The diverse subject matter of Beaver Street, which takes an intimate look at the history of the late 20th century through a pornographic lens, is often reflected in the bizarre juxtaposition of certain names in the index. And perhaps the strangest juxtaposition of all can be found under the letter N.
One is a highly decorated Marine lieutenant colonel who was at the center of the Iran-Contra scandal, which was linked to the Traci Lords scandal by former Attorney General Edwin Meese, who was at the center of both scandals.
The other is a bisexual porn star famous for his seemingly impossibly copious ejaculations, and who appeared with underage porn goddess Traci Lords in Holly Does Hollywood (1985).
Yesterday, Headpress, the publisher of my book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, began running this blog, The Daily Beaver, on their site. So, as of this morning, I’m now communicating with a new audience—the Headpress audience who, I’m told, is global, literate, edgy, and well outside whatever passes for mainstream these days. This perhaps explains why Headpress published Beaver Street in the first place.
For those of you who’ve not read this blog before, let me be clear about its purpose: I put a lot of effort into writing Beaver Street and then finding somebody to publish it. Now that it’s out there, I want to bring it to the attention of the widest possible audience. That would be you. So, if you’ve already read Beaver Street, thank you very much. If you haven’t read it, then I urge you to buy a copy—directly from Headpress. (I hear they still have a couple of signed copies in stock.)
If you’re not familiar with Beaver Street, then please check out some of the press material on the Headpress site, or on my site. The critical response has thus far been extraordinary, which makes me feel—Dare I say it?—hopeful.
But this blog is more than just a vehicle for self-promotion. Beaver Street is investigative memoir that shows the history of the late 20th century though a pornographic lens. It’s a personal journey through sex, politics, economics, and culture. And much of what I write about remains relevant to today’s headlines. The centerpiece of the book, for example, is an exploration of the Traci Lords scandal, which began 25 years ago this month. Lords, the most famous porn star of her generation, revealed in July 1986 that she’d been underage for her entire career. The fallout from the scandal nearly destroyed the adult industry.
Yesterday, The Seattle Weekly ran a piece on their website about how Amazon is selling old issues of High Society, Oui, Club, Stag, and Penthouse containing images of an underage Traci Lords—the very images that had nearly destroyed the industry 25 years ago, and remain illegal “child pornography” today, even though Lords is now middle aged.
I, for one, can’t wait to see how this story plays out, and will update it here as information becomes available.
I was going to continue deconstructing the art of Sonja Wagner, but since today is my birthday, I’m going to celebrate going 11 for 11 with five-star reader reviews for Beaver Street on Amazon UK (and eight for eight on Amazon US, where the book isn’t even published yet).
Well, that’s saying quite a bit, and the year isn’t over yet. But I have no doubt that Beaver Street is the best book 10, Mathew Street—a Beatles site based in Spain that has been amazingly supportive of Nowhere Man—has read in the past seven months.
So, Beaver Street sends a big gracias to 10, Mathew Street! And thanks again to everybody who has posted those wonderful reviews.
If anybody out there would like to give me another five-star review for my birthday, well, that would be nice—but only if you really mean it.
The past few days I’ve been posting the erotic paintings of Sonja Wagner, a character in Beaver Street and my art director when I was editing porn mags. I’ve used these images to explore the question: What is art and what is smut? The three previous paintings, “Reclining Girl,” “Single Girl in Motion,” and “Standing Girl,” are all, clearly, art, and for that reason I didn’t hesitate to post, uncensored, the entire image.
Today’s image is a detail from “Tropical Girl/Boy,” a startling 90" x 60" oil on canvas, based on a pictorial shot by Falcon Foto. Yes, this, too, is art. But I’m not posting the entire painting because it’s far filthier than any of her other erotic paintings—the “girl” is holding in her hand the semi-erect penis of the “boy.” Even if Sonja were as famous as Michelangelo and dead for 500 years, The New York Times wouldn’t post the entire image, and those are the unassailable standards we go by at The Daily Beaver, at least when it comes to art.
However, if you’re over 18 and you want to see “Tropical Girl/Boy” in all its naked glory, please click here.
Why? Because the art of Sonja Wagner is fun to look at. Do you need a better reason?
Between the massacre in Norway, the death of Amy Winehouse, the domestic terrorists posing as Republican Congressmen who are threatening to torpedo the US economy, and the 100-degree temperatures that baked New York City, all of which happened over one dreadful weekend, there’s a lot to recover from today. And one way to recover is to contemplate a work of erotic art.
