Rolling Stone writer compiles greatest hits (and misses)
Review by John Bear
Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys Into Fame and Madness
Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead is not only a mostly true statement (it worked for Michael Jackson, maybe not as much for Hitler) but also a new book from journalist Neil Strauss.
It reads like the inner workings of a celebrity reporter's mind.
Little pieces of interviews flash in and out. The interesting moments. The awkward ones. You are there witnessing a brain-dead rock star trying to formulate a thought. Another gets arrested for assaulting a security guard.
As a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, along with regular bylines in the New York Times, Strauss has interviewed a lot of people. Many of them are rock stars or other famous folks. He also speaks with roadies, groupies/stalkers and the occasional mafioso. There's tons of source material to bounce around.
The book opens with Julian Casablancas of The Strokes sitting in a bar in ripe clothes he's had on for days, drunk, being a jerk.
That goes on for a minute. But then Strauss is hanging out with Snoop Dogg. Snoop drags him out to shop for diapers and barbecue sauce. Though Snoop arguably suffers from a fairly serious marijuana problem, he seems like a nice guy. So does Kenny G, who doesn't do drugs, save the odd microbrew. But only one microbrew.
An excerpt of punk icon Wendy O. Williams' obituary segues into Loretta Lynn talking about death; then Chuck Berry (not dead); then Eazy-E (dead).
Then you're back to Casablancas. Jerk.
Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead is laid out like random memories of interviews past. Strauss culled over his old tapes and took out the moments he liked, more than 200 of them. They’re all loosely connected. Charlie Daniels scolds the crowd at his show for wearing racist T-shirts. Then Paris Hilton says she isn't sexually attracted to black men. Later that day, she makes out with David Faustino, takes ecstasy and has a three-way (it never says whether Faustino participated). An excerpt of punk icon Wendy O. Williams' obituary segues into Loretta Lynn talking about death; then Chuck Berry (not dead); then Eazy-E (dead). Another time he interviews a former army psychic warrior à la The Men Who Stare at Goats, and the next snippet has Strauss trying out what he learned on an amazed Britney Spears. Spinal Tap moments with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are interspersed with members of Slayer talking about murder and generally being creepy. Jerry Lee Lewis can't seem to hear that well and Bo Diddley is thinking about siccing his lawyer. Ike Turner is just misunderstood.
The order of things probably makes more sense to Mr. Strauss. The 200 or so interview bits are broken into categories like “Cannibalism is the answer” and “Take your drug dealer to work day,” which usually spring from a line of dialogue. The same interchange between him and any given celebrity may fade in and out several times during a section.
It can be funny (see Snoop). It can be sad. Sometimes it's just weird. Sitting in a basement with experimental musician Patrick Miller while he smokes crack. Chris Rock talking about how he almost became a crack dealer. Bono being honest but still seeming like a douche. A 94-year-old fife and drum man who smoked, drank and ate raw red meat his whole life. The exercise is at times slightly egotistical; he includes compliments from subjects, but it’s never boring.
Though seemingly random, the vignettes are easy to read together and are a masterful use of taking old notes and spinning them into new material. It is ADD theater.
The question that remains is whether to read the book front to back or take it to the bathroom for random nuggets of wisdom. It works both ways. Strauss' arrangement (or his editor's) moves along at an even clip and never gets bogged down with real depth. Randomly thumbing to a spot yields interesting results. More than likely, this book is doomed to end up on top of my biographical dictionary of film on the edge of the tub. Question answered.
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