Interview: Sharing Secrets With Neil Strauss
“It is true, that I very very rarely do interviews,” Neil explains, thirty seconds into our conversation. Using the word “very” twice in a row means business. And yet it’s true. Upon the hundreds of pages brought up in Google for the search terms “Neil Strauss interview” there were only about a dozen with original content, mostly written from 2005-2006. While most articles quickly dub Neil as a rock critic, writer or seduction guru, these labels only scratch the surface when trying to encompass Neil Strauss’s identity.
In many ways, Neil is a modern renaissance man. Throughout the 20 minute phone interview, any topics were brought up, Neil navigated through confidently and effortlessly, bringing in his own ideas and beliefs along the way. From discussing creative writing to pornography, philosophy to Mötley Crüe, it seems, Neil is the intersection of a wild set of interests.
“I reread Ulysses every three years,” Neil explains to me casually over the phone, when asked about his biggest influence. “I’ve read it so many times, I can almost teach it. To me, it’s like the Rosetta Stone of modern literature,” he continues. Neil chooses his words delicately, crafting his sentences exactly how he wants them. “It’s my biggest influence without a doubt…and [pause] I mean… I’ll say inspiration, because influence almost sounds like, I can even ever hope to attain his level of writing or intelligence.”
Strauss was introduced to Ulysses in high school by a passionate professor who reshaped his perceptions of the power of storytelling. “That book to me, I was like- holy shit, I never knew that you could do that in a book. The story… there’s so much in here, it would take a lifetime and a genius to figure out all this stuff- let alone write it. I was just blown away that words could do that,” He explains passionately. Neil’s intellectual pursuit and thirst for knowledge are just some of the many traits that have made Neil Strauss so successful.
Neil actually stumbled into writing rather by coincidence, explaining that he just really wanted to be in New York. “I was in my dorm one day (at Vassar College) and this guy walked in and said he tried out for an internship at Ear magazine but they said he was too well dressed. Being poorly dressed and into music, I thought it was the perfect job for me.” Building a foundation at that little avant-garde music magazine, Neil gained the skills and experience to move up the magazine hierarchy within a few short years. Soon enough, Neil was writing for Village Voice, RollingStone and The New York Times, receiving prestigious praise and ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award along the way.
When asked if there was a point he believed he was going to be a writer, he offered his own theory, explaining “whatever you end up doing, you can find precedents for it, weather you become, a fireman, astronaut or soldier. You do so much shit as kids- you do everything and wanna be everything. I guess you can find precedents for everything.” Although he did write a detective book in middle school with a friend and sent it out to publishers, he didn’t seem to feel like it predicted his journey to becoming a writer. As Neil spoke, his voice would sometimes trail off in a quiet mumble, until we began actively chatting again. Because he had stayed up the entire night finishing his newest book, he seemed drained. Throughout the rest of the interview, the clarity of his voice continued to roll back and forth in waves, sometimes quiet and muffled, other times crisp and clear.
Once we got to the topic of his new book, his voice rolled right back. “It’s not about rock and roll, or girls. It’s not about anything I’ve written about before.” He stated proudly. “It’s definitely a different topic and something about I’ve been working on for two years in secret. The cultural moment is right for the book right now.” The words Iraq War, Economic stability, and George Bush immediately flash through my mind. In the past, every book Neil has been involved with has somehow revolved around sex, drugs, and rock and roll; most of the time all three. This book would indeed be different. When I pushed him for further detail, he didn’t budge, but genuinely insisted “Ill be curious, you’ll have to let me know what you think about it”. I believed him.
Throughout the interview, the conversation flowed rather naturally, sometimes running more like a casual conversation then an interview. Once we started to discuss Neil’s relationship with Jenna Jameson, his words become more carefully chosen. It’s clear he didn’t want anything to be misinterpreted. “ I wrote, I wrote.. [long pause]. So, I really didn’t know a lot about porn…,” he continues, starting a story, avoiding giving direct information. As our conversation progresses I learn that Neil was more involved then just co-writing her book. He wrote a script for an adult film, and even made an appearance in one (fully clothed). When I asked for further details, he answered “I can’t say” almost apologetically. It sounded like he wanted to genuinely tell me, but I knew it was more important for him to protect his privacy. When thousands of men all over the world dissect and study your every word, movement and gesture, you can never be too careful.
“I recently started a publishing company in my spare time, called Igniter,” he explains as we move onto less controversial topics. “It’s with a guy named Anthony Berger, who does a bunch of rock books. We started this publishing company together, for kinda cool, really hard edge memoirs. Some of the stuff is so extreme, that you can barely even call it sexy,” he explains honestly. Spare time, I think. Between writing books and articles, coaching legions of men, running a book club, and being an overall celebrity, there didn’t seem like a lot of room to play. “I either play really hard, or work really hard.” He explains. “I’ve been working really hard for the past few months. So I’m going to start playing really hard in about 3 weeks once this thing goes to print. To me, the only way to get shit done is to have a real solid hard deadline. Unless I have an editor calling me up and telling me, there gonna kill me and my firstborn child, if I don’t get the book in two weeks. That’s the best way to get something done. A deadline with real hard world consequences.” It makes sense. Even when I want to write, I have trouble just sitting at the computer, I explain to him.
“Maybe you can just start a company for writers, where you give them a deadline with consequences. [laughs] If you don’t turn it in by that date, you give them the consequences…You poison their dog, [laugh], take there entire CD collection, wipe out their hard drive,” Neil conjures up. “You’ll be like… the deadline adjuster,” he says giddily. I start to ask my next question, but Neil’s mind is still running. “Or like a deadline enforcer,” he says before I start my next sentence. “Get the URL right now. Deadlineenforcer.com,” he chuckles. It sounds like a wrestler, I admit.
It is at this point where I realize when it comes down to it, Neil Strauss is who he truly represents himself to be. He is nice, he is genuine, and yes- he is abit nerdy. The time Neil spent being a self proclaimed geek actually seems like a blessing in disguise. It gave him the time to develop his mind, his work, and his career. And now that all his puzzle pieces are in place, there doesn’t seem to be a lot that Neil cannot accomplish.
This work was originally published from SUNY New Paltz.