Back in the 1980s, John Mozzer was porn star Alan Adrian. He was also a photographer, a paparazzo of porn whose archive is now online. He recently sent me this photo of Bill Bottigi and "Izzy Singer," both of whom are major "characters" in Beaver Street. (I enclose Izzy Singer in quotes because at the time Beaver Street was published, he didn't want his real name, Neil Wexler, used in the book.)
Mozzer took the photo on April 15, 1987, at the downtown New York club Heartbreak, at a launch party for 2029, a German photography magazine published by Leslie Barany and Diane Brandis.
In Beaver Street, I describe Singer/Wexler as “the ingenious creative force behind Swank’s sleaziest stroke book,” For Adults Only, and a man who “possessed an unrivaled knowledge of the fair-market value of everything having to do with commercial sex.” Today he remains one of the last working writers in porn. You can check out his Website here.
Also in the book, I detail the controversial story of Bill Bottigi’s murder, 25 years ago.
The way things are in publishing these days, it's as difficult for me to sell a magazine article as it is to sell a book. So I usually don't bother writing articles because even if I do sell one, it'll be around for a month at best. My books, however, tend to endure. Nowhere Man remains in print 17 years after publication.
Ironically, both my books began as failed magazine articles. In 1982, Rolling Stone and Playboy turned down an early version of what became Nowhere Man--because I couldn't prove to their satisfaction that what I'd written was true. I started writing Beaver Street in 1995 on assignment from The Nation. It was supposed to be an article about the economics of pornography. They rejected it for not being “political enough.”
But sometimes the stars line up and something I write finds its way into a magazine. This month, the first part of a three-part series called “The Provocateur” has been published on a British site, Erotic Review. The series is an excerpt from a book about the 1970s that I’ve been working on, and it’s the story of my old friend Robert Attanasio, an artist and filmmaker who died in 2015.
It was Attanasio’s death that helped me find a focus for the book and made me realize what its central theme should be—the moment when the student left gave way to Punk.
Part I comes with multiple trigger warnings and a big NSFW. Stay tuned for parts II and III.
"I really did believe that having oral sex with a hot young model in front of a loaded camera was a legitimate avenue of journalistic research. I also believed that to write insightfully about pornography, pornographic experience in front of the camera wasn't only invaluable, it was essential." —from Beaver Street
The above quote is from a chapter called “The Accidental Porn Star,” and when I wrote it, I’d forgotten that there is at least one other journalist who’s willing to do the kind of research that I do.
Gay Talese was not photographed as he was researching Thy Neighbor’s Wife, originally published in 1981 and described as “eye-opening revelations about the sexual activities and proclivities of the American public in the era before AIDS” and a “marvel of journalistic courage and craft.” But as Talese reminded me in his 2015 interview with Alec Baldwin on Here’s the Thing (which I just listened to), in the course of gathering material for Thy Neighbor’s Wife, he did get masturbated in a New York massage parlor.
Talese’s latest story, “The Voyeur’s Motel,” in the current issue of The New Yorker, is what got me thinking about his research methods. In the story, probably one of the strangest the magazine has ever run, Talese, now 84, describes his 35-year relationship with Gerald Foos, owner of a motel near Denver. Foos is a voyeur who bought the motel specifically because it had an attic, which he converted to a perch where he could watch his guests have sex. And he did so from the 1960s to 1995, taking notes on what he saw.
Talese, in the name of research, joined Foos in the attic, and together they watched people have sex. The article, which includes some of Foos’s notes, is both semi-pornographic and an exploration of Talese’s wrenching moral dilemma as he conducted his research.
When writers throw their bodies and souls into their work, the result is often literature that you can’t put down. Sadly, as Talese also points out in the interview, magazines that are willing to finance this kind of reporting are on the verge of extinction.
Joyce Snyder, whom I call Pam Katz in Beaver Street, released her own book, Mistress Pussycat, published last year by Headpress. Below is an interview she did with the Florida radio station WOCA, in which she discusses submissive men and her experiences as a dominatrix.
And here's a link to the story about the 1984 Critics Adult Film Awards on The Rialto Report.
Joyce Snyder, whose book, Mistress Pussycat, will be published imminently, was looking for some photos for her own Website when she uncovered these shots from a 1986 Swank Publications Christmas party at the home of our publisher, Chip Goodman. That's me in the yellow sweater. Two other people in this photo are pseudonymous "characters" in Beaver Street. (Hint: the face of one of them is obscured.)
I’ll send a PDF of the photo section that appeared in the first U.K. edition of Beaver Street to anybody who can identify those characters by their real names or pseudonyms. (Former employees of Swank Publications are not eligible to participate. The decision of the judges is final.)
Over in Facebook Land this is Throwback Thursday. So why not on the Sporadic Beaver, too?
Before Ozy called to talk about the history of pornography in America, I'd never heard of them. But that's not surprising. So fragmented and expansive is the media today, even a high-profile news site can slip beneath my radar.
In any case, adhering to my philosophy of treating like Oprah everybody who wants to talk about my books, I spoke at length to Ozy, and when they ran the story, "How Nixon Shaped Porn in America," about the connection between Watergate and Nixon's efforts to ban the film Deep Throat, I was amazed by the results.
Not only was Beaver Street prominently featured, but the story was shared a respectable 1,760 times (and counting) on Facebook; was published in the popular German tabloid Bild as “Mister President wollte eigentlich das Gegenteil ... Wie Nixon dem Porno zum Durchbruch verhalf” (roughly translated as “Mr. President wanted the opposite of it... how Nixon helped porn to its breakthrough”); and was cited in the Washington Post and Baltimore City Paper.
That Beaver Street has remained in the news for more than four years in an environment where just about everything is forgotten within 24 hours is nothing short of miraculous. But apparently, that’s how long it’s taken the media to catch on to one of the book’s central themes: The biggest crooks—notably Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Edwin Meese, and Charles Keating—cry “Ban pornography!” the loudest.
And speaking of books that people keep talking about long after publication, on Tuesday, July 21, at 10 P.M eastern time, and Saturday July 25, at 2:30 P.M. eastern time, the Reelz channel will broadcast the John Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals, in which I discuss my Lennon bio, Nowhere Man. Click here to find the show on your cable or satellite system.
Bill Bottiggi with porn star Colleen Brennan, circa 1985.
In Beaver Street I write about the unsolved murder of Bill Bottiggi, an editor who briefly worked at Swank Publications. At the time I wrote the book, nobody was certain why, exactly, Bottiggi had been killed. But there were a number of theories in circulation and I detailed one of them:
The probable motive for the murder, the police deduced, had to do with sex letters Bottiggi had solicited from hundreds of prisoners, most of whose names he’d gleaned from the Stag correspondence files. He’d promised these prisoners that he’d split with them whatever money he made selling their letters to an array of straight and gay porn mags that he contributed to regularly. But instead, Bottiggi kept all the money for himself—approximately $25,000. Apparently, one of these men, upon being paroled, tracked Bottiggi down to demand his payment—probably not more than a couple of hundred bucks—and when Bottiggi balked, proceeded to carve him up with a steak knife.
If this is, in fact, true will soon become known. Nearly a quarter century after committing the crime, the murderer has been caught. Though the information I have is vague and incomplete, this much I do know: The murderer was already in prison for an unrelated crime, and his DNA matched the DNA found on clothing he’d left at the scene of the murder.
As more information becomes available, I’ll post it here.
It's not coverage in The New York Times that keeps books like Beaver Street alive and vital four years after publication. It's the passionate amateurs, writing about what they love, who spread the word. One such writer recently posted about Swank magazine on his site, Pulp Informer, and raised a number of questions about Beaver Street.
I contacted the writer, suggested he read the book, and told him that he was well qualified to receive a review copy. He reached out to Headpress and they sent him one.
His unabashed review, illustrated with a number of photos I’d never seen (like the two above), expresses his profound appreciation of Beaver Street.
If the publishing industry is to survive as a viable, profit-making institution, it’s the multitude of sites like Pulp Informer that they can thank.
One of the problems with writing a book and then preparing it for submission to publishers is that it's an extraordinarily time-consuming process. Take into account that I also have a demanding freelance gig, and there are simply not enough hours in the week to tend to blogging, Facebooking, and tweeting, at least if I want to have something resembling a life. Which is why it's been two months since I've posted anything new on this blog. But I am still here and I know some people have missed me.
So, aside from the book, what’s been happening since January 12? Here are a half-dozen highlights:
Like everybody else in the northeast, I’ve been getting through the winter, which can’t end soon enough, though I’ve not been letting the cold or the snow interfere with my daily walks by the Hudson River, which on some days might be mistaken for the Northwest Passage.
My wife and I spent a week in Florida, visiting my mother and being tourists in Miami. It was warmer there, I went swimming every day, and at no point was I forced to stand my ground.
For a brief moment, Beaver Street was the #1 porn book on Amazon Germany and Nowhere Man was the #1 Beatles book on Amazon Canada. Is it too soon to declare them both cult classics?
Quadrant, a conservative Australian literary journal, cited Nowhere Man in an essay comparing John Lennon to Russell Brand. The conservative media’s 15-year embrace of my work, using it to prove whatever point they’re trying to prove, continues to be a source of astonishment.
In my blog post about Charlie Hebdo, I wrote about the artist who, in the 1970s, had drawn a pornographic cartoon as a way of expressing his discontent with the Catholic Church. I’d published the drawing in Observation Post, the City College newspaper I was editing at the time. Major controversy ensued. Well, the artist read the post, and contacted me. We got together for the first time since 1974. He’s still an artist. And he’s still crazy after all these years. But so am I.
I woke up one morning to find that the porn star Stoya, whom the Village Voice had described on their cover as “The Prettiest Girl in New York,” had mentioned Beaver Street in a blog post. If I could have picked three people on planet Earth to read and appreciate Beaver Street, Stoya would have been among them, alongside Philip Roth and Joan Didion. So, I tweeted her a thank you and she tweeted back, “Thank you for writing it. Amazing glimpse into the adult industry.” Say what you will about Stoya, but I’ll say this much: The girl gives good blurb.
