Before I go into complete and obsessive Bloomsday on Beaver Street mode (as opposed to the quasi-obsessive mode I'm currently in), I want to get in a good word about a book that I just finished reading. It's one of those books that in a just world would be getting some high-profile media attention--because it's not only a work of genuine religious insanity, but it's funny as hell, which is where, according to a certain strain of thought, its author might end up.
The Reborn Bible 2.0: The 2nd Coming Gospel of the American Rapture, by David Comfort, is a pitch-perfect re-imagining of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, that takes us from the Garden of Eden, where George Bush Sr. and Barbara Bush are Adam and Eve, climaxes in a pay-per-view David (Geffen) and Goliath (Arnold Schwarzenegger) battle, and ends with Moses (Holy Joe Lieberman) returning to Jerusalem to reclaim the Promised Land.
Or something like that.
I can’t say that I understand everything I read (especially that one sentence in Arabic) or that I got all the Biblical references or even that I understood all the Yiddish expressions, which is a language I’m not unfamiliar with. But page after page, the book did leave me wondering: How did Comfort, who’s probably best known for The Rock And Roll Book Of The Dead, do it? I kept picturing him, confined to a monk-like cell, a 21st century prophet writing on papyrus, as he absorbed and transformed every word of the real Bible into his deranged contemporary vision of all the usual suspects who have so befouled our political discourse.
The crucifixion of Obama, which the “learned lawyer, Geraldo” is covering for Fox News, serves as a good example of Comfort’s sense of humor. “‘Does ObamaCare cover crucifixion?’” Geraldo asks, reporting from the scene. “‘Is being the messiah a pre-existing condition? Would righteous infliction of emotional distress warrant punitive damages?’”
Somehow, in an act of biblical fortitude, Comfort keeps this sort of thing up for 309 pages. Somebody had to do it.
Bloomsday on Beaver Street II is one month from today, and as is always the case when you're coordinating a complex event with a wide array of independent-minded and highly creative people, there will be divergent opinions. In the interest of group harmony, these opinions must be addressed.
"The event is sounding too much like a celebration of pornography," is an opinion I heard expressed yesterday.
I respectfully disagree.
What we’re celebrating is literature that was once branded pornographic, not pornography itself. The main case in point, of course, is Ulysses, which was originally banned in the U.S. for its explicit sexual content. And some of that content will be read as an illustration of why certain misguided people chose to ban an extraordinary book.
Then there’s Beaver Street, which certainly explores the place of pornography in American culture, but is anything but a celebration of pornography. In fact, the critic Neil Chesanow, in describing Beaver Street, referred to my “deep ambivalence and frequent disgust” with porno. “Yes,” he writes, “the book mentions gangbangs and all manner of sexual acts, but none of these are lovingly described in salacious detail.”
And the other book that I’m going to be reading from, my almost completed novel Bobby in Naziland, has nothing at all to do with the pornography industry, and ties in directly with Bloomsday by paying tribute to James Joyce in the subtitle, A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.
The other two books we’re celebrating, The Complete Linda Lovelace, by Eric Danville, and Confessions of the Hundred Hottest Porn Stars, by Lainie Speiser, are about, and examples of, pornography as a mainstream cultural phenomenon. But they are not works of pornography.
Plus there’s the music. Some of it, like Mary Lyn Maiscott’s haunting new song, “Angel Tattooed Ballerina,” about a transsexual, simply touches on the theme of transgression.
And yes, it’s true, there will a porn star on hand, and she will be reading from a book. But if I understand correctly, it is required that every cutting-edge literary and art event in New York City have at least one porn star on hand. In fact, if the porn star is famous enough, and she’s sitting naked and ironically in a bathtub filled with money, she will be recognized as an object of beauty that has nothing to do with pornography.
So, if Bloomsday on Beaver Street II seems a little heavy on pornography, it’s only because we’re doing what we can to keep literature relevant in the 21st century.
Some of the revelers at Bloomsday on Beaver Street I. It was kind of like a high school reunion, with a couple of celebrity interlopers from The Surreal World.
Putting together the second annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street: Father's Day Edition, is the equivalent of putting together a complex theatrical event, and it has taken me well outside my creative comfort zone, which generally involves sitting alone in a room and doing little more than putting words on a blank page.
I'm working with actors, musicians, other authors, and at least one porn star, several of whom live outside the New York area. There are auditions. There are technical issues involving sound systems and recording devices. There are invitations to deal with and press releases to write. Plus, I have to prepare my own performance, something that has never come naturally to me, and which will involve reading in public for the first time an excerpt from a novel that I've been working on for five years.
Bloomsday is keeping me awake at night.
