Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story

ISBN: 0743264460
ISBN 13: 9780743264464
By: Chuck Klosterman

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About this book

Building on the national bestselling success of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, preeminent pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman unleashes his best book yet—the story of his cross-country tour of sites where rock stars have died and his search for love, excitement, and the meaning of death.For 6,557 miles, Chuck Klosterman thought about dying. He drove a rental car from New York to Rhode Island to Georgia to Mississippi to Iowa to Minneapolis to Fargo to Seattle, and he chased death and rock ‘n’ roll all the way. Within the span of twenty-one days, Chuck had three relationships end—one by choice, one by chance, and one by exhaustion. He snorted cocaine in a graveyard. He walked a half-mile through a bean field. A man in Dickinson, North Dakota, explained to him why we have fewer windmills than we used to. He listened to the KISS solo albums and the Rod Stewart box set. At one point, poisonous snakes became involved. The road is hard. From the Chelsea Hotel to the swampland where Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane went down to the site where Kurt Cobain blew his head off, Chuck explored every brand of rock star demise. He wanted to know why the greatest career move any musician can make is to stop breathing...and what this means for the rest of us.

Reader's Thoughts


In general, I read to learn something new or for vindication. I read Klosterman for vindication: I feel smarter when a real-life writer puts out things that I have been thinking to myself. It makes me feel deep even if by rule this is shallow thinking.

Arjun Mishra

I cannot really say that I care much for the premise of Klosterman's trip: visiting the death places of seminal musicians. I'm slightly interested in the societal reactions and beliefs surrounding the deaths, ergo the significance of Cobain's death. I'm more interested in Klosterman's story and most interested in his drawing of the world through basketball and KISS. That I can identify and understand. I read Klosterman for the music and basketball, hence I love his Grantland articles. The travel can be informative, especially when he travels to isolated places that I have little more than an inkling about: Montana, Fargo, Washington, Minnesota. It seems like he undertook a physically and mentally tasking trip, but for which reason I don't know. I certainly don't demand it of him. I desire the musical and tangential analyses, but I don't require the examination of famous rock stars death sites to relate those stories. If other readers do, then great, but the premise is still an excuse to me.The geography being what it was, I appreciate some of the discussion on musical deaths. Dying is an important part of being a musician and future remembrance, hence Cobain once again. Elvis' legacy seems to be his early death. We could go on. If a rock star does not die young, he inevitably turns into a caricature of an old man (or woman in Steven Tyler's case). The rock star needs to be memorialized young.

Mike Lindgren

As a longtime admirer of Chuck Klosterman’s writing on pop music and culture, it pains me to report that his latest book, Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story, is a dismal, shoddy piece of work. The premise is promising: Klosterman sets out on a cross-country road trip to visit all of the sites of rock ’n’ roll’s long, rich history of death. It seems a brilliant idea — Klosterman’s combination of irreverence and curiosity make him the perfect candidate to unseat the holy-pilgrimage seriousness (and pathos) of most writing on rock ’n’ roll tragedy. It doesn’t take long for the project to turn sour. Here’s the problem: Klosterman is used to skating by on the wit and originality of his own personal world-view; in his last collection, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, his observations on MTV, pornography, video games, and so on, emerged from a perspective that led him to some surprising conclusions. There was a sense of play, of intellectual gamesmanship, that was fresh and engaging. In Killing Yourself, however, he’s become self-reflexive to the point where he can no longer discriminate between what is valuable and what is piffle; it’s all self-narrative. If he’s looking at something, he thinks his reaction to it — how it affects him — automatically matters simply because it’s him, Chuck Klosterman, looking at it. He has become too lazy and uninterested to make any serious effort at thinking or observing and analyzing what a specific site or incident might mean, and falls back on relaying what it means to him, at that moment. The most devastating element here is the incomprehensible decision to let Klosterman devote much of the book to pseudo-Hornby writhing about the three (!) women with whom he’s currently involved (that is, either sleeping with or wanting to sleep with). Aside from being, at times, downright creepy, it’s both lazy and irrelevant: as smart and funny and interesting as Chuck Klosterman is, I couldn’t really give two shits about his love life. His self-absorption on this count goes so far as to include a chapter-long conversation between the three women and himself that takes place entirely in his head. What’s sad is that he seems to realize this; the book closes with an actual, real-world conversation between the author and one of his female colleagues at Spin, who urges him not to become “the female Elizabeth Wurtzel.” At this point, one tends to agree wholeheartedly with the criticism, and Klosterman’s only retort is to tell her that “her disdain can only be voiced if I do the opposite of what you suggest.” It’s pre-emptive critical damage control. It’s embarrassing.It is unsettling to see how turning Klosterman loose on such a promising theme brings out his worst instincts as a writer, because his feature pieces for Spin are often brilliant. A perfect example was his reporting on the Rock Cruise, one of those only-in-America phenomena wherein 40-year-old couples pay to hear REO Speedwagon and Styx perform on a boat. It is hard to imagine a riper opportunity for superiority and ridicule, yet Klosterman never condescends to these people — working-class Midwesterners who are paying money to see over-the-hill versions of the two of the most reviled bands in rock history — and in the end lends both the bands and fans an odd kind of dignity. It is frustrating to know that the author is capable of such insights and then to slog through 235 pages of crap that wouldn’t make it onto a Weezer B-side. One can only hope Killing Yourself was just something he needed to get out of his system.From THE L MAGAZINE, July 20 2005


