There are two fundamental moments in which I’ve been considerably nervous: going to therapy and giving interviews. I know that both of these circumstances have to do with the process of being truthful, or trying to be… at least.
It was a surprise to find, in one of my favorite bookstores, Everyone loves you when you’re dead, Journeys into Fame and Madness by Neil Strauss. By reading some of the subjects interviews, I realize I’m not alone in my fear of both therapy and a good interview (while I’ve endured years of therapy and can give positive testimony of what I’ve gotten out of it, giving –not to mention, interviewing– interviews still makes me a little bit uncomfortable), as the evidence on part of page 309 will show you:
RZA (Wu-Tang Clan producer): [Giving an example of a bad memory] When you’re young, everything is good. I’ll give you a bad one: When your father leaves your mother. That shit is bad. 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 that you will not want to feel. For real, for real, for real. You can stress that when you write about me. That’s some shit. And I was, like, three and a half. And it leads to everything. It leads to your mother abandoning you and leaving you with your uncle for four years. A psychologist can look at that for you. You’re not a psychologist, are you? Your questions are intimate like that.
Neil Strauss: No, though I guess I’ve studied psychology.
RZA: Let me ask you: Most of these questions you ask me, is it because you want to know or do the people want to know?
Neil Strauss: Both. Why do you think people read biographies all the time?
It’s just that these kind of questions sound like police questions to me. There’s one part of me that says I don’t want to expose this stuff. But I got a habit of telling the truth […]
The cathartic effect of interviewing such diverse people, as the author tells it, worked both ways:
“In reporting, editing, and reading the interviews included in this book –and examining who’s miserable, who’s happy, and why– I ended up learning as much about myself and my life choices as the lives and philosophies of the artists and celebrities I was profiling. Never have gone to therapy, I often used these sessions with people wiser, older, or more experienced than myself to work out my own issues and dilemmas […] excerpt from the Epilogue.
I had previously known Strauss’s work as a biography writer, through How to make love like a Porn Star, A Cautionary Tale (with Jenna Jameson) and The Long Hard Road Out of Hell (with Marilyn Manson), so I know that Everybody… was going to be a terrific insight into the misadventures and lessons that a hardcore and experienced music journalist had to offer. And, boy, did he deliver! Aside from the interviews, you must not miss his quest to track Nashville’s missing wax figures, the poor judgment copyeditors at the New York Times exercised throughout his tenure at the paper, and the most bizarre and entertaining index you will find in any book.
The book’s sense of humor is also spiced up through the ad design by Bernard Chang (with Gonzalo Montesdeoca) & Meat and Potatoes, that accompany illustrations by Sian Superman.
P.S. After I finished reading this book, I just went ahead and read it a second time… it’s that good!