The Sporadic Beaver

The Burning of a Student Newspaper

April 30, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, City College of New York, Observation Post, The Campus, 1970s

When I was researching the "How I Became a Pornographer" chapter in Beaver Street several years ago, there wasn’t much available online about the City College of New York between 1971-1979. I found a couple of articles from The New York Times and not much else. But I was able to supplement these meager findings with information from my diaries and from old issues of Observation Post (OP), the student newspaper that I was writing about, which I had on file.

The chapter focuses on a pornographic cartoon published in OP in 1974, which the Times described as “a nun using a cross as a sexual object,” and a photo of an OP editor, dressed as a nun and using a cross as a sexual object—a tribute to the original cartoon—published in OP five years later. (You can read the chapter here.)

“How I Became a Pornographer” also discusses such things as OP’s “emerging punk sensibility” and a demand by a United States Senator to censor the college press because of the nun cartoon. These events both occurred in 1974, when I was editor of OP, and I had no trouble recreating them, as I was an eyewitness.

Since I wasn’t at City College for the publication of the 1979 photo, I couldn’t provide an eyewitness account of how a group of students burned OP to protest the publication of the photo. Still, I was able to rely on information in my diaries and some press accounts, and was able to recreate the events with a reasonably high degree of accuracy.

Then the other day I discovered an amazing digital archive that didn’t exist when I was writing the chapter, and which would have helped me enormously with my research: every issue of The Campus—OP’s competition at City College—published between 1907 and 1981.

The Campus often found itself in a position of having to cover OP every time OP made news by publishing something outrageous or pornographic. Looking back at their eyewitness coverage of the 1979 nun is fascinating. It also shows me that I got at least one detail wrong: I’d said that students had burned 10,000 OPs, which would have been the entire press run. According to The Campus only 4,000 were burned. (Another source puts the number at 8,000.) Whatever the exact number, it appears that there are at least 2,000 copies of this collector’s item floating around. And I will, of course, make this correction in any future editions of Beaver Street.

Where to Buy Beaver

April 27, 2012

Tags: Book Soup, Left Bank Books, Powell’s, Shakespeare & Co., St. Marks Bookshop, Apop Records, Barnes & Noble

As Beaver Street remains unavailable from America's number one online bookseller due to "technical problems," I'd like to bring to your attention several brick-and-mortar bookstores where Beaver Street is available, both on the shelf and online.

Book Soup: This is L.A.’s coolest bookstore and a place that I visit every time I’m in town. And, hey, Beaver Street is a featured title of the week! I’m going to be reading here on Saturday, May 12, at 4 PM.

Left Bank Books: I read at this St. Louis landmark earlier this month to an enthusiastic crowd at the Central West End store. They were the first bookstore in America to have Beaver Street on the shelves. Kudos.

Powell’s: One of the largest independent bookstores in the world, this venerable emporium features five branches in Portland, Oregon and a website that can give any online bookseller a run for their money. They’ll ship Beaver Street anywhere on the planet.

Shakespeare & Co.: One of the many independent booksellers in my downtown Manhattan neighborhood, they feature an eclectic selection of popular and offbeat titles which at the moment includes signed copies of Beaver Street.

St. Marks Bookshop: An East Village institution since 1977, St. Marks carries a diverse assortment of books—including Beaver Street—and periodicals not generally found in the chains.

Apop Records: This is one of the edgiest stores in St. Louis, and they carry an offbeat line of books, magazines, records, and vintage clothing. I did a reading here, too, when I was in town. On their shelves you will find signed copies of Beaver Street.

Barnes & Noble: Yes, they carry Beaver Street in both the paperback and Nook editions.

If you know of any more places that carry Beaver Street, please let me know and I’ll give them a shout out.

Support independent bookstores!

Got Beaver?

April 26, 2012

Tags: Shakespeare & Co., Beaver Street

That's what I asked the guy behind the counter when I walked into Shakespeare & Co., one of the local independent bookstores in my neighborhood.

