Interview: Jeremie Ruby-Strauss, Editor
To the outsider, the world of books and publishing is sometimes perceived as a stuffy, stodgy, genteel world of college professors, pipes, and tweed jackets with elbow patches. Now imagine that quiet book reading, with a string quartet playing the corner, being crashed by a bunch of unwashed, drugged out rockers. That clash of cultures is probably what a weekend is like for Jeremie Ruby-Strauss, heavy metal book editor extraordinaire at Gallery Books.
Earlier in his career, Ruby-Strauss cranked up the volume on the bestseller list by working on Marilyn Manson’s book The Long Hard Road Out of Hell and Motley Crue’s The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. More recently, Ruby-Strauss blasted off into orbit to work with the Spaceman himself, Ace Frehley.
Now, obviously, I’ve covered hard rock literature pretty extensively here at Slushpile.net. And my own recently published book, Power Chord: One Man’s Ear-Splitting Quest to Find His Guitar Heroes deals with hard rock and heavy metal. And I must confess… I’ve grown slightly skeptical of the metal book genre because some of the recent releases seemed to be little more than quick and easy product, as opposed to something of substance. So I wanted to get Ruby-Strauss’ opinion on the trend.
The respected editor spoke about the deluge of hard rock books, about when Ace Frehley met Keith Richards, about Stephen Pearcy’s new book, and about his own personal musical tastes.
Slushpile: Just a few years ago, the prevailing wisdom in publishing was that “metal heads don’t read.” Now, it seems like every rocker with a Marshall amp stack gets a book deal. What changed?
Ruby-Strauss: Probably just the perception of what the prevailing wisdom is at any given time. While it felt very edgy to publish Marilyn Manson in 1998, the truth is that Aerosmith’s Walk this Way and David Lee Roth’s Crazy from the Heat came out in 1997.
Motley Crue’s The Dirt and KISS and Make-Up by Gene Simmons followed in 2001; then Dave Navarro’s Don’t Try This at Home, Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis, and Tommyland by Tommy Lee in 2004.
Slash by Slash and The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx were in 2007.
I Am Ozzy by Ozzy Osbourne, My Appetite for Destruction by Steven Adler, and Mustaine by Dave Mustaine came out in 2010.
And 2011 was ridiculous with Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? by Steven Tyler, Iron Man by Tony Iommi, Seven Deadly Sins by Corey Taylor, It’s So Easy by Duff McCagan, No Regrets by Ace Frehley, and Red by Sammy Hagar.
And that’s just off the top of my head. So the genre’s been chugging along the whole time, and also gaining a lot of steam in the past two years.
Slushpile: At this point into the trend, when there have been so many heavy metal and hard rock memoirs published, what catches your eye now? What does a book need to accomplish today, that might be different from when the trend was just starting?
Ruby-Strauss: Asking for an exciting rock memoir is a little like asking for wet water. I mean, if the pinnacle of aspiration, adoration, inebriation, fornication, and self-immolation doesn’t entertain you, I’m pretty much fresh out of tricks. So I’m looking for all of that, plus a passionate fan base, but it’s a rare rock star who doesn’t have all of those things in spades.
Slushpile: Ace Frehley has been quoted in media reports as working on a sequel to his bestselling memoir No Regrets which you acquired. Will you be involved with the sequel?
Ruby-Strauss: I certainly hope so—call me, Ace!
Slushpile: What’s a sort of standout memory of working with Frehley? When you think of Ace, what comes to mind?
Ruby-Strauss: I’ll never forget our initial meeting, he told a story of wanting to meet Keith Richards, but neither of them could physically stand up—so they were both propped up by assistants so they could shake hands briefly, before each slumped over.
It was also very memorable when he rejected our cover and proceeded to design it himself. But you know, why not? We loved it and went with it, and the book went on to be a huge best seller.
Slushpile: I’m a huge RATT fan and they play a role in my new book, Power Chord. So I’m dying to know, what led to your recent acquistion of the memoir by Stephen Pearcy, vocalist for Ratt? What really ‘stands out’ about Pearcy’s story?
Ruby-Strauss: I was a big RATT fan back in the day. I had the poster, listened to the cassette on my Walkman, the whole thing, so I have a soft spot for the band. But what also really interested me was the idea of documenting the pre-AIDS Sunset strip, the last great era of American debauchery, from the unique perspective of a guy at the very top of that social scene—a crown prince of it.
Slushpile: Publishers Marketplace pegged Pearcy’s book deal as being between $100,000 and $250,000. Can you be more specific than that, or provide a more narrow range?
Ruby-Strauss: Pimpin’ Ken, star of Pimps Up, Hoes Down and author of Pimpology: The 48 Laws of the Game, told me never to count another man’s money.
Slushpile: Pearcy has said in television interviews that his book will make Motley Crue’s The Dirt look like a sandbox. Can you give us a hint of some of the stories in there?
Ruby-Strauss: There will be a ton of sex, mind-boggling amounts of drugs, and of course a whole lot of RATT & roll. Hence our current working title, Sex, Drugs, RATT & Roll: My Life in Rock. There’s also stuff about him breaking both legs as a kid and whatnot, but are you seriously not more intrigued by the sex and drugs?
Slushpile: Some rockers work with ghostwriters and co-authors and others go solo. Is Pearcy working with any assistance?
Ruby-Strauss: He’s working with Sam Benjamin, who also co-wrote American Outlaw by Jesse James. I think he does a good job of making male sexuality more interesting and complicated than people expect.
Slushpile: In some cases, we’re reaching the point where almost all members of a band have published books, plus journalists have written about the group and the band itself may have an official biography. For example, 4 out of 5 members of Aerosmith have (or are working on) books, 3 out of 4 members of Motley Crue have books, and so forth. How much further can this genre go before it simply runs out of steam?
Ruby-Strauss: Nothing ever runs out of steam. Something to do with the second law of thermodynamics. Instead, people declare a thing dead, and then experience the drama of it coming back to their complete surprise, when it never left at all.
Slushpile: You’ve worked with hard rock books, but what is your own personal musical tastes?
Ruby-Strauss: Smooth jazz stylings, Toy Story soundtrack, K-Pop…the usual.
Slushpile: Who would be your dream musician to work with? Even if it’s someone who has already published a book, let’s just say, ‘If I could edit a book by any musician, who would it be?’
Ruby-Strauss: Two answers: professionally, David Bowie; personally…you know what? Who am I kidding? David Bowie!