Chuck Klosterman is the kind of guy who calls Rod Stewart "the single-greatest male singing voice of the rock era" and really means it. To people who think he's just being ironic, Klosterman asks, "Why would I want people to think that I like someone I do not actually like? What possible purpose would that serve?" It may be too much to say that Klosterman is on a mission to save rock 'n' roll from irony, but the Spin critic clearly favors sincerity. For his new book, Killing Yourself To Live, Klosterman traveled across America, visiting the sites where rock stars died, and though he cracks plenty of jokes about the hopelessness of Sid Vicious and the pileup of dead rockers in Seattle, he also writes at length about why The Replacements' "Bastards Of Young" and Ace Frehley's "New York Groove" both make his eyes well up.
Killing Yourself To Live is only tangentially about music, whatever its stated premise. As Klosterman drives across the country, he writes a mini-travelogue: America as experienced by someone trying to get from state to state as quickly as possible. He also spends a lot of time thinking about ex-girlfriends, and how they got that way. Klosterman has always written as much about himself as about pop, but this is easily his most self-indulgent book, since he's rarely using himself to make points about pop. His insights are missed, because few critics are as good at cutting to the heart of what music means without caring overmuch about, as Klosterman describes it at one point, "being right."
But though his thoughts are a little scattered, Klosterman still arrives at a kind of accidental theme, having to do with whose legacy endures, and what moments in our lives we keep returning to. He brings these ideas together at the end, while standing outside Kurt Cobain's house, where he suggests that people who remember the day Cobain shot himself often overestimate how much they loved Nirvana the day before. It's an arrogant, presumptuous correction of the critical record, but it's not intended to be mean. "Not that these self-styled revisionists were lying," Klosterman writes. "It's more that they really, really need that notion to be true." And as always, while explaining how revering Nirvana transforms those who do it, Klosterman implicates himself, his culture, and the whole concept of rock fandom. He's killing his artform, in hopes of reviving it.