Neil Strauss—journalist, raconteur, and author of the pick-up-artist bible The Game—has a new book out this week: Everyone Loves You When You're Dead, an anthology compiling two decades of Rolling Stone and New York Times interviews with stars from Lady Gaga to Ozzy Osbourne. Here, he talks with Details about fake-snorting drugs with Marilyn Manson and bagging one of Charlie Sheen's live-in ladies—before she was a "goddess."
DETAILS: The 227 interviews in this book are all interwoven. Why did you choose to structure it that way?
Neil Strauss: Most of the interviews don't really hold up on their own, so I went back to the original interview tapes and had them all completely retranscribed. I said, "I want everything: every cough, every pause, every interruption." If they say, "Do you know how to cook beans?" I want that—that one moment where they let down their guard and show you who they really are. I thought that if each piece were connected to the piece before, and together they formed these little chunks, you'd get a more complete vision. Christina Aguilera talking about being a victim of domestic violence, then Ike Turner talking about Tina. You're saying, "Here's the victim's side, here's the perpetrator's side."
DETAILS: Some of the interviews date back to the very beginning of your career in the early nineties. How has the job changed since then?
Neil Strauss: The book is an autobiography of sorts. In the early interviews, I'm basically this nervous guy who doesn't know what he's doing. These very established musicians are forced to sit in a room with me for a while, and they try to make the best of it by kind of making fun of me. When I interviewed Jimmy Page, I'd had sex with one, maybe two girls at that point in my life. I'd read Hammer of the Gods, and I was obsessed with all the sex these guys had gotten. I remember Jimmy Page at one point goes, "Do you have any questions that don't involve sex?"
DETAILS: So did becoming involved with the seduction community and writing The Game give you more confidence?
Neil Strauss: My fashion sense had changed. I remember Madonna noticed I was wearing these Hedi Slimane boots—they were peacocking a little bit, as embarrassing as it is to say, but that said, there's a reason why it works. It was the first thing she noticed, and she kind of singled that out. And that made her feel like, "Okay, he's one of us."
DETAILS: Throughout the book, you return to two themes again and again: drug addiction and therapy. Why?
Neil Strauss: Drugs are a window into good storytelling. And therapy is a window into honest self-examination. Those are the two things you want to get from someone, great stories and honest self-examination.
DETAILS: Have you ever been addicted to drugs or been in therapy?
Neil Strauss: I went to therapy once, recently. I saw the usefulness of it. But for me, these interviews were always kind of therapy. And I don't have an addictive personality. I find that people who are addicts tend to have something they're trying to anesthetize themselves from dealing with, or a hole that needs to be filled. I probably have holes too, I just fill them with other things.
DETAILS: Your subjects are often getting high or drunk while you're interviewing them. Did you ever feel the need to partake?
Neil Strauss: My thing is, I'll do as little as I have to do so that they feel comfortable with me. The first time with Marilyn Manson, they cut out a bunch of lines and they were like, "Do the dust." I didn't know—was this angel dust? Coke? What was the dust? I was worried, so I did that move where you pretend you're inhaling, but blow it around a little bit, so it would look like it went up my nose. But I blew too hard, and it got everywhere. It was a party foul.
DETAILS: Is it strange to find yourself on the other side of the interview table?
Neil Strauss: I think it's more awkward for the interviewer, because the book is about the interview. You're gonna do an interview with the guy who's interviewed a lot of people. It could also be awkward because some writers might think, "Hey, I've interviewed all the same people, why am I even talking to this guy? I do the same fucking thing."
DETAILS: What's your take on Charlie Sheen?
Neil Strauss: I've always been obsessed with Charlie Sheen. In some ways he's less interesting to me now. The mystique and mystery are going away. But the funny thing is, I recognized one of those two women, the "goddesses," the one who was his babysitter. I was like, "I'm pretty sure I slept with that person after The Game." I called a friend and I was like, "Is that the same . . . ?" And they're like, "Hell, yes." It turns out that I had a foursome with her. Isn't that weird?
—By Christopher Ross