Had I gone to college in France, I'd say the odds are pretty good that I'd have ended up working for Charlie Hebdo. It would have been a natural progression.
Instead, I went to the City College of New York and joined Observation Post, or OP, as this student newspaper was known. Founded in 1947 by returning World War II veterans, OP by the 1960s had evolved into the "alternative" paper, a radical journal of anti-war politics and rock 'n' roll, kind of a Rolling Stone-like option for those who found the "responsible" New York Times-like Campus to be exceedingly dull.
By the time I’d joined the staff, in 1971, one year after Charlie Hebdo was founded, OP, as I describe it in Beaver Street, “had mutated into a blunt instrument primarily used to test the limits of the First Amendment…. a student-funded incubator for an emerging punk sensibility soon to burst into full flower; it was an anarchist commune whose members performed improvisational experiments with potent images and symbols designed to provoke, or to ‘shock the bourgeoisie.’”
In short, we could have flown our freak flag under the Charlie Hebdo slogan, journal irresponsible (irresponsible newspaper).
In 1974, the staff elected me editor-in-chief. Early in my tenure, an artist who was raised Roman Catholic submitted his latest drawing, a reaction, he said, to his primary school education at the hands of “sadistic nuns.” It was an artfully crude cartoon of a nun masturbating with a crucifix.
Obviously, it was intended to provoke, but I also thought it was a legitimate artistic statement. Though many on the staff were less than thrilled by the cartoon, the only people who voiced objections to its publication said that the image was self-indulgent and clichéd, a rip off of the crucifix-defiling scene in The Exorcist, a popular film at the time. The possibility that somebody might want to do us physical harm should we publish such a drawing was not even considered.
So I ran the nun as a stand-alone cartoon, my sole motivation being to allow an artist whose work I liked to express his well-earned anger towards The Church, which I had no strong feelings about one way or the other.
And of course we got a reaction, though it wasn’t the usual irate letters from radical feminists accusing OP of exploiting women, as had happened when, in an earlier issue, my predecessor published a cover photo of a couple copulating on the couch in the OP office. Rather, the masturbating nun cartoon provoked Senator James Buckley of New York to denounce it as “a vicious and incredibly offensive anti-religious drawing” and demand the expulsion of the students responsible for it, the censoring of every college newspaper in America, and a Justice Department investigation of OP to “protect the civil liberties of all students who are offended by pornography.” This, in turn, provoked the Times to run an editorial defending OP in the name of the First Amendment, which put an end to the crisis.
In other words, a religiously “offensive” cartoon did what it was intended to do: spark a passionate debate.
Five years later, the cartoon inspired another OP editor to don a nun’s habit and have herself photographed masturbating with a crucifix as a tribute to the original drawing. Then, in a gratuitous act of pure punk provocation, she ran those photos in OP. In Beaver Street, I describe what happened next:
“[A] jeering mob of students affiliated with the Reverend Sun Myung Moon burned 10,000 copies of OP in a South Campus bonfire;… the City University chancellor publicly apologized to Cardinal Cooke for the photos; the Board of Higher Education demanded the criminal prosecution of OP’s editors on obscenity charges; the New York City Council threatened to gut the budget of the entire City University system unless something was done about OP; [and] the City College student body voted to kill off OP once and for all.”
The point I’m making here is that despite two attempts to provoke a reaction with crude and pornographic religious imagery—the second attempt more shocking and gratuitous than the first—there was no physical violence directed at the OP staff and there were no threats of physical violence. Though I’m sure many people wished those responsible for the cartoon and photos dead, the people who hated the images responded with words, political acts, and their own symbolism—burning the newspaper.
So, what does it mean that students in the 1970s could publish outrageous religious and political satire and not have to worry about being assassinated by a fundamentalist death squad? I suppose it means that I came of age as a writer and editor in a more tolerant and possibly more civilized time.
Unfortunately, there was no American equivalent of Charlie Hebdo for me to graduate to. Yet, in my books and other writings, I continue to nurture the spirit that OP infused in me, the spirit that very much lives on at Charlie.
I also do freelance work in the production department of a magazine that occasionally indulges in satire and has just moved into the gleaming 21st-century tower known as the World Trade Center. Though these things are certainly a matter of concern, I refuse to live in fear, and that’s the best tribute I can pay to the staff of Charlie.
I'm not in the habit of discussing here, at least on a daily basis, the book I'm currently working on. But there are references to Bobby in Naziland on this blog dating back to October 2011, so it's hardly a secret that I've been writing a novel. And if you were one of the people who attended Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, in 2013, then you heard me read the opening pages of the book and have a sense of what it's about: a child's view of Brooklyn in the 1950s and '60s.
I haven’t posted here in nearly four weeks because I’ve been working on revisions for Bobby in Naziland, and it’s taken up what little free time I’ve had. Also, in the middle of doing those revisions, the British government passed a new censorship law, and The Independent, apparently fans of Beaver Street, asked me to write about it. The piece I wrote, “No Female Ejaculation, Please, We’re British,” went viral and was then picked up by Dagospia, an Italian political-gossip site. This was one of my two major-media highlights of 2014. (The other was an appearance on the John Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals, which ran multiple times on the Reelz Channel.)
So, here it is, Boxing Day, Henry Miller’s birthday, and the day after Christmas—the traditional time to reflect on the year gone by. Judging by the horror that smacks me in the face every morning when I foolishly pick up the newspaper because it’s lying outside my door, 2014 seems to have been little more than a series of catastrophies. No need to innumerate them here; we both know what they are. Which is why I’m going to take a moment to feel especially grateful that I’ve gotten through this year relatively unscathed. Also, I’m going to put aside my cynicism for a day or two and look to 2015 with a sense of hope.
Call me crazy.
In the meantime, happy holidays to all, and I’ll see you next year, if not sooner!
Mike Nichols, circa 1970, the year he directed Catch-22.
Mike Nichols, best known as the director of such films as The Graduate, Catch-22, and Carnal Knowledge, died yesterday, at 83. Below, I give you the scene from Beaver Street, set in New York City's Hellfire Club during a Screw magazine Halloween party, in 1985, that references Nichols.
I wandered into a back room and saw Buck Henry, the frequent Saturday Night Live guest host, standing by himself and observing with clinical detachment a bleached-blond dominatrix walloping a naked man with a riding crop.
“Come here often?” I asked Henry.
“I’m Buck,” he said, shaking my hand in a firm, businesslike manner. “Yeah, I’ve been to Hellfire once before. But I was expecting a classier crowd tonight—since Al invited me.” He gestured towards the man writhing on the floor. “Is this the kind of stuff that usually goes on here?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “I’ve only been here once before myself, and very briefly at that. But I hear in the old days before AIDS, you could walk in any night and find a half-dozen piss drinking orgies—stuff like that. I can’t believe people are dying now for a little fun they had ten years ago.”
“The statute of limitation for these things should be five years,” Henry said, just as the dominatrix whacked her slave’s penis with a wicked shot that made us both wince.
“Absolutely,” I agreed, unable to take my eyes off the S&M show. “But you’ve got to admit, this is something you don’t see every day. It’s like a scene from Tropic of Cancer. ”
He nodded and said, “I met Henry Miller once at a Hollywood party. He was there with Mike Nichols. All he wanted to talk about was The Graduate. All I wanted to talk about was Quiet Days in Clichy.”
I knew that Henry had written the screenplay for The Graduate, which Nichols had directed, as well as creating with Mel Brooks the classic sitcom Get Smart. “What are you doing now?” I asked. “Writing for Screw?”
“I’m waiting for my mother to die first,” he said.
I've had my issues with censorship in the past, though never with the U.K. England has always been a good place for me professionally--both in pornography and literature. It was British photographers, like Donald Milne, Steve Colby, and John Lee-Graham, who provided me with the material that transformed D-Cup into a cash cow (so to speak), thus igniting my career as an editor of "adult" magazines. And it was the BBC and British publications, like the Times of London, Uncut, and Mojo, that embraced Nowhere Man as serious literature and were instrumental in sending the book rocketing up best-seller lists. And it was Headpress, the London-based indie, that took on Beaver Street (where you can read about Milne, Colby, and Lee-Graham) after every publisher in the U.S. had deemed the book unworthy of publication.
So I was surprised last year when England became a new front in an ongoing Beaver Street censorship battle. The problem wasn’t with the book itself, but rather with this Website.
The article describes how British Prime Minister David Cameron had announced that the four largest Internet service providers in the U.K. were, by the end of 2013, going to begin blocking all porn sites. If a costumer wanted to look at smut, then he’d have to request that the filters be disabled.
“Obviously people are not going to want to do that,” I told Morris. “People just don’t want to come out in public and say ‘I want to look at porn.’ A lot of people who do look at porn are inhibited, shy people.”
In response to Cameron’s statement that access to online porn is “corroding childhood,” I told Morris that kids have always found a way to circumvent rules meant for their protection and if they “want to look at pornography, they usually figure out how to do it."
When the porno filters were turned on, towards the end of 2013, the impact on this Website was immediate: traffic from the U.K. dropped off by 80 percent.
Even though this is not a porn site, and sites in the U.K. with far more explicit material were not being blocked, I thought there was nothing I could do about it. So I ignored what was happening and quietly hoped that the Brits would come to their senses.
Then, two weeks ago, I received several messages from readers in the U.K. telling me that they were unable to connect with this site. Something had changed and I decided to investigate.
Using the Website Blocked, I was able to determine that five major U.K. ISPs were blocking me. Blocked also provided contact information for the appropriate administrators of these ISPs, and I wrote to them.
“Robertrosennyc.com is a site dedicated to literature, publishing, and current affairs,” I said, “and you are improperly blocking me.”
Unlike their U.S. corporate counterparts—such as a certain mega-conglomerate that made the print edition of Beaver Street unavailable and initially stonewalled all attempts to communicate with them—these major U.K. corporations were responsive.