As I wrote in my review of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Klosterman is the poster child for postmodern American writers. His knowledge and usage of pop culture in his writing should resonate with me. Unfortunately, he makes a lot of general statements as if they are fact rather than opinion, and many of his allusions are too obscure, as if the more obscure the reference, the smarter he seems. Unlike Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs which was a collection of unrelated essays, Killing Yourself to Live is a singular work. Klosterman is instructed by his editors at Spin to travel across the country by car visiting the places where tragedies related to musicians occurred (beginning at the hotel where Sid Vicious killed Nancy Spungen, and moving to places like the venue where the Great White conflagration happened and ending in Seattle where Kurt Cobain shot himself). He documents his road trip by describing how the sites made him feel, and including conversations he has with fellow pilgrims and how they feel. Klosterman also interweaves some of his thoughts and feelings from several of his real-life relationships (a woman he is currently dating, and several from his past) into his narrative on what his journey is teaching him about life (and love) and death. Overall, it’s a much more focused and compelling read than Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs because the subject matter is deeper, and his usage of his relationships adds a level of humanity and emotion to the narrative. On the other hand, most of his writing tics still annoyed me – like the inclusion of random tangents of his opinion. For example, he spends two pages trying to convince the reader that Radiohead’s Kid A album was a foretelling of 9/11. There’s also too much self-awareness and awareness of his self-awareness – like a scene where he has an imaginary conversation with his current girlfriend and two former ones, and the imaginary voices remind him he is having this imaginary conversation. Screw you, Dave Eggers, for affecting modern nonfiction writing in this way. Fans of music and fans of Klosterman’s writing style will enjoy this, I think. For others, it’s a quick and mostly solid read with minor annoyances. Recommended.

Alex V.

I got a comment on an article once that said "Fuck Chuck Klostermand and his bullshit intellectualism, Cook is the new crown prince of music journalism" and who am I to disagree with SeductiveBarry's astute assessment? Ever since then, though, I've had a weird rivalry with Chuck Klosterman that, much like the romances exacted and protracted in this book, is completely one sided with myself as the hopeless loser, so outclassed that my opponent is likely unaware there is even a contest going on. I read this book in spurts over the last 6 months, basically a chapter or two every time I found myself at the bookstore for an extended period of time which has allowed me to slowly digest what is wrong with it: 1) For a critic, he has rather pedestrian tastes in music. His insight is honest and dead-on, but his subject matter generally seems undeserving of the pedestal he erects.2) This book is near wholesale rip-off of Ross McElwee's rather singular film Sherman's March, which came out 20 years before this book. Both follow through on a preposterous, dubious quest (Klosterman visits the sites of rock star deaths, McElwee retraces Sherman's march to Atlanta) only to use it as a vehicle for visiting old girlfriends and then sitting in hotel rooms reminiscing about them. But that is excusable, in that anyone with a soul and any creative talent wants to do their own Sherman's March after seeing it. McElwee is more insightful, but Klosterman is funnier and ultimately more human in the end.What's right about it is more important:1) He is funny as hell, up there with David Sedaris and John Waters as the funniest modern writers talking about their art/selves.2) This book makes me want to write more, and write more about writing, and then write more about that unafraid of how meta one can go before one finally implodes. I wanted to tear through the ending so I could write this. but, most of all3) He can project his heart with pinpoint accuracy on the reader. You fall in love with these woman that you feel you fail to know very well in the same way he fails to know them. He can make a Beckett scene out of being stoned in a Montana hotel laundromat and classical literature out of Def Lepperd .4) He's a good enough writer that he made me write this in pathetic mimicry of the tone of the book.

Michael Chaddock

I read an excerpt from this in a magazine - probably Rolling Stone or Spin - and liked it a lot. I'd read some Klosterman columns before and liked them, so I figured this would be a fun read.Sadly, Klosterman seems to think that his personal life is just as interesting, if not more so, than tales of rock star destruction. His life is not interesting and he seems like a jerk. One of the most disappointing reading experiences I've ever had and the first time I stopped reading a book out of disgust. It turned me against Klosterman for life.No stars.


I barely got through this. The author is too full of himself. Constantly on about every woman he fucked or how the woman he wanted did something so horrible that he didn't want to be her friend, but he cant tell the reader what it is, you just have to trust his douchey opinion. Get this book away from me.


