In the introduction to his 2003 essay collection Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman tidily summarizes the motivations that have cemented a career-long reputation: “The goal of being alive is to figure out what it means to be alive, and there is a myriad of ways to deduce that answer; I just happen to prefer examining the question through the context of Pamela Anderson and The Real World and Frosted Flakes.” Across numerous books and interviews and columns over the past two decades, Klosterman has proven himself an insightful and evolving philosopher for popular consumption.

His first book, Fargo Rock City, extensively established the importance of the oft-patronized hair metal genre. His last book, I Wear the Black Hat, deconstructs our impulses to demonize others, whether it’s Hitler or The Eagles. In his latest, But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past, Klosterman probes the very notions of existence and longevity, resulting perhaps the most mind-expanding writing of his career. Will the most important writer of the next century be somebody in the public eye, or in the daunting recesses of the deep web? Are we really just avatars in a computer simulation? Who will be the most remembered rock star in three hundred years? And just how will football stand the test of time? As always, Klosterman’s probings are never without wit, and his phone conversation with Gothamist was no different.

You can purchase But What If We’re Wrong? on June 7th, and his book tour kicks off at Book Court in Brooklyn on June 6th (he'll be at the Union Square Barnes & Noble on June 7th).

There are a lot of correlations between the new book and the previous ones. You’ve discussed wrongness and existence and simulation before. What prompted you to approach them on a grander scale in this book? Well, in some ways I always feel like all my books are one very, very big book, slowly being released over the course of twenty-five years (laughs) so it being related to the other books isn’t a big shock to me. It certainly doesn’t seem that way when I’m writing it. I’m the same person to a certain degree. I felt like this book was sort of dealing with a fairly specific idea through a lot of history topics.

There is, of course, a unifying principle to all of it, which is that the criteria we use for thinking about history is different from the criteria we use for thinking about day to day life, despite the fact that day to day life will eventually become history. So what I was trying to do was apply the rationale that I use when I think about, say, the 1500s and try to sort of jam it into the present tense, which is a difficult thing to do, of course, because part of the reason we think about history differently is because the way we think about the world in general evolves, so it’s hard to anticipate how the evolution of our perception of reality will shift and morph as we move forward.

A lot has happened for you between Fargo Rock City and But What If We’re Wrong? You’ve gotten married and become a father of two. The approach of looking beyond your life and maybe beyond your children’s lives—does that come with the identity of fatherhood? I have to assume that unconsciously it does. It’s not something where I’m actively saying, “Well, my life is different, and my relationship to mortality is different,” I don’t think of those things when I’m writing, but whatever’s happening in my life is of course affecting how I think. When I wrote Fargo Rock City, I wrote most of that when I was twenty-seven. Most of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs was written when I was twenty-nine. That’s sort of a period in life when most people are really focused on themselves.

In general, the period from 18 to 35 is the section of life when you think about the world specifically as it applies to you. You’re the center of every story. I think that the natural maturation process pushes you away from that. These are things that I assume are happening because I see them in other people, but I’m not actively feeling them while I’m writing. You just kinda go along, and everything seems crazy and insane, things happen randomly and chaotically, and then you look back on your life, and it seems like it’s all woven together. There was never a point in my life when whatever was happening seemed rational, and looking back it all seems rational.

I notice that the topics in the books, as they progress, tend to be less subcultural. For example, in the new book, you use the “You’re Doing It Wrong” meme, and you’re doing things that, I hope, will bring you to a wider audience. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs was by far the most commercially successful and accessible book because the ideas in that book were really mainstreaming of things that seemed borderline countercultural. I hope this book sells well, but you can’t try to make that happen. There’s no formula to it. If there was a formula to selling or writing big books, then they could do it once, make a lot of money, then go on to whatever they want to do. Any attempt to anticipate what people are interested in will fail, so all you can do is write about what you’re interested in and see if people will care. People can tell if you’re trying to construct a book with the intention of tricking them into liking you, and it never works.