“Are there any words etc. on the Website which may be deemed sensitive to a young audience, Robert?” one of them inquired.
“No,” I replied. (Though I was tempted to say, “Yeah, Margaret Thatcher.”)
They were also reasonable. Within a week, every site but one—Talk Talk Kidsafe (yeah, I get it)—had removed their block.
I was among the people who Kristin Battista-Frazee asked to participate in a panel discussion at the Strand bookstore, in New York City, to launch her memoir, The Pornographer's Daughter. This honest and unadorned depiction of what it was like to grow up with a father who was a major distributor of Deep Throat provides an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the fellatio flick that changed the way America saw pornography. Joining us on the panel were Dr. Belisa Vranich, who moderated, and Eric Danville, author of The Complete Linda Lovelace.
I’ve posted two short clips of my performance on this memorable night. In the above video, I read a key passage from Beaver Street that explains how Richard Nixon helped make Deep Throat the 11th-highest-grossing movie of 1973. And in the clip below, I talk about the possibility that Linda Lovelace was forced at gunpoint to perform in the film that made her America’s first porno superstar.
Ever since YouTube achieved global dominance, book trailers have become de rigueur for every author, from Nobel laureates, like Mario Vargas Llosa, to self-published scribblers who give away their e-books on Amazon.
A well-done trailer can create awareness that a book exists and can attract media attention, which can lead to… more media attention, which can be helpful if you've written a book that's worth reading.
The Pornographer’s Daughter, by Kristin Battista-Frazee, is a memoir that vividly depicts the trauma and chaos of growing up with a father who was a sex-club owner and a major distributor of Deep Throat, the fellatio flick that changed everything.
To promote The Pornographer’s Daughter—and her September 26 panel discussion about pornography’s impact on pop culture (in which I’ll be participating), at the Strand, in New York City—Kristin has released the above trailer, starring David Koechner, best known as Todd Packer on The Office and Champ Kind in Anchorman and Anchorman 2.
Koechner plays two roles in the trailer: himself and a character named Gerald “T-Bones” Tibbons, an obnoxious reporter who interviews Kristen about The Pornographer’s Daughter even though he hasn’t read it and thinks it’s a filthy book, like Fifty Shades of Grey.
Kristin holds her own against both incarnations of this bona fide comic heavyweight. And maybe the trailer will persuade you to venture out to the Strand to see our porn panel, which also includes Eric Danville, author of The Complete Linda Lovelace, and will be moderated by Dr. Belisa Vranich, author of the self-help book Get a Grip.
In the meantime, for your edification, please contrast and compare The Pornographer’s Daughter trailer with my own trailer, below, Erich von Pauli on Beaver Street: Episode 1—there are four episodes altogether—starring Paul Slimak as renegade Nazi Erich von Pauli. Shot on a budget of approximately £1, a few months before Beaver Street was published in the U.K., the video features Agnes Herrmann’s voiceover and Mary Lyn Maiscott’s performance of the Beaver Street theme song (with apologies to Ray Davies and the Kinks).
Gerald Tibbons, meet Erich von Pauli. Long may you run.
The Strand might be the best bookstore in New York City, if not in the entire country. It's been around for 87 years, the last 57 at its current location, at 828 Broadway, on the corner of 12th Street.
Despite the digital upheaval now roiling the book world, the store continues to flourish and remains the go-to performance space for such literary luminaries as Patti Smith and Junot Diaz.
I've spent many entertaining hours browsing the Strand's aisles, in search of reasonably priced out-of-print books. And whenever the pile of books on my coffee table gets out of control, the Strand is where I go to convert them to pocket change.
These are among the reasons why I’m delighted to have been invited to participate, on Friday, September 26, from 7-8 PM, in a launch event at the Strand for The Pornographer’s Daughter, a memoir by Kristin Battista-Frazee, whose father achieved notoriety in the 1970s when he went from being a respectable Philadelphia stockbroker to a major distributor of Deep Throat, the dirty movie that changed everything.
Here’s my mini-review of Kristin’s book:
An honest and unadorned depiction of what it’s like to grow up in a house where hardcore pornography and live sex shows pay the bills. Set in a twilight zone somewhere between All in the Family and The Sopranos, the cast features a father facing federal obscenity charges in Memphis, a mother washing down Nembutal with shots of Wild Turkey, and a daughter taking it all in with the eye of a budding journalist. It’s miraculous that Battista-Frazee was able to persuade her family to tell her in such unsparing detail what went down when she was a child. The most surprising plot twist, however, is that Battista-Frazee emerged from the chaos and trauma to lead a shockingly normal, middle-class life.
Deep Throat expert Eric Danville, author of The Complete Linda Lovelace, will join us for a free-wheeling panel discussion about porn’s impact on American pop culture, moderated by Dr. Belisa Vranich, author of Get a Grip.
You know that Beaver Streetreview, by Peter Landau, on Goodreads, that I posted about yesterday? Well, today it's migrated to Fleshbot. So, if you neglected to read it yesterday, please read it today on Fleshbot. They have much better pictures than Goodreads, just in case you need a little more incentive to click here now.
I should pay more attention to Goodreads because people often post reviews of my books on the site, and I'm one of those authors who not only reads his reviews, but also likes to engage with his critics.
Last night I found two positive Beaver Street reviews. The first one, by Peter Landau, the writer who conducted the epic interview with me that ran last month on Fleshbot, describes me "as a Virgil to the reader's Dante on tour of a business that grew to define pop culture in America." In his thoughtful analysis, Landau calls the book "a fun and informative trek through a lost world," meaning that the profitable and dynamic magazine world that I depict in Beaver Street has long ago ceased to exist. He gives the book five out of five stars.
Thank you, Peter.
The other review, by Mike McPadden, is notable because the writer “vividly” remembers “the naked nun photo scandal of 1979,” which I describe in an early Beaver Street chapter about editing Observation Post, an underground newspaper at the City College of New York. (Actually, the “nun” went well beyond being naked, but I suspect that Goodreads is subject to censorship, and McPadden prudently restrained his language.) Overall, McPadden calls the book “breezy” and “funny” and recommends Beaver Street “skinthusiastically.”
I've done a lot of interviews since Beaver Street was published, but the 5,000-word epic, conducted by Peter Landau, that was posted on Fleshbot today is one of the most comprehensive and far ranging.
If you haven't read Beaver Street yet, our conversation serves as a fine introduction to both the book and to my entire career, in and out of porn. It's also a very nice birthday present. I'll say no more and simply ask you to click here and enjoy.
I tend to write about movies that have a direct, personal connection either to my life or my books--see About Cherry, Magic Trip, and Chapter 27--and the latest such film to fall into this category is the generically titled Back Issues, a documentary about Hustler magazine. (Why not just call it Hustler?)
I enjoyed Back Issues in part because it adds an additional dimension to much of what I write about in Beaver Street. And Beaver Street, with its tales of High Society publisher Carl Ruderman trying to pattern his magazine after Hustler, only to end up as Hustler’s "Asshole of the Month," adds an additional dimension to Back Issues.
But the primary reason I’m writing about the film is because Bill Nirenberg, whom I used to work with at Swank Publications—the company at the center of Beaver Street—is at the center of Back Issues. Before landing at Swank, Bill was an art director at Hustler during its glory days, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, and watching the film with two of my former colleagues filled me with the disorienting sense of being back at Swank and listening to Bill regale us with his Hustler and Larry Flynt stories. Bill’s demeanor, his tone, his vibe, as well as the stories themselves are exactly as I remember them.
Capturing somebody on film just as they are in life is not an easy thing to do. But the reason Bill comes across so realistically—in fact the reason this film exists at all—is because his son, Michael Lee Nirenberg, directed it. And because of the intimate connection between subject and filmmaker, Michael was able to gain access to all the key Hustler players, including the often-inaccessible Flynt, as well as former editors Paul Krassner and Allan MacDonell, whose memoir, Prisoner of X, covers the same time period as I do in Beaver Street.
Michael also managed to unearth a number of documents that illustrate some of the most notable moments in the history of a polarizing magazine whose impact on American popular culture was profound. The most outrageous document is an audiotape of Flynt ranting at the Supreme Court justices, in 1983, when they were considering a libel case that Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione’s girlfriend, Kathy Keeton, had brought against Hustler. The language Flynt uses, a series of gratuitously racist and sexist slurs, is so inflammatory it transcends the realm of mere obscenity and serves as a sublime demonstration of a man rendered paraplegic by an would-be assassin’s bullet, who now thinks he has nothing to lose, speaking the truth (as he sees it) to power.
Among the people Michael speaks to who didn’t actually work for Hustler but still offer valuable insights about the mag, its founder, and the porn biz are Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein, who is at death’s door and giving what would be his last interview; writer Michael Musto, who does an excellent job of explaining how the Internet destroyed the porn magazine business; and professional anti-porn activist Gail Dines, who, uncharacteristically, comes across as a sane person.
But it’s the segments where Michael interviews his father, who’s now retired from the porn biz, that give the film a homey, intimate feel, which is unusual (if not unheard of) for a documentary that covers this kind of gritty and often offensive material. This intimacy also helps to make Back Issues an essential document for anybody who wants to understand not only Hustler’s place in the history of modern porn, but how, in the late 20th century, pornography was able to supplant rock ’n’ roll as the premier symbol of American pop culture.
It took a year and a half, but my interview that ran in the print edition of the December 2012 issue of StorErotica, a glossy trade mag for sex-shop owners, has finally found its way online. The print edition was unusual; it was two issues in one, featuring two “front” covers--one on the front and the other on the back. In the online version, which is now available as a downloadable PDF, the second issue begins with the front cover on page 27; my interview begins on page 46.
I was in good form the day I spoke to StorErotica, and the interview is one of my better efforts. I hit all the right notes, I think, especially if you happen to own a store that sells adult novelties. The article also features some photos of me and a couple of porn stars, including Traci Topps, and a great half-page shot taken by Marcia Resnick. So, if you haven’t already seen this interview—and if you’re not in the sex-shop business you probably haven’t—I invite you to check it out. StorErotica and I were on the same wavelength, and they were indeed able to fully appreciate the myriad charms of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography.
