June 20, 2011

Rock 'n' Roll Death Tourism

Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by Chuck Klosterman
reviewed by Courtney

The book long version of his 2003 Spin Magazine cover story on the same topic, Chuck Klosterman's Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story recounts a road trip he took to the death sites of various famous musicians. Ostensibly addressing the intriguing relation of death to rock and roll stardom, and the way that death often contributes to a musician's credibility, the book actually spends relatively little time on the circumstances of those deaths, instead focusing on the personal, existential, and romantic conflicts of the author, and the people he encounters on his journey.

Klosterman's humorous, self-aware voice makes him an engaging cultural critic, and the convoluted, often-comedic interpretations and theories that frame his articles translate well to a book format. Automobiles and the myth of "The Road" have been the inspiration for much of American rock music and popular culture, and so provide the perfect venue for Klosterman's consideration of that inspiration and of the role of transience and finality in both music and life. His rambling narration, and circular, obsessive analysis of past relationships and existential ideas reflect the inherently repetitive and hypnotic nature of solo long-distance car travel. The soundtrack to his road trip becomes the soundtrack to his thoughts, the narrative interweaving with his musical commentary until even his past romances are expressed in terms of the members of the band KISS.

Despite extensive passages on the impact of death on a musician's legacy, and detailed discussions of morbid ideas like the perfect death song, or how long it would take for news of his own death to travel to his friends and family, much of Killing Yourself to Live ends up being an examination of modern American life. On his road trip, Klosterman encounters a variety of strange, interesting people, from a Cracker Barrel waitress who engages him about Kafka to a teenage girl in his hotel who asks him for marijuana to the relatives of those who died in a fire at a Great White concert Rhode Island who pay tribute to the deceased by playing music and sharing cocaine.

The book is full of the bizarre facts (Both Duane Allman and Allman Brothers Band bassist Berry Oakley died in motorcycle accidents on the same road, nearly one year apart; Marc Bolan of T.Rex was obsessed with cars and died in a car accident without ever learning to drive, apparently because of his fear of dying in a car accident; more than a logical percent of rock stars die in plane crashes) and interesting encounters that accompany this kind of morbid, death-tourism. The life and death of rock stars has always fascinated us, just consider the persistence of the "Paul is dead" or "Elvis is alive" conspiracy theories. Killing Yourself to Live is more than just a recapitulation of famous deaths because Klosterman attempts to dissect that fascination itself. While his success is questionable given the ambition of the goal, the book does morph into a highly personal examination of his own romantic past, presented in his unique, often hilarious, and occasionally meaningful style.

Posted by at June 20, 2011 04:06 PM
Recent Entries
The Donovan Effect
Dirty Water
The Lifeboat
Escaping the Hollowgasts
Teleporting with George
Return to Pemberley
In den Alpen
Jeeves and Bertie
In the Calais Coach
Other Web Logs
Children's Room
Teen Book Buzz
August 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
April 2014
February 2014
January 2014
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
May 2013
March 2013
January 2013
November 2012
October 2012
August 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
February 2012
January 2012
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
February 2011
January 2011
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
April 2009
March 2009
December 2008
October 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
July 2004
June 2004
April 2004
Call the desk at 301-891-7259
Contact the director by e-mail