Though you’ve written about figures like Taylor Swift in the last few years, you’ve written about music less and less. Is that a topic you’re, consciously or unconsciously, distancing yourself from? I was close to musical culture, but it’s sort of moved away from my baseline interests. Rock has receded from the culture, and I like a lot of genres of music, but I like rock the most. There’s less space for me to write about contemporary music, and contemporary music is what most magazine writing is. So when I’m writing a profile on Jimmy Page or Eddie Van Halen, I still feel close to that because of the person I was twenty-five years ago. There’s not a lot of musical acts I am that interested in writing about.I don’t want to have to fake any interest.

You’re basically known as a Brooklyn writer. Has your opinion on the city changed as a result of your evolution from bachelor to husband to father, or has the city itself changing affected you more? I think the biggest difference is, when I moved to New York I spent all of my free time in bars. Bars are open until four in the morning here, and you don’t have to drive anywhere, and it was just a crazy fun time, so I experienced the kind of New York that exists from 5pm until 3am. Now, I have two kids. I experience the New York from 6 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. and it’s a wholly different city. You meet a lot of interesting people in a lot of parks, but it’s pretty complicated to raise kids here.

When you’re a single person, and the only person you have to worry about is yourself and having a good time, you live in the “other” part of New York. I don’t even know what that other part is like anymore. When I walk through the East Village or the Lower East Side, I see all the places, some of them have different names, but they’re still fundamentally the same, but it now seems as distant to me as when I first moved here, and I was like “What the fuck are these places?” It’s weird that I’ve been fourteen years here. It seems like I just got here, but I’d probably say the same if I lived in Omaha for fourteen years.

The prospect of moving out West occurs in this new book. Ironically it may not happen. We were pretty much set on moving, and then my wife got a new job and it was too good to pass up. I was sort of interested in having a simpler life, although my life was never better than the period when I was here. Once you’ve lived in New York, it radically changes your opinion on every other place in the country. It becomes very difficult at times to get your mind out of that space.

Say I go do a reading or a lecture at a college in North Carolina, and I’ll get done and get back to the hotel at 10:30, and I’ll ask the concierge, “Where can I go to eat now?” And they’ll say, “Nowhere.” Then I’ll remember this is how the rest of the world is. This is the only place where it’s not bizarre to have steak at two in the morning.

Okay, so this is a follow-up question to one that I asked you at a Barnes and Noble Q&A a couple years back. I asked if you had seen Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and you said you hadn’t because you just had your first child and were fearful of what it would show. Do you still hold that fear? No. I saw it maybe a week after you asked that question. I think that I feared at the time that it would be too emotionally resonant, just too much. Now I kinda like the idea of seeing Boyhood again, to see how it would feel different to me. The one thing that is true is that having kids is that it alters your relationship to how popular culture depicts children.

You cannot help but place your kid into the role that any kid plays onscreen. It’s so difficult for people with kids to see a movie where a child is abducted. You don’t immediately assume that the wife you see onscreen is a stand-in for your own wife, because the wife you see is nothing like your wife, or the best friend is nothing like your best friend. Kids fundamentally seem the same. Until they get to be six or seven, there’s shocking similarities to the way that they act or think about the world.

I also can’t resist asking you if you’ve seen Everybody Wants Some!!, the “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, since Linklater is a recurring trope in your writing. I have. It’s the only film I’ve seen in theaters since my second kid was born. But in some ways I’m not the greatest source for this, because I’m always philosophically on his side to begin with. (Laughs) My experience with seeing Slacker is the only time a movie effectively changed my life. And that was sort of like my introduction to his work and I just kept going. In many ways, his maturation as an artist mirrors my own.

Maybe that's an arrogant thing to think, but I feel like that. So when I watch his movies, when I watched his new film, I instantaneously like it and yet I am hyperconscious of any possible flaw in it. I spend the whole movie nitpicking details throughout the narrative, and then I walk out of the movie and I think, “That was great.” It's a weird thing. I thought the characters in the movie were great and at times oddly realistic in a way you don't usually expect. I thought at times the level of exposition was bizarre. Where they would have the young characters discussing what they were feeling in a way that you usually use on film to illustrate visually. But I feel like I could watch it again and it would be fine.