That I've used pseudonyms for many of the "characters" who populate Beaver Street was an unavoidable concession to the fact that I was writing about real people, and it would have had a negative impact upon their lives to be portrayed as pornographers or former pornographers. One of those characters is "Pam Katz," and soon after Beaver Street was published, due to a variety of factors, it no longer was necessary to disguise her identity. She is Joyce Snyder, best known as the writer and producer of Raw Talent, parts I-III, classic XXX films from the 1980s that have recently been rediscovered by such sites as The Rialto Report and The Projection Booth.
What Joyce has to say about making these films while she was working for Swank Publications should be of special interest to anybody who’s read Beaver Street. “Pam Katz” comes to life, veritably stepping out of the book. Her segment of The Projection Booth’s Raw Talent interview, on the above player, begins at the 51-minute mark.
The other people interviewed are the film’s director Larry Revene and its star, Jerry Butler.
No need to even leave this website to listen to my interview with Alia Janine, which was originally posted on OnMilwaukee.com. Just click on the player. Next thing you know, you'll be hearing Alia sing the theme from Rawhide. Apparently , if you live in Milwaukee, this song has nothing to do with cowboys and everything to do with Rosen.
Yes, I'm aware that The Sporadic Beaver has been more sporadic than usual lately, but I've been unusually busy with life, literature, and work. I will, however, break my silence with this bit of news: My Scatterbrains Podcast interview with former porn star and Milwaukee native Alia Janine is now live on OnMilwaukee.com, that city's premier arts and entertainment Website.
Alia, whose X-rated talents cannot be overstated, has developed (so to speak) into a first-rate interviewer. It’s her ability to put her subject at ease, and make an in-depth interrogation seem like a friendly chat that sets Alia apart in this competitive journalistic arena. Some of the people she’s previously interviewed include porn star Belle Knox, actor Joe Reitman, and comedian Gareth Reynolds. They’re all archived on OnMilwaukee.com.
Alia and I cover a lot of ground in a half hour, but mostly we talk about Beaver Street, deconstructing everything from the invention of free phone-sex at High Society magazine (which marked the dawn of the Age of Modern Pornography), to the Traci Lords scandal, to Edwin Meese, the rabidly anti-porn attorney general who was driven from office under a cloud of corruption.
And please stay tuned to The Sporadic Beaver for more big news.
"If Surrealism leans towards the pornographic, then outright pornographers find kindred subversives in the Surrealists--as with long-time pornographer Robert Rosen who claimed to embrace the idea 'that pornography and transgressive art could be one and the same.'" --from an untitled paper on pornography and surrealism, submitted to the English and Film department at the University of Exeter, U.K., and posted anonymously online
One of the best ways I know of to not enjoy a good book is to read it under deadline pressure with the intention of writing a review. And two of the greatest sins a reviewer or critic (as some reviewers prefer to call themselves) can commit is to review a book that he or she has only skimmed, or to review a book that he or she has contributed to, and then pretend to critique it objectively.
This, then, is not a review; it's an acknowledgement of a new book.
There’s a lot of material in Cut Up!’s 394 pages—poems, prose, artwork—that I look forward to lingering over and processing at my leisure. Then I may come to understand fully what Joe Ambrose and A.D. Hitchen have assembled in this anthology of cut-up-technique writings. Also, I’ve written the introduction to Hitchen’s “Split-Beaver” poems, which are drawn from my book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography.
A bit of essential history: One way to perform the cut-up technique, popularized by William Burroughs a half-century ago, is to take a complete text (like Beaver Street), cut it into pieces with one word or a few words on each piece, and then rearrange the pieces into a new text. Another way is a “Third Mind” collaboration, pioneered by Burroughs and poet Brion Gysin; the author combines words cut from a text with his own words. Cut Up! (Oneiros Books) features both techniques, and includes works from well-known writers, like Allen Ginsberg (“Notes on Claude Pélieu”).
Many of the contributing authors are names I’ve become familiar with through social media. Among these dedicated practitioners of this avant-garde art form are: Kenji Siratori (“The Worst Deadly Bank Account Number in the History of the Universe”), Christopher Nosnibor (“Flickering images: life-size shadow-puppetry”), Gary J. Shipley (excerpt from Spook Nutrition), Niall Rasputin (“disgraceful blade”), Muckle Jane (“Recipes”), Cal Leckie (“Micro-Verse”), and Lucius Rofocale (“Ne/urantia: Close Encounters of the Third Mind”). Billy Chainsaw and D M Mitchell contributed artwork.
A word of caution to those with delicate sensibilities: Phrases such as “corpse fetish pussy gangbang” (which I’ve cut from Siratori’s “Phishingera”) occur with frequency.
More adventurous readers, however, may argue that they do not occur frequently enough.
The news is all over Twitter and Facebook, but has yet to penetrate the mainstream media: Gloria Leonard, a popular adult film actress of the 1970s, and the former figurehead publisher of High Society magazine, passed away last night, in Hawaii, after suffering a massive stroke. She was 73.
Leonard, whom I'd met on numerous occasions when I worked at High Society in the 1980s, was a skillful public relations professional who was instrumental in selling "free phone sex"--the first fusion of erotica and computers--to America. As I say in Beaver Street, she presented High Society to the media as "visionary corporation" run by "a media-savvy porn star/publisher who was now making millions of dollars with phone sex, an explosive new business that hadn't existed two months earlier." And the media bought into it with a vengeance.
Leonard made tens of millions of dollars for the real publisher, Carl Ruderman, who, terrified of being publicly identified as a pornographer, “hid behind her skirt,” as Hustler publisher Larry Flynt put it.
Leonard, however, was no fan of Beaver Street, and vehemently objected to her portrayal in the book as a “figurehead” publisher. She threatened to sue me unless I told the story the way she wanted it told. It was a forceful PR gambit that, unfortunately for Leonard, failed. I didn’t change a word and she didn’t sue. Still, it saddened me to find myself in an adversarial relationship with somebody I’d once admired.
Leonard has many fans and admirers in the adult entertainment business, and I’ve no doubt that they’re feeling her loss deeply. To them, and to her family, I extend my condolences.
I've always believed that the pornography industry is a microcosm of the capitalist system, and that looking at capitalism through a pornographic lens is a legitimate way to gain insight into that system. One purpose of my book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is to offer such insights in an entertaining and humorous manner. And with the exception of one critic, a former pornographer who dismissed the book as "smut," most readers and critics "got it," as the pull quotes on this page and my home page attest.
In November, I wrote about a college textbook, published by Palgrave Macmillan, titled The Ethics and Politics of Pornography, by David Edward Rose. The book had come to my attention because it references Beaver Street in a chapter called "'I Can’t Do It by Myself!': Social Ethics and Pornography." But I didn't know exactly what the book said; I only knew that I was listed in the index atop French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
I’ve since received a copy of the book, which I plan to write about at length in a future posting, along with another textbook, also published by Palgrave Macmillan, titled Pornographic Art and the Aesthetics of Pornography, edited by Hans Maes. But for now I’d like to share with you what The Ethics and Politics of Pornography says about Beaver Street.
The reference is on page 214, in a section about capitalism called “The real enemy,” and it comes from my chapter about working at High Society magazine in the early 1980s.
“The aim of capitalism is not to make good art,” Rose writes. “Nor good products. It is not interested in the product per se, but only in the product as a means to satisfy other desires, as capital in motion. As one insider in the industry astutely observed, ‘The product, as well as my job, was anything but transgressive; it was corporate moneymaking at its most cynical, conservative, and tightly controlled. It wasn’t even about sex; it was about using sex to separate people from their money.’”
And that is indeed a spot-on description of what it was like to work in Carl Ruderman’s smut factory, a place where the most exploitative face of modern capitalism was on display daily.
Al Goldstein in the 1970s with a copy of How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, by Lenny Bruce.
In honor of Al Goldstein, who passed away today at 77, here's an excerpt from the "Natural-Born Pornographers" chapter of Beaver Street. Names of all non-public figures have been changed.
Soon after I took over as FAO's managing editor, my good friend Georgina Kelly landed a 'prestigious' $15,000-per-year part-time position at Screw as an associate editor whose responsibilities included finding whores for publisher Al Goldstein and helping Goldstein's managing editor, Howard Nussbaum, put out the paper every two weeks. Kelly was thrilled about the job because people inside and outside the industry feared and respected Screw more than any other pornographic publication, including Hustler. Screw's utter audacity in the face of possible lawsuits and the quality of its prose were the principal reasons for this. Chip Goodman, for one, lived in mortal terror that Screw would run more stories written by former employees about his cocaine habit. Other people of a certain ilk shared a well-founded dread of waking up to find themselves the subject of one of the crudely constructed photo collages that ran in almost every issue. These collages generally consisted of huge penises penetrating the orifices and ejaculating on the faces of whatever high-profile decency advocates, aspiring censors, and porno competitors Goldstein had a hankering to infuriate. As of late, the objects of his rage included President Ronald Reagan, First Lady Nancy Reagan, Attorney General Edwin Meese, 'moral majority' leader Jerry Falwell, the Reverend Pat Robertson, radical feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini.
Unlike most people in the porn biz, who thought it prudent to seek employment elsewhere, Kelly wasn’t troubled by Goldstein’s fanatical commitment to the First Amendment, or by the daily bomb threats from assorted psychos and religious fanatics, or by the fact that the entire staff had been marked for assassination by a fundamentalist Islamic death squad after publishing ‘The Dirty Parts of the Koran’ in an April Fool’s issue. On the contrary, she was delighted to have finally latched onto a corporation that offered so much opportunity for advancement.
