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Strauss in fact was extremely excited about Manson: "Never has there been a rock star quite as complex as Marilyn Manson," he gushed in the second paragraph of the Stone profile. It's a line that has the same hyperbolic qualities of Jon Landau's infamous "I have seen rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen." Where Landau went on to become Springsteen's manager, Strauss would go on to become Manson's friend and co-author.
First, though, he had to finish the Stone piece. But Strauss was apparently too distracted to do the same kind of reporting that would have been expected of him at the Times. Midway through the article, he describes a Manson concert that he attended.
"The cops have one door barred and are videotaping the entire show, hoping for enough nudity or obscenity to justify an arrest," he writes. "It wouldn't be the first time that's happened to Manson. The last time he performed in St. Petersburg, Florida, he was arrested for indecently exposing himself on-stage. Before the police threw him in jail, they ridiculed him, warning him to remove his lip ring because somebody might tear it out while beating him up."
Tim Roche and Eric Deggans, two diligent reporters at the St. Petersburg Times, read the Rolling Stone story and followed it up. They discovered that Manson was never arrested in St. Petersburg. What's more, the pair reported that "police had planned to take a video camera to the concerts Nov. 13 and 14, but before the show started, the officers were called away to respond to disturbances [elsewhere] in the city."
The Long Hard Road Out of Hell changes the city of arrest to Jacksonville, Florida, and a police spokesman for the city confirms that Manson was busted there in 1994. Nonetheless, the book carries a disclaimer: "To protect the innocent, many of the names and identifying features of individuals in this book have been changed and several characters are composites." Strauss never steps forward in the book to clarify this blurred line between hard reality and embellishment. That may not be expected of a hired co-author, but a reporter is bound to investigate and confirm actual facts. And the line between co-writer and reporter is clouded by the book's jacket, which prominently mentions Strauss's employment at Rolling Stone and the New York Times. Manson, for his part, invokes the names of these journalistic institutions to lend credibility to his version of his life story.
Strauss is happy with the results. "I had the option to take my name off it if I wasn't happy with the way it came out, and it ended up so much better than I could have hoped, as suspenseful and well-structured as a novel," he wrote on the "Ask Neil Strauss" message board of the New York Times Online. The book is credited to "Marilyn Manson with Neil Strauss."
In a sidebar interview accompanying the recent Spin excerpt and cover story, Manson (who declined to be interviewed for this story) gives more details about the pair's working relationship. "[The book] was mostly dictated," the singer says. "I would tell Neil Strauss stories, because I don't have the patience or skill to write them down myself. I'm sure in a month or so I'll deny things I've said and attribute them to drug use or coercion by Neil."
In fact, it wasn't long before Manson was denying things. On a subsequent edition of MTV News, the rocker furiously claimed that Spin had fabricated quotes in the seemingly innocuous sidebar, which was just a small part of eight pages of free publicity for his book. "These are not the questions I was asked, and not the answers I would give to those particular questions," Manson railed. A Spin spokesman says the magazine stands behind its story and has tapes of Manson saying exactly what was quoted.
The incident illustrates the extent to which Manson -- a onetime rock writer who interviewed the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Debbie Harry and Nine Inch Nails, among others -- is a control freak who wants to call the shots when it comes to what is printed about him. And it calls into question how much Strauss had to tailor what he wrote to please his subject. Which, again, the co-author has every right to do. Provided he doesn't continue covering Manson as a reporter.
The Washington Post's Kurtz points out that a newspaper business reporter who profited from an autobiography of Bill Gates would probably not be allowed to continue covering Microsoft, and a political writer who collaborated on a book with Newt Gingrich would probably be pulled off the Gingrich beat to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest. Pareles seems to generally agree: "Neil is now disqualified forever from writing any critical endorsements of Manson," he says.
But the senior critic has no problem with Strauss writing further news stories about Manson. Pareles notes that Times TV critic Bill Carter wrote a successful book about Jay Leno and David Letterman called The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for Late Night, and Carter continues to cover the talk-show hosts.