Chuck Klosterman is both an gifted conversationalist and an enormously talented writer. His third book, Killing Yourself To Live: 85% Of A True Story was spawned out of a Spin Magazine feature in which he visited the sites of famous rock and roll deaths - everything from the hotel where Sid killed Nancy to the crossroads near Macon, Georgia where two members of the Allman Brothers band lost their lives in unrelated motorcycle accidents to the night club in Providence, Rhode Island that caught on fire during a Great White show, killing more than 100 people in 2003. Along the way, Klosterman puts several thousand miles on his rented Ford Taurus, shares his thoughts on the 600 CDs he brought with him, and ponders his complicated romantic history, particularly relationships with three women named Quincy, Lenore, and Diane, all of whom he loved at one time or another, and whose lives keep intertwining with his, sometimes against his better judgment.
Klosterman is good company. Many of the book's best individual passages are lengthy digressions about the sort of stuff one talking about on long road trips - his first job at a Fargo, North Dakota newspaper, the disappointment he felt at visiting the basketball Hall of Fame, the difference between "pot people" and "cocaine people," the distinction between musicians who we think are cool because their music is good, and musicians we think are good mainly because they're cool, his music collection (he bought all 26 KISS releases on tape, bought them again on dics, and bought them again when they were remastered in 1999), and the like. Mainly, he considers his relationships with Quincy, Lenore, and Diane. Sometimes, these passages get a little twee. Other times, they lead funny, unexpected punchlines, such as when he writes: "Two weeks later, Lenore removed her turtleneck while we were making out in the front seat of her Chrysler LeBaron. Nothing in my life has ever been the same. It was like touching the obelisk and realizing I could use tapir bones as a weapon." It is a credit to Klosterman's writing that such remarks don't break the serious emotional tone of the rest of his writing.
By comparison, several of the rock and roll death sites - the ostensible purpose of the book - are discussed in a cursory fashion. Some - the site of the Great White fire, and Kurt Cobain's home in Seattle - get a lot more space than others, but the book never seems all that interested in what happened at the sites; rather, it uses them as jumping-off points to discuss why that musician was important, or how a certain type of music relates to Klosterman's own life.
Killing Yourself to Live isn't as much a book as it is a collection of short essays, and shoe-horning them into a book's structure makes for a lot of awkward transitions. The book's theme, which seems to be 'found' as much as it was intended, is how fickle legacies can be - some musicians, and some romantic relationships, resonate years after others, which seemed more important at the time, have faded away. Its perceptive, and I would have liked to see Klosterman flush it out a little bit more. It would be interesting to see him make that same journey ten years later, to see what still endures