What made Screw great, Kelly explained, was that ‘Al’ understood his audience perfectly—because he was his own perfect audience. He knew that only a handful of readers bought Screw for the political satire or for the celebrity interviews he threw in when he could get them—like the one in 1972 in which Jack Nicholson admitted that he’d “jacked off to Screw.” The real readers—the ones who’d kept Goldstein in business since November 1968—were the desperately horny men who bought Screw for the hooker ads and the detailed guides to peep shows, whorehouses, and swinger clubs. It was universally acknowledged that Screw was the best and most reliable place to find out where to get laid, blown, jacked off, or lap-danced in the New York metropolitan area.
And that’s the way it had been since Goldstein, with an initial investment of $300, published his first issue, on the day after Richard Nixon was elected president, and then watched the tabloid explode on newsstands with a Beatles-like intensity that forever changed the way America perceived pornography. Now, after nearly two decades of hate mail, death threats, obscenity busts, high-profile publicity, and lawsuits, Screw had become an icon of American sleaze culture, the magazine that people loved to hate, even if they’d never seen it. Goldstein himself, who grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the forties and fifties dreaming about “tasting pussy” (and thinking he never would), had become a despised and admired gadfly smut-publisher who was tasting a lion’s share of pussy—and now had Georgina Kelly on staff, in part to ensure that he never went without pussy again.
On February 17, 2011, I conducted my first Beaver Streetinterview. Sean Moncrieff, host of the Moncrieff show, on NewsTalk radio, Ireland, was the man asking the questions, and we got into some heavy duty stuff--capitalism, exploitation, and the psychological effects of working in the pornography, both in front of the camera and behind it. But Moncrieff also found the title of the book delightful, and was quite taken with the names of some of the superhero-like porn stars I'd written about--Deena Duo, Pandora Peaks, and Busty Dusty, for example. His favorite, however, was Auntie Climax, so named by Izzy Singer, the man who acted as my guide through the world of XXX.
I’ve posted the interview on SoundCloud. Moncrieff and I cover a lot of ground in 15 minutes. Give it a listen.
I've always felt confident that sooner or later academia would embrace Beaver Street and the book would find its way onto required reading lists for any number of sociology, history, and gender studies courses. My confidence was not misplaced.
Soon after its publication in the U.K., in 2011, a glowing review of Beaver Street, titled "Free Speech and Competitively Priced Smut: Pornography in the United States," appeared on H-Net, a site devoted to the humanities and social sciences. Written by Patrick Glen, a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield, it compared Beaver Street to Perversion for Profit, by Rutgers professor Whitney Strub, who essentially covered the same material I did, though from an academic perspective.
“Shocking… evocative… entertaining… A rich account that adds considerable depth and texture to any understanding of how the pornography industry worked,” was the blurb I took from Glen’s critique.
Then, a few months ago, I became aware of The Pornologist, the website of Peter Kenneth Alilunas, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan. On his “Essential Reading” list, Alilunas had placed Beaver Street #1, and as it turned out, his PhD dissertation, Smutty Little Movies: The Creation and Regulation of Adult Video, 1976-1986, contained numerous references to the book.
Now, to complete the academic hat trick, a book recently published by Palgrave Macmillan, The Ethics and Politics of Pornography, by David Edward Rose, references Beaver Street in chapter six, “‘I Can’t Do It by Myself!’: Social Ethics and Pornography.”
I don’t know what it says, exactly, as I’m not about to buy a textbook that lists for $105, even if I am in it. But Rose, a lecturer in philosophy at Newcastle University, in the U.K., who, according to his bio, specializes in “Hegelian ethics and counter-enlightenment thought and their application to contemporary moral and political issues,” sounds like a serious fellow. And like The Ethics and Politics of Pornography, Beaver Street also raises “a host of moral and political concerns” about “coercion, exploitation, harm, freedom of expression and the promulgation of sexist attitudes.” Which, apparently, is why it continues to make academic inroads.
And it’s always nice to see my name in an index, atop French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I’m sure he, too, had a few things to say about smut.
I was hoping to post on The Sporadic Beaver at least once a week, but it seems eight days have slipped by since my last transmission. That's because things have been happening. I will review some of the highlights.
· Mary Lyn Maiscott's well-received Linda Ronstadt interview was posted Monday on the Vanity Fair website. She was worried that "Linda," as we now call her in the Maiscott-Rosen household, talked too much about singing--something she can no longer do because of Parkinson's disease.
“That’s like interviewing Picasso and saying that he talked too much about painting,” I told her.
The reason I think the interview went so well is that Linda, in the course of promoting her new memoir, Simple Dreams, has probably spoken to hundreds of interviewers, the majority of whom did not read the book and asked her the same canned questions over and over. Not only did Mary Lyn read the book, but she, too, is a singer, and when I listened to the recording of the interview, I got the sense that I was listening not to a journalist interrogate a rock star, but rather to two singers having a heart-to-heart conversation.
· I don’t remember what provoked me to listen, from beginning to end, to The Velvet Underground & Nico last week. But for some reason, I did. So, when I heard the news Sunday that Lou Reed had died, it was both eerie and shocking. (He was, after all, a fellow New Yorker and a Brooklyn native who was born at the same hospital I was born—Beth-El, now Brookdale.) Stranger still was what I found out about Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker as I was Googling various Velvet Underground things while listening to the album: Tucker, a member of one of the coolest rock bands ever, is now a Tea Party supporter! You can read all about her politics in this interview that ran in the St. Louis Riverfront Times. (And I will, at some point today, listen to Lou Reed’s eerily appropriate “Halloween Parade,” which happens to pass by my house.)
· Since its U.S. publication 18 months ago, Beaver Street sales can at best be described as a steady drip… drip… drip… But this week, for reasons unknown, that drip turned into a mild flurry, sending the book to its highest point on Amazon, and keeping it there for six days. In no way can this compare to the explosive sales that, from 2000-2003, propelled Nowhere Man onto bestseller lists in five countries. But it is a hopeful sign, and in the ravaged economy of 2013, that’s about all you can ask for.
Perversion for Profit is the title of an anti-porn film that Charles H. Keating, founder of the pro-censorship group Citizens for Decent Literature, produced in 1965. If Keating's name rings a bell, however, it's probably not because of his heroic efforts to save America from the pornographic menace. Most likely, you remember Keating because, in the 1980s, he was at the center of the savings and loan scandal, which cost taxpayers $341 billion in bailout money. Keating's bank alone, Lincoln Savings and Loan, had sold uninsured junk bonds to 23,000 elderly investors, swindling them out of $300 million--real money in those days--and Keating himself was sentenced to 12½ years in federal prison on 73 counts of racketeering, fraud, and conspiracy.
In Beaver Street, I describe Keating as one of the "Fab Four anti-porn warriors of the 20th century," a select group of men that also included President Richard Nixon, Vice President Spiro Agnew, and Attorney General Edwin Meese, all of whom had to resign their office in disgrace to avoid criminal prosecution or jail time.
Keating serves as a prime example of one of the main themes of Beaver Street: The biggest crooks cry “Ban pornography!” the loudest.
Whitney Strub, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, was so impressed with Keating’s anti-porn work and the breathtaking magnitude of his hypocrisy that he titled his book Perversion for Profit.
Perversion for Profit came to my attention about two years ago, when Columbia University Press published the hardcover edition, and an academic site, H-Net, reviewed it along with Beaver Street. Both books essentially told the same story, they said, Strub’s from an academic perspective, and mine from a literary perspective.
Tuesday night, September 17, from 8:00-10:00 P.M., at the 2A bar in the East Village, Strub will be joining me, Eric Danville, Lainie Speiser, J. C. Malone, Gloria Malone, Britney Shannon, David Healy, and Peter Loureiro for a night of readings about sexual and gender politics. Check out the flyer on my home page and stop by 2A for a drink.
Professor Strub says attendance is mandatory, Beaver and Perversion will both be on the test, grades of A will be liberally awarded, and extra credit will be given for those of you who’ve actually read the books.
The image on the right is the flyer for the next event at the 2A bar, 25 Avenue A, in the East Village, where Eric Danville, Lainie Speiser, and I have been coordinating a series of readings for the past few months. The theme for Tuesday night, September 17, is politics--specifically sexual and gender politics.
In celebration of this theme, I'll be reading the section from Beaver Street that ties together Lyndon Johnson's Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, Richard Nixon, Billy Graham, Charles H. Keating, Deep Throat, and Watergate. All in about 1,300 words.
Whitney Strub, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, will be reading from his first book, Perversion for Profit (Columbia University Press), which was just released in paperback, and which covers material that’s almost identical to what I cover in Beaver Street. (You can read a review comparing the two books here.) The title is a reference to an anti-porn film produced by banker and convicted felon Charles H. Keating, who might have described Strub as a “permissive professor dedicated to a position of complete moral anarchy.” Our kind of educator, in other words.
J. C. Malone, a take-no-prisoners political columnist for Listin Diario, in the Dominican Republic, will read one of his columns, posible en español. Translation will be provided. Here’s a link to a recent Malone dispatch from the Bronx.
It's been nearly seven weeks since I last posted here, and the ninth day of the ninth month (see Nowhere Man) seems like an auspicious day to declare an end to summer hours. Regular readers of what used to be The Daily Beaver will notice the name change. I'm now calling this blog The Sporadic Beaver, which means that I'm no longer going to post Monday-Friday, but will make the effort to post at least once every week.
A lot has been going on since July 24:
· I’ve given the complete Bobby in Naziland manuscript to the Mistress of Syntax, who has read the entire thing. I’ve since been working on corrections and rewrites.
· The Beaver Street Kindle edition was re-released on Amazon U.S. and Canada, and last week it was the #1 “Hot New Release” in pop culture books in the U.S., and the #2 “Hot New Release” in art books, behind Gertrude Stein’s The World Is Round, in Canada. This is my first #1 anything in the U.S. since September 2000, when Nowhere Man was riding high on numerous bestseller lists.
