The Sporadic Beaver

My Father’s Special Rack

June 29, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, banned books

How ironic is it that Beaver Street opens on a riff about banned books and then was, itself, “banned” for a period of time by a monolithic corporation for reasons both mysterious and nonsensical? Oh, I’d say it’s ironic in that heavy-handed sort of way that if I were to tell such a story in a work of fiction, it would be considered unbelievable and too heavy-handed.

But that is, indeed, the case. In the first paragraph of Beaver Street, I talk about some of the books my father displayed on a “special rack” in the back of his Brooklyn candy store in the early 1960s. “They included,” I write, “My Secret Life, by Anonymous; My Life and Loves, by Frank Harris; The Autobiography of a Flea, also by the ever prolific Anonymous; Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller; and Last Exit to Brooklyn, by Hubert Selby.” Then, on page two, I say, “Though I was far too young to fully grasp what these books were about or to realize that many of them had made it to the rack only after having survived a protracted censorship battle, the pleasure they gave my father and his friends was unmistakable. It was clear to me even in 1961 that these books mattered—a lot—and that if I were going to write books, which I thought even then I’d like to do, then these were the kinds of books I wanted to someday write.”

It so happens that every one of the above titles was banned, at one time or another, in either the U.S. or the U.K. (As far as I remember, my father did not carry two of the most famous banned titles: Ulysses, by James Joyce—which I’ve been going on about here for weeks—and Lady Chatterly’s Lover, by D. H. Lawrence. These books were simply not the sort of literature that guys who hung around Brooklyn candy stores were interested in reading. Ulysses is impenetrable to the casual reader and Lady Chatterly’s Lover is closer to a romance novel than a work of pornography.)

Overlooking my despair at the sales I lost while the paperback edition of Beaver Street remained unavailable to the majority of the American reading public, I can now take some pride in the fact that I’ve achieved my childhood ambition—I’ve written a book that, had it been published in the early 1960s, would have earned a well-deserved slot in my father’s special rack.

And with those hard-won credentials, I will begin, come July, the Beaver Street reboot, and somehow find a way to promote a book that, for reasons known only to them, a corporation tried to kill.

A Holiday that Celebrates a Handjob

June 28, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Bloomsday, banned books, Ulysses, James Joyce, Nora Barnacle

The New York launch event for my book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, which I called Bloomsday on Beaver Street, and which was held on June 16 at the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street, was a celebration of numerous things. We celebrated banned books, like Ulysses, by James Joyce, and Beaver Street, that some people had branded “smut” and “filth” and that others, correctly, had recognized as literature. And we celebrated the 40th anniversaries of Deep Throat, the movie, and Watergate, the political scandal, both of which are connected to Beaver Street.

June 16, of course, is the day that Ulysses takes place—in Dublin, in 1904. It documents approximately 24 hours in the life of the book’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom, which is why the celebration is called Bloomsday. Traditionally, people read from Ulysses, as MC Supreme Byron Nilsson did, eloquently reciting the passage that got Ulysses banned in America for 13 years—Joyce’s description of Bloom masturbating.

There was, however, one thing that should have been explained but was not explained at Bloomsday on Beaver Street: Why, exactly, did Joyce set Ulysses on June 16, 1904?

The answer to that question can be found in the July 2 issue of The New Yorker, in an essay about Joyce titled “Silence, Exile, Punning,” by Louis Menand.

That was the day that Joyce had his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle. Menand explains what happened on that date: “They walked to Ringsend, on the south bank of the Liffey, where… she put her hand inside his trousers and masturbated him.”

Quoting from a letter Joyce sent to Barnacle several years later, Menand provides more detail: “It was not I who first touched you long ago down at Ringsend. It was you who slid your hand down down inside my trousers… and frigged me slowly until I came off through your fingers, all the time bending over me and gazing at me out of your quiet saintlike eyes.” Joyce later notes, in another letter, that on that night Barnacle “made me a man.”

So, Bloomsday, then is a literary holiday that celebrates a handjob. And Bloomsday on Beaver Street was such a success, I’m considering making it an annual event. You can rest assured that next year, the MC Supreme will take pains to explain the sticky origins of the celebration.

Ladies and gentlemen, mark your calendars.

Amazon Lifts Beaver Street “Ban”

June 27, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Amazon, banned books

As of this morning, Amazon has in stock multiple copies of my investigative memoir, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography. And there are, says the Amazon web page, more copies “on the way.” I think it’s safe to say that a ridiculous battle that began more than three months ago to make the paperback edition of Beaver Street available directly through Amazon, like any other book, is finally over.

Let me state again that, according to Amazon, Beaver Street was never a banned book, and that Amazon would never ban a book due to explicit sexual and volatile political content. The reason for its unavailability, an Amazon spokesman said, was a combination of bureaucratic snafus and computer glitches.

Whatever the reason for Beaver Street’s unavailability or “passive-aggressive banning” (as some in the media were calling it), I have expended an enormous amount of time and energy to achieve what should have been routine. But that’s the nature of the book business. Nothing is easy; nothing is routine; any kind of success is the exception to the rule. For every dollar I’ve earned writing books, it often feels as if I’ve expended a hundred dollars of time and energy. Going back to 1977, when I first sat down to write a book, I doubt I’ve earned minimum wage by the standards of a Third-World country.

No writer in his right mind would want to go to war with Amazon, and this battle to make Beaver Street available is, indeed, the last thing I wanted. But Amazon controls 75 percent of the online trade-paperback market, and if you want to reach potential readers, it’s virtually impossible to do it without them. So, I had no choice. Unlike, say, James Patterson and his band of elves, I don’t pop out a book every month. It took me seven years to write Beaver Street and two more years to find a publisher. My career was on the line, and I had nothing to lose. I was either going to find a way to get Amazon to sell the book. Or I was going to promote Beaver Street as the book Amazon banned.

