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Spotlight on: Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story by Chuck Klosterman

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

I'd like to offer a warning: reading two Chuck Klosterman books in a row may literally be too much of a good thing -- Klosterman Overload, if you will. Almost immediately after devouring his "low culture manifesto," Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, I dove right into the more recent Killing Yourself to Live. This book (subtitled "85% of a True Story") is based on his article "6557 Miles to Nowhere," which was originally published in Spin Magazine, but which I first read in the wonderful music journalism anthology Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004.

The average reader would expect a book like Killing Yourself to Live to be about what the original article was about: Klosterman's journey across America visiting the death places of dead rock stars (and their associates) and pondering why the cessation of breathing is often a terrific career move. But in a recent interview, Klosterman referred to himself as a memoirist, which explains why this book is less about dead rock stars and a heck of a lot more about how the trip affected Klosterman himself.

Along the way, we are treated to his thoughts on his relationships with women and, of course -- since his brain only seems to function properly while running on pop culture as fuel -- his musings on such lofty subjects as the perfection of the Beyonce/Jay-Z single "Crazy in Love," the finer points of KISS solo albums, and how Radiohead's album Kid A predicted the events of September 11th (the album was released in late 2000). After all, what else is there to do when you're driving alone cross-country besides think about love (or sex), death, and music?

After okaying it with his editor at Spin Magazine, Klosterman heads out in a rented Ford Taurus that he instantly dubs the Ford "Tauntan" (a strange and unnecessary misspelling of "tauntaun," the Empire Strikes Back creature he likens it to) with 600 CDs in the back seat. The CDs made sense to me, because I know from experience that you can never guess ahead of time what you're going to feel like listening to at any point on the road -- but here the difference between him and me is I think I would have managed to not buy four more discs in North Dakota.

The article and the book differ in the most vital way. Where "6557 Miles to Nowhere" was mostly about the destination, Killing Yourself to Live's day-by-day chapters are mostly about the journey. I had expected a longer version of "6557 Miles to Nowhere" with perhaps even more rock star deaths and a deeper insight into each one. What I discovered, instead, is that "6557" contains all the relevant parts. The rest of the book covers Klosterman's physical, mental, and emotional trials during his trek. This is great if your favorite parts of his books are his tangential meanderings, but those expecting an insightful dissertation on musical thanatology will be better off reading the original article at Spin's Web site and will likely not appreciate Klosterman's stream-of-consciousness style. The book is well compiled, but has no real pattern.

In Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs this was often a detriment, but here it is less so, given that it offers stunning asides like the importance of Led Zeppelin in every adolescent male's development and the author's tendency to equate every woman he has loved with a past or present member of KISS. A surprising conversation with a Cracker Barrel waitress is must reading, as is the aforementioned view of Radiohead's Kid A; it did what no other piece of music journalism could: it made me listen to that album -- really listen to it, instead of just hearing it. (I still don't like it, but now I know specifically why.) Things like that turn Killing Yourself to Live from a disappointment into more than just a walk down Cemetery Lane.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2005. Reprinted with permission.

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