He led me to a table in the back, where all the sex books were displayed. “Hot off the press,” he said, handing me a copy of Beaver Street.

“I don’t want to buy it,” I told him. “I want to sign it. And congratulations on being one of the few stores in the city to carry it.”

“I should have recognized you,” he answered, looking at photo on back cover.

“That’s a pretty good clue,” I said, laughing. “You’ve been studying it?”

“I’ve looked at it.”

“It belongs on the history table, not the sex table.”

“I can give it better display.”

I signed every book he had in stock.

“Congratulations,” he said, giving me a big thumbs up.

“Gives me something to blog about tomorrow.”

And so it has.

Now get thee to Shakespeare’s and buy thee a signed copy of Beaver Street while they last.

The Patience of Gandhi? Really?

April 25, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, Amazon, computers

It's enough to make me wonder if a higher power has been reading "The Daily Beaver," and has decided to test if I really do, as I wrote the other day, have "the patience of Gandhi." Apparently, I do not. Apparently, under certain conditions, serenity eludes me, and I can be driven to fits of irrational screaming and cursing the very existence of a higher power.

Regular readers of this blog are aware of the problems I’ve been having with Amazon: One month after publication, the trade paperback edition of Beaver Street remains unavailable directly from Amazon U.S., though it is available virtually everywhere else. I’ve been working calmly and patiently with my publisher, the distributor, and Amazon to sort this out.

Then, about a week ago, my two-year-old computer, a Gateway PC, crashed and was pronounced dead. Since the cost of resurrection was more than the computer was worth, I remained calm and bought a new computer, the one I’m typing on now. But in the course of setting up this computer, I accidentally overwrote all the files from the Gateway that were backed up on the external hard drive. My first thought was that I’d just wiped out two years of work. That was when I lost it. You would not have wanted to be around me at that moment.

But I calmed down a few hours later, and realized that not everything was lost. Much of my work was also backed up on an assortment of CDs and thumb drives. And, theoretically, the Gateway hard drive is still working, so everything can be taken off there. In other words, I’m dealing with a major headache rather than a total catastrophe.

This morning I keep telling myself to concentrate on the positive: my reading at Book Soup, where Beaver Street remains a featured title of the week, and my interview with Christy Canyon and Ginger Lynn on satellite radio, for example.

I’m doing that. I’m feeling OK. I’m a writer surviving in 21st-century America, and in this business, survival is success.

The Christy & Ginger Show

April 24, 2012

Tags: Christy Canyon, Ginger Lynn, Beaver Street, Book Soup

Christy Canyon and Ginger Lynn, radio stars.
A week ago I was unaware that Christy Canyon and Ginger Lynn co-hosted a talk show called You Porn (not to be confused with the You Porn video site) on Sirius and XM radio, channel 103, from 11 AM-2 PM (PST), Monday-Friday.

The show is part of the Spice Radio lineup, and on Thursday, May 10, at 1 PM (PST) I’m going to be Christy and Ginger’s guest. We will, of course, be talking about Beaver Street, which I’ll be reading from and signing at Book Soup on Saturday, May 12.

Best off all, it’s a live call-in show. So, if you want to talk to Christy, Ginger, and me, here’s the number: 1(800) 774-2388.

See you on the radio and at Book Soup.

Another Reader Heard From

April 23, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, Amazon, Kindle

As I continue to wait with the patience of Gandhi for the Amazon technical team to make Beaver Street available in the U.S. directly from Amazon, I see that yet another five-star review has popped up. The critic, Scoobird "MR," from Long Beach, New York, is writing about the Kindle edition, which has been available for months. Since the review is short and to the point, I'll quote it in full.

“The book was a great read...very well-written and a page turner, too. While I am not a porn aficionado, I do love history. This is one, excellent history of a movement whose real background and players are not well known to most out of the industry. If you are looking for your next good read, this should be the book.”

