He’s penned memoirs with junkies, porn stars, and Mötley Crüe, popped wheelies with Tom Cruise, downed shots with Springsteen, shopped for diapers with Snoop Dogg, lived with Courtney Love, soaked in a Holiday Inn hot tub with Marilyn Manson, and still had time along the way to give birth to the modern day pickup artist movement and prep the world for Apocalypse.
And now, after six years of grappling with addictions, relationship failures. and past traumas, author Neil Strauss delivers his most daring and controversial book to date: The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book about Relationships.
The Game schooled men on how to pick-up women. Is The Truth now teaching them how to be faithful to just one?
No, no man. (laughs) Not at all. I think it’s more of a guidebook on how to be true to yourself and others. And how to connect with others instead of disconnecting. I don’t think I’m in a position to tell you that monogamy is right or wrong for you. But if you’re doing something to distance yourself from others or avoid pain, it’s not helping your relationships in the end.
So The Truth is more of a book about finding your authentic self.
I think so, yeah. I’ve come to think when people people talk about their authentic self – it’s like, how in the hell do you know what’s authentic? So I like to think of it as the creative self vs. the destructive self. Maybe that’s the journey. Are you running around hurting yourself and others and not even realizing it? Or are you making yourself and others around you better?
When I first starting reading it I thought, how does the guy who wrote The Dirt pull off a book about his inner child?
It was brutally difficult. It’s easy to see someone else from the outside and know what’s interesting about them. But it is so hard to see that in yourself. What’s important to you isn’t necessarily what other people are interested in.
Why be this transparent?
Because it’s what I’ve made everyone else I wrote with do. When I talked to Mötley Crüe, I said, “Listen, I’m not doing the book unless you’re willing to tell everything and hold nothing back, even if it makes you look bad.” I talked with big artists who refused to do that so I did not do books with them. So I had to hold myself up to the same standards.
Also, I believe if you say the things you are most scared of saying, people are likely to relate. Because we all have things we are scared of saying. If you give people what you think they want, you’ll likely be wrong. If you give them what’s true for you, you’ll do better.
In The Truth, you pursue open relationships, swinger clubs, foursomes, moresomes — How is crazy sex any different from heroin? Nobody would argue that heroin doesn’t make you feel incredible in the moment but it’s destructive in the end.
You’re right. As a teenager you just want one woman. So that was great and then you want two. Then three. Where does it end? How many before you realize more will never be enough?
Your life might be getting out of control when Rick Rubin is warning you that you’re on the path to hell.
Exactly, right? But better the friend who warns you that you’re on the path to hell than one who holds your hand and leaves you there. I’m lucky to have Rick as a mentor and a friend. You can see why he’s so good with bands because he’s not afraid to tell them the truth.
Do you know who King Solomon is?
From the Bible? Yes.
According to the story, he was the richest and wisest man who ever lived. So he approached life as an experiment and denied himself no pleasure. Solomon said that it was all emptiness – that love, fulfilling work. and living in the moment are the only things that matter in the end. I see that theme through much of your writing.
Ecclesiastes is my favorite book. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. Just work in your little square of field and be happy. I love it. I always thought that was the best philosophy.
How long did The Truth take to write?
The whole journey took about five or six years. And then two years of writing. I have probably a thousand plus pages that I cut. Sometimes I would write a section and then read it later and think, this guy is an idiot. He thinks he’s right but he is so misguided. So in writing about myself, I got the rare opportunity to see myself from the outside. Which is very hard to do.
You talk about how we all live in the blind spots and it’s killing us. For a person who may not have the financial and interpersonal connections that you have – how would they go about such an effort?
That’s true, you hit the bulls-eye there. Not only is it hard to hear someone point out how you look from the outside, it’s also easier to dismiss them than admit they are right. So we all live in this box. And how do you see yourself as you really are without leaving the box? Our culture does not make access to good help easy. We have some access to physical help but not much for emotional help and if we do, it’s expensive and really hard to find. But it’s important to find that right person. You need someone from the outside who understands how human beings and the human mind operates.
So what can the regular person do?
Hmm. I would get my friends together and do some sort of group therapy where we all agree to communicate and get honest and I would save up for one intensive workshop. Therapy every week is really expensive. But if you can do one really deep and intensive trauma healing session, I think that’s a good place to start.
I’ve worked in a lot of mental health programs. Often the practitioners are sicker than the patients.
Oh, man. I know. I know. Can a sick person help another sick person? Or are they just making them sicker? But sometimes the best teachers are the most messed up. Kind of like that Robert Duvall movie, The Preacher? He’s not a good person but he’s a great pastor to his congregation. So the question is – do you have the gift? Or are you just helping others for the ego gratification?
Was The Truth your hardest book to write?
By far. 100 percent. With my own books, I usually take a problem in my life by the tail and wrestle it to the ground until I solve it. Like with The Game, you move your body a certain way when you are talking to someone and they respond. Behaviors are easy. Beliefs are what it’s all about. But I believe doing the stuff in The Truth would bypass the necessity for The Game.
The Game is a way to fill a self-esteem hole with other people. It’s better to fill it up with yourself.
