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