Apocalypse Strauss: Part Two
In part two of our interview with pick-up artist, rock’n'roll biographer and newly-minted survivalist Neil Strauss, we discuss his obsession with The Game of Love and The Game of Life, pandering to sleazebags, how to make a credit card into a knife, and how his new book Emergency has already saved lives. (Part one of the interview is here).
The events in Emergency and The Game happen concurrently with you writing The Dirt and the other biogs. Why isn’t there any crossover in either?
“There are teeny bits of overlap. You know that quote about ‘Life with the boring parts cut out’ or whatever it is? Obviously you cut out the boring parts. No one wants to read about me working 20 hours trying to finish a book on deadline. You just isolate parts of your life to what’s relevant to the story.”
So the survivalism obsession wasn’t as all-encompassing as it seems in the book?
“Oh, it was all-encompassing. As I was in Project Hollywood in The Game I started to get the idea that I wanted to get out. I didn’t have the idea for the book yet. But I would say definitely for the last year and a half it has been fully all-encompassing. There was so much knowledge I had to learn, condensed into such a short amount of time. Same with The Game, that was all-encompassing. I even left the New York Times while I was doing The Game.”
I thought you would be distancing yourself from The Game. You got a lot of stick for it.
You still stand by it?
“Most of the stick I get is from people who haven’t read it, because they think it’s some kind of lad’s manual.”
But you did do a manual, The Rules Of The Game.
“The Game was all the knowledge of everyone I’d met. Some I agreed with and some I didn’t. The Rules Of The Game is just what I thought worked. That way women can read it too and not be offended. I’m more interested in storytelling so I added the stories. I kinda have a rule with myself now: no more sequels.”
Where’s new material going to come from then? You were involved in The Game so heavily and survivalism so heavily…
“I actually have four more books under contract and I’ll probably write two of them before the end of the summer. One’s easy, it’s an anthology of stuff I’ve written for Rolling Stone and the New York Times. The other one, I had this idea for a book through my publishing company: no promotion, plain cover, just my name and the title. No illustrations. Something I just want to do for myself to get it out. After that I have two more books under contract [laughs].”
You talked about illustrations and Emergency has those instructional comics. Alongside a few little prose gimmicks and ‘This book will save your life’ coverline, I fear that you’re dumbing yourself down for your previous audience of sleazebags and rockdogs.
“I know what you’re saying. Here are two things: that ‘This book will save your life’ stuff? Obviously that’s just marketing. The cover is marketing, it’s not the book. The illustrations are another thing. First of all, I wanted to do some of the cool How-To stuff that didn’t fit into the book, just cool knowledge like how to pick a lock with a soda can, just cool subversive stuff in an Anarchist Cookbook sort of way.”
“To be honest, I never thought in a million zillion years that a publisher would ever let me print a book that showed someone how to turn a credit card into a knife. That I got that in the book, I was just waiting for the hammer to fall the whole time. When it was at the printers and gone, I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I got that in there.’ I thought they would freak out. I was actually going to put something in there about how to make a gun out of household items but the credit card is actually cooler.”
“The other reason is, it’s not like I’m trying to pander, I just get bored of myself. Like, 500 pages of yourself droning on and on? Sometimes your brain needs a break and so I put those [comics] in there. Same with the Jenna Jameson book, that’s a long freakin’ book for a porn star. Every now and then you just need a break from someone whining about their own life.”
Actually, you’re giving secrets away in both books. I mean, if you were trying to remain under the radar like you suggested in Emergency – not getting your fingerprints recorded and the like, although I know you give in towards the end – why is your address is in here about five times?
“I had someone change the numbers and information around, because another one of my paranoias extends to identity theft. The address goes to a PO Box, and the phone number I gave up and made into a voicemail.”
Why choose to do include them at all? For authenticity’s sake?
“Originally I blacked out certain information but it felt like I was holding something back. But here’s the main reason I put all the documents in there: for every book I’ve written, people ask one question. Like for the Dave Navarro book, people ask, ‘Is he still on drugs?’ For the Marilyn Manson book, ‘What’s he really like?’ And for The Game they all asked, ‘Did this really happen?’ I don’t want to get asked that again so I thought I’d provide evidence. Yes it’s friggin’ true because here’s my ID, here’s the napkin from the White House. And now no one’s asked me that question.”
You’re very willing to engage with your readers. There’s this weird cult around The Game and you stay in touch via a blog and mailing lists and whatnot. If Emergency also inspires people to try this stuff, you’re going to have another strange group surrounding you.
“Yeah, it’s weird. I’ve got emails from guys. As cheeky as the title may be, the book has actually saved people. Guys have taken CPR and first aid courses and one guy saved his mother’s life. He did CPR on her until the medics arrived.”
You’re saving lives, where previously you were ruining them!
[Laughs] “Exactly! Depends on the person, of course. Look, it’s not hardcore. I don’t think the world’s going to end. I don’t think an apocalypse is going to wipe us out or anything. It’s definitely scary that North Korea and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and the Taliban are making inroads there. There’s definitely some scary shit out there. But it’s far more likely for you to get in a car crash, or something like that. Not texting and driving is a good way not to die in a car crash. It’s amazing how often that happens.”
But you’re not preparing for accidents in Emergency; you’re preparing for disasters.
“But it’s as much about quelling anxiety as it is about preparing for disaster. It’s peace of mind, like insurance. As Spencer said in the book, about having health insurance and fire insurance, even though those things are unlikely, this is my insurance against the economy or politics or falling on the wrong side of the law.”
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