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

Sage Bartow

Killing Yourself to Live was a very enjoyable quick read, it's a nice book to read on a Sunday afternoon when you just want to relax at home with a cup of coffee or tea, or when you're on an airplane or train. This is the kind of book that you read when you have nothing else to do and you want to be entertained. Ultimately though, your personal enjoyment of the book will be dictated by whether or not you feel like you would want to be friends with Chuck Klosterman-- because the book is saturated with his own personal experience and opinions, interspersed with tidbits of rock history. I think that i I knew Chuck Klosteman in real life he would be like a friend of a friend who I talk to at parties and find mildly likable, but who I have no real connection with, which is why I gave the book 3 stars. If you were to read this book and feel like you could actually be friends with or fall in love with Klosterman than you will probably like it more, and if on the other hand you read this book and think that Klosterman's worldview is so diametrically opposed to yours that he would be the type of person than you would silently resent or hate, or want to beat the shit out of, then you will probably not enjoy this book.

Stressed Out Student

This being my first Chuck Klosterman read, I didn't know what to expect. I'd heard that Drugs, Sex, and Cocoa Puffs was good, but this was cheaper at the bookstore I went to. I really like his writing style. He's such a pop culture nerd and he's oh so human. He's a borderline neurotic, based on his writings, and so easy to relate to in many ways. It's enjoyable even if you have no idea who 90% of the rock stars are that he references. I'd imagine getting the references would make it all the more enjoyable, but it's definitely not necessary. It doesn't really have a large overarching point, but the observations he makes and the thought processes he goes through a delicious food for thought. Recommended as a nice, leisurely read on the bus.

AJ Griffin

...and Mr. Klosterman and I officially fall in love. If you're going to date me, you should read this book. If you want to learn how to smoke marijuana resin using parts of your car, you should read this. Don't read this book if you have epilepsy.

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


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.

Susie Delaney

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

Morgue Anne

I am going to start this review by saying that Chuck's friend was right. He shouldn't have published this book. I picked it up (or, rather, was given) thinking that it would be an exploration of sites where dead rockers perished. Growing up in Seattle, I was bred with an intense love of Kurt Cobain. Growing up goth, I have an intense love of death. So this book would have been a LOT better in my mind if it had either a) Actually talked more about dead rock stars or b) Been a little clearer that this book had nothing to do with dead rock stars. I spend the whole 250 or so pages listening to a man complain because he's getting too much tail. True, he is very quotable at times and brings up some valid points about god, infidelity, and the like, but other than that, he just whined for thousands of miles about how his girlfriends were like KISS. Maybe worth a read if you're a liberal arts major who watches Wes Anderson movies and thinks Ed Hardy is the most amazing form of popular art the fashion world has ever seen. This book should be on "Stuff White People Like". Book 20/150


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.

Anna Bond

Once again, Chuck Klosterman reveals himself to be a boring, self-centered paragon of bad taste with horrible ideas about the relations between the sexes. Why do I keep reading him? The only really interesting chapter revolves around the Great White concert fire, revealing the poignancy of the men who lost friends and brothers at the show. I just wish that he would go as far as he thinks he's going into genuine critique of cultural elitism and how callously it allows us to treat each other. Many considered the Great White concert tragedy a joke because the band itself are seen as only beloved by "white trash" or "rednecks" - not the culturally aware - even subhuman. (A crowd-crushing fatality at a Smashing Pumpins concert a few years ago was treated with shocking cruelty by some of my fellows in the music industry for the same reason.) Klosterman hints at condemning this attitude but, perhaps realizing the extent his readership belong to the callous "elite" group, shies away.Classic Klosterman sexism abounds here as well. Do most guys actually think that putting women on a pedestal of otherness accomplishes anything positive? So tiresome.Also classic Klosterman: boring-ass prose. His popularity makes me sad.


Let me start by saying I generally like my job. Sure, there are days where I show up and can't wait to go home, but in general, it's alright. That being said. I work in a cubicle for a big corporation in Austin, TX. I _am_ what the movie Office Space is about. When that movie first started to gain cult status, every fucking person I worked with would say "Oh, man, that movie is about me." Really? Really? You just quit going to work one day? And then you asked out waitress? And then you stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from your employer? And then you quit your job and went to work construction? Because if not, I'm pretty sure that movie is not "about you." But ANYWAY, if I were to follow my Office Space journey it would not end with a burned down building and me shoveling crap into a wheelbarrow, it would end with me being Chuck Klosterman. Now, I have neither the desire nor the talent nor the skill nor the inclination to really do what he does. I mean, the sitting around all day doing drugs and drinking beer and writing about whatever bullshit popped in my head, that I think I could do. But the work it actually requires to write good (sic) and intersting is not really all that appealing to me. So thanks, Chuck, for following the dream that I am too lazy to.But, seriously, KISS? You love KISS?


Klosterman is an incredible writer, he definitely has a way with words. Unfortunately a good portion of this book is directionless, arrogant music rambling fodder. Which I still found completely interesting.


Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, and a road trip. Where you find these elements together, you will find Chuck Klosterman. What can I say? I ‘get’ Klosterman, insomuch as you can get a snarky music junkie who writes about his confusions about the world. I’m still not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but I’m going for to opt for “good.” Klosterman can always make me laugh, a rare feat in my reading and viewing experiences. So, go! Read some Klosterman.


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.

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.

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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