Of course, nothing will make up for the sales I lost when Beaver Street was unavailable on Amazon and I was on the road and on the radio promoting it. All I can do is reboot, so to speak, and start promoting anew. I’ll take a day to celebrate the lifting of the “ban.” And I’ll hope that like my previous book, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, Beaver Street will endure in the marketplace, and people will still be talking about it ten years from now.

Will It Ever End?

June 26, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, Amazon, banned books, Bloomsday, Byron Nilsson

Twelve years ago, when my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, was published, Amazon was a company I loved. After having had the book rejected by every publisher in creation for 18 years, it was thrilling to watch Nowhere Man shoot up the sales rankings to heights that I’d never imagined possible. Not only was Amazon instrumental in turning the book into a bestseller in multiple countries and multiple languages, but anytime there was a problem with the book’s page, I was able to call my Amazon contact and she’d fix it immediately while I was holding on the phone. It all seemed miraculous.

I’m not going to go into any detail here about what’s going on with Amazon now. (If you’re interested, there’s an excellent article in the June 25 issue of The New Yorker that spells it all out; you can read the abstract here.) But if you’ve been following this blog, then you know that I’ve been having my problems with Amazon. It took three months before they gave the paperback edition of Beaver Street a buy box, meaning that it was impossible to order the book directly through Amazon. Though the company attributed the absence of a buy box to a variety of ongoing bureaucratic and computer problems, and told me that they’d never ban a book due to its content, most journalists and readers I spoke to about the book’s unavailability perceived the matter as a case of Amazon banning Beaver Street because of its explicit sexual and volatile political content.

It was only after I told Amazon’s PR department that the New York launch event, Bloomsday on Beaver Street, was turning into a public protest against the banning of Beaver Street that a buy box appeared on the Beaver Street page. But that wasn’t the end of it—the book still remained unavailable close to 100% of the time. Amazon would order one copy of Beaver Street. It would sell within a couple of hours. And it would again be out of stock for the next 9-11 days. This was the situation as Bloomsday on Beaver Street rolled around.

The Bloomsday MC Supreme, Byron Nilsson, is, among many things, a professional journalist, and he intimated on his blog, on March 28, the day the book was published, that there appeared to be something unusual happening with Beaver Street on Amazon. At the Bloomsday event, which was, indeed, a celebration of literature that some had branded as “smut” and “filth” (like James Joyce’s Ulysses and Beaver Street), Nilsson spoke eloquently about my Amazon problem, and described what was happening as “passive-aggressive book banning.”

So, where does this issue stand now, ten days after the event? Yesterday, Amazon appeared to have more than one copy of Beaver Street in stock. As of this morning, there’s one left. Will it ever end?

Babbs

June 25, 2012

Tags: John Babbs, Merry Pranksters

I found out this weekend that my friend John Babbs died on April 12. I’d been out of touch with him for a number of years, but we’d reconnected last summer after I saw a screening of the film Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place. John, an original Merry Prankster, was in this documentary about the momentous cross-country, LSD-fueled journey the Pranksters took, in 1964, in a customized school bus driven by Neal Cassady, who served as the model for Dean Moriarty, the main character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The film motivated me to write to John. That’s when I learned that he had pancreatic cancer and the prognosis was terminal.

My friendship with John—whom I referred to as Babbs to distinguish him from other Johns in my life—dates back to the mid-1980s, when I was editing men’s magazines and buying, on a regular basis, his hilarious and often psychedelic-flavored erotic fiction. John would occasionally visit me in New York and I’d occasionally visit him in Springfield, Oregon, where he was living an idyllic post-Prankster life that mostly consisted of trout fishing and playing basketball.

Unfortunately, when I stopped working for the magazines in 1999, we had less reason to communicate, and aside from an exchange of Christmas cards or an occasional letter—yes, John still wrote letters—we began to lose touch.

I don’t know why, exactly, I Googled John yesterday, but I did, and what came up was his obituary.

I will miss John. I will regret not having made more of an effort to keep in touch with him the past several years. I will treasure his two books, Yellow Leaves and Prankster Memoirs. And I will always look wistfully upon the watercolors he began painting in his later years, which adorn a shelf in my apartment.

The X-Rated Adventures of Bornhard Goetz

June 22, 2012

Tags: Joyce Snyder, Pam Katz, Lou Perretta, Bernhard Goetz, Bloomsday, Beaver Street, Killarney Rose, Raw Talent III, Byron Nilsson

The author and Joyce Snyder in soft focus at the Killarney Rose. Photo © Bette Yee.
I’ve written frequently on this blog about Joyce Snyder, a former coworker at Swank Publications and a character in Beaver Street whom I describe as a “mutant pornographic genius.” I call her “Pam Katz” in the book for a variety of reasons, but since she filed an age-and-sex-discrimination lawsuit against our former boss, porn king Louis Perretta, I now use her real name.

Snyder, as I explained in an earlier posting, is a close friend of the so-called “Subway Vigilante,” Bernhard Goetz, who was one of the performers at the Bloomsday on Beaver Street book launch party at the Killarney Rose on June 16.

Those of you who were there know that Goetz didn’t exactly perform as advertised. He was supposed to read a passage from Beaver Street about Snyder-Katz, but instead delivered an incoherent monologue about the book as Snyder called out to him from the audience, “Just read the book, Bernie!”

