This is the worst book I’ve ever read.
I first heard of Killing Yourself to Live during my stay in Seattle: a guy who picked me up while hitchhiking told me that he was retracing the journey Chuck Klosterman took across America, investigating the spots where various rock stars died, and his next stop was the mansion where Kurt Cobain blew his brains out with a shotgun. It sounded like a cool book, so I instinctively threw it on my Amazon Wish List. Sometime later, I came across Mark Ames’ scathing review of Klosterman’s previous book, Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs, which opens with one of the most vicious descriptions of a human being ever written in the English language:
Klosterman is, quite simply and almost literally, an ass. His soft, saggy face bears a disturbing resemblance to a 50-year-old man’s failing, hairless back end. His tiny, red mouth is a sphincter twisting to a pained close 40 seconds after taking a brutal pounding from Peter North. To round it out, he has a mop of ironically uncombed, dyed-yellow hair and thick-rimmed glasses that look like they were placed on the ass as a frat prank, like a wig and sunglasses thrown on an old jack-o-lantern.
Ouch. To me, though, the most striking part of Klosterman’s (who I will be referring to as “Klosterfuck” for the rest of this review) appearance is his eyes. Everyone who’s ever lived in Portland or Brooklyn can recognize those eyes. It’s the empty, bovine stare of the hipster, a pose they think makes them look pensive but really makes them look like invalids on disability who got lost while going to meet their pot dealer.
As I mentioned already, the premise of Killing Yourself to Live is that Klosterfuck goes on a road trip across America visiting the spots where various rock stars died—such as the aforementioned Seattle mansion where Kurt Cobain shot himself, or the field in Mississippi where Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crashed—attempting to discover “why the greatest career move any musician can make is to stop breathing.” Along the way, he meets a menagerie of people from all walks of life. In the hands of a competent writer, this would make for a good story. In Chuck Klosterfuck’s hands, the narrative gets subsumed into a whiny memoir about how awesome Chuck Klosterfuck is.
He sums up the book at the beginning of the second chapter: “Fuck, man. This shit is complicated.” Ya think?
Killing Yourself to Live is written in a style that I can only describe as “pedantic ignorance.” Klosterfuck doesn’t just know nothing about rock, he’s proud of it. He has no curiosity, no desire to learn, and can’t even be bothered to hide his contempt for the musicians he writes about and their fans. The first chapter sets the book’s tone: Klosterfuck is sent by Spin magazine to the Hotel Chelsea to write about Sid Vicious and his murder of Nancy Spungen back in 1978. I want you to put yourself in his shoes for a minute. Even if you have zero knowledge about journalism and reporting, you can probably figure out how to carry out an assignment like this. What would you do?
a) Call the hotel’s manager ahead of time and ask to schedule an interview.
b) Track down employees who worked there when the murder happened and interview them.
c) Do some basic research about the murder at the library and/or on the Internet.
d) All of the above.
e) Show up uninvited, have a banal conversation with the front desk clerks, then get kicked out by the manager for being an annoying twerp. And sulk about it later.
If you picked anything other than “e,” sorry, but you just don’t have the chops to do what Chuck Klosterfuck does. I’m not kidding you: the guy arrives at the Chelsea having done no research or preparation, so he doesn’t even know that Room 100, where the murder went down, had been demolished nearly twenty years before. The rest of the chapter is filled with snide jabs at his subjects: Vicious is “moronic,” Spungen is “the most annoying human of the late 20th century,” and punk rock itself is “patently ridiculous.”
This sets up the pattern for the rest of the book: Klosterfuck goes to a rock star’s death site, makes a few trite observations and does nothing else. He drives to the graveyard in Rhode Island commemorating the Station nightclub fire, snorts a couple bumps of cocaine and eats dinner at Arby’s. He tries to go to the site of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crash but pusses out when he learns about the poisonous snakes that live in the area. He walks out to the bean field in Iowa where Buddy Holly’s plane went down, bitching the entire way. In between, the book is puffed up with lengthy descriptions of his girl problems, lengthy descriptions of the restaurants he eats at, and lengthy tangents on nothing at all.
Like every other mainstream literary author, Klosterfuck can’t write to save his life. He tries to mask his quotidian thoughts by overwriting and repeating himself again and again, stretching what should be throwaway observations into page-long soliloquies. For example, he spends half of the second chapter agonizing over what to bring with him on his trip. Not only that, Klosterfuck has an obnoxious habit of dragging the reader down paths and thoughts that lead absolutely nowhere. Take this paragraph describing a waitress he meets in North Carolina:
My Cracker Barrel waitress is more beautiful than Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Actually, that’s not true; my Cracker Barrel waitress is an ectomorphic 19-year-old woman with a semi-tragic haircut and slightly big teeth. However, by the time our four-minute conversation ends, I will be in love with her.
