"These record labels are useless," quotes Strauss, quoting Led Zepplin's Robert Plant. "If I want to have Technicolor sex in an underground club, they won't know where to take me."
Well, while that's hardly the reason most of us probably think record labels are "useless" these days, it's exactly what makes Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness such an appealing read. Within its 500+ pages, or 228 one-minute (more or less) segments of interviews, Strauss, (in)famous for his work with Rolling Stone and The New York Times, amongst many other notable publications, aims to present artists at their most profound and vulnerable moments. And, obviously, some of their most ridiculous, as the above quote (which was taken from the first interview that Led Zepplin did after a 14-year hiatus in speaking with the press) so aptly illustrates. The majority of these moments or quotes, though, are deeply personal and come from the darkest parts of the subjects' souls. He talks guilt, redemption and death with Johnny Cash, defamed character with Jerry Lee Lewis and bitterness and anger with Bo Diddley. His role as a journalist parallels that of a therapist, though; in the book's epilogue, he claims that speaking with these artists over his 20-year career has been his own form of therapy. In the book's closing pages, he actually details some of the lessons learned after the 3000+ interviews he's conducted with the likes of Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Radiohead, U2, Chuck Berry, Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Oasis, Courtney Love, Chris Rock, Sasha Baron Cohen, Hugh Hefner, the Who, Bruce Springsteen, N.W.A., Snoop Dogg, Brian Wilson, Timothy Leary, Marilyn Manson, Kenny G and, ya know, the other 2,975+ other hacks on the list.
One of the heavier moments in the book is, when, during his interview with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Tony Hajjar of At the Drive-In, Rodriguez-Lopez casually mentions that he was the victim of incest. Another was hearing the RZA of Wu-Tang Clan speak bluntly (meaning that, for a brief moment his words were free of old-school Kung Fu flick-inspired "Wu-Tang-isms") about his parents' divorce. "When your father leaves your mother. That shit is bad," states the RZA. "You still love everything, but the tear you feel is a real tear. That really made me lose everything right there. That's a fucked up feeling you will not want to feel. For real, for real, for real." You also have the deeply conflicted Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails go from talking about "scraping [his] fucking soul" to make music to, to "I would stab my mother for a number one album." I would also bet that none of you would think that Stephen Colbert, who Strauss compares to Ned Flanders, is a devoutly religious catechist. All this and more!
With that said, Strauss also borders on bad form sometimes as he sets his subjects up to look, well...like straight-up fools. I approached the book expecting this, as Strauss is basically a rock star himself at this point, and that type of swagger usually comes with the territory. An example of this is in his interview with Lenny Kravitz, where, granted, Strauss is a wise-ass, but definitely calls Kravitz out on something that anyone who's paying attention to music at all knows he desperately needed to be called out on:
Struass: That song "Rock and Roll Is Dead" begins with this riff that sounds exactly like Led Zepplin's "Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman)."
Kravitz: You mean the first line in the song?
Strauss: No, the guitar part and then that Robert Plant yowl you do. I was wondering whether you were making a joke by singing, "Rock and roll is dead," in a song based on a Led Zepplin riff that everybody still steals?
Kravtiz: No, it's just a riff that I came up with.
Strauss: You came up with it on your own?
Kravitz: Yeah, I mean, you know.
Strauss: I suppose people are always thinking your riffs came from elsewhere.
Kravitz: That's all right. How many riffs are there? Every riff you could say sounds like something else.
Strauss: I suppose, but some riffs sound more like past riffs than others.
Kravitz: It's just the blues, really.
Strauss: So you don't think the introduction to that song sounds anything like "Living Loving Maid"?
Kravitz: No, I mean, I think it has a Led Zepplin-type quality. Oh, I don't know. Let's not talk about it.
My favorite chapter in the book is "The Rock And Roll Cliché Can Go Fuck Itself". In it he legitimately lets Tom Cruise defend Scientology, without mocking him, and exposes a very intimate, "behind the mask" side of Shawn Crahan (aka No. 6) of Slipknot. It works well as a chapter towards the middle of the book as a break from the Rock and Roll clichés that the book is otherwise saturated with.
It's undeniable that Neil Strauss is a monster of a writer. He's no doubt up there with the great rock critics of our time. The sheer magnitude of artists that appear in Everyone Loves You
and his ability to engage them should be reason enough to give this a read. If you don't want to take my word for it, take Bo Diddley's, when in response to the quality of the conversation he and Strauss were having, he discloses, "If you were a girl, I'd fuck you." Rock on, Neil.