NEW YORK -- Timothy Crouse stepped off the campaign bus four elections ago, and at least in political circles, he's scarcely been heard from since.

"What's ever happened to him anyway?" asks Stephen Hess, media analyst for the Brookings Institution. "His book was like a cold shower in '73 ... It exposed the foibles of the press corps in an incredibly high pressure atmosphere."

Crouse's book, "The Boys on the Bus," showed up 15 years ago as an unvarnished look at pack journalism on the 1972 campaign trail and quickly became a minor classic. It exposed reportorial egos, pushed the premise that political journalists were basically unimaginative and generally gave an unsettling behind-the-scenes account of how the news gets from Des Moines to the nation's breakfast tables.

The book is in its umpteenth printing, with 355,000 copies in circulation, and still surfaces on high school and college reading lists. But its author, now 40, couldn't be more removed from the process today.

"I get calls every four years on the book -- a British television reporter wanted to come see me the other day," says Crouse, currently living in New York and working on a Broadway show. "I'm in this really funny position of not knowing anything about the subject matter any more ... Every morning I eat my cornflakes and read the headlines in The Times ... That's about the extent of it."

The son of playwright Russel Crouse (his sister is actress Lindsay Crouse) has taken on the job of rewriting and updating one of his father's biggest hits, the Cole Porter musical, "Anything Goes." His collaborator is his longtime friend and former Harvard roommate John Weidman. Performances began in September; the musical'sofficial opening is today.

"I guess, in some ways, this is like a campaign," says Crouse, from a tiny office at Lincoln Center. "Writing a musical and traveling with a campaign are both hermetically sealed enterprises. You sort of get on a plane and you don't know what's been going on in the world. And this is the plane I've been on for the last eight months."

In 1972, Crouse was commissioned by Rolling Stone to spend the year riding press planes and buses and cover the reporters who cover the candidates. His running mate in those days was another Rolling Stone writer, gonzo legend Hunter S. Thompson. At the time, both "alternative journalists" were about as welcome as a can of Raid at an ant convention.

Crouse later turned his Rolling Stone piece into a best seller that was devoured by anyone who had anything to do with American politics. No one argues that "The Boys on the Bus" actually changed presidential campaign coverage significantly -- but it did create an awareness some might have preferred to ignore.

Having a reporter covering reporters "took the fun out of presidential campaigns, in the way that Donald Segretti took the fun out of dirty tricks," recalls political consultant Robert Squier. "After that you never knew who was writing about what ... "

For his part, Crouse says he hasn't seen much change in campaign coverage. One of his criticisms in the book was how political journalists hesitated to hand in news stories that differed substantially from those of their colleagues. He concedes that he "can't imagine reporters in '72 covering Gary Hart the way they did this year," but he believes the change has more to do with the general post-Watergate mentality than with increased individual enterprise.

Another comment on changes since 1972 involves technology. "There is more information on tape which is easily retrieved, and it now can be someone's undoing, as in Biden's case," he says, referring to the borrowed rhetoric that knocked Sen. Joseph Biden out of the presidential sweepstakes.

"When Ed Muskie supposedly wept in New Hampshire, I don't think there were any television cameras there. I don't remember ever seeing a clip of this -- it was just a bunch of guys and their subjective opinions. I remember arguments ... it's very different today. Joe Biden said something that just was not refutable."

For a few years following the book, Crouse wrote a column on politics and the media for Esquire, then did more work for Rolling Stone. After that, he retreated to Gloucester, Mass., to decide on a different career path.

Crouse says he's had an interest in this particular show of his dad's since he was a youngster. "It was something in my father's trunk that meant a lot to me," he says. "I saw a revival of it when I was 13 and that's a dangerous age for something like this ... It made an impression on me."

He remembers the elder Crouse telling him how, when "Anything Goes" opened in Boston in 1934, he stood outside the theater and advised his friends not to go in.

"The point of the story is that my father and Howard {Lindsay, Russel Crouse's longtime collaborator} were the most painstaking craftsmen in the world. They prided themselves on that. They spent months and months getting the dialogue just right. They couldn't stand having an extraneous line in the show. And this was really thrown together so fast that they finished the last scene on the train to Boston."

Five years ago, Crouse finally decided to put his own spin on the musical and contacted Weidman. The two men have worked on it off and on, reaching peak intensity a few months ago. Since then they've been sequestered in various rooms and apartments trying out funny lines on each other 10 hours a day. Weidman says that despite Crouse's familial connection to the work, "he's never pulled rank" on him.

After the show went into a preopening production last month, Crouse and Weidman began going to see at least one of the two performances a day. Often, they were simply trying to see if the audience was laughing at their lines.

"Not having any reaction at all is a strong reaction," says Crouse.

"It's a loud nonsound," says Weidman, a former editor of National Lampoon.

And then back to the room they went.

"The characters are essentially the same," Crouse says of the rewrite. "The story is not quite the same. There is more emphasis on the romance ..."

"It's in no way an update," says Weidman. "What we tried to do is take a 1930s show, set solidly in the 1930s, and use all of the devices that have come along since then. I think from the script we have a 1930s play. But back then, it took three and one-half hours and now it runs two and a half."

Crouse has readied himself for the kind of critique of his work that he has made of others'. But one of his toughest critics, he reports, has already given the play a nod: his mother, Anna Crouse.

"She liked it a lot," Crouse says. "If there were problems, I certainly would have heard about them."