Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story
by Chuck Klosterman
A review by Georgie Lewis
Chuck Klosterman has a regular column in Esquire and is a senior writer
for Spin magazine. But those wary of a too-hip factor in his writing need
not be concerned. I've been both charmed and irritated by him from time to time,
however, Killing Yourself to Live is his most accessible work to date.
Klosterman's observations on American society, music, and the affairs of the heart
(his in particular), are wide-eyed, enthusiastic, and thoughtful. Laugh-out-loud
funny also comes to mind.
The project that Klosterman commences at the beginning of the book is to visit
the sites where rock musicians met their death. He sets out in a rented Ford
Taurus and immediately confesses that his first stop of West Warwick, Rhode
Island, is entirely dictated by his offer to drive a woman he is in love with
-- who isn't in love with him -- to a hippie retreat.
And so it begins: Klosterman's hilarious and endearingly intimate musings on
love (the love he feels for three women, in fact -- the three he will visit
along the way and be heartbroken by yet again), as well as ruminations on life,
death, and, of course, rock 'n' roll. However -- Spin magazine be damned
-- when he writes about music we're not getting the hip, elitist rock-critic
that one might expect:
The single-greatest male singing voice of the rock era belongs to Rod Stewart.
Nobody at Spin believes me when I make this argument, and many of my
co-workers assume I am trying to be ironic when I insist that Rod Stewart's
whiskey-soaked throat is more moving than Sinatra's. Here again I find myself
confused: Why would I want other people to think that I like someone I do
not actually like? What possible purpose would that serve? Why would anyone
pretend to like things they actually hate?
Being able to write with humor and a lack of pretense whilst musing on sex,
death, the Meredith Baxter-Birney-like voice employed by GPS in rental cars,
and why the Olive Garden isn't funny (and yet is) seems to me a rather special
journalistic ability, and one Klosterman gleefully practices. He reminds me
of Nick Hornby with his agile mind, sweet humor, and genuine need to
make himself understood. He goes to great lengths to explain himself, in not
terribly convoluted -- but not brief either -- passages in which you can almost
picture his plaintive hand gestures as he attempts to convince you that Radiohead's
Kid A was in fact an unintentional but spooky foreshadowing of the events
He has some great conversations with people on his road trip -- some of them
imaginary, mind you, but others convincingly real. He snorts some cocaine with
the unofficial caretaker of a makeshift shrine to the Great White tragedy, which
then leads to a terrific drug discussion. Any writer who can so beautifully
pin down the difference between pot smokers and coke snorters in such an unassuming
and hilarious way gets my vote. And though I'm not a pot smoker myself, he wins
the argument for them wholeheartedly. (Sorry, coke snorters -- but then again,
you are probably not reading this anyway. You are too busy being terrifying.)
Joining Klosterman on his travels is a pure pleasure, especially in book form.
I'd guess that he might drive me crazy had I literally joined him on his drive
across country. But, while his observations and thoughts follow many tangents
and his energy at times verges on manic, on this particular trip, he is delightful