To continue the ever-provocative Art vs. Smut debate, I’ll share another painting by Sonja Wagner, who was my art director on D-Cup and numerous other smut rags for 15 years.
If you’ve been keeping up with this blog then you know that Wagner’s a character in Beaver Street, and the only “private citizen” who allowed me to use her real name in the book. And if you’ve read Beaver Street, then you know she has some of the best lines. (See pages 123-124, for example.)
The woman in “Reclining Girl”—based on a layout of a John Lee-Graham photo set that Wagner designed for D-Cup—is Danni Ashe. Ashe, whose career I discuss in detail in Beaver Street, was the first model to discover that it was possible to have a virtual career in cyberspace. She launched her website, “Danni’s Hard Drive,” in 1995. It made her a “dot-cum” millionaire and took her from the cover of D-Cup to the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
But is it art? Ms. Wagner, would you care to respond?
“One of the pornographer's stock images—the ‘single girl’—returns in this work, but turned to my own ends,” says Wagner. “Instead of a quick, crude, easily replicable photograph intended for physical release, I offer an intensively detailed painting that asks the viewer to look again and again: to take pleasure in line, design and color.”
I hope “Reclining Girl” brings you a moment of pleasure in these traumatic times.
In these schizophrenic times, as ever more deranged Internet pornography reaches an increasingly wider mainstream audience, people who lead “respectable” lives live in mortal terror that somebody may find out that they enjoyed reading a “dirty” book, such as Beaver Street. In an atmosphere this repressive, it’s hard to know what’s considered “appropriate” to post on this website, hosted by the Authors Guild.
A partial answer to this question appeared in The New York Times today, in an obituary of the artist Lucian Freud. The so-called “Gray Lady,” which once refused to print the title Beaver Street in an article about the porn industry, ran a photograph of one of Freud’s paintings that showed breasts and pubic hair.
With that lofty standard in mind, I’ve chosen to share another uncensored image of a painting created by Sonja Wagner, a character in Beaver Street. (I ran one of her milder erotic images yesterday.)
The painting, “Single Girl in Motion,” is based on a layout of a Steve Colby photo set that Wagner designed for D-Cup magazine, which she art directed for decades. (A detail of this image appears in the Beaver Street photo section.)
In fiction, when an author brings a character to life, that character is said to take on a life of his own. In nonfiction, the characters are alive (except when they’re dead) and they do have lives of their own. Such is the case with Beaver Street, which is populated with real people who continue to lead vital and interesting lives outside the confines of the book’s covers.
Towards the end of Beaver Street there’s a section called “On the Naked and the Dead,” in which I give updates on some of the main characters. I’ve continued to do so on this blog, in the past week mentioning that Izzy Singer recently published a short story on Kindle, and that Carl Ruderman has divested himself of all his pornographic holdings and can no longer be called a pornographer.
Here are a few other updates of note:
Happily retired from the porn biz, Sonja Wagner continues to create her art, erotic and otherwise.
Former X-Rated Cinema editor Pamela Katz was fired from Swank publications after 30 years on the job and is now suing the company for age and sex discrimination.
Steve Colby, a photographer who helped launch the British Porno Invasion of 1987, is one of London’s last remaining “glamour” photographers, though now shoots almost exclusively in Prague.
Neville Player, whose name I didn’t use in the book but described as the "porno genius" who took over D-Cup magazine, has written a memoir (title TBA) about his long career working for British publishing legend Paul Raymond and his short career working for Lou Perretta.
Having recently acquired High Society, Lou Perretta now owns virtually every porn magazine of significance, with the exception of Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler, and has made Paramus, New Jersey ground zero for what remains of the dying men’s mag industry.
Over the past week, more five-star Beaver Street reader reviews have been posted on Amazon UK and US. Below are pull quotes from three of them.
Dear readers, these reviews are vital. If you read the book, please don’t hesitate to share your opinion with the world. But remember, Amazon is very strict about “inappropriate” language. So, in the immortal words of George W. Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer, “Watch what you say.” And, of course, I send out a big, heartfelt thanks to everybody who has posted a review!
