Monday, March 13, 2006

Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman

I've always liked Chuck Klosterman. Best known for his work as a writer for both Spin magazine and Esquire magazine, Klosterman writes in a gritty yet humorous way. I've read his other books "Fargo Rock City" and "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs" (a great tribute to pop culture), so when I saw his latest book release, titled "Killing yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story", I bought it right away.

For this assignment, Klosterman took on the daunting task of driving all over the country to visit some of the famous spots that marked the deaths of some of rock and roll's biggest legends. The book is a whirlwind tour-- done in a span of three weeks, it's hard to imagine how he visited so many places in such a short time, let alone found the time to take the notes to write about it.

Klosterman didn't miss a beat. In his true to life way of storytelling, he makes us feel as if we were along for the ride. Klosterman is somewhat of a list maker. One of my favorite passages in the book reviews ten rock and roll casualties that nobody ever talks about. People like Steve Clark, the alcoholic guitarist for 80's hair band Def Leppard, who basically drank himself to death. People like the talented Randy Rhoads, the ill fated guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, who died in a needless, joyride airplane crash back in the early 1980's.

Klosterman tells the truth. As a rock journalist, he has the guts to admit that a certain Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is extremely overrated (I won't say who, you'll need to read the book to find out who he refers to). The book is peppered with lines from some famous and some not so famous rock songs (I love that, because I tend to know all of the songs).

Klosteram stops everywhere, all over the country-- places like Macon, Georgia where rock legend Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash. He visits the site of legendary Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd's demise (airplane crash). He meets up with surviving members of the hair band Great White and asks them about the fatal fire in a Rhode Island night club (caused by fireworks that the band used in their show) that claimed the lives of their guitarist Ty Longley and nearly one hundred of their fans.

The book is full of rock and roll folklore and even the most knowledgable rock and roll enthusiast will learn a little something. Klosterman knows his stuff and he goes into great detail about rock and roll deaths, cheesy pop tunes and everything else in between. During his driving time, Klosterman has time to reflect on news media type things like Kobe Bryant's rape trial, talk radio, Beyonce Knowles' voice, Rod Stewart's voice, Fleetwood Mac's famous Rumours album -- even Klosterman's own love life (which would make for another book). There's also a humorous pit stop at Klosterman's parents house in North Dakota (yes, even wisecracking rock and roll journalists have parents).

The culmination of the book lies in Klosterman's trip to Seattle. Home of the grunge style music of the early 1990's, Seattle is also the place where Nirvana singer, Kurt Cobain, ended his life in 1994. Seattle proved to be a place full of rock and roll deaths, because although Cobain's death made big headlines, others died there too, like Kristen Pfaff, the bass player from Cobain's wife Courtney Love's group, Hole, and Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley (both were apparent drug related deaths). Klosterman spends a lot of time talking about the death of Cobain and rightly so-- Cobain's death was (and still is) one of the most studied and debated rock and roll deaths in history. Klosterman is so into Cobain (although he doesn't really want to admit it) that he even makes a final stop in the town of Aberdeen Washington, the town that Cobain grew up in.

I loved this book because I'm a rock and roll and pop culture fanatic. It is a well written book-- hip, smart and funny and it makes a really good read. And even though the basic subject matter (death) is nothing to laugh about, you will likely laugh out loud as you go through this book, truly one of the funniest books I've read in a long time.

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