Death is an interesting reason to take a road trip. Rockstar deaths, to be precise.
And that’s what Chuck Klosterman did with “Killing Yourself to Live.” He took a roadtrip across the United States visiting places where rockstars had died. His journey started at the Hotel Chelsea where Sid Vicious allegedly killed Nancy Spungen and ended in Aberdeen, Washington, Kurt Cobain’s hometown.
Of all the places Klosterman went, I’ve been to two of them: Clear Lake, Iowa, where Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash (there are pictures of me as a baby at the site), and Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Death is part of life. Generally, it’s the shortest part of life, usually occurring near the end. However, this is not necessarily true for rock stars; sometimes rock stars don’t start living until they die. —p. 11
The book isn’t entirely about the places where rock stars bit the dust. When Klosterman isn’t writing theories on Led Zeppelin and KISS (not in the same chapters), he’s thinking about three women: Diane, Lenore and Quincy. There was rarely a moment when he wasn’t writing about one of these three women — he even spent a good portion of a chapter comparing each woman (including his first college girlfriend) to the KISS solo albums.
Klosterman’s writing voice is very relatable and very much stream of consciousness. Honestly, it’s how I would have conversations with myself during solo road trips (I wouldn’t have made it out of Texas last year otherwise). Not only is he writing about various bands and musicians, but also he’s writing about how different bands changed his life in one way or another.
Now, I know there’s nothing more tedious than someone who insists on reminiscing about their bygone glory days; it always comes off as pathetic, obnoxious, and/or alienating. Nobody is impressed and nobody cares. But let me tell you this: It is not the storyteller’s fault. We can’t help ourselves. —p. 93
There’s also a lot of wit and humor injected into each chapter. A few times, I had to hold back laughter while I rode the train into work. Other times, I probably startled the napping cats with my laughter. One of my favorite parts about his road trip is that he renamed the rental Ford Taurus as Ford Tauntaun, in case he drives into an August blizzard and needs “to stuff a freezing Luke Skywalker into the cozy engine block” (13).
Then there are the bits of wisdom and truth thrown in as well. Most of those quotes are about death in various forms. For instance: “When you start thinking about what your life was like 10 years ago—and not in general terms, but in highly specific detail—it’s disturbing to realize how certain elements of your being are completely dead” (131).
There was one quote that hit home for me: “Has it really come to this? Have I become so reliant on popular culture that it’s the only way I can understand anything?” (214)
It was at that point I realized that the way he writes and connects music back to specific memories and his character is the same way I think about all the books I’ve read. Sure, I’ve listened to (and played) a lot of music; Spotify is the one digital platform I pay for. Even growing up in the household I did, music has always been secondary to books and fictional worlds for me.
Sure, Klosterman could’ve written a chapter on each of the sites he went to, giving the history of the rockstar who died and the people he talked to while there. But he did something else: He injected life into the narrative. There were times when I wanted him to go more in depth about each of the sites, but that wouldn’t have kept me reading. I wanted to know how different bands affected his life and how he grew up. I wanted to know more than just the rock stars who died — they go on living in the minds of people just like Klosterman, me and anyone who listens to their music.
Artists who believe they have any control over the interpretation of their work are completely fooling themselves. —p. 58