Chuck Klosterman begins his new book with a puma in an airplane bathroom. Matters only get weirder from there: a band unintentionally gets a boost from a fanbase full of white supremacists; a Black Mirror-style procedure changes how couples approach parenthood; a cult member begins to have second thoughts. Somebody may even have rabies. True to form, Klosterman defies expectations by approaching absurd hypotheticals with startling curiosity and wry humor. After nearly a dozen books, essays galore, and decades of dissecting pop culture, Klosterman isn’t through wracking his brain over how we ingest the world around us. His latest, Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction, is a collection of 34 mind-bending trips through familiar territory: cults, pop musicians, athletes, reality deniers.

Now a resident of Portland, Oregon after a long period in New York City, Klosterman returns to Brooklyn on July 16th for a talk at Saint Vitus Bar, the headbanger haunt that satisfies both Klosterman’s lifelong love of heavy music, plus the very-metal artwork adorning Raised in Captivity. In anticipation, we spoke with Klosterman about his new book, living away from New York, white supremacists, and Weezer.

Where did the title come from? The name was, I think, a solo project from somebody from the band Yes. It came up in a discussion of solo projects of prog rockers, and it made sense for the title of the story that I was writing at the time, the first story in the book. It sorta is also this feeling I have about my own mind. I don’t believe people have agency over what they think and feel. That belief has grown as I have aged. I feel in a sense that almost all people are raised in a kind of captivity; the barrier is the process of being a person in a society. It is kind of impossible to really think without your ideas being twisted and changed against your will.

These are all very absurd situations but are attempted to be approached with a rational mind. These stories have the ingredients of a genre story, but you don’t follow through with them traditionally. I guess they have aspects of genre stories; everything ends up falling into some genre. Throughout five years whenever I’d have a weird or interesting idea, I would put it in the notes section of my phone, and I’d end up with hundreds and hundreds of these. I sort of built stories out of those premises, and it’s not as though I’m being critical of the way other people write fiction, it’s just that most fiction that I consume does not have the sort of impact on me that the writer intends. There’s a lot of fiction writing that is people underreacting to a strange situation or people overreacting to simplicity. My way was that I would write these fictional stories the way I would write a non fictional story. The emphasis is not on the development of the character or the developments of the plot. The idea is the story.

My original idea for this collection—it seems really idiotic now to describe it, but the idea was that it would be a hundred stories that were exactly a thousand words long each. So I started working on it, and the first thing I realized is that every story I’m writing is being stretched out to a thousand words or it’s being cut down to exactly a thousand words, so every story was ending up as the wrong size. Then it occured to me that I was gonna have to go through the editing process and add or subtract, and then eventually I realized nobody is going to give a shit about how interesting this idea is. It’s going to be cool to somebody for about ten seconds. So then I decided these stories are going to be however long they’re supposed to be.

Judging by the title, I feel as though over the years you have been interested in fragmented realities. That’s such a concern with the media landscape today—is it disconcerting to you or is it fascinating? It’s certainly more blatant, but I don’t think it’s unlike the way things have always been in the mediated age. Once you have an attempt to reconstruct reality for people who aren’t experiencing an event firsthand, they’re going to get this situation where the received message is more important than the intent of that message. Whereas now, it’s so bombastic that people are immune to it. It is arguably a problem that a lot of people are like “Why are we talking about this? We don’t know this,” and that is the strange part. We just readily accept that the world as it appears is not as it is, and that’s just a part of it. It’s a very different way of living.

What was it about this material that made it more fun than what you’ve written in the past? It was more fun. I know this sounds like the kind of thing people say when they’re promoting books, but it was the most fun I’ve had since writing Fargo Rock City. I’m not totally sure why that is. It may be because these stories are so short that the experience I had with one never went more than a week. It also felt legitimately creative. I enjoy writing non-fiction, but it’s a totally different thing because there are certain aspects of non-fiction that are totally left to the discretion of the writer. There’s a level of accuracy that has to be there. Fiction has a larger window to jump through, that said, it is a little harder because sometimes in non fiction the material itself is enough. Anyone can write about a subject and have it be relatively interesting, whereas fiction is not like that.

I think the topic of your stories that I’m most curious about is whether we’re wrong about the things we eat, did you see one of your kids or somebody else’s kids eat dirt and think why do we have the negative approach to it the way we do? No, but I’ve seen kids eat dirt though. That’s an example of the story where the principal goal is to be entertaining. I’m not sure if you could look at that and infer that I’m making an argument about the nature of nutrition. Some of my earlier books are classified as memoirs. They say “memoir” on the book. They never felt like memoirs to me, and yet this book is the most personal book I’ve written. Those books felt like the external experience of my life. The things I was seeing, the things I was doing, the activities I was pursuing. This book is about my internal life, these are the things I was thinking about when I’m not talking to anyone. I don’t think most people will think that when they read this book, if they do. I don’t think people will see this as a means to think about what I am like.