There's something about these movies that seem unusually close to my own experiences. I don't know if I convinced myself that there are sort of similarities in myself and Jake [the main character], because I know what it's like as somebody who grew up on classic rock and got into alternative music, played sports in high school and got interested in the counterculture. But I get the sense that some of these things literally happened to Richard Linklater, because he intended to be a college baseball player at one point. Just saying that this is sort of his altered memory. The way memory works in all his movies is kind of the most interesting part. His goals seem to be to make movies about the way things feel in your memory as opposed to what literally happened at the time. Because as you move into a different stage in life the memory becomes the reality.

At that Barnes and Noble Q&A, somebody questioned why you're not directly involved with politics and you said you approach politics in the same way that you approach sports. You approach purely as a spectator. The election this year and the whole process… maybe because I'm younger I'm really just experiencing this for the first time, I'm finding a very slim difference between political supporters and sports fans and it seems like even though we're just in the primary, there is this rivalry that has grown so much stronger and so much more bitter. Oh absolutely. It seems like everytime there's an election, it's said that “this is the strangest election ever,” but this one absolutely is. And when you're talking about is true and it is just an absolute reflection of the impact of social media and how people talk about politics. In many ways, the people who support Bernie Sanders and the people who support Hillary Clinton actually agree on more things than they disagree about. So in the past, somebody parsing these differences would have to be a political writer at a significant publication. It would be very difficult for somebody who was not that informed on what was really happening to be involved in the conversation. Now anybody can be involved if they want to.

That's the only real criteria: “Do you want to be involved in public conversation about politics?” And that introduces a lot of people with terrible views who are really only in politics for the emotional charge. They're not going to care about politics after this election and they won't care again until the next one. During the election year they get real into it and they want pretty much to win these theoretical arguments they're having really with electricity. They're just jumping into this electrical swamp, linking the stories that support their bias and then adding something that sort of ratchets up the intensity and then attacking people who disagree. It's very embarrassing.

I've worked in the media for about 25 years, and the biggest thing that has changed is that there's just no question that what people want from the news are sources that support their preexisting biases. They do not want to hear the other side. They do not want to hear objective reporting. They actually view objective reporting as biased against them, because it doesn't push the philosophy that they live by. What they do is they silo themselves off in this world where they promote people who share their ideas and also create of this false reality where they're being attacked for what they feel like. They'll go to the worst news source from the opposition, and somehow try to suggest that this actually is the mainstream media. In the 1980s somebody who was really a left-leaning person wasn’t going to pay money to get the National Review and read it. But now, anybody can access it.

In your last book, I Wear the Black Hat, you posit a villain as the person who knows the most but cares the least. Even though none of these politicians have been elected yet, it's hard for me to tell which one falls into that definition. I look at somebody like Donald Trump, and I can't tell whether he knows the most or cares the least. Or if he just cares a lot but doesn't know anything. The person who fits the definition of that is Hillary. The paradox is, that's also the candidate I support. I'm not a Republican, but I am a conservative person. The Republicans aren't conservative now. Republicans are always saying how they're going to change the world on the very first day they get into office. The only real conservative in this entire race has been Hillary because supporting Hillary is kind of like supporting an institution. It's kind of like supporting Merrill Lynch. She is the least revolutionary candidate. That's what I want. I want to keep things as close to as they are as possible.

With Trump, no one took him seriously. No one took him seriously. No one took him seriously. Then all of a sudden he was the nominee and all the people who didn't take him seriously were immediately hitting the panic button. Then they were like, “If he wins the election the United States is over as a society.” I don't know if it's mathematically possible for him to win this election. Granted, everything we've thought about him so far has been wrong and could be wrong again. In order to win this election, what would have to happen is either one of two things. An enormous number of people who have never voted before suddenly all have to vote for Trump, even though he is a pretty unpopular figure. Or people who have voted for Barack Obama vote for Trump. And that's not going to happen. But if by some insane turn of events, Trump did win the presidency—let's say we had a bunch of people in Ohio who didn't vote in the past came out and voted for Trump, and he wins Florida by a narrow margin... I think what the actual result would be is a very bad presidency in the way presidents are traditionally often bad.