“Robert Rosen has an uncanny knack for combining fact and filth in Beaver Street, resulting in an account of the porn magazine industry that is both detailed and informative, as well as accessible and riveting.” —Sarah
“The subject is dark but Rosen maintains a level of humour which results in an engaging, absorbing, compelling read. One for the wish list.” —palmera6
“Vivid and funny, Beaver Street moves at a cinematic pace… This wickedly honest personal memoir of the 80s and 90s sex industry segues from a behind the scenes look at porn shoots to hilarious office banter amid the cramped cubicles of fetish magazines.” —R.C. Baker
“Among the fascinating portions of this personal history is the eye-popping account of the corporate history of America's old-line porno mags—the famous writers who started out with the progenitors of the medium, and the overlap between porn magazines and the creators of some of the most successful and famous comic book superheroes. What is also fascinating, and perhaps surprising, is the number of women working on-staff at these ‘men's magazines.’ Those stories alone are worth the price of the book.” —CentralCoast
In Beaver Street, I write at length about Carl Ruderman, the publisher of High Society magazine, who, in 1983, launched the age of modern pornography by giving the world “free phone sex,” the first fusion of erotica and computers.
Ruderman was schizophrenic in the sense that he didn’t permit the word “pornography” to be used in the office—“adult entertainment” was the acceptable term—and he wanted to be both anonymous and as famous as Hugh Hefner. “I want High Society to be a household name,” he’d often say at staff meetings. Ruderman’s name didn’t appear in the High Society masthead—he hid behind figurehead publisher Gloria Leonard, the porn star.
With the exception of Larry Flynt crowning Ruderman Hustler’s “Asshole of the Month” in November 1983, very little about him ever appeared in the press. Al Goldstein called Ruderman the “Invisible Man” of porn.
However, I recently noticed that The New York Observer ran a piece about Ruderman in the real estate section of their September 8, 2009 issue. It said he was selling his “full-floor, 5,550-square-foot, 13-room, eight-bedroom” condo at the Bristol Plaza on East 65th Street in Manhattan for $13.25 million. The story quotes an architect, Frank Visconti, who’d done work for one of Ruderman’s neighbors, as saying that the former porn publisher is “a very nice man.” Referring to the bust of Ruderman, labeled “The Founder,” that once graced the High Society reception area (High Society is now owned by Lou Perretta), Visconti says, “You don’t see statues with glasses.”
Most surprising is the photograph of Ruderman that appears with the article. The ex-pornographer, smiling and tanned, now dyes his silver hair black. Photographs of Ruderman are so rare that Larry Flynt offered $500 for one to run in Hustler. But nobody who had a photo was willing to accept his offer.
On Twitter the other day, I posted a link to a piece on this blog about how the July issue of Bizarre magazine was prominently displayed with upscale fashion mags in Universal News on West 23rd Street in Manhattan. I called the post “Pretty Classy Display for a Sleazeball Filth Rag.”
Bizarre Magazine: Sleazeball Filth Rag? Why, sir, you flatter us! Robert Rosen: Ah, dear sirs, it is you who flatter me. Ben Myers: You’re both sordid grotbags, as far as I’m concerned. Robert Rosen: Hey, I didn’t even know what prolapses meant before you asked about it, sir.
I had to look up grotbags, too. Quite the education I’m getting from these esteemed members of the British literary establishment.
There’s a lot of talk in the writing biz about Amazon’s Kindle, not all of it good. But one thing is undeniable: Kindle has given authors the ability to publish their work at no cost, distribute it globally, and collect royalties on it—without the need of a traditional publisher. In short, it’s changed the rules of the game, and like it or not, e-books, Kindle or otherwise, are the industry’s future.
With that in mind, I downloaded the free Kindle app for PC, invested $2.99, and read a short story titled “Learning to Be Cruel.” Why? Because “Irv O. Neil,” the author of this deranged bit of semi-autobiographical fiction about a middle-aged freelance writer who’s sexually humiliated by gorgeous young Chinese woman, is “Izzy Singer,” one of the main characters in Beaver Street. It’s his first venture into the realm of Kindle.
In the years that I toiled in pornography, I published a lot of Irv/Izzy’s work in magazines such as D-Cup. But I’ve never read a story of his like this one—due to censorship regulations, I wasn’t allowed to publish stories about humiliation and degradation.
“Learning to be Cruel” shocked me, probably because I got the sense that Irv/Izzy is writing from the heart, and may personally enjoy having sexy young women treat him in a manner similar to what he graphically and realistically describes in the story. (I shall not enumerate the details here.)
