A friend of mine and I once sat in his darkened living room over bottles of malt liquor and at some point in the conversation reached the conclusion that the music is always playing the man, not the other way around.
We decided that musicians were only people who hold instruments of wood and metal and electricity and try to pull patterns of wavelengths out of thin air like so many silk handkerchiefs from a magician’s sleeve.
And somehow, this fascinates. A lot of people go to a lot of trouble for(not to mention obsess over) these people who know how to arrange just the right patterns with instruments of wood and metal and electricity.
Like babies stolen by crows, people who play music well are snatched up by mysterious forces and delivered into unknowable lands. The best of them stay there to live, but quite a few of them return to us bruised and sick from foreign fruit.
And somehow, this fascinates. And men like Chuck Klosterman write about that, the stolen infants crying to us from a place where the unspoken is delivered to the ear, and the sweetness of an unfamiliar taste is delivered to the tongue.
In Klosterman’s book “Killing Yourself to Live”, he ties music to death, that other country to which stolen souls are taken.
Jeff Buckley, Buddy Holly and Duane Allman are just some of the dead musicians to whom Klosterman dedicates his trip to memorializing via the act of visiting the sites of their deaths. The fact that he chose these places in lieu of their actual graves seems to indicate a dedication more to memorializing the event of their passing rather than the dead men in and of themselves. Which is to say, Klosterman’s
journey is far more scholarly than sentimental, he reserves his emotion for memorializing past and present loves along the way.
I feel I can relate to this because in college I dated a friend’s sister for roughly two or three weeks. She was gorgeous, clever, funny, had immaculate taste in music and was by the third week stolen away by a bigger, stronger and more
And so, she fascinated. I wrote about her extensively in my first attempt at a novel, a clunky piece of nonfiction I hauled around from city to city.
Sometime in the middle of those three weeks, we took a drive in the countryside in an unfamiliar town on an overcast day. We drove deeper and deeper in the backcountry until everything felt unfamiliar and lonely. Houses became more sporadic, and we saw no people anywhere.
At the exact moment I realized how eerie everything seemed, there in that car with a stunningly beautiful girl whom I knew nothing about, there in the silent boondocks beneath the cloudy sky, I turned and saw a single black balloon tied to a trailer’s door.
This to me was death, waiting to be untied and let into the world, fighting the crows for all of us infants, as men stand by with their instruments of wood and metal and electricity, and other men stand by to write about all of those things.
And so, it fascinated, for years afterward, even now. My drive through the countryside (and indirectly, through love and death and music) has never really ended, just as I suppose Klosterman’s trip through the same territories (played out in different states) does not end on the final page of his book, and will continue until he leaves behind his own memorial, his own motorcycle crash site or turgid drowning river or field littered with plane debris.
In one chapter Klosterman carries on an internal conversation with three different women he cares deeply for as he drives. He imagines them sharing the car with him, speaking from the their seats, changing places periodically. One senses Klosterman will carry these women with him as well, far beyond the final page.
“Killing Yourself to Live” seems like a type of rehearsal for Klosterman, like a man touring a long street of houses, knowing he will eventually find a black balloon tied to a door, and this will be his home, and the sweetness of an unfamiliar taste is delivered to the tongue.
My friend would likely have agreed with me, in his darkened living room, over bottles of malt liquor, that writing is a lot like music.
Often, the words are writing the man, not the other way around. Klosterman at one point mentions the possibility that he may have initiated a romance immediately prior to the start of “Killing Yourself to Live” just to have an extra character to flesh things out.
Did he need another woman to make his story about love and death and music feel whole? Did he bring another woman in his life to fill an empty seat in his head?
If it wasn’t for dead musicians, Klosterman would have stayed at home. Did he need a group of people to lay down their instruments and their lives to reach his own conclusions about his own death and his love?
For that matter, did I need to see that black balloon to know how I felt about death? Do I need to think of thieving crows to understand how I feel about musicians?
Good books full of good questions are easily recognizable in one regard:The answers given to these questions will enhance the reader’s own conclusions, as opposed to dictating them.
I can not speak for all readers of Killing Yourself to Live, but in documenting his obsessions, Klosterman’s work has added dimension and lent perspective to my own feelings about love and death and music.
I think any reader would be hard pressed to ask a book to do much more