Do you feel badly for what The Game brought?
I guess not? Because when I wrote that book my intentions were good. I thought I was helping others. And I likely hurt some others. I would not write The Game at this point in my life. But our society has changed in ways that I don’t think The Game could come out today.
The Game is a work of journalism in one sense. I was just writing about a community and the good and the bad. But I think the degree of objectification and predatory behavior that is in that culture is not okay these days. The Game is more controversial today than it was when it came out.
Will fans of The Game think you’re selling out?
My gut says that half my readers will be ready for this book because they’ve either A) been lucky enough to grow up or B) gotten stuck. And I think the other half will think it’s some sort of betrayal. But you gotta stay true to yourself. If I’m still trying to be the person I was ten years ago to please those old readers, that’s the definition of being a hack.
Quote from The Truth: “This is who I am, neurotic and nerdy and deep down I’m an awkward loser. So I’ll make out with these two girls to cover it up.” I kept thinking of rock stars who never could seem to be faithful until their testosterone levels dropped.
You wonder the cause and effect. Do they have high testosterone levels because they had so much sex? And they slow down and it stops? Or does it drop with age? I thought about that. I went and got my testosterone levels checked after I settled down and had a child. No change. Because I figured some would think, “Ah, Neil’s just settled down and his hormones adjusted.” But I checked it beginning, middle and end and there was no change.
You know what? I’m not even on the high end. I thought I might be but I was normal. So what that tells me is it’s more about your beliefs than anything else. A lot of the sex, I didn’t even enjoy. It was just compulsive.
Some might struggle understanding the inability to enjoy wild sex. Was it empty?
It was a good way to distract yourself from your own emptiness. But there’s something called euphoric recall where you remember an event as more fun than it really was. That’s why it’s good to take notes so I can look back and see all the awkwardness and weirdness that I conveniently forgot about.
I think it was more about expectations that I didn’t feel I could live up to. Or I would start seeing someone out of guilt rather than really wanting to see them. People getting emotionally attached and wanting more from me than I was capable of giving.
What’s the most important thing you learned through this process? What do you want readers to take away from The Truth?
Wow, good question…. I should know this already. Okay — get to know yourself in truth and without fear. Because if you don’t, you’re not living your own life. I really thought I had a normal family, a normal childhood and all my thoughts were right. It was only by cheating on Ingrid and breaking her heart, by hitting rock bottom that I got to see how messed up I truly was. To see just how much I was living in reaction to my past. I wasn’t being myself.
For sure. The world, to me, is a brighter color that it was before. But it’s not just about always being happy. It’s about accepting whatever emotion I’m having at the time. If I’m anxious or sad, it’s about accepting that, finding out what’s going on and returning to equilibrium quicker. The success of a life or a relationship is not about always being happy but it’s about quickening the recovery time when you are not.
Did you name Tenn for Tennessee?
Partly, yeah. And after Tennyson the poet, and Tennessee Williams. I lived in Nashville for a while when I was writing for the New York Times. I miss Monell’s and that meat and three downtown, what is it?
Arnold’s is great, man. I miss your Nashville food. I was there in the 90s. I’m sure it’s changed a lot since then.
For real? So it’s sort of like, a scene. Wow. You should read the piece I did on lost wax figures of country stars. To me, that’s a good metaphor for Nashville getting away from it’s roots.
Read it way back and loved it. That and The Dirt are what got me into your writing. Can I get a bit of advice from you?
Ah, okay. Here’s my main tips. Don’t put him on a pedestal but don’t try to be too cool for school. Be interested in his new work right away instead of just talking about “Ace of Spades” or whatever. And don’t ask questions that you’re curious about — try to get in his head and talk about the things he’s interested in and cares about.
What’s your writing schedule like?
On Mondays, I have every meeting, interview and appointment. Then Tuesday through Sunday I write. If I’m on a big deadline I’ll give my phone to someone else and be like, “Don’t give me back my phone til five o’clock.” I use a program called Freedom on my computer that blocks you off the internet. So I’ll give my phone to my wife, set Freedom for 360 minutes, close myself off and focus on what I need to get out.
Yes. I can’t say who this person is but I just finished it and it’s probably the most controversial one yet. It’s insane. It’s so dark, I think after this I’m done with the dark side.
Your memoirs tend towards the seedier side, Jenna Jameson, Dave Navarro, Marilyn Manson and Mötley Crüe – would you consider someone like Kenny Rogers or Lionel Richie?
Love to hear it.
Lionel said, “In one year I did USA for Africa, I played the Olympics, I won a Grammy and all together I played for over a billion and a half people. Finally, after all these years, I had reached the top of the mountain. And you know what’s at the top? Nothing. All you had were the experiences it took to get there. There’s nothing at the top.”
Vanity of vanities. Emptiness. Work your little square and be happy now.
Neil Strauss is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Game, Rules of the Game, Emergency, and Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead. He is also the co-author of three other New York Times bestsellers – Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt and Marilyn Manson’s The Long Hard Road out of Hell. A writer for Rolling Stone, Strauss lives in Los Angeles.