Cornering the Cool Market: A Musical Rebuttal to August Kleinzahler (Eight Years Late)


This is appallingly irrelevant.  In 2004, San Franciscan poet August Kleinzahler reviewed a 2003 collection of poems edited by beloved radio personality Garrison Keillor.  “Reviewed” is pretty kind.  “Drooled intellectual venom all over” is closer to the truth.  Sometime in 2011, an episode of Travel Channel’s No Reservations mentioned the “unprovoked attack,” which is now over eight years old. (How much does it sting Kleinzahler, by the way, that to even make him relevant to a TV audience, he had to put him in the context of Garrison Keillor?)

To even mention this now invites furrowed brows.  I don’t pretend to know or want to know much more than I do about poetry, which pretty much plays right into Kleinzahler’s meandering thesis.  I care very little about how great Kleinzahler’s poetry taste is compared to Keillor’s.  To borrow a maneuver from the former’s review, I would have left August Kleinzahler1 to prance around in self-vaunted ecstasy if he had not stepped out of bounds, beyond poetry and into music.

What irked me was Kleinzahler’s suggestion to rouse/torture Keillor out of his pastoral Americana: “If it were up to me, I’d suggest we borrow the U.S. military’s tactics and lock Mr. Keillor in a Quonset hut, crank up the speakers, and give him an industrial-strength dose of, say, Albert Ayler saxophone solos.”

Albert Ayler?  You really think that will shake things up in Lake Wobegon?  Why not Slayer or GG Allin?  2Pac?  Since Kleinzahler lives in San Francisco, why not Dead Kennedys or, how’s this for obvious, Metallica?2

What provokes me is that Kleinzahler exhibits a coastal-metro superiority that is sadly common and, musically speaking, embarrassingly inaccurate.  It is almost as bad as the supremacy complex Northerners adopt toward the South (a separate subject) as they obliviously queue up the bluegrass-influenced Mumford & Sons on their ApplePods.

Kleinzahler’s assumption is that jazz is the coolest thing you could possibly make a square Minnesotan hear.  Putting aside the fact that Ayler’s from Ohio, the reality is that jazz wouldn’t even make my mom nervous.  It reminds me of Don Miller’s 2003 autobiography Blue Like Jazz, where the high-brow musical genre is, presumably, thrown in the title to prove Christians’ capacity for relevance.  If the goal was to disprove Christians as snobs, I think Jazz was a questionable choice at best.

Really what has me keyed up is the idea that anyone from the Bay or Manhattan entertains, even for a second, the idea of disregarding everything that goes on in the middle of the country, i.e. Red Stateland.  I am, of course, presuming, but it just seems like Kleinzahler, as he’s suggesting Keillor be exposed to a few squiggly saxophone solos, conveniently forgets about groups like Hüsker Dü (Saint Paul, Minnesota), The Trashmen (Minneapolis, Minnesota), The Stooges (Ann Arbor, Michigan) or even Pantera (Arlington, Texas).

Does Kleinzahler not realize that there are enough Marshall stacks between the coasts to jostle the San Andreas wide open and slide his metropolis of self-satisfaction into the Pacific?  So he wants to put Keillor in a metal shelter with Ayler records.  I’m going to counter by sticking him in a room with Local H (Zion, Illinois), Radio Moscow (Ames, Iowa) and Nashville Pussy (Atlanta, Georgia) and see who cries first.

This is not about the substantial connection between rock and roll and jazz (it exists) or what I think of San Francisco (I would live there in a second).  What it is about is people like Kleinzahler in black turtlenecks who exist in a Kerouac-ian world where they are pretty sure they have everybody out-hipped, especially those apple-cheeked Lutherans in Minnesota.  Truth is, Midwesterners out-inconoclasted you decades ago.


1It’s just criminal that the 1949-born August Kleinzahler hasn’t adopted the stage name “AK-49” and started rapping.  I mean, he’s already a poet.  How much of a leap is MC?

2There is a correct answer, by the way, and it’s Huey Lewis and the News.  Nothing makes you wake up and smell the fucking coffee like “If This Is It.”


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