· In other Amazon news, the secretive company has made the Kindle edition of Beaver Street unavailable in the U.K., telling me that they “don’t have the rights to sell it.” This is what Amazon U.S. told me last year about the print edition of the book—before the threat of a public protest against Amazon censorship persuaded them to make the book available. Perhaps the Brits will sort this one out, though they’ve given no indication that they’re capable of doing so.
· I’ve been kicking back in Machiasport, Maine; Saint Andrews, New Brunswick; and Greenacres, Florida, doing my best not to think about Amazon or any of the other routine aggravations that the publishing industry is so good at generating.
· Eric Danville, Lainie Speiser, and I have been preparing for our next group reading on Tuesday, September 17, at 8:00 P.M., at the 2A bar in the East Village. The theme is politics, and I’ll be reading from the Lockhart Commission/Deep Throat/Watergate section of Beaver Street. Stay tuned for more info, and in the meantime, you can listen to Eric talk about Deep Throat on The Rialto Report.
If I believed in astrology, I'd attribute the events of the past couple of days to the fact that, on July 23, the zodiac moved into Leo, the sign under which I was born. But since I don't believe in astrology I'll have to attribute these events to the fact that for more than two years I've been talking nonstop about Beaver Street to anybody who'll listen.
This morning, an article on CNBC about the U.K.'s Internet pornography ban, "No Porn Please, We're British," by Chris Morris, mentions Beaver Street. Morris asked me what I thought would happen now that anybody in England who wants to look at X-rated material on his computer will be asked by their ISP to verify his age and confirm that he wants to watch smut.
“Obviously people are not going to want to do that,” I said. “People just don’t want to come out in public and say ‘I want to look at porn.’ A lot of people who do look at porn are inhibited, shy people.”
And in response to Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement that online porn is “corroding childhood,” I added, “If kids want to look at pornography, they usually figure out how to do it.”
That’s the first time I’ve ever given a PM a piece of my mind.
Then, last night, at the 2A bar in the East Village—along with Eric Danville, author of The Complete Linda Lovelace; adult actress Brittany Andrews; Bobby Black, senior editor of High Times, and actor Jeffrey Emerson—I celebrated Hunter Thompson’s birthday (he was born July 18, under the sign of Cancer) by reading from “Mein Kar,” a Thompson parody about a Mercedes-Benz road test that I wrote for D-Cup magazine, and the opening pages of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which inspired the parody.
A huge thanks to everybody who came out to see us, and especially to Eric and Lainie Speiser, who put the event together!
John Mozzer was an information technology specialist who'd received security clearance from the National Security Agency. But in his secret life, one that he lived from 1978 to 1995, he was Alan Adrian, a pornographic actor who appeared in 67 XXX-rated movies, including such classics as A Taste of Money, Inside Little Oral Annie, Maid in Manhattan, Babylon Blue, Oriental Techniques in Pain and Pleasure, Centerfold Fever, and The Devil in Miss Jones II.
Now retired and living in L.A., Mozzer tends to an extensive archive of material related to the porn industry. He also knows many of the characters from Beaver Street, and he recently posted a review of the book on Amazon. I think the review serves as a perfect example of the kind of dialogue that I'd hoped Beaver Street would spark, and which I'd encourage people to continue.
This is what Mozzer had to say:
A Fascinating Read
My original reason for reading Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is that my world overlapped with author Robert Rosen’s world during the 1980s. I worked as an adult film actor (under the name Alan Adrian or Spike), a representative for magazine distributing and printing companies that profited by serving the porn industry, and a freelance writer and photographer for some of Rosen’s colleagues.
It’s a shame that names have to be changed in non-fiction books like Beaver Street. I was hoping to recognize the colleagues whose names were changed by Rosen. But that didn’t happen. I suspect this means it will be all the more difficult for future writers on this topic to figure out who’s who.
To my surprise, in Chapter 4, Rosen describes Carl Ruderman, the person with the money behind High Society, as very involved with its day-to-day operation. Furthermore, his anecdotes about working for High Society came across as very credible. I found myself feeling, “I’m sure these things really happened.” Nevertheless, I think caution is in order, because Rosen’s stint at High Society is a small fraction of the magazine’s life, and the situation may have changed over time. After finishing Chapter 4, I decided the extent to which Ruderman involved himself with the day-to-day operation of High Society, over the long run, remains an open question.
Years ago, I heard about the murder of editor Bill Bottiggi. But I never knew about the circumstances leading up to the murder, as Rosen describes it. I find Rosen’s account very disconcerting. After all these years, I have to reconsider placing Bottiggi in the “all good” and “nice guy” category in my head. Initially, I believed Rosen’s account. Later, I found myself not wanting to believe it, and longing for accounts by other people who knew Bottiggi.
Rosen presents strong arguments against society for allowing Traci Lords to get away with hoodwinking the porn industry. In fact, his arguments made me very, very pissed off at her.
Beaver Street was truly a book that I couldn’t put down. I learned tons of stuff that I didn’t know. You don’t need to have been involved with the porn industry, like myself, in order to enjoy the book. You don’t even have to be involved with researching the subject. Beaver Street is a fascinating book to read.
Only two days after I posted a piece about Amazon's efforts to clarify their book review guidelines, a review of Beaver Street has popped up that's so clearly in compliance with those guidelines, it's breathtaking.
Nobody, I think, will suggest that the critic, aspiring novelist Blaine E. Crowther, is a family member, a close friend, or somebody I have a personal relationship with. I can attest that I've never met the fellow and was previously unaware of his existence, though I do look forward to reading the novel, set in the Golden Age of Porn, that he says he's writing. (He read Beaver Street, he explains, for "background research.")
Though certain lines in Crowther’s grudging four-star review elicited gasps of shock from my wife as I read them out loud, I thought they were hilarious. In Internet parlance, they made me LOL. The takeaway, which I’ll never use as a cover blurb no matter how famous Crowther becomes, says of me, “He's not much in the looks department, but he’s a decent writer.” (I’m also, he notes, not a “total loser.”)
Well, that might be high praise from a tough critic like Crowther, but it does leave me wondering what he looks like, and how many novels set in the Golden Age of Porn his mug is going to sell. His Amazon profile page, I noticed, lacks a photograph, though I’m sure he’s beautiful, as all aspiring novelists are required to be these days.
The following review, written by "Another Former Porn Worker," appeared on Amazon yesterday. It speaks for itself.
Your book was amazing! I downloaded it to my Kindle and could NOT put it down last night. You perfectly capture the atmosphere of the office, that slight paranoia, tinged with smarminess, with the forced insistence that everything around here is perfectly normal. I too worked in the industry, though far more recently, but it seems nothing has changed.
Your assessment of Carl Ruderman is priceless. I, too, have sat in front of that exquisite Victorian desk, surrounded by his priceless artifacts that invariably feature naked women or abstract genitalia, patiently waiting my turn for him to say, “...And Ms. XXXX, what good news do you have for me today?” From your description of him, I could hear his voice leap from the page. I could see him as I saw him in his office at 801 Second Avenue, a bit more shriveled version than the one you saw, but in that same beautifully cut, tasteful gray pinstripe suit, pocket square, and genteel sneer.
Also, in the short time I was there, I know the company was sued multiple times. Weirdly, it was never mentioned at the meetings. It was simply like it didn’t matter. Also, by the time I got there, the porn down on the lower floor was never mentioned. Ever. People on the 19th floor did NOT speak to any of the people down there. I only knew about them because I had skills he needed for both floors.
I loved the part about “the founder.” After he lost the lease on the 19th floor and we were moved to the far less glamorous 11th floor, that bust was placed directly outside my door, so it would stare at me day in, day out. It was rumored that there was a camera in it, but that was probably just conjecture.
He was elderly by the time I worked for him, yet he was insistent on never dying. He kept a personal chef with him at the office, a woman he paid far less than she was worth, peanuts really. She would prepare his daily vitamins and medications, dozens in all, and his breakfast and lunch in the office’s formal dining room. All upper management was expected to attend, but as a woman and a low-level techie I was fortunately denied that privilege.
I liked your Maria. It explains his current secretary while I was there. She was a mid-fiftyish battleaxe of a hag who would agree with him if he said the sky was green, and spent much of her time repeating back anything he said in different words as if she had just thought of that. She, and the other woman before her, trained themselves to expect and indulge his every whim. The woman before at least seemed to see the humor in the situation, as Maria seemed to. I would have been stoned all the time, too.
There was a whole host of crazy characters there who, like me, had no other options at the time, and those of us who got out sometimes get together and talk about it, because no one else would ever believe us. They are a crazy bunch, but those who survived, many are people I really like, cause as you and Maria were, we were witness to a legend being written. Like you, I walked out of that office with no job but that “incredible lightness of being.”
All in all, you reminded me that despite everything, Carl Ruderman has charisma. A sly, slithering sort of charisma, but charisma just the same. I can’t even say I dislike him. He is the sort of man who will do anything for money, and it seems that he did.
In the end, those of us that got tangled up in it have one hell of a story to tell at cocktail parties.
"People become porn stars because they're good at it; because they have no other options; because they have nothing to lose; and because they're desperate, either economically or emotionally or both." --Robert Rosen, from Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography
"It made it harder for people to stay in that mindset of porn stars as people who don't have other options because they're too emotionally damaged or stupid to do something else." --Stoya, the porn star, telling the Village Voice why she prefers to post her thoughts directly on the Internet rather than talk to the press.
I’d never heard of Stoya until I read the cover story in last week’s Village Voice. The article, “Pop Star of Porn,” by Amanda Hess, tells how Stoya, 26-year-old star of such X-rated videos as Stoya: Web Whore, has become the toast of the New York art world, perhaps because of her “Snow White beauty,” the mathematical perfection of her face and body, and her even more famous boyfriend, porn star James Deen.
I find it interesting (though not especially surprising) that when I was looking the other way, the line between XXX celebrity and non-XXX celebrity seems to have vanished completely. But even more interesting, I thought, was how Stoya’s above quote echoed what I wrote in Beaver Street, and might have even been a response to it.
