certain time. For example, were boy bands of the late 1980s and 1990s (New Kids on the Block, ‘N Sync) equally important to Mötley Crüe because they too held sway with millions of teenagers?
Although you may not be convinced by Klosterman’s larger point, Fargo Rock City is still a rich grab bag of riffs about the significance of stupid stuff. The only catch is, you need to have experienced enough of the subject matter to get the jokes. If not, you’ll probably just find Fargo Rock City sophomoric, without realizing how fitting that is.