That short story on white supremacists misinterpreting art—they’re such a huge part of the political and media conversation. Why was this particular angle the most interesting to you? The idea of a white supremacist rock critic—"I like its message, but my formalist ideas tell me the music is not good"—that’s funny to me. It seems like this is a problem is really of the moment because suddenly white supremacists are in the news so much, but that’s a pretty eternal question of art, which is that how responsible is an artist when something they do is completely misinterpreted? There’s a reference in there about “Helter Skelter,” which was adopted by Charles Manson. There’s a book by Ian MacDonald that goes through every Beatles song individually, and he talks about how at one point John Lennion thought it was hilarious to have mistakes in Beatles songs—"the pseudo-intellectuals will love this!" But, as Ian MacDonald argues, that’s how "Helter Skelter" happens. You gotta take a degree of responsibility, but then again Ozzy Osbourne was sued because some kids listened to "Suicide Solution" and then killed themselves. Then Ozzy comes out and says “that song’s about alcoholism, what can I do about people not reading liner notes?” If you’re serious enough to kill yourself, why wouldn’t you read the liner notes? That’s what I was writing about. I think if I was writing it at a different time, I would’ve plugged in a different group. If I wrote it in 1988 I would’ve written about the Aryan Nation, I suppose.

Interviews take up so much of what your writing is, I was perplexed whether these were conversations within yourself… These are mostly with myself, because my life is pretty solitary. There are many days where the only people I talk to are my wife, my kids, and my kids teachers. That was not the case in New York, where i was overstimulated with conversation. It was differentiate thoughts that were my own and thoughts that were part of the collective discourse. Now I have more time to exist within my own thoughts.

This is your first fully-formed book that you’ve written since moving. Is being solitary the biggest difference between writing in Portland versus New York? How has the environment shifted your writing? Well, even when I was writing in New York, most of those periods I was typing, so that hasn’t changed. However, every other aspect of my life is different now. In fact, more different than I anticipated than I would be when I moved here. As a consequence, I assume I’m a different person. I’m two years older than the person I was when I moved here and that makes a difference. You don’t change as much from 45 to 47 as you do when you’re, say, 27 to 29. You are still changing. It’s always a strange thing. The single strangest thing about writing books is they do freeze time. I wrote Fargo Rock City when I was 27. If someone reads that book today, they understand what I was like at 27 more than I would. When I think of myself as a 27 year old, all I could think of is taking my current self and imagine myself as a little thinner and with no beard. I can't get back into that person, and I don’t think most people have the ability to reincarnate their previous self.

Is this trip to Saint Vitus your first time back in New York since you’ve moved? No, but it’ll be the first time I do an event in New York since then. It’s odd; I still follow New York as if I’m still there. I look at Twitter, and I still have it so that it’s showing what’s trending in New York. I still read the New York Times pretty much every day. I still text people in New York every day. So in some senses it’s almost as though New York is the TV show I’m most engaged with. It’s not like I’m gonna come back and be, "Wow, this subway is crazy," or "Huh, these buildings are so tall!"

I guess since we have some interesting news about politics and basketball these last few months - the Nets, especially—I was curious about whether you’ve been paying attention to how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a big part of politics. Do you find her a very intriguing character? I don’t ever recall a person that young with sort of a limited amount of actual influence having this much of a cultural impact on the way people perceive politics in general. She won her district and the voter turnout was relatively low, but she dominated. It’s gonna be crazy when she runs again because I think the turnout is gonna be much higher. I think that the Republicans hope very desperately that she wins. I think that they see her as somebody they can run against in Nevada, and in Florida, and basically on a national scale. And I think it’s interesting when there are certain cliches of what a generation is like so that people can say, "Well, these are the good qualities of millennials," or these are the bad qualities of millennials. They’re always sort of imperfect, but once in a while, you’ll see somebody it seems like they were engineered to be that person. I don’t know how anyone who’s interested in politics couldn’t be interested in her.

The last time we talked, you talked about supporting Hillary and how, in that regard, you are a conservative person in that you wanted things to remain the way they were under Obama. Do you, for your own concerns, see a need for people like Cortez, who have socialist and "radical" ideas? Well, of course I see a need for it; in an objective world, you’d say there’s a need for every possible perspective. I think a lot of the actual ideas that they would hope to implement are not that radical, but I think the way they present those ideas in order to appeal to the most vocal segment of their demographic is almost consciously radical. They’re almost competing to seem the most radical, and any unwillingness to do that gets them hammered. It will be very difficult for anyone to make confident predictions about general elections in the wake of Trump. My mind still sort of operates the politics were operating in the past. It’s kind of like jamming a square into a circle.

Were you satisfied with how the NBA season turned out? Yes, I was, and I think that the insanity of the free agent era was in the short term very interesting and good for the league and makes me more excited about the upcoming NBA season. Now, if it were like that all the time, it would kind of become ridiculous, because it doesn’t seem ridiculous right now. I’ve played fantasy football and fantasy basketball for I don’t know how many years since the early 90s, and I have never been in a league where the trades were as crazy as they are in reality now. Every league I’m in, they would’ve stopped the Paul George trade from happening! (laughs) I think when people talked about players being more in power, I don’t think they predicted that the biggest consequence of this would’ve been player movement. I think they thought it would have had to do with the percentage of revenue the players received, or the way players were controlled by a coach or management.