Well, thank you, Scoobird. Glad you enjoyed it.

I will now return to my regularly scheduled session of sitting on the floor in the bogus position and chanting Om.

Amazon, Oh Amazon

April 20, 2012

Tags: Amazon, Beaver Street, Nowhere Man

Yesterday I wrote about how, three weeks after publication, the trade paperback edition of Beaver Street is available pretty much everywhere, except directly from Amazon U.S., even though they have the book in stock. This is not a good situation. Writers and publishers need Amazon to reach the widest possible audience, and there’s no way around it. If a book is not available directly through Amazon in the crucial days after publication, it causes enormous problems.

Today, I asked somebody at Amazon what’s going on. They told me, essentially, that technical problems within their system are preventing the book from being made available, and that they’re working on it.

I continue to hope for resolution.

And I can tell you this much about Amazon: In 2000, when Nowhere Man was published, Amazon was instrumental in making the book a bestseller, and for that I’ll always be grateful. Yes, Amazon is a different company now, and it’s a different world out there. But for an author, there’s still nothing like the rush of looking at your book on Amazon and seeing that sales ranking shooting towards the toppermost of the poppermost.

What Would Gandhi Do?

April 19, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, Amazon

Learning to accept the fact that most things are beyond your control, and remaining serene and positive in the face of forces that appear to be conspiring daily to drive your career into a ditch are two of the most difficult aspects of being a professional writer.

I mention this today because I’m having an extremely difficult time accepting the fact that there’s nothing I can do about Amazon, and, apparently, there’s nothing anybody else can do about Amazon, either.

“Why,” a number of people have asked me, “is the trade paperback edition of Beaver Street not available directly from Amazon US when it is available from Amazon in every other country that has an Amazon?”

The short answer is: I don’t know.

Yes, I hope this problem will soon be resolved. And until it is, like Gandhi, I’m going to sit on the floor in the bogus position and chant Om.

L.A. Story

April 18, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, Book Soup, Fridays, Larry David

The cast of Fridays. Larry David, second row, far left.
My impending journey to L.A. for a May 12 event at Book Soup, where Beaver Street is currently a featured title of the week, is a bit of a homecoming. I lived in L.A. for a while, in 1980, at what was then the Montecito Hotel, on Franklin Avenue. Fridays, an upstart L.A. version of Saturday Night Live, had invited me to try out as a writer. Because of an ongoing writers' strike, it was a strange time to be in Hollywood; Fridays was one of the few shows in production.

At ABC studios, I met with the two producers, John Moffitt and Bill Lee, along with comedian Jack Burns, one of the show’s writers. They asked me to write some skits, and to give me a thorough understanding of how Fridays worked, they allowed me to attend meetings, rehearsals, and live broadcasts, and gave me access to their video room, where I could study tapes of all the shows.

Back at the Montecito, I sat in my room, gazing at the smog-enshrouded Hollywood Hills as I banged out on my portable typewriter a half-dozen skits, including a number of “cold openings” for the show, one of which involved a Charles Manson song-and-dance number.

Then I waited for what I was sure was going to be a job offer—and continued going to rehearsals, meetings, live broadcasts. But neither a job offer nor a rejection ever came. I found myself in a weird gray area, seemingly welcome at the studio, though not in any official capacity.

One afternoon at a writers’ meeting, Larry David, who was also a cast member, said to me, “Did they hire you?”

“No,” I answered. “Not officially.”

“Then,” he said, as everybody else looked on in utter silence, “you have to leave.”

David escorted me out of the conference room and then called security to have me thrown off the lot.

A few weeks later, back in New York, I turned on Fridays. The cold opening, which contained a few lines from a script I’d submitted, was a skit about a security guard ejecting a writer from the ABC lot.

My subsequent visits to L.A. have all been considerably warmer.