But I keep reminding myself that the reason there is a Bloomsday on Beaver Street II is because last year’s event went so well, and was so much fun, people are still talking about it. It was a combination book party and reading, concert, open mike, high school and junior high school reunion, co-op meeting, family gathering, and drunken bacchanal.
So, as I work with my multitude of collaborators and potential collaborators to finalize this year’s festivities, I just want to say that the first round of invitations will soon be going out via Facebook, and everybody on my mailing list will be receiving a personal invitation via e-mail. And if you happen to be in New York on June 16, feel free to drop by the Killarney Rose. If it’s anything like last year, chances are good you’ll still be talking about Bloomsday II when Bloomsday III rolls around in 2014.
The following review, written by "Another Former Porn Worker," appeared on Amazon yesterday. It speaks for itself.
Your book was amazing! I downloaded it to my Kindle and could NOT put it down last night. You perfectly capture the atmosphere of the office, that slight paranoia, tinged with smarminess, with the forced insistence that everything around here is perfectly normal. I too worked in the industry, though far more recently, but it seems nothing has changed.
Your assessment of Carl Ruderman is priceless. I, too, have sat in front of that exquisite Victorian desk, surrounded by his priceless artifacts that invariably feature naked women or abstract genitalia, patiently waiting my turn for him to say, “...And Ms. XXXX, what good news do you have for me today?” From your description of him, I could hear his voice leap from the page. I could see him as I saw him in his office at 801 Second Avenue, a bit more shriveled version than the one you saw, but in that same beautifully cut, tasteful gray pinstripe suit, pocket square, and genteel sneer.
Also, in the short time I was there, I know the company was sued multiple times. Weirdly, it was never mentioned at the meetings. It was simply like it didn’t matter. Also, by the time I got there, the porn down on the lower floor was never mentioned. Ever. People on the 19th floor did NOT speak to any of the people down there. I only knew about them because I had skills he needed for both floors.
I loved the part about “the founder.” After he lost the lease on the 19th floor and we were moved to the far less glamorous 11th floor, that bust was placed directly outside my door, so it would stare at me day in, day out. It was rumored that there was a camera in it, but that was probably just conjecture.
He was elderly by the time I worked for him, yet he was insistent on never dying. He kept a personal chef with him at the office, a woman he paid far less than she was worth, peanuts really. She would prepare his daily vitamins and medications, dozens in all, and his breakfast and lunch in the office’s formal dining room. All upper management was expected to attend, but as a woman and a low-level techie I was fortunately denied that privilege.
I liked your Maria. It explains his current secretary while I was there. She was a mid-fiftyish battleaxe of a hag who would agree with him if he said the sky was green, and spent much of her time repeating back anything he said in different words as if she had just thought of that. She, and the other woman before her, trained themselves to expect and indulge his every whim. The woman before at least seemed to see the humor in the situation, as Maria seemed to. I would have been stoned all the time, too.
There was a whole host of crazy characters there who, like me, had no other options at the time, and those of us who got out sometimes get together and talk about it, because no one else would ever believe us. They are a crazy bunch, but those who survived, many are people I really like, cause as you and Maria were, we were witness to a legend being written. Like you, I walked out of that office with no job but that “incredible lightness of being.”
All in all, you reminded me that despite everything, Carl Ruderman has charisma. A sly, slithering sort of charisma, but charisma just the same. I can’t even say I dislike him. He is the sort of man who will do anything for money, and it seems that he did.
In the end, those of us that got tangled up in it have one hell of a story to tell at cocktail parties.
Genius is a word I use sparingly, but I would apply it to photographer Clayton Cubitt'sHysterical Literature, an erotic art project that transcends both literature and pornography.
The concept is deceptively simple: Film, in black and white, a series of sexy, articulate women--some are porn stars, some aren't--sitting at a table, reading a passage from their favorite book. As they read, somebody is underneath the table, out of sight, pleasuring them with a vibrator. All you see is the table, the fully clothed woman from the torso up, and the book she's reading, as she becomes more and more aroused until, no longer able to read, she gives herself over to orgasm.
Not surprisingly, the most popular video in the series, with more than six million views, is porn star Stoya reading from the anthology Necrophila Variations.
Here, I’ve selected two videos that I found especially interesting. The one above is Amanda reading A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess. The one below, which appears to be a knockoff of Cubitt’s concept, is Elaine, a Brazilian woman, reading something or other in Portuguese. Which just goes to show that you don’t have to understand a word that’s being said to appreciate Hysterical Literature.
Can’t wait to see somebody do justice to Beaver Street. In any language.
Go to the 27:00 minute mark to hear Philip Proctor as Molly Bloom
One of the things we will be celebrating on Bloomsday on Beaver Street II: Father’s Day Edition, on June 16, at the Killarney Rose, is the concept of Ulysses as a pornographic book that was banned, in 1920, by The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.