It’s pretty cool that you’re gonna be at a place that’s a metal-themed bar. Do you pay much attention to metal as it is now? Metal is a different thing now. That’s not a criticism. The main thing that has changed is the vocal style, and it’s antithetical to what I like about music. What I like about metal is when there’s pop music built inside of it. I’m into Van Halen.

A band like Greta Van Fleet—they’re not interesting to you? Well, yeah, they’re pretty interesting to me, because this is a thing that happens in rock music that doesn’t necessarily happen in other genres where Led Zeppelin hasn’t existed since 1980. A lot of years have passed. But because their music is still known to people, the idea that this young band’s sound is extraordinarily similar makes people recoil. Now, if Greta Van Fleet sounded like Cactus or Montrose [editor note: Montrose was Sammy Hagar’s pre-solo band], if they were as similar to that them they are to Led Zeppelin, rock critics would be like, “This is amazing, these are young kids into Montrose!” But because they are into something that is collectively familiar, they're seen as somewhat trying to capitalize on that. I also think that one of the problems they have is similar to the idea of the uncanny valley, where it gets so close to the predecessor that people recoil. I think people want bands that remind them of the bands they used to love. If the singer was less like Robert Plant’s and more like Steve Perry, but the music was the same, it wouldn’t make people think of Led Zeppelin immediately.

They are fascinating because there are a lot of newer, pop-influenced metal bands out there, like Lucifer, that take a lead from the 70s and the 80s. A lot of the bands I like now would be lumped into "stoner bands," that is still a form of metal, but it seems as though there was a significant shift in the identity of heavy metal in the 1990s. That shift is institutional, and it can’t really shift back.

And now we have David Lee Roth doing DJ remix sets. I was curious about your thoughts on The Dirt, the Netflix movie about Motley Crue. I thought they did a very bad job with it. First of all, they were working on that movie for about fifteen or twenty years, and there’s a version of that script I was in. There was, and this is bizarre because it never happened, me and Kurt Loder debating the merits of Motley Crue on MTV. I don’t know why somebody thought this had ever happened. But they eventually realized they were in this position where the things that people are interested in in terms of the life of Motley Crue are things that are no longer acceptable to place in a movie in any context outside of completely negative. The idea of how Motley Crue was in the 1980s, there is no way you could characterize that as a good time, or a neutral time, because it is seen as glorifying a lot of these ideas that we’ve now perceived as unacceptable in our culture. So they had to make a movie where they either had to present the band as the worst possible example of what 80s culture was, or as a nostalgic look back where we thought about the world differently. And they did neither. They tried to go down the middle, and the movie was bad. It was the worst kind of aesthetic compromise. It would’ve been more interesting if it had been made in 2005, because it would’ve been a more faithful adaptation of how those events were described.

At least I had the Thom Yorke video on there to soothe the pain. I thought it was interesting. I will say this, Thom Yorke is not a very good actor.

It’s fascinating to see where Weezer is as a rock band in 2019. They haven’t really been a topic of discussion for at least a few months, but then they came out with a covers album and they were briefly on the radar because they covered Toto’s “Africa.” The original song is great but has inexplicably become an Internet phenom on its own. And Weezer became a butt of a joke again. But they’ve never been a band that has ever been fully cool, and they’ve let themselves be less cool over the years. So to criticize them for being lame - it’s kinda by design on their own part. I don’t know what’s going on with them either. In Eating the Dinosaur, I have an essay about Ralph Nader, Werner Herzog, and Rivers Cuomo. I talk about how my perception of the time of why Weezer is so maddening to their fan base is because he actually writes without any sense of irony. Because his audience matures, and Rivers matures, and because their emotions and feelings evolve, they then feel as though he’s betrayed them. He’s not the person who made Pinkerton, which is the record that changed the way they viewed relationships. Then I’m sure it's just coincidental, I hear this podcast called Song Exploder, where they sort of dissect the process of songwriting, and Rivers is on there, and he pretty directively and pretty persuasively, says that he writes songs through a process that is akin to math, and it has nothing to do with his feelings about the world or his feelings about life. The words he says are determined by the way they sound within the context of the song. There is nothing to be read into that music.

Then they keep putting these albums out. The covers record is completely bizarre to me, I was looking forward to it when I heard they were doing it, and was disappointed to realize they recorded these songs exactly as the original recordings. There is nothing about his version of “Paranoid” [by Black Sabbath] that is unique in any way. I have heard that they are coming out with a record that is all metal guitars, that is akin to the music he made when he first moved to Los Angeles in 1990. I’ll listen to it when it comes out, but I’ve given up on trying to figure out the motives of that group. You’re right in the sense that they’ve never been cool, in fact, they launched with the persona that you should like us because we’re not cool. So people who criticize them for not being cool enough, I suppose alongside Pavement or whatever, they’ve probably heard that long enough, and he’s like “Well, I’m not gonna care about that,” but the popularity of their cover and willingness to cover “Africa” is just proof the Internet is stupid and can make people do things just to do them, and we’ve all got to pretend it’s great.

Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction will be released on July 16th.