If the waitress isn’t more beautiful than Elizabeth Taylor, then why the fuck did you say she was? Answer: to waste the reader’s time. And this is one of the more bearable examples; Klosterfuck can stretch these dead-end digressions out for pages. Just before this, he goes on a hypochondriac rant about how his colleagues at Spin would react if he were to drop dead. He caps it off with this middle finger to the reader:
At the moment, nobody in New York knows that I’m dead. And this is because I am not.
Speaking of Cracker Barrel, Klosterfuck has a sick fetish for chain restaurants; he name-drops them so often he comes off like an Aspergery Thomas Friedman. And like everything else in the book, his reasons for liking them are the dumbest, tritest crap imaginable. He spends two pages jacking off over Olive Garden (which “always makes [him] happy”) and sums up his love of Cracker Barrel in two sentences:
Cracker Barrel is sublime: You can order chicken and dumplings with a side order of dumplings. That’s advanced.
Holy shit, that’s INCREDIBLE! What amazing innovations will the restaurant industry come up with next? Free drink refills? Letting you substitute French fries with a side salad?
But Klosterfuck goes from stupid to downright creepy when he starts crying about his sex life. The guy makes a big deal about supposedly juggling three girlfriends: his “urban hippie” Spin colleague Diane, Midwestern souvenir shop owner Lenore, and one-time 420 buddy Quincy. His attempt at manly bona fides collapses completely when you realize he has all the charisma of an incel:
It gets worse because Diane’s inability to love me makes me love her more. Without a doubt, not loving me is the most alluring thing Diane (or any woman) can do. Nothing makes me love Diane as much as her constant rejection of my heartfelt advances. This is compounded by Diane’s own insecurities; the fact that she can reject me time after time after time is what she finds most endearing. She knows I will never give up. She could hate me and I would love her anyway.
Holy crap, I think I just discovered the Anti-Game Equation. Klosterfuck behaves exactly like the “Nice Guy” caricature that feminists complain about, right down to the servile boot-licking and entitlement. And naturally, the idea that Diane simply doesn’t find Klosterfuck attractive never crosses his mind. While taking her to a campout near Syracuse, our heterosexual hero decides he’s had enough of Diane’s headgames and puts his foot down:
“I can’t handle this anymore,” I say. “I have been very clear about my feelings toward you. I have run out of ways to say I love you. So this is it. You have three weeks.”
“I have three weeks to do what?”
“You have three weeks to decide if you want to be with me. And if your answer is that you do not want to be with me, I don’t want to hang out with you, ever.”
“Chuck, I can’t guarantee that I will be able to answer that question.”
“You have to.”
“This is unfair.”
“I don’t care.”
Man, Diane is one heartless bitch. What woman wouldn’t fall in love with a navel-gazing narcissist who talks like a teenage girl? I just can’t understand why she doesn’t see what a catch Chuck Klosterfuck is, this vagina-faced little troll who hovers around her incessantly, spends his free time hanging out with high school kids and is completely incompetent at his job.
Klosterfuck’s cluelessness around women first amused me, then became progressively more horrifying. The sad thing is that he actually seems aware of how repulsive he comes off to girls. Not enough to change his behavior, of course, but enough to refuse to inform us of the details of “Chuck’s 9/11,” a party where he disgusted Lenore so much she decided to break off their relationship for good. This little factoid doesn’t stop the Chuckster from driving to her rural Minnesota hometown in a last desperate attempt to Compliment & Cuddle his way into her panties:
“Why didn’t you tell me you loved me?” she asks by the lake. “It’s on the second page of your book, but you never actually said it to me. Not even once.”
“That’s not true,” I say. “I told you I loved you seven times.” This is technically accurate but intellectually fraudulent; I’ve told Lenore I loved her on seven occasions, but three times were in handwritten letters, three times were in e-mails, and once was when I was drunk.
Still, I was never lying.
At this point, Klosterfuck is batting 0 for 3; he spends the night before in Minneapolis repeatedly dialing Quincy without getting a response. He whiles away the time getting drunk with his frenemy My Nemesis (no really, that’s what he calls him), who he claims to “love” despite half of their encounters ending in sissy slap-fights:
…My Nemesis—who was probably my closest friend at the time—used this irrelevant alternative publication as a vehicle to publicly attack me. I responded poorly to this. It prompted me to drive back to Grand Forks, drink about 27 beers, and punch him in the face in front of all our friends.
