Remember a week ago, when the world was alight with pastoral bliss? Neither do I. Nature’s synergy was overtaken by existential paralysis and a generally depressed malaise. All is fair in love and war, indeed, but unadventurous worldviews are entirely, disproportionately malicious. Sunday’s specific events are irrelevant, save for one: I finished Chuck Klosterman’s “Killing Yourself to Live,” in which the author motors a Ford rental around America in search of the spots that saw musicians either die or kill themselves. He travels to the ramshackle domicile in Seattle where Courtney Love shot Kurt Cobain, and to the Mississippi field that swallowed Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Gaine’s sister/back-up singer Cassie. He stands over the intersection where Duane Allman and his motorcycle bit the dust.
Death, as a standalone focus point, is sufficiently depressing, yet also sufficiently commonplace such that it isn’t particularly wrenching. In other words, reading about death, about “killing yourself to live” (Klosterman’s hypothesis, according to page 13, is that, “Somewhere, at some point, somehow, somebody decided that death equals credibility…The greatest career move any musician can make is to stop breathing”) isn’t hopelessly saddening. What prompted my existential coma, though, were the following realizations:
1. Chuck Klosterman is a much better writer than me
2. Chuck Klosterman knows way more about music than I probably ever will
3. I don’t want to be like Chuck Klosterman
Klosterman is depressed. Yes, his placid-yet-passionate disposition is intelligent, trenchant, incisive, and insightful. His grasp of the connectivity cycling between life, death, music, love, and memory is astounding. But he’s extraordinarily sad, inextricably enveloped in his own misery. He could not be without his sadness, either; much like Cobain—or a score of other musicians—Klosterman’s genius is rooted in his moroseness, in his ability to see past optimism and strike right into the stripped-down, abstract heart of things.
Take this excerpt from page 113: “Living is dying, little by little. It’s a sequenced collection of individualized deaths.” Or his take on Graceland, Elvis’s birth- and death-place: “It’s the religiosity of garbage culture; it validates the import of tabloid aesthetics, and it makes our society look stupid.”
When he visits an ex-girlfriend, he describes of their interlocked phalanges, “We’re holding hands, but it doesn’t feel like the type of organic hand-holding that makes people feel secure.”
And finally, while bemoaning his unfailingly failed relationships, Klosterman drives the final nail into his (my) literary coffin:
“…the individual who embodies your personal defintion of love does not really exist. The person is real, and the feelings are real, but you create the context. And context is everything…For the rest of your life, they will control how you feel about everyone else.”
I recently heard that the way human beings construct problems is purely linguistic. We simply take two facts (x and y, not to be confused with the regrettable Coldplay album) and connect them with a “but.” For instance, let’s say that fact x is “I want to get rich.” Fact y is “I don’t have a job.” Those two facts don’t necessarily have to be related, and there is no problem directly embedded in them. It’s only when we verbally link them that a problem arises: “I want to get rich, BUT I don’t have a job.”
Klosterman is the same way. He is a marvelous writer, endlessly entertaining, and a potentially deadly drinking partner. He envisions his existence, though, as a gigantic, macrocosmic problem: I want to be happy, BUT I’m successful when I’m sad. His way of being is so thoroughly dispirited that he imagines his happiness and success as hostile, opposing forces. He purposely constructs himself so that one cannot exist with the other; predictably, he chooses success.
Having finished “Killing Yourself to Live,” I spent the balance of Sunday vacillating between adoration, pity, and envy for Klosterman. At some point, I realized that I am much the same way as him, and so are most people I know: we revel in our sadness. We don’t necessarily believe that life is empty and meaningless, but we passively accept that it is that way. The existential problem in all this, of course, is that all these insights don’t matter. As much as our actions may or may not have ultimate meaning, our philosophies really don’t. Clearly, spending all this time thinking about how I think is doing no good, and this realization, more than anything, has thrown me somewhere between panic and celebration. Hence the existential paralysis—I don’t know where I am, much less if it even matters.
Stay Sullen, Chuck Klosterman
PS-Just to lighten the mood a bit, upcoming blog topics include the Damnwells (live in New York!), a Red Jumpsuit-laden YouTube video, and my appearance at the opening of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Film Festival.