On the Shelves

April 17, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, Left Bank Books, Shameless Grounds, Apop Records, Powell’s, Book Soup, Shakespeare’s, St. Marks Bookshop

Left Bank Books, in St. Louis, was the first bookstore in America to carry Beaver Street. There it was, well displayed on the night of my reading two weeks ago. Seeing it for sale, in three-dimensional reality, in a brick-and-mortar store made it real.

Other places where Beaver Street is available now or will be soon are: Apop Records and Shameless Grounds coffeehouse, in St. Louis; Powell’s, in Portland, Oregon; Book Soup, in L.A., where it’s a featured title of the week and where I’ll be signing and discussing it on May 12; and Shakespeare’s, on Broadway in Greenwich Village, which should have it in stock in a week or less.

Yesterday I walked into St. Marks Bookshop on Third Avenue in the East Village, and found three copies of Beaver Street on the shelf in the sociology section. I don’t know if I’d classify Beaver Street as “sociology,” but who cares? St. Marks is the first bookstore in New York City to have Beaver Street on the shelves. So, if you’d like to help out this venerable emporium, which is struggling to remain in business, buy your Beaver there and ask for it by name. Tell ’em the author sent you. And tell ’em to put it in the window where it belongs.

This Review Rocks

April 16, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, Goodreads

I've said that if Beaver Street is going to be a "cult classic" like Nowhere Man--a book that endures year after year because people continue to buy it and talk about it--then I’m going to have to achieve this blog-by-blog, reader-by-reader, event-by event.

The other day, a wonderful review, by John Branch, appeared on Goodreads. Detailed, well thought-out, and intelligent, the critique shows that Mr. Branch, clearly, “got it.”

I’m going to ask you to read the entire review. But first I’ll leave you with a pull quote:

Beaver Street is fascinating, eye opening, sometimes disturbing (in multiple ways), and probably one of a kind—I know of nothing like it.”

We Were Talking About Shameless Grounds

April 13, 2012

Tags: Shameless Grounds, St. Louis, Beaver Street, Kendra Holliday, Sonja Wagner

Last night, over a couple of shots of bourbon with former D-Cup art director Sonja Wager, who’s a "character" in Beaver Street; my brother, Jerry, who’s also my attorney; and his wife, Cindy, the subject of my St. Louis sojourn came up, and I started talking about the reading at Shameless Grounds.

“What’s Shameless Grounds?” my brother asked.

“It’s a sex-positive coffeehouse,” I said.

“What’s a sex-positive coffeehouse?”

“Uh, you know,” I said, realizing I couldn’t quite explain it, “they’re positive about sex.”

“What do you mean ‘they’re positive about sex’?”

“I guess it means anything goes, everything’s okay—you know… gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, asexual, straight… whatever you’re into. Everybody’s welcome.”

“They have a place like that in St. Louis?” said Cindy, who grew up in St. Louis.

“Surprised me, too,” I said. “A couple of days before the reading, we went there to check it out. It’s a really nice coffeehouse in an old factory building in an offbeat neighborhood. Spacious, comfortable, art on the walls, friendly staff, good coffee and food… and a free library filled with nothing but books and magazines about sex. There were two lesbians sitting at a table, knitting. And that seemed typical of the vibe—warm, mellow.”

“Really?” said Sonja.

“Yeah, it was a great place to read. Very enthusiastic crowd… and inquisitive, too. And very mixed—gay people, some people who worked in the porn industry, men, women, black, white… it was cool.”

For the record, Sex-Positive St. Louis, co-founded by Kendra Holliday, who organized the Shameless Grounds reading, describes itself as “a safe environment for sexuality questions or concerns, no matter your gender, race, age or orientation.” And that’s a good thing, no matter what city you’re in.

Life on the Mississippi

April 12, 2012

Tags: St. Louis, Apop Records, Beaver Street

Since I returned from St. Louis a couple of days ago, I've been corresponding with some of my new friends there, including Tiffany Minx, co-owner of Apop Records, where I read from the "dirty chapter" of Beaver Street last week. In one of my e-mails, I mentioned that I missed St. Louis. Minx was skeptical. She didn't believe that it was possible for a New Yorker to feel such an emotion.

