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Book Review: Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead
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The Book Slave   |  
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Everyone Loves You When Youre DeadEveryone Loves You When You’re Dead
Journeys Into Fame And Madness
Paperback
By Neil Strauss
HarperCollins/It Books
Release date: March 15, 2011

To say that Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead is merely a collection of interviews with celebrities and major contributors to decades of pop culture would be to sell it short. There’s a lot more to this book, just as there’s a lot more to a person beyond their fame and public achievements. Behind the personas that are created to market the products of their talents are (surprise!) real people. In his latest book, author Neil Strauss does what he does best: drawing the famous (and in some cases, the not-so-famous-but-should-be) out of their protective shells and somehow getting them to voluntarily lift up their skirts and show him their knickers, whether they be pretty, plastic, stained, or bloody. We get the unabashed truth, not a stylized or sanitized version of it.

I expected nothing less from Strauss, who also wrote The Dirt with Motley Crue, which I adored for its raw honesty, and How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, co-written with Jenna Jameson. Most of the usual players are featured here, such as Madonna, Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg, and Christina Aguilera. We’re also treated to interview snippets with greats like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry, as well as some surprises like Hugh Laurie, Russel Brand, Rick James, the CIA, and Chic (makers of what have become classic disco songs that everyone gets up and dances to at a wedding — including this metalhead). We also hear from DJs who risk their lives to spin records in warzones, roadies who are dog-tired, groupies for whom reality does a one-eighty the day after the night before, concert promoters in racist towns and highly entertaining genuine crazy people. This is but a brief list of some two hundred-plus characters that have all played some part in pop culture history.

Strauss brilliantly captures the peculiar weirdness that often accompanies fame and shares the sometimes smelly, sometimes tragic and more often awkward and humorous details with the rest of us, one brief conversation at a time. If you’ve ever wished to be a fly on the wall when a celebrity interview takes a bizarre or particularly compelling turn, like when Tom Cruise suddenly punches a clock for no apparent reason, you will love this book. It is chock full of those moments that normally wouldn’t make it into the slick magazine pieces or featured stories in family newspapers that Strauss is so well known for. He strips away all pretenses and formality from the celebrity interview format and becomes part of the action in every scene.

Billed on the inside as a “Comedy in Ten Acts”, Strauss presents each act, or chapter, so that each vignette flows seamlessly into the next and all are appropriately organized under fun chapter titles, such as “Act 5: The Rock and Roll Cliché Can Go Fuck Itself”. Hilarious illustrations in each chapter are done in the style of old tymey newspaper ads with interview subjects hawking amusing wares and services (I want a giant poster of the one on page 500).

Over all, this book is a fun and informative read. I learned that Ludacris could have yet another career as a game show host, that one should buckle up when riding in a car with Neil Young, Courtney Love may try to stick you with dirty needles and that one may need a decent pair of PJs to interview Jewel. The most poignant section for me was toward the end of the book where Strauss discusses legendary rock critic, Paul Nelson, whose influence made rock stars of almost every artist he either wrote about in Rolling Stone magazine or mentored during his stint as a publicist at Mercury Records. Nelson was a true friend to the artists whose lives he touched professionally and, by all accounts, one of the most talented writers of his time. Strauss conveys the sad story of Nelson’s lonely demise in a way that truly hit home for this writer; in our often torturous solitary endeavors to get the absolute right words out every time, we are never quite as alone as we think we are.

My only issue with the book is that there are no dates provided with the interviews. I’d have been satisfied just knowing the year in which each interview had taken place in order to provide some construct of time for me. Ultimately, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter because the point of the book is the content itself and not an actual timeline of pop culture history. The famous and the infamous have doubts, insecurities and other problems just like the rest of us, only theirs are usually more expensive and made worse by media distortion and public scrutiny. Some celebrities are elevated to near-saint status after they’re gone (Michael Jackson) while some fail to redeem themselves in life and in death (Ike Turner).

Fame is a mad, mad world. Thanks to Neil Strauss, we can vicariously experience the thrill of their lives without ever having to show our knickers or dodge any bullets while buying pampers.

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