Chuck Klosterman, senior editor at Spin and living, breathing rock and pop culture encyclopaedia went on a 6557-mile (or 10,556-kilometer), soul-searching, navel-gazing odyssey through rock star demise and his own relationship history. The result is his third book, Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story.
Keith Richards aside, who should be dead by now but isn’t?
A lot of those 70s guys are like that, actually. It’s sort of like, maybe for a while when Jimmy Page bought Alistair Crowley’s castle in Scotland, holed up there doing heroin and spirit stuff. But I’m noticing a lot of the punk guys are dying before the rock guys – the Ramones, Joe Strummer. It’s because when those arena guys from the 70s were doing all the drugs, they would then go back to a really nice hotel room and sleep until 3pm the next day. Meanwhile the punk guys, they would be up all night partying, doing crazy shit and just crash on a floor somewhere. It’s amazing that Iggy Pop is still alive.
In terms of rock star immortality, death equals credibility. Whose career could use the publicity from sudden death, for posterity?
That’s an interesting question because, there are people like that but quite obviously there’s only one upside to dying, and there are a whole bunch of downsides. If you want to read, play golf or watch television, it’s all downside. If Ryan Adams died, for example, there would be a major re-evaluation of his career. But Ryan Adams has a pretty good life, so that sort of raises a secondary question, about credibility and fame. Fame is the appreciation of your art by people you’ll never meet. Ryan Adams is an example, but the thing is, people always ask me who should have died younger – should Lou Reed have died in 1974? If you’re looking at a musician solely as a creator of art, as no human being whatsoever, sure, but I hope the book illustrates the fact the way death changes the way we look at art.
In terms of rock star death equalling immortality, which is best, suicide, accidental death or murder?
Well certainly, assassination would be the best way for that – when John Lennon was shot. It was a pretty blameless way to die, and it accentuates the fame. Death by suicide or drug overdose, well, the
latter can be pretty metaphoric in terms of art. Kurt Cobain’s death by suicide changed his cultural meaning, or maybe electrified it more than if he had died later. You start factoring in the artistic choice.
Most notable or interesting rock star death in recent memory?
The most interesting one in recent memory didn’t actually happen. It was when that guy claimed that Nikki Sixx had died in a motorcycle accident, assumed his identity and then Motley Crue had to sue him.
For this epic road trip, you packed the Ford Taurus with 600 CDs, and the soundtrack included Rod Stewart, KISS, the Kinks and Steve Miller Band. What’s the soundtrack for surviving a book tour?
Well, I’m not driving I’m flying, and because I’m not driving, I’m doing a lot more reading. I was listening to the Kinks early on in this trip – it’s so weird, it’s so fucking long. This so-called epic book I wrote, of an epic journey that took 3 weeks – this book tour is actually longer. Like how the series M*A*S*H was longer than the Korean War, is sort of what it’s like. The trip I took for the book was interesting, going places normal people wouldn’t see. This tour is so repetitive, I feel like I’ve lived the exact same day 40 times: I go to the airport, take off my belt, take off my shoes, sit in the airport 90 minutes, and wait. Go to some radio station, talk to some bozo who’s never read my book, do a print interview at the hotel in the afternoon, a reading in the evening, go to bed. Get up, go to the airport… I’ve done that SO many times.
What are you reading then?
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, about the violent sex lives of Mormons, about a mother and a child who were killed by a Mormon fundamentalist in Utah, describing how the religion related to that.. And Philip K. Dick, who I’ve never read – A Scanner Darkly, because they’re making it into a Richard Linklater movie . I might read
That doesn’t apply anymore – you can’t follow a label, some labels who still put out a certain kind of aesthetic but less and less and less. In 1996 and 1997 if a band came out on Touch and Go, you had an idea what kind of sound it would be, or Matador you knew what the band philosophy could be. But there were these labels, Homestead, that was like that for a while. I feel very rare that you find any label now to follow. There’s a label called Secretly Canadian () but it’s not –I think it’s actually set in Iowa. They have a definitive style. But the bands are so minor and fringe.
What’s Canada’s contribution to rock history, aside from Neil
The new interesting rock scene in the world now is Montreal. None of those bands have really got big yet – the Arcade Fire is probably the most notable one. I get the impression that every musician in Canada is moving to Montreal. It’s what sort of happened in Halifax, when Sloan was there. And The New Pornographers are probably among the five or ten best bands in North American right now, that are working. It would seem the number of great bands that Canada has produced is almost exactly relatable to its population. Compare it to a state of about 6 million, and they’ve probably put out more good rock bands per capita. Canada’s also just a really literate place. It’s the one thing I always notice, how much more prevalent newspaper reading is among young people under 35. I remember walking around Montreal on a Sunday morning in January, it was really fucking cold out, and everybody was reading the newspaper.
Another thing – proportionally, I do sell way more books in Canada than in the US. Because I’m from North Dakota, I think that Canadians think I’m sort of Canadian. A lot of people from New York will say ‘Oh, Toronto is like the US, it’s New york without the crime.’ Well, Fargo is Canada without the parliament.
Other Canadian bands are on your radar?
People are really interested in this band Smoosh – a 12 and 13 year-old. And Metric are really cool. Emily Haines is kind of the Jacqueline Onassis of the indie scene. I know her a little, and she likes to be crazy, man.
Chuck Klosterman reads from his new book, Killing Yourself to Live, this Wednesday night, from 6 to 8pm, at the Horseshoe Tavern. Free.