In describing Snyder’s relationship with Goetz, I mentioned that in an outrageous display of John Waters-style tastelessness, at which Snyder excels, she paid tribute to Goetz in one of her classic porn films, Raw Talent III. The Goetz character, played by Jerry Butler, masturbates on four black women who accost him on a subway train.

What I neglected to say is that this scene is a parody film within the film, titled The X-Rated Adventures of Bornhard Goetz, and was nominated for Best Sex Scene at the Adult Video News Awards in 1989.

Snyder mentioned that she feels some responsibility for Goetz’s behavior at the Killarney Rose. “A book party is like a lady’s wedding,” she wrote to me yesterday. “It is always well planned and it must go perfectly. Bernie just refuses to do as told and as agreed, [and] has to go his own way. I don’t know what the problem is. Maybe too much testosterone?”

As far as I’m concerned, Joyce, Bloomsday on Beaver Street could not have gone better. The energy in the room was so good, there was nothing Bernie could have done (short of shooting somebody) that would have ruined the evening. Indeed, his presence added a surrealistic touch and an extra jolt of electricity.

The only one with any regrets, I think, is the MC Supreme, Byron Nilsson, who thought of the perfect introduction for Goetz only after he introduced him. That introduction would have been, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, here’s a real blast from the past…”

MC Supreme

June 21, 2012

Tags: Byron Nilsson, Bloomsday, Beaver Street, Ulysses, James Joyce, Amazon

Byron Nilsson takes a break from his Master of Ceremonies duties at the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street. Photo © Bette Yee.
Originally, I was going to be the MC for Bloomsday on Beaver Street. It was a job I didn’t especially relish and one I’d never done before. But like virtually everything else having to do with Beaver Street, it became a case of: If you want something done then you’ve got to do it yourself. So, I was game.

Then, Byron Nilsson, who was scheduled to read and sing a song at the event, asked me, “Who’s the MC?”

“You are,” I said.

Byron, a seasoned and multitalented stage performer, as well as a professional writer who was one of my primary contributors when I was editing porn magazines, accepted the job eagerly, thereby becoming a triple threat: MC, guest reader of both Beaver Street and Ulysses, and guest singer. He did it all flawlessly.

As MC, he moved the show along in an entertaining and professional manner, concisely explaining why we were celebrating Beaver Street on Bloomsday; judiciously noting the anniversaries of Deep Throat and Watergate and deftly pointing out their connection to Beaver Street; succinctly describing Amazon’s so-called “passive-aggressive banning” of Beaver Street; and doing an especially good job of telling the story of how, 92 years ago, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, led by Anthony Comstock, succeeded in having Ulysses banned in the U.S. for obscenity because of James Joyce’s description of Leopold Bloom masturbating, which is, perhaps, the most poetic description of the male orgasm in the English language.

With a polished and theatrical delivery, Byron read this notorious passage from Ulysses, and then followed it with an equally stunning reading from Chapter 11 of Beaver Street, “The D-Cup Aesthetic.”

And his a cappella rendition of an Irish song, “The Photographer,” full of double entendres, was a showstopper, as well. My sister-in-law, I noticed, practically fell off her seat laughing.

So please, give it up for Byron Nilsson, who from now on I shall call MC Supreme!

Bobby on Beaver Street

June 20, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, Bloomsday, Killarney Rose, performance

The author in performance at the Killarney Rose on Bloomsday. Photo © Bette Yee.
Getting up in front of people and reading from my book is something I prefer not to do. I’m not a natural performer. The reason I became a writer is because I’m good at sitting alone in a room and writing. But the way things are in today’s book business, that’s not an option. Once a book is published, if you want people to buy it, then you’ve got to get out there and sell it. And one way to sell it is to organize events like Bloomsday on Beaver Street, as I did last Saturday, in New York, at the Killarney Rose.

If I’ve improved as a performer, it’s because I’ve done more readings in the past three months than I’ve done in the past 12 years, and I’ve come to look upon these events with excitement and anticipation rather than dread. I think I did a more than adequate job at the Killarney Rose, despite the fact that I slipped off the chair as I was attempting to balance the book on my thigh as I adjusted the microphone. I’ll blame that on Guinness. But I dare say that I recovered nicely.

Rather than critique my performance, which I’ll leave to others, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned recently about performing in general, and reading from Beaver Street in particular.

1. I read better when I’m sitting down then when I’m standing up. It’s more relaxing, it gives me less to think about, and it allows me to get lost in the book. The ideal setup, which I didn’t have at the Killarney Rose, is sitting behind a table on an elevated stage, with a microphone, good lighting, and a bottle of water within easy reach. After about ten minutes, my mouth tends to get mighty dry.

2. The so-called “dirty part,” from “The Accidental Porn Star,” about how I posed for an X-rated photo shoot as an experiment in participatory journalism, is something that I wouldn’t read in a lot of bookstores. But it was just the right passage for a New York crowd at the Killarney Rose. The excerpt is one of the comic highlights of Beaver Street, and what makes it work as a performance piece is the fact that it’s written in my natural speaking voice—a perfect rendition of the way I’d tell the story if I were sitting at a bar and talking to a good friend.

3. I found this bit of advice last week on the Internet, and it came as a revelation: Read the funny parts as if they’re not funny.

In previous readings I’d been putting emphasis on certain words and phrases to accentuate the fact that they were supposed to be laugh lines. I didn’t do this at the Killarney Rose, and it seems to have worked.

4. Like any performer, I feed off the energy of the crowd, and the energy Saturday night was electric. I felt the love. It was, simply, the best crowd I’ve ever read to.