Mr. Klosterman's friend and colleague: "I don't understand why you would want to produce a nonfiction book that will be unfavorably compared to Nick Hornby's High Fidelity."That comparison is not so unfavorable; it is incredibly apt. Book was an enjoyable Sunday afternoon read, though disconcerting that it was only written in 2003. The references and musical selections make it seem like it should be older. I mean, Steve Miller Band and Ratt--to which he VOLUNTARILY listened! For shame!


I love how full of shit this guy is.For all of the people who hated this book because they thought Klosterman has 'terrible taste in music' I think they might have skimmed over this one part:So many of the rock concerts I've attended have been filled with people who were there only to be there, who just wanted to be seen by other people who were there only to be there... ... Half the people who attend concerts only go so that they can tell other people that (a) certain shows were amazing, and (b) other shows sucked.I couldn't put this down and I even tried to draw it out so that it lasted longer but it was still a pretty lame book, if that makes any sense. I liked some of the ideas and he's certainly quotable. Still, it mostly felt like he was dragging me behind him on this trip. At one point I even forgot he was on a trip, which bummed me out. I get so excited about these people who travel across the country and in the end they disappoint me. What this book really got me thinking about wasn't all the dysfunctional relationships I've had or have had the potential to have (which is all he wanted to talk about) but really that I just want to travel across the country and see some stuff. So, thanks for that Chuck. Another quote for the 'road' (haw)Art and love are the same thing: it's that process of seeing yourself in things that are not you. It's understanding the unreasonable.

Katherine Furman

Chuck Klosterman is an engaging writer--easy to understand, explicit, and simplistic. But he's also a pretentious rock critic who basically threw together a book from the a lackluster journal that was published solely on the coattails of the success of his earlier book, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. The premise of is that Chuck is going to travel to famous sites across America where rock 'n roll related deaths occurred: the Great White club fire, the crossroads where Duane Allman died on his motorcycle, that kind of stuff. And while that stuff is in there, it is almost a footnote. The book is predominantly the author pining over his lost and unrequited loves. His egotism and self-deprecation in order to avoid sounding egotistical was too much to take. Even his initial description of how he came to go on this ambulance chasing road trip smacked of egotism and affectations. He and his tall, thin, gorgeous editor at Spin think he should something "epic," yeah, really epic, but what's epic? What does it mean to be epic? Right then and there I wanted to start a small, yet epic fire in my wastebasket.

Susie Delaney

This was a quick read and appealed to my music nerd side. Minus one star for being a typical douchey boyfriend type.


** spoiler alert ** I was disappointed. Klosterman has always been a super self-aware writer making interesting commentary on pop culture, often bringing a philosphical element that I certainly haven't seen before, but this goes to levels of ridiculousness in this book. On the surface this looks like an interesting story (85% of a true one) that involves his search for the sites where rock stars died - the assignment was for an article, but as his cross country search wears on, he finds he can only think about the women in his life and how they remind him of members of the band KISS. I have trouble deciding if the chapter where these women have an imaginary argument with him, where one even says that they all speak in his voice in his syntax because he's the one controlling / editing the whole conversation, was brilliant(and I didn't really get it), or if it was simply tedious. This all might have been a very satisfying read for someone else (perhaps someone who knows more about rock & roll), but not for me.

Ashley Butler

If you want to learn about dead musicians and how they died, look elsewhere. 1/3 Into this book and I still haven't learned a thing. The title of this book should be My Boring Life - it is all irrelevant rambles on the author's friends, relationships, drug use, and work. I decided to pull the plug during a part in the book where he says, "I wonder how long it would take someone to find me if I died on top of this hill and who would care. Tommy would call Billy who would call Timmy would call Suzy who would call..." STFU


This is the book that got me hooked on Chuck Klosterman. However, none of his other books could compare to this one in my opinion. As soon as I finished this book I went right back to the beginning and read it all over again! So interesting and well written.

Abe Brennan

Why do we care about Chuck Klosterman? There is nothing truly remarkable about his life. I disagree with 97 percent of what he has to say about music. The way he holds his political cards close to his chest makes me suspicious. And yet, once I start one of his books, I can’t put it down. Killing Yourself to Live is no exception. It takes us on a drug-fueled odyssey across the United States with stops at famous rock and roll death sites (the seedy hotel where Sid Vicious did himself in; the burnt patch in Rhode Island that used to be a bar where dozens lost their lives thanks to Great White’s trying to re-live their, ahem, glory days; the patch of ground Buddy Holly’s plane collided with; Cobain’s death room, etc.). As is the case with many young-ish writers today (to wit: Sarah Vowell), Klosterman’s book’s stated purpose serves merely as an ostensible vehicle for the author to write about himself, his life, his loves, etc. One might be tempted to write this off as narcissism or myopia, but Klosterman somehow manages to wrest insights into the human condition out of the twisted, emotional menagerie that is his psyche. Yes, he’s self-absorbed, but in such a fashion that his sharing it with us feels like a gift…of sorts.

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