ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, OCT. 13, 2005
By Steve Newton
Loitering in the hallway of a hoity-toity Burrard Street hotel, waiting to chat with rock critic and pop-culture author Chuck Klosterman, I’m struck by the opulence of the five-star accommodations. It just doesn’t seem suited to my interview subject, even if he is from New York City. I mean, is this the type of luxury you earn by becoming an expert on hair-metal bands from the ’80s?
Klosterman revealed his vast knowledge of spandex-and-makeup acts in his first book, 2001’s well-received Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota, but now he’s on a signing/reading tour to plug his third tome, Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story (Scribner, $31.75). It details a 10,500-kilometre road trip that he took across the States, stopping at various death sites where rockers like Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious, and members of Lynyrd Skynyrd bit the big one.
From his personal collection of 2,233 CDs, he chose 600 for his travels, proving his immense bravery by including all of the Kiss solo albums. Klosterman’s idea of taking hard rock to the wide-open spaces is illustrated by the book’s cover shot of a yellow Gibson Flying V rammed neck-first into an empty field. “When they showed me the picture I was like, ‘That’s perfect!’?” he raves. “Like, the cover is better than the book!”
I guess you could argue that that striking photo of the axe in the grass is more effective than the first-person travelogue spun out over Killing’s skimpy 256 pages. The word count is further padded out by recollections of the 33-year-old author’s failed romances, which have little to do with that gorgeous Flying V. And if Klosterman really wanted to visit infamous locations where the Reaper ruled rock, how could he skip Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum, where 11 Who fans were crushed in ’79?
“You know, that’s interesting,” he replies, “I really wish I’d went. But here’s the deal: I didn’t realize I was gonna write a book till I was halfway through the trip. Like, I thought I was just doing a 5,000-word magazine article for Spin, right. If I had known I was writing a book before I did it, I’d have gone to where the Who disaster happened, I’d have gone to where Gram Parsons died, where Biggie Smalls and Tupac died, where Randy Rhoads’s plane crashed. I would have done all these other things, but at the time it just seemed like ‘Well, I’m gonna have too much as it is.’?”
Hearing the likable Klosterman cite all the ways his book could have been better makes you feel a tad sorry for the bespectacled scribe, even if he does hold the enviable position as senior writer at Spin. It’s the same kind of feeling I had when I first read in Fargo Rock City that he regarded the second Motley Crue album as his personal Sgt. Pepper’s. “The reason that Shout at the Devil was my Sgt. Pepper’s is because I was in fifth grade,” he explains, “and it was the first record I loved.”
It’s a good thing Klosterman wasn’t born two years later then he was, or his fifth-grade album of choice might have been the Crue’s Theatre of Pain. The thought of any impressionable kid worshipping that lame remake of “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” would be just too sad to bear.