PERSONAL: Married (divorced).
CAREER: New York Press, New York, NY, editor, 1990-2002.
Flying Fish, Dolphin-Moon Press (Baltimore, MD), 1986.
Editor, with Donald Blaise, The Drug User: Documents 1840-1960, Blast Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Alone with the President, Blast Books (New York, NY), 1993.
E: Reflections on the Birth of the Elvis Faith, Blast Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Rock 'til You Drop: The Decline from Rebellion toNostalgia, Verso Books (New York, NY), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: A former editor of the periodical New York Press, John Strausbaugh spent twelve years with the publication and Web guide, writing about literature, media, and culture. The author of several books, including Alone with the President, E: Reflections on the Birth of the Elvis Faith, and Rock 'til You Drop: The Decline from Rebellion to Nostalgia, he has also appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, CNN, National Public Radio, and the television show Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
Alone with the President examines the attraction many presidents have for celebrities, beginning with John F. Kennedy, whom Strausbaugh dubs the "president as celebrity," and ending with Ronald Reagan, whom he refers to as the "celebrity as president." Although the combination of politics and celebrity is not a new phenomenon, Strausbaugh contends that with President Kennedy, celebrity and politics gained a whole different perspective. As Library Journal critic Pamela R. Daubenspeck put it, the book "might well have been subtitled, 'The Art of Schmoozing.'" Strausbaugh describes how many politicians rely on celebrities to counter their otherwise-staid public image by socializing with cultural icons whose images are associated with fun and entertainment: Nancy Reagan did it with Mr. T, Jimmy Carter with Andy Warhol, and Richard Nixon with just about anyone he could entice.
Despite the hilarious photographs that accompany Strausbaugh's text and reveal how far some politicians will go to make themselves look as if they are a part of the pop culture, a reviewer for American Heritage claimed that the biggest surprise of the book is not the pictures but rather Strausbaugh's writing, which he commended. "He has written thoughtful, well researched essays on the nature of politics and American celebrity," the reviewer concluded. Another critic, Booklist contributor Mary Carroll, found Alone with the President to be a "penetrating exploration of the intricate tangle of pop culture and political legitimacy."
Strausbaugh's E: Reflections on the Birth of the Elvis Faith refers to the fervent annual quest of an estimated 750,000 visitors who make their way to Elvis Presley's former home, Graceland. Strausbaugh examines the nearly religious zeal of Presley fans, comparing their passion to that of the newly converted adherents to religions or cults. Digging into the history of religions, Strausbaugh draws similarities between Elvisites and the beginnings of ancient religions, one example being the propensity of Elvis impersonators to don similar hairstyles and clothing, reminiscent of monks of a particular sect who might cut their hair in a prescribed style and wear matching robes. Strausbaugh continues the association between Elvis fans and religious followers by pointing out the popularity among the Elvis faithful of hanging paintings of him in their home and of buying Elvis relics. Strausbaugh even implies that the U.S. Post Office encouraged the cult with its use of the King's face on one of its first-class stamps. Bill Perkarski, writing in Library Journal, stated that, according to Strausbaugh, Elvis has become an icon of the likes of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. More than a dead celebrity, he has become a "spiritual force." "It may seem pretty flip," wrote Mike Tribby in Booklist, referring to Strausbaugh's theory, "but apparently Strausbaugh is sincere, and he does argue strongly for his thesis." This book is not just for Elvis believers, however. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that Strausbaugh's work would be enjoyed by both Elvis fans and "pop-culture hounds of all breeds."
Strausbaugh related in a Salon.com article about his book Rock 'til You Drop: The Decline from Rebellion to Nostalgia that he played in rock bands from the age of twelve until he was thirty, retiring from the rock scene at what he considered a dignified age. In his book, he looks at bands whose members, now in their fifties, refuse to yield the stage to the younger set, believing they are still at the peak of their professional careers. Although the author has nothing against older musicians, he feels that rock music should belong to younger players and that older rockers should move on to blues, jazz, or other forms of music. Giving examples of such groups as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Van Halen, Journey, and Fleetwood Mac, Strausbaugh contends that older musicians simply lack the energy and originality required for rock music, and he wonders why anyone would want to pay money to see "middle aged has-beens," according to Washington Post reviewer Frank Thomas.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Heritage, May-June, 1994, review of Alone with the President, p. 122.
Booklist, January 15, 1994, Mary Carroll, review of Alone with the President, p. 897; December 15, 1995, Mike Tribby, review of E: Reflections on the Birth of the Elvis Faith, p. 679; July, 2001, Mike Tribby, review of Rock 'til You Drop: The Decline from Rebellion to Nostalgia, p. 1967.
Entertainment Weekly, March 11, 1994, Erica Kornberg, review of Alone with the President, p. 52; August 23, 1996, L. S. Klepp, review of E, p. 118.
Library Journal, January, 1994, Pamela R. Daubenspeck, review of Alone with the President, p. 142; November 15, 1995, Bill Perkarski, review of E, p. 77.
Publishers Weekly, November 13, 1995, review of E, p. 59; July 23, 2001, review of Rock 'til You Drop, p. 65.
Washington Post, September 23, 2001, Frank Thomas, review of Rock 'til You Drop, p. T8.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (October 7, 2001), Paul McLeary, review of Rock 'til You Drop.*