Noticing a pattern here? ‘Cause I sure am. If Klosterfuck ever said he loved me, I’d immediately file a restraining order: “Forney had used his irrelevant blog as a means to publicly impugn my honor. I did not take the news well. I was inspired to take a four-hour flight to Portland, wait in the bushes outside his house, and crack him in the knees with a Louisville Slugger. I celebrated afterwards with a feast at Carl’s Jr. I fucking love their Jim Beam Bourbon Burgers.”
And almost as soon as he’s done bragging about that pussy punch, Klosterfuck revokes his own man card. Driving to meet up with his parents in their rural North Dakota town, he starts talking about the time his brother Bill shot a buck at 250 yards. He explains his own reluctance to hunt with this boner:
Men shoot animals, and I am just a Guy.
Dude, just stick your head in the oven and get it over with. And by the way, when your mother calls you a “bugger,” she’s implying that you like to suck big dicks.
And we haven’t even hit maximum creep yet. That comes in Missoula, Montana. After spending twenty minutes desperately freebasing the last of his weed with his car’s cigarette lighter, Klosterfuck discovers that a group of high schoolers are partying in the hotel room next door. He strikes up a conversation with one of the girls, and when she realizes that he’s higher than the Pope, she asks if she can buy some. Instead of simply telling her the truth, he gives her a bizarre lecture on why marijuana’s bad, mmmkay, ending with this:
“Right on,” she says unconvincingly. We exchange terse good-byes, and then she walks back into her room. I can hear three teenagers groan through the wooden door. They are so not going to party.
It’s that last line that clinches it. Klosterfuck thinks he’s being witty—several paragraphs back, he notes the teenagers repeating “We are so going to party”—but combined with his pedo-esque face and bunny-boiling antics, I imagined Chris Hansen kicking the door down and asking him to take a seat.
And the worst part about Klosterfuck’s failed sexcapades? They’re the only times in the book where he is even semi-honest.
Everything else in Killing Yourself to Live is a fake, phony posture. Klosterfuck throws out statements and opinions not to advance arguments or find the truth, but to mock underground culture and everyone who ever took it seriously, playing Principal Skinner to an audience of empty-headed GenX/millennial trust fund brats. Whenever he name-drops an avant-garde or underground musician, it’s to either insult them (as he did with Sid Vicious) or compare them unfavorably to the commercialized, mindless dreck he enjoys. He picks Radiohead over Pavement, Motley Crue over David Byrne, KISS over Lou Reed (even going so far as to compare his recent “girlfriends” to the members of KISS), and Guns ‘n’ Roses over Nirvana.
That last one is the most galling of all. Kurt Cobain, whatever his flaws, was a serious man who lived what he preached. In other words, he was everything that Chuck Klosterfuck is not. So naturally, when he gets to Seattle, Klosterfuck engages in some revisionist history that should have indie rock fans screaming for a fatwa on his head:
…Nevermind was no longer the soundtrack to living in the early ’90s—now it was that experience in totality. Kurt Cobain had not merely made culturally important music— suddenly, he had made culture. His death became a catchall event for anyone who wanted their adolescence to have depth: It was now possible to achieve credibility simply by mourning retrospectively. Cobain’s iconography hadn’t changed that much, really; what changed was the number of people who suddenly thought Cobain’s iconography said something about themselves.
In other words: “Ha ha you dumbfucks, Cobain’s suicide didn’t really mean anything!” All those angst-filled lyrics raging against the world? All the times Cobain said he was upset at corporations co-opting his music? Naming his band after a philosophical concept that refers to the peace of mind that comes with liberation from the lies of the material world? It was all bullshit! Cobain was just a deluded, depressed junkie.
The only real music comes from corporate hacks like Gene Simmons and Axl Rose who pander to the lowest common denominator.
That’s the endgame of the bland, Beigeist liberalism that Klosterfuck represents: a world in which nothing is at stake. Where marijuana is the only permissible drug. Where sex is negotiated through consent forms signed in triplicate. Where Olive Garden and their half-cooked McItalian cuisine is considered the height of American dining. Where there’s no danger, no risk and no passion. Where no one takes a stand on anything because believing in something is rubbish, and rubbish isn’t cool. Stuff and shit is cool.
I can already hear all the little Klosterfuckers upset at this review: “God Matt, it’s just MUSIC, why you gotta take everything so SERIOUSLY? You need to chill out and smoke a joint or something.”
Chuck Klosterfuck and his ilk are the real-life Buster Friendly and His Friendly Friends: soulless, sophomoric, shallow and stupid. Smiling to your face while they stab you in the back. Haters of everything good, beautiful and moral in this world. And I’m going to keep kicking against these pricks until the loathsome culture they created is six feet under.
In the meantime, toss self-indulgent, revisionist garbage like Killing Yourself to Live in the trash can where it belongs.
Click here to buy Killing Yourself to Live.