Friday, April 4, 2008

Killing Yourself to Live - Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman, age 35 or so, is close to the same age as my older brother, and Dave Eggers. Enjoying varying degrees of success and popularity over the last five years or so, Klosterman is undoubtedly a modern heavy in the same vein as Eggers or David Sedaris. He does not seem as principled as Eggers, and he is not as interested in a catalogued autobiography as Sedaris, but he is arguably as popular as either. Whether Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is better than Me Talk Pretty One Day or A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is not the aim of this review, but to situate Killing Yourself to Live in a greater context.

Oeuvre rule: I read SDACP in July of 2007, KYTL in August of 2007, and IV in October of 2007. I have not read Fargo Rock City, but for the purposes of populism, let us consider SDACP Klosterman's "debut" in the public sphere. For those unfamiliar, Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs is probably the most straightforward, the best-edited, and most hilarious book Klosterman has written, period. KYTL is much more of an assignment. The assignment? Go to the death places of every major rock and roll star to die tragically before their time. Klosterman's theory? Early death increases cultural significance.

Not a bad point to make, as the work ends in the hometown of that most famous of all early rock stars death, K. Cobain. In the meantime it swings through the country, focusing especially on the South, like Memphis where Elvis and Jeff Buckley both died. He mentions various airplane crashes, automobile accidents and overdoses. I believe he does Sid & Nancy before leaving from NYC on his trip. He does not really do Jim Morrison. (It is perhaps worth noting that he does not do Darby Crash or D. Boon either, the latter perhaps for obvious reasons, the former perhaps because Klosterman's musical worldview, while egotistically inflated, does not stretch past more than a handful of classic rock and heavy metal genres. He often dismisses punk as being stupid, only then to admit that he actually likes it, but thinks it is way overrated. If he has not heard "Lexicon Devil" by the Germs, he should, and then he should write an addendum on Darby Crash, because that would be hella interesting.)

It is a road trip novel that actually turns into Klosterman telling the story of a couple of his past girlfriends--why he loved them, why it worked, why it didn't work--and while my sister has described these sorts of digressions as "self-indulgent" in his work, I do not find them totally out of place. I know about solo road trips, all right, and I know you have a lot of time to think on your hands, a lot of time to mull over the past. Klosterman's stories about these girls are not put in to make himself look cool or make himself look pathetic but to tell the truth, and for that deserve to be lauded. Suprisingly, this becomes the side-plot of the book, while he continues on his rock star death trek undaunted.

Another great scene occurs when he visits the site of the Great White concert where a fire broke out and killed dozens of fans. He visits the cemetery/memorial constructed for the victims, and meets one of the victims brothers, who then offers him cocaine in his pick-up truck. It is a very memorable scene.

Does he mention Janis Joplin, or Barney's Beanery? I do not know. I will have to re-examine, but I do not much remember reading anything about that.

When everything is said and done, and the book ends (more quickly than I wanted it too-usually the case with Klosterman books), you come upon the realization that this is really a novel type of book (though IV features his abandoned novel which was better than I was expecting it to be) and more rewarding than 90-95% of its competition in the 2005 marketplace.

Still, I cannot recommend KYTL as highly as SDACP. IV I would recommend below KYTL. All 3 are good, but there is clearly a best, second best, and third best. One eagerly awaits a new Klosterman volume, so prolific he has been in such a relatively short time, and wonders whether his version of journalism may forge a path for future slacker writers of "trenchant" cultural observation. Amazingly, it does not seem all that far-fetched. I just wonder if it will really matter or not.

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