Stoya does not want you to think that people become porn stars because they have no other options or because they’re emotionally damaged. And she holds herself up as a shining example of a porn star who has options and is not emotionally damaged.
Fair enough. Stoya is the exception that proves the rule. Though I wonder what, exactly, she’s planning to do when she’s no longer under contract to Digital Playground and her celebrity is no longer based on how well she performs sex acts on video or in live shows. A handful of success stories come to mind: Danni Ashe (Internet millionaire), Jenna Jameson (best-selling author), Ginger Lynn and Christy Canyon (radio personalities).
And I’m sure there are a few more potential Stoyas out there—intelligent, beautiful, emotionally together women with a wide array of options who see hardcore porno as a good career move. But my quote, about economically and emotionally desperate people without options, is based on what I learned from conducting approximately 200 in-depth interviews with porn stars, erotic performers, and nude models, many of whom were intelligent, witty, and articulate.
Stories of sexual abuse, incest, and loss of virginity through rape were common. The porn stars I spoke with, over a 16-year period, were people scarred by emotional trauma, with little education, who were usually driven into porn by economic desperation. If they had options, it was a choice between a minimum wage job at McDonald’s, Burger King, or Wendy’s.
So yes, what Stoya has accomplished is remarkable. But, I think it would be best for the rest of the world to hold on to the mindset of “porn stars as people who don’t have other options because they’re too emotionally damaged.” Because it’s true, even if Stoya doesn’t want you to believe it.
Readers of Beaver Street should be familiar with Sonja Wagner, whom I described in the book as my "dyslexic, spliff-smoking freelance art director," and whom I gave some of the best lines, such as the one on pages 123-124, when she asks our esteemed publisher, Chip Goodman, "Is something wrong, Chip, dear? Didn't Bobby and I put enough incest into your filthy little book?"
If you haven't read Beaver Street, then you can read about some of Wagner's erotic artwork on this blog.
Last night, over a couple of shots of vodka in her studio, Wagner got into talking about Ruby Leggs, a character she created more than 30 years ago, and in that time has produced dozens of Ruby paintings, mostly documenting her curious New York City life. Now Wagner has decided that she wants to publish the complete Ruby Leggs story in a book.
So she asked me to answer the following question: Who is Ruby Leggs?
I’ll give it a shot.
At her most basic, Ruby is three pairs: a pair of full, scarlet lips mounted on a pair of long, shapely legs, who’s always wearing a pair of high heels. Though lacking a head, arms, and a torso, she still manages to radiate erotic heat. This, then, makes Ruby a fetishist’s delight, a woman reduced to two body parts and a fashion accessory. In the above painting, Ruby is arousing a subway car full of men who ogle her through the peepholes they’ve cut in their newspapers. But the title of the painting, “No One Ever Looks at Me Anymore,” shows that Ruby is also a naïf on the loose in the big city, a creature unaware of her erotic power.
And New York is full of women like that, which makes Ruby Leggs somehow real, a recognizable character, somebody you’d like to meet, sit down with at a cafe, and over a couple of drinks ask her about herself. Because you know, behind those perfect red lips and white teeth, Ruby Leggs has a tongue, and she can do a lot of things with it, including tell you herself who she is, if she’s so inclined.
On pages 37-38 of Beaver Street, I tell the story of the first time a porn magazine assigned me to go to the set of a XXX movie and write an article about it. High Society, where I was working as an editor, was the magazine that sent me. Adventure Studios, in Corona, Queens, was the location. The film--it was an actual film, not a video--was Succulence, starring Kelly Nichols, Rhonda Jo Petty, Little Oral Annie, and (of course) Ron Jeremy.
It was October 10, 1983. I know this because as I was interviewing porn stars in the Sewer Club, as the green room was called, Cardinal Cooke's funeral was being broadcast live on the TV playing there, and a quick Internet search just provided me with the date.
The article I wrote, “The Making of a Fuck Flick,” was published, uncredited, in the June 1984 issue of High Society, five months after the publisher, Carl Ruderman, fired me for calling HS a “porno mag” in the New York Post. (According to Ruderman, the only acceptable term for what we produced at his smut factory was “adult entertainment.”)
“The Making of a Fuck Flick” is an incredibly sleazy article where I describe such things as the mechanics of filming a “dogfuck,” and quote porn stars saying things like, “To sit with a camera up your twat all day—this is not normal.”
So, when Gene Gregorits, author of Dog Days, told me he was looking for “an essay, a story, an article, or an interview regarding the lowest of the low in NYC between 1975 and 1995” for the book he’s now putting together, Necropolis Now: New York Scum Culture, I sent him “The Making of a Fuck Flick.” “This seems to fit your criteria,” I said, and Gregorits agreed.
If all goes according to plan, the book should be out before the end of the year.
I began working seriously on the novel I now call Bobby in Naziland in May 2008. I had little idea of what, exactly, I was writing. All I knew was that it was time to begin another book, and there was something about the Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush, in the mid-20th century, that was worth exploring.
I'd touched on it in the opening pages of Beaver Street, the book I'd recently finished writing (though had not yet sold), describing the goings-on in my father's candy store, on Church Avenue, in 1961. Also, I'd just finished reading The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem, a novel that takes place in an adjacent Brooklyn neighborhood, about ten years later. It gave me ideas.
So, I began the agonizing process of figuring out what my new book was going to be, and I saw it evolve from hundreds of pages of notes, fragments, anecdotes, and ideas, to a possible memoir, to the novel that it finally became, and that I think I’m now in the process of fine-tuning.
Over the past five years, I’ve shown what I’m working on to nobody, not even to my wife, the Mistress of Syntax, who’s also my editor. Because I read the book out loud as I’m working on it (I need to hear in my ear what it sounds like), and have spoken about it to people who’ve asked, my editor had some idea of the wide-ranging subject matter. But she’d never overheard more than a sentence or two at any one time, because I tend to work only when I’m alone.
With the second annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street looming, on June 16, I knew it was time to pick the selection I’m going to read that night, and to finally read it out loud to my editor. That’s what I did this weekend; I read to her the opening pages of chapter one, “The Goyim and the Jews.” I’m pleased to report that she laughed twice, and said, when I finished reading, “It’s good, but I thought it was going to be more solemn.”
Bobby in Naziland is not a solemn book. And if you think the Mistress of Syntax goes easy on me because I happen to be married to her, you’re sadly mistaken. Quite the opposite, actually. Her editing process is uncompromising, her demands for factual accuracy unrelenting, and the proof is in the quality of my previous two books. The Mistress of Syntax is not a title the wife wears lightly. Her “It’s good” is a five-star rave.
To say that Mary Lyn’s reaction filled me with a sense of profound relief would be a gross understatement. But if the pages passed muster with her, it gives me enough confidence to go forward and read Bobby in Naziland (along with a selction from Beaver Street) to a larger audience on Bloomsday.
Having written a book about the history of pornography, set mostly in New York City between 1974-1987, I take an abiding interest in all things having to do with the history of porn in New York. Recently, I've discovered a site called The Rialto Report, run by a man with a British accent who calls himself Ashley West and occasionally Benson Hurst, and who shares my abiding interest in the Golden Age of New York's adult industry.
Named for the now-closed Rialto Theatre on 42nd Street, the site has posted a series of podcast interviews with porn people from New York's past. Last night I listened to the interview with Carter Stevens, an actor, director, and producer, probably best known for a film called Lickity-Split. Though I didn't write about him in Beaver Street, he's one of those pornographers whose name you heard time and again if you worked in X; he was everywhere in the 70s and 80s.
The interview is over an hour, and Stevens, with his tough-guy voice, goes into great detail about New York in the days of Plato’s Retreat, Bernard’s, Jamie Gillis, Bobby Astor, Sharon Mitchell, and his ex-wife, Baby Doe.
As I write this, I’m listening to the provocative interview with Annie Sprinkle—she talks about rape and feminism. Sprinkle was a unique (to say the least) New York character whom I worked with when I was managing editor of Stag in the 1980s, and whom I did write about in Beaver Street. (I discuss Annie and some of her freaky predilections in this video clip from my interview with Kendra Holliday.)
Also interviewed on The Rialto Report are porn stars Jennifer Welles, George Payne, and Jeffrey Hurst, filmmaker John Amero, and photographer Barbara Nitke.
This is a rapidly expanding site, and a great resource well worth checking out.
As this cruelest month winds down, I find myself thinking seriously about what, exactly, is going to happen, on June 16, at the second annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street event, at the Killarney Rose, in downtown Manhattan. Last year was easy. My book had recently been published in the U.S., and Bloomsday was a book launch party celebrating not only Beaver Street, but other literary works, like James Joyce's Ulysses, that had once been branded pornographic and banned.
This year, I'm expanding the theme to include other authors whose works lend themselves to what is actually being celebrated on June 16, the day that Ulysses takes place. On that day, in 1904, Joyce had his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, and to put it in the most explicit terms, she gave him an epic handjob.
This much is definite:
Eric Danville will be reading from his book The Complete Linda Lovelace, which he’s now revising, and will re-release in September to coincide with the release of Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried as the deep-throat artist. I suspect that Danville will read, among other things, a zombie story he’s working on titled “Dead Throat.”
There will be porn stars present. Musicians will perform. Byron Nilsson will MC, read, and sing.
I will again be reading from Beaver Street, this time a historical (rather than a personal) passage. And I will also, for the first time in public, read from my novel-in-progress, Bobby in Naziland, for which I offer no apologies to James Joyce for the subtitle, “A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.” He would have understood.
Mark your calendars now, and stayed tuned for more news about additional performers.
The reaction to Antony Hitchin's poems, drawn from Beaver Street, using the cut-up technique William Burroughs popularized, has been so positive, I'm going to end the blogweek with one more.
"Meat Doll Misanthrope," like "Discharge," which I posted yesterday, is what Burroughs described as a "Third Mind" collaboration. Hitchen combined his own words with words cut from Beaver Street. But unlike "Discharge," which was mostly Beaver Street, "Meat Doll Misanthrope" is about half Beaver Street, half Hitchin.