Bernie on Beaver Street

June 19, 2012

Tags: Bernhard Goetz, Bloomsday, Beaver Street, Killarney Rose, Pam Katz, Joyce Snyder, Raw Talent

Bernhard Goetz stands before the microphone, contemplating a copy of Beaver Street. Photo © Robert Rosen.
In analyzing the events of Bloomsday on Beaver Street, it's best, I think, to begin with the elephant in the room--the room being the upstairs bar of the Killarney Rose and the elephant being Bernhard H. Goetz. I suppose it's possible that some people reading this or even some people who were at the event don’t know who Goetz is.

Allow me to recap: On December 22, 1984, a time when crime in New York City seemed to be spiraling out of control, Bernhard Goetz, a self-employed electronics engineer who lived in Greenwich Village and had recently been mugged, boarded a downtown No. 2 train at 14th Street. Four black teenagers accosted him, demanding money. Goetz pulled out an unlicensed .38-caliber revolver and shot them, wounding all of them and crippling one. As one of the teenagers was lying on the floor, Goetz is reported to have said, “You seem to be all right, here’s another,” and shot at him again, apparently missing. He then fled the train and went on the lam for eight days before turning himself into police in New Hampshire.

Some people saw Goetz as a folk hero, a real life Paul Kersey, the Charles Bronson character in Death Wish, while others, believing that the teenagers were panhandlers, not muggers, saw him as violently insane and racist. (Years later, one of the assailants would admit that they did intend to mug Goetz because he looked like “easy bait.”)

The media labeled Goetz “The Subway Vigilante.”

On June 16, 1987, Bloomsday, a jury acquitted Goetz of attempted murder and first-degree assault, but convicted him of third degree criminal possession of a weapon. He was sentenced to one year in jail, one year of psychiatric treatment, five years of probation, 200 hours community service, and fined $5,000.

The events transformed Goetz into an enduring celebrity, one who paparazzi still photograph when they spot him on the street. In 2001, he ran for mayor of New York.

And Goetz, it so happens, is a good friend of one of my former coworkers, Joyce Snyder, who plays a significant role in Beaver Street. (I call her “Pam Katz” in the book.) Snyder, a devotee of John Waters-style bad taste, has written and produced four classic porno films, Public Affairs, and Raw Talent I-III.

In Raw Talent III, she pays tribute to Goetz with a scene that’s, arguably, the epitome (or nadir) of bad taste. The Goetz character, played by Jerry Butler, is accosted on the subway by four black women. He takes out his penis and masturbates on them, and then says to one, “You look like you could use another,” and ejaculates again.

“Bernie wants to read,” Snyder told me before the event. “Is that okay?”

“Sounds insane,” I said. “Let’s do it.”

The plan was for Goetz to read a passage from Chapter 9, “Divas with Beavers,” where Snyder/Katz meets with the publisher, Chip Goodman, as they go over the mechanical boards for X-Rated Cinema magazine. It’s an edgy scene involving sexual harassment, photos of enormous penises, and incest. “Bernie,” Snyder told me, was going to practice the reading.

Well, if you were there, then you know that “Bernie” didn’t read from the book. He stood before the microphone, Beaver Street in hand, and launched into a disjointed monologue about how he didn’t want to read because it was about “office politics,” and he only wanted to talk about the book because, he said, “That’s what makes sense to me.”

“Just read the book, Bernie!” Snyder cried out.

Goetz ignored her, and rambled on for a few minutes before leaving the stage to a smattering of polite applause.

Goetz, however, believes he electrified the audience, and this may, at least in part, be true. I, for one, was stunned. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to press the button on my camera.

A Night to Remember

June 18, 2012

Tags: Bloomsday, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Killarney Rose, Joyce Snyder, Pam Katz, Bernhard Goetz, Mary Lyn Maiscott, Hoop, Sonja Wagner, Byron Nilsson

Saturday night, Bloomsday, a whole lot of people came to the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street to celebrate the New York launch of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography. My family was there. My neighbors were there. My friends were there. People from my high school and junior high school, who I hadn't seen in more than 40 years, were there. Some of my former coworkers, notably Joyce Snyder ("Pam Katz" in Beaver Street) and Sonja Wagner, were there. A few members of the media were there. Gary “HooP” Hoopengardner and my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, provided live music, with a little help from our friends and neighbors. Byron Nilsson, a writer/actor/singer/pornographer, did an amazing job as MC. And, of course, I read from the book--the so-called "dirty part," that I've been reluctant to read in certain bookstores, but read without hesitation for Bloomsday on Beaver Street. And then, as you may have noticed, there was the surreal appearance of Bernhard Goetz--yes, that Bernhard Goetz--who had asked to read from Beaver Street, but instead refused to read from the book and--how shall I put this?--delivered a disjointed dissertation that seemed to have something to do with Beaver Street.

Many things were spoken of at the Killarney Rose on Bloomsday: literature, pornography, book banning, censorship, Amazon, Watergate. In future postings, I’ll write in greater detail about this night to remember. But for now, as I sort out my thoughts and await photographic evidence of some of the things I mentioned above, I simply want to thank everybody for coming to the best Bloomsday party in New York City and reminding me why I became a writer.

A Librarian Brands Ulysses "Filth"

June 16, 2012

Tags: Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Ulysses, banned books

In honor of Bloomsday on Beaver Street, my New York City book launch party tonight at the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street, I'm posting this letter from a librarian, circa 1930, who considered Ulysses obscene and banned it from his library. Though Beaver Street has not been officially banned, a certain major corporation seems to have had ongoing "technical problems" making it available. And at least one critic has branded the book "smut," and refused to review it.

