Killing Yourself To Live
By Chuck Klosterman (2005)
A Book Review
By Vanessa Gillard
The road trip—what is more quintessentially American than that, other than dead rock stars? Chuck Klosterman’s third book, Killing Yourself To Live, details his lone exploits on a road trip while traversing the US on assignment with SPIN magazine to investigate the mythos and sites of long and not-so-long dead musicians. The author/essayist/journalist brings his usual pop-culture-centric flavor to the journey, and although the themes are what one might guess—mortality, existential angst, liberty from societal norms—the over-arching story is that of Klosterman and the women in and outside of his life. Sure, a bit obvious, but the (then, 2005) quite youthful writer makes a splendid, if somewhat rant-prone, guy to hitch a ride with.
This neurotic joy-ride takes the reader from coast to coast and although the writing is often stilted and self-absorbed, it feels authentic—like being in the rental car as he drives from site to site, town to town, hotel to hotel. Not surprisingly, Klosterman is a music junkie and much of the book is not only devoted to the lasting affects that music can have when its magic is yanked away from those who worship it, but compares it with how people can love each other and then so unceremoniously, just kinda stop. Like lives, love just ends sometimes.
Often, the writer finds himself altruistically interviewing the locals at sites where the likes of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, or Kurt Cobain, or Lynyrd Skynyrd met with their various demises, but his journalistic nature often seems to keep the reader at a distance. Unfortunately, Klosterman never seems to really get inside anyone’s head but his own, however the account of randomly snorting coke with some bangers in a graveyard in the middle of the day is amusing and indicative of his short encounters with the people and places he is studying. (Though to be clear, there are no more drugs involved and Klosterman writes a diatribe about why it is that he’s actually too uncool to “really” do drugs.)
The end of his journey finds him asking the sorts of questions you go on a cross-country road trip to find the answers to, and, to his mind, those answers lay at the feet of an ex-girlfriend. As the quest progresses, Klosterman’s motives become somewhat less murky—seemingly to himself and in his prose—and the ever-awkward ex visit somehow encompasses many of the themes that he was writing about all along the way. Klosterman manages to deliver this epic of short chapters and shorter rants in a fashion that makes a reader feel an intimate bond, a fitting relationship that’s fleeting, yet somehow reliable.