I think that Trump would have no support from either house in Congress. He wastes two years trying to build a wall that will never exist. He has no clear ideology. It would take him a long time just to work out what he actually believes. He would be unpopular for the entire time. I think nothing would happen during that four year span. It seems to me like he would be the least effective president possibly in the history of presidents. So ineffective that he might not be that damaging. It might be closer to having no president. People are like, “Well, how can we trust this guy with the nuclear arsenal?” He's not going to drop a nuclear weapon on anybody. That would be bad for business. He would never be involved in a war because there would be an economic downside for his golf courses. People wouldn't go to Ireland to play golf if there was a war going on.

Do you find it difficult or even necessary to shut off the deeply analytical part of your brain? [pause] I don't know. I don't try to. It's pretty easy to not be analytical. All you have to do is space out. But you're asking me questions in an interview so of course I'm going to try to be rational. I think that, sometimes people get confused. They read a person's book and they seem him in public or whatever and they just assume this is the only way that person is. It's always interesting to me when I meet somebody who has just read Fargo Rock City. Like they just read that book and then they meet me. So of course they have more memories of that book than I do. They also assume that I am that 28-year-old guy, or basically the exact same person, because as far as they're concerned, that's who they just encountered and that book is still me because books don't age. They freeze you in time.

This year has already seen the deaths of Prince and David Bowie. These are two guys you have written extensively about. Seeing their deaths reminded me of something you said about when Michael Jackson died and about this collective grief that happens. Me being a skeptic, I wonder if a lot of it is constructed. Do you still believe that we construct grief when these types of things happen? Yes. I think a lot of things that seem like visceral emotions are constructions. Not just grief. There was a time, in the pretty recent past, when there seemed to be many events that were just kind of unilaterally experienced by most of the culture. That's rare now. But deaths are still in that category. When someone dies, there’s an attempt to feel like you're sharing in an experience.

If it would have been 2007 and you would have went on Facebook and put up a bunch of videos of Prince and you would have written about how meaningful Prince was to you as a teenager, people would have just been like “Oh this person likes Prince.” Some people in the comments would be like “Prince sucks.” If someone dies, it's like, “Now I can post these videos and no one will criticize me; in fact, people will praise me for having done this.” To the person who really does love Prince, maybe this is a catharsis. For other people it's like, “Well I love him enough to be involved with this.”

The biggest thing that social media has done is it has allowed people to feel part of something bigger than themselves. You convince yourself sometimes to feel things. Now it almost seems like there are a lot of artists who their whole career really is designed for the day they die. You have this avalanche of adoration that is very difficult to experience and feel as you go along. So in some ways it's kind of a depressing thought. There were some people writing about Lemmy when he died and I really questioned how much they experienced Motörhead. It seemed like people were saying things about him in a general sense. They sort of formed the idea of “I guess Lenny represented X. His ideology was X. I kind of support x as an ideology. I wish that was part of my ideology too. So I'm going to get on board with it.”

Is there anyone that you are curious about that you would like to interview in the future? I'm still waiting to interview Axl Rose. My whole life. I think I've tried to interview Axl Rose in the 90s, for Spin, for GQ, New York Times Magazine. I think I've probably requested an interview with him seven or eight different times in my life and there's never been a response. I'm still hoping one day it will happen. Maybe one day he'll be like fine, I'll talk to this guy. I really feel like I'm well positioned to do that for a while. You can't fight City Hall.

I think what would be frustrating to me is that there would never be a more opportune time than right now. In some ways, you could say the opposite though. His tours going to sell out whether he gets interviews or not. People are going to come see him play with AC/DC whether he talks to me or anyone at all. I maybe thought he would have done it just before the release of Chinese Democracy. I thought that would be the time where he'd be like it could be valuable to have this conversation. We could go through a lot of the things that people have wondered about for twenty years or whatever. But you know, that’s life.