A Cosmic Confluence of Coincidence

June 15, 2012

Tags: Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Killarney Rose, A History of Modern Pornography

That day ten years ago that I was wandering around downtown Manhattan, near Wall Street, thinking that I needed a catchier title than A History of Modern Pornography for the book I'd begun writing, was miraculous on various levels. First of all, when I looked up at the street sign and saw that I was on the corner of Beaver and Broad, it was as if I'd received a message from on high. I knew instantly that this was the perfect title, and I laughed out loud. Never before had a title come to me quite this way. And I also knew instantly that I had to have the publication party somewhere on Beaver Street, though I had no idea where.

I walked the length of Beaver Street, from Broadway to Pearl, and the Killarney Rose seemed the only possible choice. So I went inside. It was an unusual bar in the sense that it went straight through the block, with another entrance on Pearl Street. But it wasn’t until I discovered the upstairs bar that I knew it was tailor made to host a Beaver Street publication party.

The upstairs bar had the intimate feel of a private club, or speakeasy. And there was a backroom that seemed more like a living room—perfect for music (yes, I knew that day there had to be music) and readings.

Now all I had to do was finish writing Beaver Street and find a publisher. Nothing to it, right? Who knew ten years would pass? And how often in my life have I made a plan that I was able to see to fruition a decade later?

Tomorrow it happens—Bloomsday on Beaver Street, a cosmic confluence of coincidence and celebration, and who can resist that?

A Certain Type of Father

June 14, 2012

Tags: Bloomsday on Beaver Street, James Joyce, Ulysses, Deep Throat, Watergate, Irwin Rosen, Mary Lyn Maiscott

Bloomsday on Beaver Street is a celebration of many things in the spirit of James Joyce: the U.S. publication of Beaver Street; other works of literature, like Ulysses, that the more close-minded among us have deemed pornographic; the 40th anniversary of the premiere of Deep Throat; and the 40th anniversary of Watergate, which gave rise to that other Deep Throat. (I write about all this in Beaver Street.)

As if that’s not enough to celebrate, this Saturday, June 16, is also the eve of Father’s Day, and Beaver Street is dedicated to my father, Irwin Rosen, who passed away in 2005. I dedicated it to him because I think he would have enjoyed the book, and I explain why in the Prologue, titled “A Kid in a Candy Store.”

My father used to own a candy store on Church Avenue, in Brooklyn, around the corner from where we lived. I spent a lot of time there, working and hanging out, and one of the things I witnessed was the passion that my father and his pals expressed for books like Tropic of Cancer and Last Exit to Brooklyn—so called “dirty books,” many originally banned in the U.S., that he displayed on a special rack in the back of the store. Beaver Street, I think, would have earned a coveted slot in that special rack.

In honor of Father’s Day, the Prologue is one of the two passages I’m going to read Saturday night. And I’d like to suggest that if you have a certain type of father, Beaver Street, now available in paperback and all e-book formats, just might make the ideal Father’s Day gift. If you buy the book at the event, as a bonus you’ll receive absolutely free a copy of Blue Lights, Mary Lyn Maiscott’s CD, which is dedicated to her parents; the title song is about their wartime romance.

So please join us on Beaver Street to celebrate more things than we can keep track of. It’s going to be fun.

The Musicians

June 13, 2012

Tags: Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Mary Lyn Maiscott, Hoop, Killarney Rose

Bloomsday on Beaver Street, which takes place this Saturday at the Killarney Rose, at 80 Beaver Street in Manhattan, is my first New York book event in 12 years, since the publication party at Don Hill's for my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man. Music was a big part of that event. The publisher had invited a dozen musicians to perform Lennon songs, and one of those performers was Mary Lyn Maiscott, who sang "You Can’t Do That," which you can hear on her CD, Blue Lights.

Music, performed by Mary Lyn and the gifted guitarist HooP, is going to be a big part of Bloomsday on Beaver Street, as well. The duo are slated to perform two sets of originals and covers to open and close a show that will also feature readings from Beaver Street and guest singers performing cabaret-style songs.

Some of the songs are favorites that HooP and Mary Lyn have performed in clubs like The National Underground and Ella Lounge. And most of them are, in one way or another, related to the theme of books—writing books, publishing books, promoting books, and reading books. I’m not going to give away the set list here, but will simply say that if you’ve heard HooP and Mary Lyn live, then you know how good they are. And in an intimate, living-room-like setting like the back room at the Killarney Rose, it promises to be very special night.

Hope to see you there at 7:00 PM on Saturday.

The Long Road Back

June 12, 2012

Tags: Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Ulysses, XBIZ, XFANZ, Amazon, banned books

There's no question that Amazon's computer glitch/bureaucratic snafu, which virtually everybody perceived as an overt attempt to ban Beaver Street because of its explicit content, did tremendous damage to the book's sales. Amazon is the primary way that people in America buy books. And for the three months that the Beaver Street print edition was unavailable directly from Amazon, I was on the road and on the radio promoting the book and trying to explain to people why it wasn't available from Amazon.

Those months are lost, and I’ll never get them back. But that’s the book biz, where it often seems miraculous if anything goes right. And there’s nothing I can do but keep promoting and keep believing that over the long run, readers will recognize Beaver Street as the serious and “enormously entertaining” (as one critic said) work of literature that it is, and it will endure in the marketplace as has my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man.

I feel like a sports team that’s come off a rough road trip, where I played well but got some bad calls. And now I’m about to play a crucial game on my home court. That “game” is Bloomsday on Beaver Street, which takes place this Saturday, June 16, at the Killarney Rose at 80 Beaver Street in New York City. It’s going to be a wild launch party, a celebration of literature that was branded pornographic, like Ulysses and Beaver Street. Some very special guests will be reading from Beaver Street and there will be live music provided by HooP, an extraordinary guitarist, and singer-songwriter Mary Lyn Maiscott, my wife. (You can listen to clips from some of her songs on CD Baby.)

