Chuck Klosterman on infantile leukemia


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Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re proud to bring you guest blogger Chuck Klosterman, explaining the pop relevance of childhood terminal diseases.

It’s become cool to like infantile leukemia, which actually means it’s totally uncool to like infantile leukemia. I think you know what I mean by this. There was a time in our very recent history when it was “interesting” to be an infantile leukemia fan, or even recovering patient. It was sort of like admitting you watch Star Wars twice a day, or that your favorite arcade game was Burger Time.*

I don’t recall anyone talking about infantile leukemia in 1990, except for that select class of hypochondriacs who consciously embraced diseases they de facto could not have.

What’s interesting about this illness is how it relates to the mid-80s band Van Halen. Infantile leukemia has finally become the Van Halen of childhood diseases. Consider that Van Halen’s heyday was the David Lee Roth years.** Infantile leukemia is this exact kind of immuno-deficient rock-out, peaking at an unstoppable fever very early on, and like the ’80s, childhood is a period when no one is fully developed.

When I was growing up on a farm in North Dakota or South Dakota–wherever I might be from, I distinctly remember having a friend named Jerry. Jerry was one of those guys, the otherwise nameless, faceless townies at the party who would shotgun a beer then discuss with you the influence of Proust on Happy Days . What was my point? Oh yes. He died.

At his funeral, I recall having a discussion with friends about what was then the fresh new show on MTV, The Real World, in which seven strangers were picked to live in a loft. The fact that every one of these strangers was some type of creative artist was not, in fact, real. Neither was their spacious Manhattan apartment. Also, infantile leukemia appeared nowhere. But Julie,*** who was clearly not crazy enough to be the star of the show and therefore, the only member of the cast normal enough for the real real world, once called her roommate Epsilon “a cancer on the face of alt-prog rock,” and that put me in mind of the fact that there are no more outlaw rock stars or directors.

What I mean by this is consider the films of the ’70s: Mean Streets. Death Wish. Dirty Harry. The Electric Company.***** A desire for raw justice oozes out of these films, not only in spite of the law, but direly flouting it. Much like infantile cancer. I am keenly aware that the music at the time was popularized by Captain & Tenille, John Denver, and other heartful pap. But along came Van Halen, and even though they completely characterized what a mid-’80s band should be, it was like they were from the ’70s. They partied hard, had moppish hair, and were completely unkillable, except by radiation–again, just like infantile leukemia.

Now, of course, hipsters love to loudly state how little regard they hold Van Halen in, and at the same time, how infantile leukemia is “totally not cool,” or, at best, “I had infantile leukemia before it was so widespread.” Sammy Hagar acts in the role of death, who serves as the tragic capstone of irony, bleaching the spirit of vivacity from the very embodiment of youth and potential. These are the things everyone knows to be true in their marrow.******

All life is travesty.

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*although Burger Time was actually a mod of a Japanese game called Crazy Sandwich that was far superior, but this is beside the point

**Sammy Hagar might have sold more records, but he never possessed that “fuck it, I’m here” cool that Roth emanated. Hagar, by contrast, belonged to the class of round and orange middle-aged men better left surfing the California beaches well into their 40s but no further.

***The one who was probably not a lesbian.****

****But kissed Tyrol, the hermaphrodite with male features who nevertheless identified as a bicurious woman with cross-dressing tendencies, so it all worked out.

*****Which was technically a long-running children’s show on PBS, but it proves my point.

******Assuming their marrow is healthy and functional and hasn’t been donated to a dying baby.

(Anyway, that’s how I assume Klosterman would write it.)