Pop Culture, Insight and Existentialism; Chuck Klosterman Is off on a New Trip

Article excerpt

Title: Killing Yourself to Live

Author: Chuck Klosterman

Data: Scribner, 256 pages, $23

Review by BRANDY HILBOLDT ALLPORT

The Times-Union

Has it really come to this? Have I become so reliant on pop culture that it's the only way I can understand anything? If wolves killed my mother, would I try to eulogize her with lyrics off "Blood on the Tracks"? . . . I would like to think not.

This excerpt appears more than 200 pages into Chuck Klosterman's latest collection of essays, the result of a trip around the United States to visit sites where rock stars died.

Klosterman is the voice you hear when editors at GQ and The Washington Post decide to speak to/for/about Generation X. Although his first book -- Fargo Rock City (2001), a Midwestern memoir that pays homage to hair metal -- garnered a national audience, Klosterman officially arrived on the scene in 2004 with his second book, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs. It is a philosophical examination of life based on metaphors and observations about reality TV, Internet porn, Pamela Anderson and the Dixie Chicks.

Now, when people talk about writers who explore sociological trends through unapologetic self-absorption infused with dry wit and deftly rendered phrases, Klosterman's name always comes up -- along with Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors), Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) and Elizabeth Wurtzel (Prozac Nation).

Killing Yourself to Live started out as an article for Spin magazine, where Klosterman is a senior writer. He packed 600 CDs and drove 6,557 miles in a rental car to visit places such as the garden where Kurt Cobain blew out his brains and Graceland, where "Elvis Presley's heart stopped on a toilet."

His assignment was to determine if death is one of the best career moves a musician makes. Klosterman concludes yes. He argues that Elvis could never have kept his status as a legend if he had lived to be 70. No way, not when the King was boozing, slurring and drugging through his 40s.

Also, Klosterman points out that in the spring of 1994, an already-fading Nirvana released In Utero and dropped Lollapalooza from its schedule.

How to explain the posthumous success factor and Cobain-obsessed hordes?

If you're Klosterman, you use the 1989 movie Heathers and begin by quoting a voice-over of Winona Ryder scribbling in her journal:

"The most popular kids in school are dead. …