Bloomsday on Beaver Street will be the first step in a long road back to attempt to make up for what was lost. As of last night, the event got its first bit of ink… in two “adult” trade mags, XBIZ and XFANZ. Let’s call it an auspicious start.

Throat

June 11, 2012

Tags: Deep Throat, Linda Lovelace, Eric Danville, Watergate, Bloomsday on Beaver Street

It's impossible to write about the history of pornography, or even the history of 20th century America, without talking about Deep Throat, the movie. In the world of XXX, Deep Throat was the atomic bomb, the event that changed everything and whose impact continues to be felt today.

In the Beaver Street Prologue, I describe how Ronald Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese used underage porn star Traci Lords “as a weapon to attempt to destroy the porn industry as revenge for every legal humiliation pornographers had inflicted on the government since Linda Lovelace and Deep Throat shattered box office records in 1973.”

Later in the book, I explain how Richard Nixon, in an attempt to distract the country from the emerging Watergate scandal, ordered the FBI to shut down every theatre showing Deep Throat, confiscate every print, and to arrest the actors and filmmakers responsible for it. The result: Lovelace became the world’s first porno superstar, buying a ticket to a dirty movie became an act of revolution and protest, and Deep Throat became the eleventh-highest-grossing film of 1973.

As if Bloomsday on Beaver Street, the New York launch event on June 16, didn’t have enough cosmic significance swirling around it, it also happens to be taking place four days after the 40th anniversary of Deep Throat’s New York premiere and three days before the 40th anniversary of a story that ran on the front page of The Washington Post, about the arrest of five men with ties to the Republican party caught burglarizing the Watergate Hotel, thus giving rise to that other Deep Throat, the one of Woodward and Bernstein fame.

All of which is to say, last night, in celebration of this 40th anniversary, I went to 2A, a bar in the East Village, to hear Eric Danville read from his book, The Complete Linda Lovelace. The book will be reissued in September, and the reissue will coincide with the release of Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried, which is based on the book.

Danville is somebody I’ve been aware of for years but had never actually met until last night. We were in the same New York Times article, published ten years ago, “A Demimonde in Twilight.”

Danville was dressed motorcycle-style for the event, “Live to Write/Write to Live” inscribed across the back of his denim vest. As his image was projected larger than life on the wall of a building across the street, he read from his Lovelace book for a full hour, to an appreciative crowd that include the son of Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano.

When it was over, I congratulated Danville on his performance and his stamina.

“One hour is a long time to read,” I told him.

“My throat,” he said, “was dry.”

This is, I imagine, a problem that never troubled the late Linda Lovelace.

My Encounter with a Girlfag

June 8, 2012

Tags: BEA, SCB, Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Ulysses, Girlfag, Janet W. Hardy

For the past four days I've been wandering the aisles of Bookexpo America, and the experience has often left me feeling as if I were an invisible man exploring an exotic city in a forbidden country. With rare exceptions, I felt no connection to anything. I saw nobody I knew. Sometimes I wondered what I was doing there.

Happily, those feelings were alleviated when I strolled over to booth 4214—SCB Distributors. SCB is the company that gets Beaver Street into bookstores in the U.S. And there was Beaver Street, prominently displayed on their rack, nestled between a Gram Parsons bio, God’s Own Singer, by Jason Walker, and book called Girlfag, by Janet W. Hardy.

I was standing outside the booth, trying to draw some psychic energy from the sight of the Beaver Street cover, when a woman with a punky blonde haircut asked if she could be of any assistance.

“No,” I said, pointing to Beaver Street, “I just stopped by to take another look at my book. I wanted to make sure I still existed.”

The woman was Janet W. Hardy, author of Girlfag.

“Well, aren’t you smart,” I said. “You write the book and you work for the company that distributes it.”

“I’ve only been doing this for 18 years,” she replied, pointing out that Girlfag’s publisher, Beyond Binary Books, was her company as well.

I was impressed. Here was a woman who’d totally embraced the demands of modern-day book publishing—she was doing everything herself, leaving nothing to chance.

I told Hardy that I’d never heard the expression “girlfag.”

She explained that girlfags are not fag hags. They are, rather, women, like herself, who love, are attracted to, and identify with gay men. “But the title seems to make a lot of people angry.”

I liked Hardy’s vibe and invited her to Bloomsday on Beaver Street, on June 16. “I think it’s your kind of event,” I said, explaining that it was a celebration of literature, like Ulysses and Beaver Street, that had been branded pornographic.

I told her the story of how, when excerpts of Ulysses were published in the U.S. in 1920, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice went to court, had the book declared obscene, and managed to have it banned it for 13 years.

“There’s one paragraph where Joyce describes Bloom masturbating. It’s probably the most poetic description of jerking off in the English language. But that’s the paragraph that did it.”

Laughing, Hardy said she that had to go home, to Eugene, Oregon, and would, regrettably, be unable to attend Bloomsday on Beaver Street. But she did give me a copy of Girlfag, which I plan to discuss in more detail in some future posting.

She also left me wondering if I should go to Eugene and do an event there. Oregon, after all, is the Beaver State.