Though not my “cup of sleaze,” as Irv/Izzy might say, this skillfully rendered tale has given me additional insight into a character in my own book, showing me a dimension of his personality that even after 27 years, I never fully grasped.
“Learning to Be Cruel” is not only a good companion piece to Beaver Street; it’s the brave work of a man who has mastered the short story form. Or perhaps I should say, a man who’s been enslaved by it.
Took this pic yesterday, at Universal News on West 23rd Street in Manhattan—before they threw me out for taking pictures of their magazines.
There was the July issue of Bizarre, with my Beaver Street interview, “The Porn Identity,” by Ben Myers, prominently displayed with a bunch of pricey fashion mags, like Numero and Von Gutenberg, as well as Loaded, Esquire, and Paper. Pretty classy company for a “Porn Special” featuring “Britain’s Grubbiest Grandma.”
With a price tag of $10.50 US, you’d think Bizarre was offering hardcore sleaze, which they’re not. (Actually, what they’re offering is far more shocking.)
That people continue to argue about whether or not I’m telling the truth in my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, 11 years after it was published, can only be seen as a good thing. Obviously, readers care about the book, even the ones who don’t believe me, and that, I dare say, is testament to Nowhere Man’s power. And even if I were to again state unequivocally that yes, I’m telling the truth—according to what I remember from reading Lennon’s diaries—it wouldn’t end the controversy.
In fact, I noticed the other day that a new online debate has erupted on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums. Between June 24 and June 29, there were 217 posts discussing the perennial question: Which book is more truthful, Nowhere Man or The Last Days of John Lennon, written by my former collaborator Fred Seaman, Lennon’s personal assistant at the time of his death?
I no longer participate in these debates because, as has been demonstrated every time I have taken part in one, even when people don’t know what they’re talking about, they believe what they want to believe, and nothing I can say will change their minds. Also, I’ve found that the most ignorant people are invariably the most abusive.
However, in this particular debate, a poster who calls himself “Matthew B” raised two interesting points that I will respond to… here, on my home turf. And in the service of freedom of expression, I invite him (or anybody else) to post their comments… here.
Referring to an old interview in which I said that in Nowhere Man, I couldn’t tell the story of Paul McCartney’s 1980 Japanese marijuana bust the way I wanted to for legal reasons, Matthew wrote, “If there’s any legal barrier to Rosen’s repeating the drug-bust rumor, it’s more likely fear of a libel suit.” (See posting 194.)
It had nothing to do with libel, Matthew. I would have liked to quote verbatim the four euphoric sentences John wrote in his diary when he learned McCartney was busted in Japan. But as I explain in the book, I don’t quote directly from the diary for copyright reasons.
And finally, Matthew raises a point that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere else. “Rosen’s court testimony [in the Seaman trial],” he writes, “should not be looked at uncritically, but unlike Rosen’s and Seaman’s books, it was given under oath.” (See posting 206.)
Yes, Matthew, my court testimony was, indeed, given under oath. And if you were familiar with my testimony beyond what you might have read in the papers or seen online, that testimony was, pretty much, the first chapter of Nowhere Man, “John Lennon’s Diaries.”
Michele Bachmann, anti-porn congresswoman from Minnesota.
One of the major points I make in Beaver Street is that the biggest crooks cry “Ban Pornography!” the loudest. As examples, I cite the four greatest anti-porn warriors of the 20th century: Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Edwin Meese, and Charles Keating. All of them tried to rid America of the “cancer” of pornography, and in each case their war on porn proved to be little more than an effort to distract the nation from their own illegal activities, which included income tax evasion, bribery, and suborning perjury. Three of these guardians of morality resigned their offices in disgrace rather than face impeachment or criminal prosecution. Keating was convicted of 73 counts of fraud and racketeering and sentenced to 12½ years in prison.
Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who seems determined to join this distinguished group. In an effort to save his political career, Hatch has demanded, along with 41 other senators, that the Justice Department investigate and prosecute pornographers more vigorously. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “The porno investigation is the last refuge of the doomed politician.”
Last week, Republican presidential candidate and Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann stepped into the XXX fray, signing a pledge to fight against “all forms of pornography.” The pledge also suggests that African-Americans were in some ways better off under slavery, and that homosexuality can be cured.
It’s probably not necessary for me to say that Michele Bachmann’s ignorance and bigotry rivals that of Sarah Palin. All I can do is wonder what crimes she’s committed that will lead to her inevitable disgrace.
