PW: Of all the stories you've written for Spin, how did Killing Yourself to Live turn into a book?
Chuck Klosterman: Normally, I do profiles or scene pieces, so I just go somewhere, do the work over a span of 24 or 48 hours, then fly back and write it. This situation was different because not only did it span three weeks, there was all this time between events, driving and thinking about my life.
PW: The tour of rock 'n' roll death sites gives the book a surface narrative, but a lot of the story takes place inside your head.
CK: There's only one full-on fantasy sequence, really, but what there is, is a lot of retrospective recreation of things that happened in the past. If you spend a lot of time in a car, eight or nine hours a day, driving and listening to records and thinking about the world, the records remind you of things that have happened to you in the past or more recently.... I was trying to collect the interior monologue from that driving into a narrative arc.
PW: When you take a road trip with 600 CDs in the back seat, do you have to bring them into the hotel every night?
CK: No, I just lock the car. I used to have these wooden crates that would hold 60 CDs each, and I used them. And there were two sets: the ones in storage in the trunk, and the ones in the back seat I was actually using. I actually brought more than I needed, and there were some that I didn't play at all. But if I'd done the story six months later, I wouldn't have needed to bring any, because by then I'd have figured out how to use the iPod with the car stereo.
PW: Are there any rock journalists who have had particular influence on you? Lester Bangs seems like a natural reference point.
CK: The first time I ever read anything by Lester Bangs is when my first book was compared to him. I used to read Spin and Rolling Stone growing up, but I was never that interested in rock critics. I think there are some rock critics who are great writers, some of the smartest people I've met, but I don't feel like they've influenced me in any way. I feel a little weird saying that, though, because it sounds arrogant.
PW: So who has influenced you?
CK: David Foster Wallace seems to be one of the only writers able to be very intellectual, almost overtly academic and laugh-out-loud funny at the same time. And what impresses me about Malcolm Gladwell is how he talks about very complex ideas, how he can take a very specific aspect of everyday life and show how it's reflective of culture as a whole, and do it with amazing clarity.
PW: What do the women you wrote about have to say now that the book's out?
CK: Those three women were the first people I sent galley copies to. Going into it, I sort of knew that one would be kind of angry, one would be sort of sad and one really wouldn't care at all, and that's what seems to have happened. I really didn't want to make anyone feel like I had taken advantage of our relationship or that I was being exploitive in any way, but I think anybody who does become close to me now suspects that I might write about them at some point. It creates a weird paradox where people are a little uncomfortable if you write about them, but they're really offended if you don't.