Godfather of Grunge Meets Godmother of Punk at BEA

June 7, 2012

Tags: Neil Young, Waging Heavy Peace, Patti Smith, Just Kids, BEA

Patti Smith and Neil Young.
Neil Young, wearing a poncho and looking as if he'd just stepped off his ranch and accidentally wandered into the cavernous Special Events Hall at the Javits Center, was talking about sitting on somebody's back porch out in the redwoods and smoking weed when he saw a copy of Time magazine with the Kent State cover, the screaming woman kneeling over the body of a student shot dead by the National Guard.

“It still gives me chills to think about it,” Young said, explaining to his interviewer, Patti Smith, author of the National Book Award-winning memoir Just Kids, what had inspired him to write “Ohio,” an anthem that gave everybody chills when they first heard it on the radio in the spring of 1970, two weeks after the shooting.

It had taken Smith a while to get the laconic Young to loosen up, and there'd been trouble with the sound system. But the Godmother of Punk, who was once a freelance music journalist, was asking the Godfather of Grunge all the right questions. And Young, who’d come to Bookexpo America to promote Waging Heavy Peace—the memoir nobody thought he’d ever write—was taking pains to answer them.

Waging Heavy Peace, due out in October from Blue Rider Press, sounds free associative and as ragged as an improvised jam with Crazy Horse, the band that Young has reunited with on his just-released album, Americana, a collection of old folk songs, like “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain,” which he calls “Jesus’s Chariot.”

“My memory doesn’t work chronologically,” Young said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work at all.”

Smith, who’d recently released her own album, Banga, said that reading Young’s book, which she found very different from her own book, is like sitting in a room with Neil Young and listening to him talk. Young, who admitted he wasn’t a big reader, thought that Waging Heavy Peace had a similar feel to Just Kids. “I’m a highway and landscapes,” he said. “You’re a city and painted bricks and lots of people. I’m traveling and you are, too. But I’m on the road and you’re traveling down streets.”

The wide ranging and often intimate conversation, which touched on Young’s father, Scott Young, a writer who called his son Windy, apparently because he was always coming up with ideas, kept circling back to the theme of technology and its effect on recorded music. Young is unhappy with the inferior quality of MP3s, especially when people listen to them on a Mac. All the detail is lost, he said, comparing such recordings to reducing Picasso to wallpaper. People, said Young, listen to his MP3s and post stuff like, “This guy used to be good.” But, he stated bluntly, “I don’t give a shit what people think.” The only way to listen to recorded music, he added, is on vinyl and Blue-ray.

Smith agreed with Young up to a point, though she felt that there’s little choice but to embrace new technology. “Still,” she said, referring to free-form radio and vinyl, “it’s okay to mourn what’s been lost.”

Young said that he doesn’t work at writing songs, that he just waits for them to come. Smith then apologetically asked him a question that she said people had asked her a million times: “What’s your process? How do you write songs?”

Since I wasn’t taking notes, and I’m going by my own imperfect memory, this is a rough approximation of Young’s poetic reply: “It’s like catching a rabbit. You don’t look down the rabbit hole and wait for the rabbit to come out. You stand around the rabbit hole and become part of the scenery. You turn your back on the rabbit. You ignore him.”

“And then,” said Smith, “you make rabbit stew.”

Postscript

Young’s persistent references to smoking weed, as well as the lyrics to “After the Gold Rush,” which was one of the songs they played before Young and Smith came on stage, made me feel like getting high. So, when the conversation ended, I got the hell out of the Javits Center and went to visit a “character” from Beaver Street who lives nearby. Generous as always, she rolled a fat one. I only wish Young and Smith could have joined us for a bit more conversation. I was, however, in excellent spirits when I returned to the BEA for one last walkthrough.

Love and Cynicism at the BEA

June 6, 2012

Tags: BEA, Beaver Street

Having worked in publishing as a writer and editor for my entire misspent career, any cynicism I feel towards the industry is well earned. And though I obviously have a love for writing and publishing that's kept me going for the past several decades, in these times of economic and technological turmoil that's turned publishing upside down and inside out, it's often the cynicism that wins out. Which is to say, as I wandered yesterday through the wonderland of Bookexpo America, which is now taking place at the Javits Center in New York, what I felt were mixed emotions. Two things happened that seemed to encapsulate my feelings.

The first was when I went to the booth of a small publisher I’d had some dealings with many years ago. I was curious about a book they’d published that had similar themes to Beaver Street. The author was supposed to be signing it, and I wanted a free copy. It so happened that as I approached the booth, the author was in the midst of an animated conversation with one of the publisher’s employees. She was telling the author that he was going to have to pay for the carton of books that he was going to sign and give away on the publisher’s behalf. The author—the sort of fellow who struck me as a “real writer”—not surprisingly objected to this, and if I’m not mistaken, flatly refused to do so, displaying commendable backbone. And I thought, good for him, and hoped that under similar extortionary circumstances, I’d have done the same thing.

The second incident was my visit to the Authors Guild booth, which happens to be the organization that hosts this website and provides me with health insurance. I wanted to drop off some invitations for Bloomsday on Beaver Street, and was hoping they’d let me have a little of their very valuable counter space. Well, they not only let me have some counter space, but the two guys who were manning the booth (whose names I sadly forget) reacted with such genuine and astonishing enthusiasm to the event and to Beaver Street itself—“Wow! This is great! Who wouldn’t love this book?”—that I gave them a free copy and assured them that if they came to the event there would indeed be porn stars present. I walked away feeling good.

Amazon Blinks: Beaver Street Gets Buy Box

June 5, 2012

Tags: Amazon, banned books, BEA, Bloomsday on Beaver Street

Score one for The Daily Beaver: Just as Bookexpo America opens in New York, Amazon has added a "buy box" to the print edition of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, thus ending a three-month battle to achieve what should have been routine. It's now possible to buy Beaver Street directly from Amazon and take advantage of free shipping with Amazon Prime. If I sound like an advertisement, please forgive me. This has been a long time coming.

