Killing Yourself To Live, by Chuck Klosterman

On the road to rock'n'roll death with America's Nick Hornby
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The Independent Culture

If Nick Hornby is the archetypal British music obsessive made flesh - with paunch and voiding hair, and probably a tendency to break into air-guitar solos while alone - then Chuck Klosterman is surely his American equivalent. With unkempt ginger hair, thick-rimmed glasses and a bookshelf doubtless squirming under the weight of Douglas Coupland's entire output, the Spin and Esquire music critic is a survivor of Generation X: a man who seemingly defined his life with grunge in the early 1990s, and who added retrospective facets to his psyche with every new musical genre discovered before or since. He has hoarded every promotional Britney Spears CD received as he might "need them someday", and feels "intimidated and emasculated" should he meet someone who owns more CDs than he does.

In a postmodern age such vocational devotion to cultural minutiae is worthy of commendation by someone. The result is that Klosterman - like Hornby - helps to prove Huey Lewis's old maxim that it's hip to be square. Now the New York writer has followed up his memoir-based books Fargo Rock City and Sex and Drugs and Cocoa Puffs with an account that, although self-referential and in-jokey, will appeal enormously to anyone of similar age and tastes.

Killing Yourself to Live has its foundations in an article Klosterman was commissioned to write for Spin: he would ride across America in a rented silver Ford Taurus to visit the sites of various deaths associated with rock 'n' roll. It sounds like Kerouac with a pension plan but Klosterman comes back, in his readable and cynically insightful way, to many essential themes.

They include death, obviously, and the reasons why passing away allows myths and legends to fill the void where once existed just a reasonable musical talent, but also ruminations on Klosterman's own tangled love life, as soundtracked by the 600 CDs that "make the cut" to journey with him. There are also such needless but fascinating diversions as why the Basketball Hall of Fame depresses him, or why he stopped off in North Carolina simply to investigate a Doobie Brothers lyric.

Although it demands at least some understanding of Klosterman's buckshot cultural references - it even has an artists' glossary - Killing Yourself To Live is a touching and thoughtful book. It will speak to the initiated in much the same way the artists it celebrates did.

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