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Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead: Journeys Into Fame and Madness by Neil Strauss

August 11, 2013

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Neil Strauss has been a reporter and music critic for The Village Voice, The New York Times and Rolling Stone. In 2011, after sifting through his notes and recordings from over 3,000 interviews, he compiled this collection of favorite moments, many of them “outtakes” from over 200 of the interviews.

The book is edited into short, digestible chunks, sometimes breaking a single interview up into a few parts. When one artist mentions another, the book sometimes jumps to an interview with that second artist, giving the impression of a dialogue between subjects.

Breaking the interviews up sacrifices some continuity, but it weaves the interviews together thematically. And the theme of this work—the effects of celebrity—is what elevates it above just a collection of interesting interviews.

The book is full of great, surprising moments and memorable quotes, running the gamut from astute to asinine. In some cases, the interview subjects confirmed what I already thought about them (e.g. Leonard Cohen is brilliant, David Bowie is über-cool, The Strokes are intolerable, the guys from Oasis are arrogant idiots and Courtney Love is a mess), but in many others I was surprised by how much my opinion of the person was changed after reading the interview. Tom Cruise actually seems rational, Cher humble and kind, and Jewel like she might be pretty cool to hang out with. The Chuck Berry interview is amazing, and some very memorable moments come from artists, roadies and others I’ve never heard of or never thought might be good subjects for an interview (e.g. David Koresh’s former girlfriend).

Fame is such a curious beast. And while this book can be read as entertaining music journalism, it’s more interesting as an examination of how fame can elevate or destroy a person. Some of the artists loathe the notoriety they have achieved (and you actually believe some of them when they say it). Others have grown to love their fame or at least coexist with it. Still others haven’t yet figured out their relationship with fame, and we see them flail recklessly right there in the room, on the page. As a collection, Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead has all the humanity and insight, wisdom and foolishness, humor and darkness, success and failure you’d expect from a book about the world’s greatest artists and posers struggling to control an identity that is in many ways out of their control.

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