At the request of his editor at Spin magazine, Chuck
Klosterman sets out on a journey that will take him from New York
City to Seattle in nineteen days. His purpose is to draft an
article for Spin about punk rockers who died, either by
their own hand or by tragic accident. KILLING YOURSELF TO LIVE is
the diary of his journey via Ford Taurus. Pursuing the epic story
of his career, he chooses 600 CDs from his collection of 2,233. He
re-christens the silver car "Ford Tauntan" and drives out into the
blistering heat of August.
Klosterman drifts between attention to the task at hand and
backtracking into sexual intimacies from his past. From talking
about his inability to sustain a viable romantic liaison, he
launches into the reasons why punk musicians died, often in the
upswing of popularity; he's obsessed with the meaning of death. The
first stop is the Chelsea Hotel where Klosterman investigates the
murder of Nancy Spungen in 1978. Sid Vicious, bass player for the
Sex Pistols of that era, was her alleged killer, a musical genius
(according to the author) because he couldn't play music. The
murder was the subject of the 1986 movie Sid & Nancy.
Vicious OD'd on smack before he could go to trial. The end result
of Klosterman's trip to the hotel is that the murder room does not
exist, never did. The hotel manager is abrupt, telling him to leave
and find the cultists who glamorized the story to interview. For
him, there is no fascination with Sid Vicious or his
Klosterman's trip out of town begins with his present live-in Diane
driving the Tauntan. He's trying to pin her down about commitment
to their relationship, without success. She leaves him at an
Ontario Lake cabin, where she'll reunite with hippie friends from
her past. He and Diane are continents apart on subjects from
politics to philosophy. But the sex is great.
Klosterman makes an important stop in West Warwick, Rhode Island at
the Station, a nightclub where 100 people burned to death during a
rock concert. He interviews surviving members of the deathtrap,
sees memorial crosses erected on the site, and sniffs cocaine when
invited. However, he insists that he's not into coke, simply weed.
Much of the book deals with the drug culture. No wonder he's
fascinated by death.
Having come to New York from North Dakota, our traveler knows how
to drive but is uncomfortable with the process because it's not
necessary in his new home. It's an albatross before he returns with
notebooks full of interview material, musings on his life and
memories of how others have died.
Researching the untimely ends of such personalities as Lynyrd
Skynyrd, Ronnie VanZant, Elvis Presley, Jeff Buckley, Ritchie
Valens, Buddy Holly, Mia Zapata, Diego Garcia, Layne Staley and
Kurt Cobain is his mission. During the process he concludes that
artists who believe they have any control over the interpretation
of their work are completely fooling themselves; there will be a
point, but I don't have one yet; live weird, die weird; nobody can
be the Beatles, so don't even try; living is dying, little by
little; and why do we want to live? He brings up the interesting
thought that when artists died from unnatural causes they gained
integrity that eluded them in life.
Before journey's end, Klosterman has completely dissected his
relationships with three important women in his life, sifted
through lives of popular and obscure musicians, and concluded very
little. Readers who liked his first book, SEX, DRUGS, AND COCOA
PUFFS may find KILLING YOURSELF TO LIVE a worthwhile read.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 22, 2011
Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story