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah—whose former aide Elisa Florez became the porn actress Missy Manners, star of Behind the Green Door: The Sequel—is taking some time off from his crusade against pornography to go after poor people.
According to Talking Points Memo, Hatch told the Senate yesterday that the poor need to pay more taxes and “share some of the responsibility” for shrinking the national debt.
According to The Huffington Post, Hatch also voted against beginning debate on a resolution to have the Senate declare that millionaires and billionaires should share the pain of debt reduction.
I think that Hatch should stick to what he does best: railing against pornography. Having employed Ms. Florez, at least that’s something, unlike poverty, that he’s personally experienced.
Yesterday I wrote about the problems readers were having posting Beaver Street reviews on Amazon UK—a computer was flagging sexually explicit keywords, and rejecting the reviews. But when a fellow author and professional critic, David Comfort, wrote to Amazon UK to ask why his review wasn’t posted, a human being read the computer-rejected review and posted it exactly as Comfort had originally written it.
After his review was posted in the UK, Comfort then contacted Amazon US to ask the same question: Why wasn’t my Beaver Street review posted?
Here is Amazon’s response:
I read your recent review of “Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography” and found it violated our guidelines. I did notice that it has been approved on the Amazon UK site, but we don’t allow profanity in our US Customer Reviews.
Your review couldn’t be posted on Amazon.com as written. I would recommend revising your review and submitting it again. Specifically, the following parts cannot be posted on Amazon.com:
”cocksmen,” “blowjob,” and “newcummer”
Please take a look at our Review Guidelines for information about acceptable review content.
Comfort censored his review and Amazon US posted it. Cocksmen became studs. Blowjob became fellatio. Newcummer became freshman.
Dear readers, keep in mind that Amazon reviews are vital to the success of Beaver Street. If you’ve read the book and have something to say about it, please post a review—but watch your language, especially in the US. If Amazon doesn’t post it, ask them why and they will tell you, just as they told Comfort.
Though Beaver Street has not yet been published here, it is available through marketplace sellers on Amazon US, or through me. (Click on “Contact,” above, and send me an e-mail. I’ll send you the details.)
Hello Mr. Comfort,
We encourage all feedback on the Amazon.co.uk website, both positive and negative.
However, it has come to our attention that your review of “Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography” does not comply with our customer reviews guidelines as:
We don’t allow obscene or distasteful content including sexually explicit or sexually gratuitous comments in Customer Reviews.
It is focused on the author and their life rather than reviewing the book itself.
Comfort then sent the following letter to Amazon UK:
Amazon UK Editors:
Are you still in the Victorian Age, or the 21st Century? If the latter, you should find nothing sexually explicit or gratuitous in my review of “Beaver Street.” Please point out the four letter words.
As for your objection that the piece is focused on the author, not the book itself—if you READ the book, rather than blindly pontificate, you will discover that it is AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL and all about the author and his experiences.
If you fancy yourselves as a moral police—not a Free Speech protective bookseller as your customers imagine—please let us know so we can take our business and reviews elsewhere.
The result: Comfort’s review was read by a human, rather than scanned by a computer for objectionable language, and posted exactly as he’d originally written it.
So, a word of warning to future readers of Beaver Street who will be submitting reviews to Amazon UK: Be careful with your language. Read the Amazon customer review guidelines. And if you submit a review that’s not posted, then write to Amazon to find out why. You may get an Amazon human to read it and post it.
Tomorrow: David Comfort corresponds with the good people at Amazon US.
It has come to my attention that the amusing little anecdote I wrote about my neighbor, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which was published yesterday in the New York Times “Metropolitan Diary,” has come to the attention of the Supreme Court of the United States. Somebody from the court Googled me, and ended up on the home page of this website. Perhaps they were surprised to learn that this innocent New York City street scene was written by a guy who wrote a book about pornography. Perhaps it was Justice Sotomayor herself or one of her clerks who did the Googling. Well, if that’s the case, allow me to offer Justice Sotomayor a neighborly hello. And since she’s writing her own memoir, perhaps she’d like to check out my investigative memoir, Beaver Street. There’s quite a bit in the book about the limits of the First Amendment, criminal justice, and certain Supreme Court decisions. I dare say that Justice Sotomayor and her colleagues would find the book enlightening. And who knows, I may be standing before the Supreme Court someday, facing obscenity charges. Allow me to be the first to say that Beaver Street contains much in the way of redeeming social value.
“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)