I explained to her that what I missed was sitting in the front yard of my sister-in-law Cecilia’s house in Benton Park, with a cup of coffee in the morning, and looking out at the birds and crazy artwork—Buddhas, tile-covered totem poles, and soaring archways fashioned from volcanic stone—with which Cecilia’s partner, Jim, had transformed the yard into a trippy wonderland.

My description inspired Minx to jot down some of her own St. Louis impressions, including, “the semi-southern gothic feel that seems especially notable in the spring and summer; the feral weed trees and vines, cockeyed wooden patios, dressed down inhabitants, and rust or paint peel on homes and cars. It is, in the end, a river town.”

Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is an entrepreneur with the soul of a poet.

A Brief History of Performance Anxiety

April 11, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, St. Louis, Nowhere Man, performance

In 1971, in my sophomore year of college, when much to my parents' dismay I switched majors from architecture to creative writing, the idea of promoting my work with public performances was completely foreign to everything I saw myself doing as a writer. I hated getting up in front of people and talking. The idea of going on radio or TV was terrifying. I wanted to be a writer because I was good at sitting in a room and writing. And I believed that if I wrote good books then people would buy them, and that's all there was to it.

Forty-one years later, I spend most of my time in sitting a room, writing. And though I still believe that if I write good books people will buy them, I now know that marketing and promotion are far more important than the quality of the book itself. A well-promoted piece of dreck will outsell a great book, if not every time, then certainly most of the time. The trick, I realized, is to write the kind of books that people really want to read, and then emerge from my isolation cell and find a way to sell, sell, sell.

Thirteen years into the game, I’m hardly a novice. It was relatively easy to promote my first book, Nowhere Man, a “controversial” bio about John Lennon that became a bestseller in five countries. When it came out in the booming economy of 2000, people had lots of disposable income to spend on books. And, of course, everybody wanted to talk to me about Lennon. In the first year alone, I did about 150 interviews, spending entire days talking on the radio, doing one show after another, from before dawn until well into the night.

The live radio interview became my medium of choice. When the chemistry’s right, and the interviewer has actually read the book and knows how to put me at ease—The Louie Free Show, which I’ve done about two dozen times, comes to mind—my performance feels like free-form jazz; it can go anywhere.

In the dozen years since Nowhere Man was published, it simply wasn’t necessary to do a lot of readings. But in 2012, with the economy in shambles and the book business in chaos, every book is a tough sell unless your name’s Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. I know that if I want people to read Beaver Street, then I’m going to have to hand-sell it myself, event-by-event, blog-by-blog, reader-by-reader. Which is, of course, why I went to St. Louis.

Unlike, say, New York, St. Louis was immediately receptive, offering me three very different venues—Left Bank Books, Shameless Grounds, and Apop Records—where I could focus on Beaver Street’s literary and pornographic qualities. The media, too, was supportive. The Riverfront Times, for example, chose my Left Bank reading as a pick of the week, along with Fiddler on the Roof.

It was strange to do three live performances in a week. The nervousness-bordering-on-fear before each event was the worst of it. But I have to accept the fact that I need to do this kind of thing as much as possible. Yes, I’m learning as I go, and I know there’s room for improvement. But I also know I’ve written a book that’s well worth reading, and I thank the city of St. Louis for allowing me to bring it to the attention of a wider audience.

Now, it’s on to L.A.

Sacred Grounds

April 10, 2012

Tags: St. Louis, Beaver Street, Shameless Grounds, performance

Never in my life have I gotten up in front of a group of people, mostly strangers, but also family and friends, and read to them a passage from a book about how, 25 years ago, as an "experiment in participatory journalism," I committed an obscene and exhibitionistic act with a model I'd never met, as one of my co-workers kneeled before me taking pictures, and another one, ostensibly acting as chaperon, just sat there watching with her eyes bugging out.

