Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories by Chuck Palahniuk

Stephen Rauch

Once you've looked at people on a close enough level, you can't pretend to believe in normality any longer.

Stranger Than Fiction

Publisher: Doubleday
Length: 234
Subtitle: True Stories
Price: $23.95
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
US publication date: 2004-06

For anyone who has read any of Chuck Palahniuk's novels: Fight Club, Invisible Monsters, Survivor, Choke, Lullaby, or Diary, it will come as little surprise that Palahniuk has an eye for nonfiction. His stories are filled with the kind of journalistic detail that borders on excess: long lists of cleaning tips, or covert emergency procedures, or symptoms for obscure diseases fill each of his novels and set the scene the same way a reporter does. So Stranger Than Fiction, Palahniuk's first nonfiction book and a collection of the journalism pieces he's written between novels, actually seems more like a companion piece to any of his fiction than a completely different animal altogether (since, after all, fiction and nonfiction are supposed to be opposites).

The first thing Palahniuk writes in his introduction is "if you haven't already noticed, all my books are about a lonely person looking for some way to connect with other people." This also serves as a rationale for his nonfiction, as the pieces collected in Stranger Than Fiction all involve, as he says, some sort of connection between people. People connecting on the amateur wrestling circuit. At a town's annual harvest combine demolition derby. Through an interest in building castles. Or rocket ships. Serving on a submarine. Taking steroids. Or at a Montana "Testicle Festival."

In all of these stories, Palahniuk maintains his incredible eye for detail, and it's less often the grand themes than the minutiae of the experiences involved (hustling for grocery receipts to obtain cheap protein while on steroids, pissing in a submarine), that gets the message across. And still, some common themes emerge. In a way, whatever people do is just an excuse to get together. There aren't a while lot of things we can all do anymore, and this keeps it going as much as anything else. All in the weirdest places you could ever hope to find.

Stranger Than Fiction also includes several interviews and profiles or people, both famous (Juliette Lewis, Marilyn Manson) and not (a woman and dog team who help find survivors and bodies in disaster sites). Here, Palahniuk is almost completely invisible, and while he is still the one telling the story, he seems to just allow his subject to talk. Of course, "objectivity" in journalism is constantly being debated (in terms of how desirable it is, and whether or not it is even possible), but it reminds the reader of something: Most of the time, we're so busy trying to shoehorn people into some mental category that we don't really listen to them at all (as the narrator of Fight Club says, usually when you're talking, people are just waiting for their turn to talk).

At one point, Marilyn Manson comments on the connections drawn between him and Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine shooters, "People always ask me, 'What would you have said to them if you could talk to them?' and my answer is, 'Nothing. I would've listened.' That's the problem. Nobody listened to what they were saying. If you'd listened, you'd have known what was going on." (A bit preachy, yes, but one of the very few truly insightful things said about the whole incident.)

Again, these profiles tend to touch on what we think of as the "extreme" or "oddball" end of thought and action. As do a series of personal reflections: reminiscences of hearing about his father's murder, incidents of the set of the Fight Club movie, passing a kidney stone at home, in his bathtub, with a steady supply of champagne and Vicodin, and the summer he jumped whole hog into steroids until he noticed his balls starting to shrink. The impulse towards complete self-destruction is as present here as in any of his novels, like the fashion model in Invisible Monsters who shoots off her own jaw because she's tired of being beautiful, or the men in Fight Club who beat each other into a bloody pulp.

And, since we're in the age of the confessional, it appears that Chuck Palahniuk is as damaged as any of the characters in his novels. As damaged as, well, the rest of us. But that's just the five-minute version. That just gets you in the door. The real story is what you do after that. What happens when you hit bottom, and everything collapses around you? You start rebuilding. If all the old institutions that used to bring people together are hollow and corrupt beyond repair, and, let's face it, they are, then we just make new ones. And if we're starting over, we might as well do it while watching old harvest combines smash into each other. Or building castles, or homemade space rockets, for that matter. It's one of those truisms of our age that it doesn't matter what you find meaning in, as long as you find it somewhere. And while everyone claims to believe it, the real test of the idea is just how far you're willing to take it. And the people profiled in Stranger Than Fiction would say, As far as it takes.

So in the end, the lives and stories documented here are actually pretty inspirational. Wholesome, even. The people involved in whatever it is they are doing come out okay. Even when they don't. And if society has crumbled around us, then it also means we're free. And while the forces of conservatism warn that this kind of total freedom will just lead to rampant lawlessness and violence, the truth seems to be something infinitely … weirder.

That's the other lesson of Stranger Than Fiction; once you've looked at people on a close enough level, you can't pretend to believe in normality any longer. The people in the orgies at the Testicle Festival or trying to sell the screenplays of their lives in seven minutes are sane, normal people. Heterosexual, Christian, bright, kind, God-fearing people. Lawyers. Accountants, even. Except for the one thing. As normal as any of us, as much as the John Ashcrofts of the world try to tell us that we're all normal, and it's just a small bunch of freaks who do this kind of shit. We are the weirdos.

In his blog, comics writer Warren Ellis has a running quest to find the sickest, most depraved thing currently being done in the world of porn. In the most recent entry, which apparently involved eels (the link went down before I could get access to a fast enough connection, for which I am profoundly grateful), he lays out two possible explanations for this. The first is that we're hurtling towards an imminent apocalypse. This is the one that most people seem to be saying. However, the second one may be even more disturbing: This is simply the way the world is now. This is normal. And we're all just going to have to live with it.

And you know, once you get used to the idea, it's not so bad. Not bad at all.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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