Last year, Byron Nilsson, our MC, read the passage that was directly responsible for that banning: Leopold Bloom masturbates at the beach as he watches a young girl reveal her "beautifully shaped legs." James Joyce's description of Bloom's orgasm--"O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lovely! O so soft, sweet, soft!"--may be the most poetic description of masturbation in the English language.
This year, we’ve selected a 300-word erotic passage from the adulteress Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. It begins, “I had to get him to suck them they were so hard he said it was sweeter and thicker than cows then he wanted to milk me into the tea…”
We’ve been looking for the right actress to read this passage.
But it has come to my attention that we don’t necessarily need to limit our auditions to actresses. The Firesign Theatre’s comedy album, from 1969, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All, contains a surreal bit at the end of side one where Philip Proctor, playing car salesman Ralph Spoilsport, reads a close approximation of the final part of Molly’s soliloquy. You can hear it in the above video beginning around the 27:00-minute mark. This is the kind of thing that just might work on Beaver Street.
So, actors and actresses, if you’re in the New York area and you think you can do justice to the passage we’ve selected, as either comedy or erotica, please get in touch. We’d love to hear you read.
Max Bialystock, Franz Liebkind, and Leo Bloom in a scene from The Producers.
Of all the Jews in all the books in all of literature, why did Mel Brooks steal the name Leo Bloom from the protagonist of James Joyce's Ulysses for his nervous and corruptible accountant in The Producers?
Played by Gene Wilder in the 1968 film, and Matthew Broderick in the original cast of the 2001 Broadway musical, Leo Bloom, in the course of auditing scam-artist producer Max Bialystock’s books, realizes that more money can be made from producing a flop than producing a hit. And the super-flop that Bloom and Bialystock scheme to produce is a musical titled Springtime for Hitler, written by a deranged former-Nazi playwright, Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars).
“I don’t know what it meant to James Joyce,” said Mel Brooks, “but to me Leo Bloom always meant a vulnerable Jew with curly hair. Enter Gene Wilder.”
There’s more: Before taking on the role of Max Bialystock in the film, Zero Mostel played Leopold Bloom in a Broadway production of Ulysses in Nighttown. And the film is full of Ulysses references. In one scene, Bloom asks Bialystock, “When will it be Bloom’s Day?” A calendar on the wall shows that it is Bloomsday—June 16.
I bring this up now because, though Ulysses seems to contain references to everything in the world, it contains no references to Nazis—the book predated Nazism. And since everything that will happen this June 16, at Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, at the Killarney Rose, will, in one way or another, be tied into the Ulysses theme, I thought that a direct connection to the title of my book, Bobby in Naziland, which I’ll read from for the first time in public that night, was lacking.
True, the subtitle, A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew, is a direct reference to Joyce, and I figured that that was good enough. But now I know that, thanks to The Producers and Mel Brooks, which are both referenced in Bobby in Naziland, I do have the Ulysses-Nazi connection that I longed for.
Yes, yes, yes, I really have read, from beginning to end, Ulysses, by James Joyce, the book we will be using as an excuse to have a party, on June 16, the day known as Bloomsday, at the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street.
It was 1977 when I took down the book from my shelf, where it had been gathering dust for many years. Having recently embarked on a writing career, I felt it was a novel that every "serious" writer should read, and I'd managed to avoid doing so throughout college and grad school.
Ulysses is the most difficult book I’ve ever read, and it took me the better part of a year to get through it. There were pages where I literally had to look up in the dictionary every other word. And there were huge swaths where I had no idea what was going on. But finish it I did, dipping into it every spare moment I could find, and reading it on the subway, where it served as a conversation piece. Late one night, as I was returning home to Washington Heights on the Broadway Local, the guy sitting across the aisle from me pointed to the book and said, “It’s a joke book. You’ve got to read it like a joke book.”
Taken more by the idea of Ulysses than the book itself, in 1986 I went to Dublin for Bloomsday, named for the book’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom. On the morning of June 16, I visited the Martello Tower, overlooking the Irish Sea, in Sandycove, outside Dublin. This is where the book opens with the words, “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”
In the afternoon, led by a local guide, I took a walking tour of Ulysses sites throughout the city. The guide, a knowledgeable fellow, probably in his late 60s, kept referring to the fact that Bloom was an Irish Jew. “You’ve got to pay your Jews if you want to sing the blues,” was the line that got the biggest laugh out of the tour group.
In the evening, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I listened to a reading of the final part of the book, Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, the one that begins with “Yes” and ends with “yes I said yes I will Yes.” Then, in the finest tradition of Leopold Bloom and his good friend Stephen Dedalus, I went to the local pub and drank my fill of Guinness before stumbling back to my hotel for a good’s night’s sleep.
