Born of an assignment from Spin magazine, Chuck Kloster-man's third book, Killing Yourself To Live, is as gimmicky as any "Greatest Albums of All Time" story. And yet it speaks to the heart of rock folklore. The gist? Writer rents car to visit the places where the music died. That is, the way music usually dies in America: young and hard.
From the Rhode Island nightclub where more than 90 fans of the band Great White perished in a freak fire to the Georgia intersection where two Allman brothers were killed in motorcycle accidents, Klosterman is on hand to "get his death on."
"Somewhere, at some point, somehow, someone decided death equals credibility," Klosterman writes.
As for the larger point of this contrived odyssey, well, there isn't one. The places where the rock met its unfortunate end are Midwestern fields and roads. That's all. To make up for the paucity of there, we're treated to discursive diversions on, among other things, the merits of cocaine versus pot culture. Interesting, at times hilarious, but not terribly satisfying.
It's worth mentioning that Klosterman suffers from a chronic inability to relate to anything without a pop culture crutch. Witness this bit on three sorta ex-girlfriends:
"If Diane is Dolly Parton's Jolene and Lenore is a fusion of the Big Bopper's Libido with Nikki Sixx's scariest wet dream, Quincy is akin to the girl in Ben Folds Five's 'Kate,' multiplied by the woman described in Sloan's 'Underwhelmed,' divided by the person Evan Dando sings about in The Lemonheads' slacked-up, Raymond Carver-esque dope ballad 'Buddy.'"
Annoying? Sweet Jesus, yes!
In his essays, Klosterman stayed focused on an idea and mined its every implication. Here he puts his finger on interesting ideas like his contention that Graceland represents "the religiosity of garbage culture" only to abandon them because, hey, the road doth beckon.
And even for a rock critic, my God! he's indulgent. Three and a half pages on how a Radiohead album was a vision that foretold Sept. 11? Enough.
Still, humor bails him out. Even on tired subjects like urban stereotypes. Stay too long in Los Angeles, Klosterman writes, and "you start to see an integrity to networking." Spend too long with Killing Yourself and you'll start to see a book in what should've remained a magazine article.
Killing Yourself To Live: 85% of a True Story
By Chuck Klosterman
(Scribner, 256 pages)