An Amazon rep called yesterday to break the news. He sounded genuinely upset that anybody could think that Amazon had banned Beaver Street due to its content, as I’d been reporting here. He assured me that that wasn’t the case.

I told the rep that I believed him. But I also said that every time I tried to explain to a reader or an interviewer that, according to Amazon, the reason the book wasn’t available was because of computer glitches and weird bureaucratic snafus having to do with licensing, nobody believed me. “Dude,” everybody would tell me, “Amazon banned your book.” After hearing this for three months, and getting nowhere with Amazon, I started to believe it, too.

Amazon, however, is sensitive to the idea that they’d ever ban a book due to explicit sexual content. And what finally got through to them, what finally motivated somebody within their bureaucracy to wake up and add a buy box, was a letter I wrote to the Amazon public relations department, telling them about the Bloomsday on Beaver Street event scheduled for June 16, in New York. I said that one of the reasons for the event was to publicly protest Amazon’s banning of Beaver Street. This was clearly something that Amazon did not want to see happen.

I also talked to the rep about the issue of fairness, pointing out that because of what amounts to a clerical error, I’d lost three months of sales. “How is Amazon going to make that up to me?” I asked him.

Let’s just that that, as of today, this remains an open question, though I fully expect Amazon to do the right thing and use their vast resources to give Beaver Street a well deserved promotional boost.

In the meantime, I’ll return to organizing Bloomsday on Beaver Street as the celebration of literature, in the spirit of James Joyce, that I’d originally intended.

Some Thoughts on Book Banning on the Eve of the BEA

June 4, 2012

Tags: Amazon, banned books, BEA, Bloomsday on Beaver Street

I've been writing a lot about Amazon lately because of the absurd and destructive problems they've created for Beaver Street. If you've been reading this blog, then you know that despite my own efforts, and the efforts of the publisher and the distributor, Amazon has been unwilling or unable to make the print edition of Beaver Street available in the U.S. Concerned readers and members of the media who've asked me about this perceive the problem as a conscious effort on Amazon's part to ban Beaver Street because of its explicit sexual content. (This so-called book banning will be one of the themes of the New York launch event on June 16, Bloomsday on Beaver Street.)

I bring it up yet again because Book Expo America (BEA) begins tomorrow in New York, and one of the reasons I’m going there is the possibility (as slim as it may be) that somebody from Amazon will meet with me and be willing to work to resolve the problem. Treating the banning of Beaver Street as an aggrieved author has thus far gotten me nowhere. It occurs to me that it’s now time to put on my investigative journalist hat and demand answers from a stonewalling corporation.

If I seem obsessive about this Amazon issue, it’s because I am. And the longer it drags on with no resolution in sight, the more obsessive I become. Is it really necessary to point out that I spent seven years writing Beaver Street, another two years looking for a publisher, and the past 14 months running around Europe and the U.S. promoting it? One of the few things I expected in return for this decade-long ordeal was for the largest distributor of books in America to make my work available in all formats. Amazon has not done so, and that is unacceptable.

Top 10 Events of May 2012

June 1, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, Nowhere Man, Gli ultimi giorni di John Lennon, Tiffany Granath, Christy Canyon, Ginger Lynn, Book Soup, Amazon, banned books, Erich von Pauli

Christy Canyon and Ginger Lynn, hosts of the Sirius XM Playboy radio show You Porn.
It's been a helluva month. Allow me to share some of the highlights and lowlights:

10. A blogger in England puts my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, on his list of "Top 10 Books," among the works of such commercial powerhouses as Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, and C.J. Sanson. This has happened dozens of times before, and each time it does, it reminds me anew that 12 years after publication, Nowhere Man has achieved "cult classic" status.

9. A rave review of Nowhere Man: Gli ultimi giorni di John Lennon, in an Italian magazine, calls the book “daring,” “an unforgiving but truthful portrait,” and a “must for… Beatles fans.”

8. The Italian edition of Nowhere Man sells out its first printing, but Italy, like the publishing industry itself, is in such a state of economic and political chaos, nobody seems to know if there will be a second printing.

7. My wife and I spend a blissful week in Santa Barbara, at our friends’ house, “Casa de los patios,” as it’s called. We begin each day sipping coffee on one of five patios, gazing at the mountains in the distance. “Another goddamn beautiful day,” says the mistress of the house each morning, as she comes trotting onto the patio with her four dogs.

6. For the fourth consecutive month, this website hits a new high in traffic.

5. I read and sign Beaver Street at Book Soup, the legendary independent bookstore on Sunset Strip in L.A.

4. I’m interviewed about Beaver Street on The Tiffany Granath Show on Sirius XM Playboy radio.

3. After a year of hustling and promotion, the first printing of Beaver Street sells out in the U.K. There will be a second printing… sooner or later.

2. Christy Canyon and Ginger Lynn interview me about Beaver Street on their Sirius XM Playboy radio show, You Porn. Christy shows me her extraordinary (and ageless) breasts. Paul Slimak (Henry Dorfman in Beaver Street) calls in as Erich von Pauli, the character he plays in the Beaver Street promotional videos, and has everybody in the studio cracking up as he threatens to launch his V-2 missiles. It’s one of the best hours of radio I’ve ever participated in.

1. Claiming at various times “technical problems,” that they don’t have the right to sell the book, or that the book is “unavailable,” Amazon effectively bans the print edition of Beaver Street in the U.S. and there appears to be nothing anybody can do about it.