But that’s what I did last week, in St. Louis, at the Shameless Grounds coffee house, at the first American Beaver Street event. And the funny thing was, not only did it not feel strange and awkward, but, unlike the experience I was describing in “The Accidental Porn Star,” it felt perfectly natural. As soon as I got the first laugh, I knew it was going to be okay; I knew that I’d somehow matched the perfect passage with the ideal audience. And as one member of that audience, Magnum Chlenow, wrote on the Shameless Grounds site, “The excerpts read by the author were both hilarious and educational. My fiancée and I eagerly bought a copy of the book.”

In fact, when it was over, and people came up to my table to hand over some very hard-earned money for a signed copy of Beaver Street, I felt touched. Which may be why I keep saying “Sacred Grounds” when I mean to say “Shameless Grounds.”

It was an auspicious beginning.

My Midwestern Odyssey

April 9, 2012

Tags: St. Louis, Beaver Street, Shameless Grounds, Kendra Holliday, Left Bank Books, Apop Records, performance

I've just returned to New York from ten days in St. Louis, where I launched Beaver Street in America. I did three readings in six days--more readings than I've done in the past five years. Thus begins the latest phase of a process that began in March 2011, when I went to London to launch the UK edition of the book. And if Beaver Street is anything like Nowhere Man, then these events are going to continue for the next dozen years or so, if not forever. I've got about a month to recover before the next scheduled reading, at Book Soup in L.A.

Sometimes I find it difficult to write when I can’t lock myself in a room, which is one reason I didn’t blog in St. Louis. But I do plan to sort out my thoughts, photos, and videos, over the next few days, and further explore my Midwestern odyssey.

But for now let me say that the atmosphere at each of the three readings was distinctly different. At the Shameless Grounds event, hosted by Sex Positive St. Louis co-founder Kendra Holliday, I read from what I’ve been calling “the filthy chapter.” “The Accidental Porn Star” is about my experiment in participatory journalism: posing for an X-rated photo shoot to gain insight into the mind of a porn stud. The Shameless crowd was enthusiastic, they laughed at all the right parts, and they were full of excellent questions about everything from the legal ramifications of the book to the Traci Lords affair. I’ve never had more fun at a reading.

The well-publicized event at Left Bank Books was more formal and restrained. It was also the first time I’d ever read in a bookstore, rather than at a bar or a publication party. Sarah, who introduced me and is, ironically, the children’s book buyer for Left Bank, told me something I’m beginning to hear quite a bit about Beaver Street—that the book’s depth, and my analysis of the political situation surrounding pornography, surprised her. It wasn’t what she was expecting.

In my presentation, I focused on Beaver Street’s literary heritage, reading from the prologue about my exposure to the “controversial” sex books that my father sold in his candy store many decades ago. Again the crowd was appreciative, and again there were a lot of good questions, many about the fact that the porn industry, like the music industry, is no longer a financially viable business for most people.

Apop Records, on Cherokee Street, is a book/record/clothing store that’s a short walk from where I was staying at my sister-in-law’s house. In the window, among various posters, are photos of the corpses of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald laid out on autopsy tables. This is a good indication of just how edgy Apop is; it’s rare to find a store like this, even in New York. Their selection of books and magazines can best be described as eclectic and counter cultural—volumes about the Black Panthers mingle with books about porn and the zines of Robin Bougie, publisher of Cinema Sewer.

I walked in one afternoon, and introduced myself to Tiffany Minx, who’s the co-owner along with Dustin Newman. Beaver Street was on the shelf that same day, and a reading was organized for Saturday night. I took the opportunity to reprise my Shameless Grounds performance. Because if you can’t read the dirty parts in a place like Apop, with a woman like Tiffany Minx in the audience, then what’s the point in reading at all?