Chuck Klosterman should not be likable. Self-involved, immature, and irresponsible, Klosterman should repel. His detailed ramblings on the minutiae of pop culture should seem pretentious and silly. None of his “self-absorbed white guy obsessing over music and television” shtick should work.
But Klosterman defies conventional wisdom at every turn. Observations that would seem trivial and obvious in the hands of others (for instance, his assertion that all men go through a “Zeppelin Phase”) are hilarious and endearing when they come from him. Nowhere is this I-shouldn’t-like-him-but-I-do vibe more prominently on display than in his latest book, Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story.
Ostensibly, the book is about Klosterman’s journey to sites of well-known rock ‘n’ roll tragedies: the fatal fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island during a performance by Great White, Graceland and the crossroads where blues man Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil, among others.
However, like his stellar essay collection Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Killing is really an excuse for Klosterman to unload his thoughts about the complexities of entertainment. That’s why, throughout his death odyssey, we get musings about everything from how Radiohead’s album “Kid A” foreshadowed 9/11 to how the classic rock anthem “Slow Ride” stacks up to the similarly-titled “Free Ride,” and how both are best enjoyed while driving.
Klosterman also does a fair amount of drugs (including cocaine snorted with a relative of one of the Station fire victims) and obsesses about the various women in his life, including his first real love, his two current overlapping loves and a waitress who reads Kafka. Again, of this should annoy, but, instead, it delights.
That’s because whatever else Klosterman is, he is funny. How does one deny the perfection of this line: “I can’t read two books at once…nor can I eat French fries while driving; for these reason, I would never actively pursue a ménage a trois.”
He’s also dead-on in a lot of his observances, particularly about how death lionizes entertainers. That’s not a new observance, granted, but Klosterman handles it with grace and intelligence. This is particularly true of his discussion of the suicide of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. The musician’s death, Klosterman argues, didn’t change the way people thought of Cobain, but how they thought of themselves: “His dying seemed to give total strangers a sense of integrity they had never wanted while he was alive.”
Killing is absorbing, smart and witty, and Klosterman is like the troubled bad boy you know you shouldn’t love, but do anyway.