- 05 May 11
Neil Strauss discovers the meaning of life in his own back pages.
Although Neil Strauss has been a veteran journalist for the best part of twenty years, interviewing just about anybody who’s anybody for Rolling Stone, the New York Times and other publications, many of you will remember him for The Game, a first-person New Journalism odyssey in which he infiltrated the pick-up artist subculture of LA, transforming himself from a balding geek-boy into a ladies’ man in the process. Despite the grabby subject matter, The Game was basically a self-help book addressing single males’ issues of self-confidence, composure and comportment. It created a few monsters, but probably prevented a couple of suicides too.
Strauss’s new collection Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead is a far different beast, combining hundreds of interviews into a running narrative on life, death and everything in between. You get Johnny Cash talking about his near-death experience, Patti Smith on motherhood, Brian Wilson on coke and amphetamines and Trent Reznor on being a miserable get. Strauss writes:
“I’ve shot guns with Ludacris, been kidnapped by Courtney Love, made Lady Gaga cry, shopped for Pampers with Snoop Dogg, gone drinking with Bruce Springsteen, tried to prevent Mötley Crüe from getting arrested, received Scientology lessons from Tom Cruise, flown in a helicopter with Madonna, been taught to read minds by the CIA, soaked in a hot tub with Marilyn Manson, been told off by Prince, and tucked Christina Aguilera into bed. This is my job. Since I was eighteen, I’ve been under orders from magazines and newspapers to step into the lives of musicians, actors, and artists, and somehow find out who they really are underneath the mask they present to the public.
“Yet for two decades, I’ve been doing it wrong. Newspapers and magazines are service industries, catering to the daily or monthly needs of a public that wants to be told what’s new, what they should know about it, and what they should think about it. And in catering to that need, I didn’t do justice to reality. Because no matter what happens during an interview, once it ends, a writer’s loyalty is to the pressure of an immediate deadline, the style and tone of a publication, and the priorities of an editor. And an editor’s loyalty is to a publisher. And a publisher’s loyalty is to stockholders and circulation figures and advertising revenue. Somewhere along the way, the subject gets lost... Although I spent weeks working on some of these stories, what I realised is that most of the time I was waiting for just one moment of truth or authenticity. After all, you can tell a lot about a person or a situation in a minute. But only if you choose the right minute.”