The next day, I embarked, via ferry, for Liverpool, where another pilgrimage awaited me.
…direct from Cleveland, Ohio, where he's just completed a critically acclaimed run as James "Jimmy Tomorrow" Cameron in The Iceman Cometh, let's give it up for Paul Slimak!
Actually, it's not a stage, just an area on the floor at the upstairs bar of the Killarney Rose, at 80 Beaver Street, that we like to call a stage. But it is where all the Bloomsday on Beaver Street performances will be taking place, on Sunday, June 16, beginning at 7 P.M. And we have just received word that Slimak, whom you may know as degenerate Nazi fugitive Erich von Pauli from the Beaver Street videos (and whom I call "Henry Dorfman" in Beaver Street, the book) will be one of the performers.
Slimak and his wife, Agnes Herrmann, who plays Diana Clerkenwell in the Beaver Street videos (and whom you may have last seen in The Road, as Archer’s Woman), will perform a reading from Mr. Sensitivity, a play by our MC, Byron Nilsson, about a man who gives his wife a porn stud for her birthday. (Mr. Sensitivity was performed at the Fringe Festival in 2009.)
As a special bonus, Slimak, in the character of von Pauli, will introduce my first public reading of my novel, Bobby in Naziland: A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.
I read your piece in Salon, "The Future Is No Fun," about self-publishing your e-book, West of Babylon, and I wanted to let you know that it might be the most depressing story about the publishing industry I've ever read. I got about three quarters of the way through it before I had to stop and put it aside. It was just too bleak to go on. Too much "extreme cruelty." But I came back to it the next day, and skipped to the end, just to make sure it wasn't a suicide note. Then I kind of read it backwards, paragraph-by-paragraph, and felt a little better. I did appreciate your epiphany--if you can call it an epiphany--that you now understand how rough it is out there, and that from now on, you'll help anybody who asks you for help. I feel the same way.
You say that your working life now consists of sending out hundreds of e-mails to people in the media who might want to review your book. You say that you consider it a good day if someone gets back to you, even if they tell you, politely, to fuck off. What you don't seem to realize is that that's how it is now, even if your book isn't self-published. What you spend far too much time doing sounds disturbingly similar to what I've spent far too much time doing since a small, London-based indie published my latest book, Beaver Street, as a paperback and in all e-book formats, two years ago in the U.K., then last year in the U.S.
Still, I found your naïveté touching—calling the media “base hypocrites” because they run stories about authors turning to self-publishing but won’t acknowledge a self-published e-book unless it’s written by a celebrity who self-publishes by choice. You’re just learning now that the media is a viper’s nest of base hypocrites? Where’ve you been? You don’t get media attention by publishing books. You get media attention by committing a terrorist act or by assassinating a celebrity. Not PR gambits I’d recommend.
I should also mention that, though we’ve never met, I did know your father. He was one of my creative writing professors at City College, and as I found out, he could be a cruel bastard, as your sister, Erica, vividly recounts in her memoir, Yossarian Slept Here. But 40 years after the fact, I can sincerely thank him for helping to prepare me emotionally for what I’d have to face as I made my way in the book biz.
Your father, of course, had no illusions about the book-publishing industry. “You can’t live off royalties,” he told us the first day of class. “That’s why I’m teaching here.” (And he didn’t think too highly of agents, either, as I recall.)
All things considered, Ted, I think you’re doing OK. Do I really need to remind you that Salon is the media, and they are paying attention to you? Big time. I wish somebody at Salon would answer my e-mails.
“Enormously entertaining... Beaver Street captures the aroma of pornography, bottles it, and gives it so much class you could put it up there with Dior or Chanel.” –Jamie Maclean, editor, Erotic Review
“Whatever twisted... fantasy you might’ve had, you can bet that Rosen once brought it to life in print.” —Ben Myers, Bizarre
“Shocking… evocative… entertaining… A rich account that adds considerable depth and texture to any understanding of how the pornography industry worked.” —Patrick Glen, H-Net
“Beaver Street is a surreal, perverted mindfuck.” —Kendra Holiday, editor, The Beautiful Kind
“A confessional for-adults-only romantic comedy with a rare, thoughtful twist... riveting.” —David Comfort, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Well researched, smartly written, surprisingly funny… a one of a kind tour through a fast-disappearing underbelly of American popular culture.” —Matthew Flamm, Amazon
“An electrifying journey through porn’s golden age.” —The Sleazoid Podcast
“Beaver Street is funny, sad, disgusting and hopeful in equal measures.” —Synergy magazine (Australia)