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Book review: <i>Killing Yourself To Live</i> by Chuck Klosterman



If this was a stage act, it would be an obviously talented juggler who does nine balls in time with music for twenty minutes, then cocks and elbows over the mic stand and spends two hours talking about why his wife left him in a self-deprecating manner.

Cover

A very rock ‘n’ roll comic-book style illustration of your average highway to hell.

Plot

Little to speak of, even given that this is non-fiction. Ostensibly Klosterman (or at least his blurb writer) sells it as an exploration of the link between death and rock ‘n’ roll stardom, undertaken in road-trip fashion as Chuck travels around the US from crash to site to burnt-out bar to Seattle.

The good

I’m not sure what this says about either the author or myself, but I must admit that, in a near-identical manner to Fargo Rock City, this is a lot of fun to read when you’re drunk. Klosterman’s humour is typically wry, with moments of blackness and whimsy, and it just goes down really well when I’ve sunk a few beers. The fact that Klosterman a) likes a drink slightly too fondly himself, and b) sometimes writes while intoxicated makes we wonder if perhaps I should get all my old Hunter S. Thompson books and go down to the pub for a revival.

Klosterman’s musical knowledge IS impressive, as is his ability to trap this lore in his fingers and thread a cat’s cradle of logic around the thought he wishes to present. He also has a genuinely engaging, almost conversational style, deliberately aimed, one suspects, at himself, sitting in the audience. There’s a touch of the teenager trying to be accepted, but, combined with the aforementioned qualities, this only serves to remind one of Classic Rock Writing—the gonzo, the road miles, the Rolling Stone in its long-gone “relevant years”.

Yet it is also contemporary—both inescapably so, in cultural terms, and also in the occasional devices employed by Klosterman—post-modern-ish flourishes, footnotes, heavily self-referential asides, etc.

The bad

Like Fargo Rock City, it is good enough to overcome its own inherent self-indulgence, but not good enough to stop you wishing he’d spend less time talking about his semi-ex-girlfriends and more time talking about his actual field of expertise (and it’s not girlfriends, as he’d be the first to admit), ESPECIALLY when it becomes more and more obvious that he has no better ideas about finishing the book than relating a phone call with his editor who advises him not to spend 3/4s of the book talking about his relationships. Which he’s just done. This is a perfect example of the point, in case you ever need directions, where the plastic whistle of sweat-shop post-modernism disappears up its own arse with a feeble peep. There is nothing to be gained by relaying this phone call to us, no ground to be clawed back by admitting one’s own weaknesses yet failing to try and resolve them in any way. It merely makes us wonder if Klosterman has any idea why he’s being printed in the first place, for all his self-espoused self-awareness.

On the other hand, I will almost certainly read this again at some stage, probably down at the pub.

What I learnt...

That Eric Clapton was in love with George Harrison’s wife, for whom he wrote Layla.

In short

Title: Killing Yourself To Live
Author: Chuck Klosterman
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 0743264452
Year published: 2005
Pages: 256
Genre(s): Humour, Music, Non-fiction

This review was written by Tom Vaughan. Tom has his own website, which contains many other reviews and strips and art and other fun stuff here.

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