And if you really want to know which half is which, you’ll just have to read the book.
Meat Doll Misanthrope
misanthrope pixel memoir
dinosaur Christ proxy body
dialectical face mouth peers
through fuck fingers
the sound of god splitting
candy store messiah
the remnants of your space dead television flesh
your channel wired webwork tissue reek of wet pubics
I said yesterday in my posting about "Bukkake Thatcher," one of the poems Antony Hitchen had sliced from the heart of Beaver Street using the cut-up technique popularized by William Burroughs, that he'd "compressed into a few sentences the emotions expressed in a large swath of the book." But I think it would be more accurate to explain the technique this way: Hitchin has pulled from Beaver Street the most provocative words and phrases, and by arranging them in a new way, he's captured the emotional tone of the entire book.
The title of the poem below, "Discharge," is cut from a legal document quoted in the Traci Lords chapter. Other words are taken from chapters titled "High Society" and "I Found My Job in The New York Times." Hitchen also includes some of his own words not found in the book, like "muzzle," "filter," "autonomy," and "flush," making this what he'd call a "Third Mind" collaboration, which is the title of a cut-up work by Burroughs and Brion Gysin.
Here, then, for your reading pleasure, I give you the latest and freshest filet of Beaver:
DIY abortion vacuum / video boxes sizzling jailbait celebrity skin/ subscription hooker etiquette women masturbating mutilated bodies/ nymphomaniacs spread pussies – muzzle sloppy
she fills a paper cup of deep-pile pussy discharge
AIDs tuberculosis trickle-down
economics/ bubonic rejection glare of subway slug/
drifting overhead chrome /beyond sleep filter fringes – spurting flush autonomy nothing death
The ignorance of the American media never ceases to dazzle, and it was on full display last week when Margaret Thatcher died. As soon as the news broke, the commentators on the cable show I was watching began describing Thatcher as a great prime minister loved by all, a veritable saint like her good friend Ronald Reagan.
This didn't exactly jive with what I remembered about the reign of the so-called Iron Lady. In her own country, she was at best divisive and at worst despised. There were riots in Liverpool, an unnecessary war in the Falklands, and an ongoing economic catastrophe that led to massive unemployment.
It’s this last point that I discuss in Beaver Street. Just as Ronald Reagan’s policies gave the world “free” phone sex, which transformed the porn industry from an underground phenomenon to a mainstream financial behemoth, Thatcher’s policies were instrumental in making D-Cup magazine a success.
It was soon after I began editing the magazine, in 1986, that, as I say in Beaver Street, I started making regular trips to London with fists full of cash to “persuade the nubile spawn of Margaret Thatcher’s economically ravaged England to reveal their fleshly charms.”
I explain how British photographers were placing ads in newspapers “inviting young women to come to London to audition as topless ‘Page 3’ girls,” and how Thatcher’s economic initiatives had driven “unemployed and underemployed students, nurses, housewives, and secretaries” to descend “locust-like upon the city because they believed that flashing their boobs in ‘respectable’ family newspapers was the first step on the road to becoming a big movie star or a famous lingerie model.”
On one trip, in late 1987, soon after the stock market crash, I witnessed hundreds of young women line up in a London warehouse that had been converted to a makeshift photography studio. One after another, they took off all or some of their clothes, as a photographer snapped test shots. And within weeks, thanks to Lady Thatcher, dozens of these women, having been told that they weren’t quite right for Page 3, had decided that “rather than go back to the night shift in a Liverpool fish-and-chips joint,” they’d make the leap to hardcore porn videos.
It’s this scenario that inspired “Bukkake Thatcher,” the latest poem Antony Hitchin has drawn from Beaver Street. (I’m running it today to commemorate Thatcher’s funeral, and I’ve kept the British spellings in her honor.) Using the cut-up technique, Hitchin has compressed into a few sentences the emotions expressed in a large swath of the book. And if you don’t know what bukkake means, go ask somebody who does.
Penthouse Enron brain pictorial pulp lust bad writing on the wall for economically ravaged post-industrial America. Proficiently kink or fetish the young porn nymphos veritable antithesis.
Soulless ungloved stardom – cummer cyberspace mouse-click contraband epidemic of a vibrator cabal – whose picture appeared virus legislators syndicated war on drugs.
Weapon – she was FBI cold – a moneymaker sting exploitation violating possession. Nonstop traumatic gonzo bukkake ethical violations – anilingus handheld through Margaret Thatcher’s erections – Pentecostal Watergate conspirators’ congress fibre-optic aureoles of will.
Forevermore hairball – cherry pop Iran-contra – gold standard regurgitated anal sex two-headed monster naked in a bathtub representing French and Swedish markets. Cro-Magnon church savage mass-mailing academic paedophile backbone measured to Traci Lords Nixon search.
Warrant zealots anti-porn bible on TV – black on milk cartons hole of substance abuse grotesque – erotic – strictly mechanical – a vestigial camera insertion testimony to sleazy nubile spawn of fuck-and-suck-athon. Alzheimer's mouth shut manufacturing synchronicity god CIA Meese report.
If you haven't read Beaver Street, the cut-up poem below, "Phoenix Pussy," by Antony Hitchin (he could have just as easily called it "Dallas Cunnilingus"), may seem like nothing more than pure filth, mindless graffiti splattered across a wall, a chaotic assortment of dirty and emotionally charged words and images that doesn't seem to say anything but is somehow disturbing.
However, if you've read Beaver Street (or if you wrote it) "Phoenix Pussy" is like a hallucinogenic summary of key parts of the book. The poem runs through my head like a psychedelic movie: Beaver Street on acid.
To deconstruct (or perhaps reconstruct): Taken out of context, the phrase “Jesus jacked off,” may seem to the uninitiated like gratuitous blasphemy. But if you’ve read the book, then you know that the words are “cut” from a scene on page 120, in which I’m working with another editor to put together a style sheet for our “grossly underpaid” freelance porn writers. The complete sentence is, “People are permitted to cry ‘Oh, Jesus!’ in the midst of orgasm, but gratuitous blasphemy, like ‘Jesus jacked off behind the tree,’ is unacceptable, even in U.S.-only sections.”
So, without further ado, I give you “Phoenix Pussy,” the second poem in our continuing series of poems cut from Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography.
Cum towering bestiality and hardcore movies
divas deep anilingus
oh her partners biblical dozen double suckers with insertion behemoth!
Jesus jacked off rubbing up beavers – twat fist-fucking nymphos carved on chronic criminal wave –hookers scrapbooks hysteria militant intercourse
freaky he-she’s phoenix pussy playing reverse-cowgirl-style mindless ten-inch cocks five dollar swastika holding the
fuck-sluts enterprise statue bare-breasted erection
ungodly Dallas cunnilingus free torture mamas excretion gushing
absenteeism piss-drinking key justice fellatio nymphomaniacs
Antony Hitchin, a British writer, is the author of Messages To Central Control. The book is an example of the "cut-up" technique, pioneered by the Dadaists in the 1920s and popularized by William Burroughs in the 1950s and '60s. One way to perform the technique is to take a complete text, cut it into pieces with one word or a few words on each piece, and then rearrange the pieces into a new text.
Hitchin recently wrote to me to say that he was "experimenting with cutting up Beaver Street in various ways" and calling the project "Split Beaver." He wanted to know if I was okay with this. I told him I was delighted, and that he should feel free to fillet my Beaver as he saw fit.
This morning he sent me the first results of his experiment. “Interestingly,” he wrote, “I was talking to [Edward S. Robinson], author of the academic text Shift-Linguals, who’s something of an authority on cut-up and postmodern literature in general, and he believes this is a first, to his knowledge—no other authors have officially sanctioned (or embraced) a literary ‘remix’ of their work.”
To which I say: It’s cool! It’s hip-hop! And in the future, I will take my Beaver raw, or “tartare,” as they call it in the finest restaurants.
Below, I give you the first “poem” cut completely from Beaver Street. Allow me to put the first word, which you’ll find on page 75, in context. (The rest you can find on your own.) “It must have been quite a shock for young Jason, who’d never publicly acknowledged the seamier side of his heritage, to see his esteemed grandfather described in the Times as a skinflint and a sadist.”
Skinflint load sucks black cock – mafia micrometer pentagon enema sphincter frenzy. Entry castoffs two group suck and incest. Pseudonyms quim triangle buxom rendered syntax!
All resistance of her bodies writhing in a jack off with Jill sadist flotsam manner of human. Lunch meat anal pussy refugees – a home-decorating big-budget blizzard commingling gash vision. Lesbian sleazeball fornication – the fortunate pilgrim clippings – he lubed sperm-drenched Mary of a lost lingering presence. Stream of warm anal sent Gestapo officers with speculum fitness lit-clit scratch-and-sniff.
My airbrushed ferocious four-legged cock with teeth teasing underage girl – chief circular daisy jerk-off with ayatollah daughter. In her greased ports – hypochondriac gaping slit shot and sprinkle of machines – Mormon homicidal sperm parts of the Koran – waiting fuck virgins
Hardcore criminal penalties dirty slithering up her bridal health and homophobia gang rape puckered anus.
Monday, April 11, 1983, 9:30 a.m.: I showed up for work in a suit, unaware that I was stepping into ground zero of a new age of pornographic wealth and joining a revolution that was changing the face of commercial erotica--as well as society itself. I did not grasp the profound, and far-reaching, implications of phone sex. All I knew was that I'd feigned enthusiasm during the interview and now I had a job, which I was determined to keep because my economic survival depended upon it. Having studied an issue of High Society over the weekend, I understood that the job was going to require a strong stomach, not to mention a few minor adjustments in my moral code. But I thought it was a small price to pay for a steady paycheck.
This is the first paragraph of Beaver Street's "High Society" chapter. The most shocking thing about it is the date. Thirty years have passed since I walked through the door of that magazine to begin my first permanent, full-time job, and embark on a career in pornography that would continue into 1999. Also, 30 years have passed since the dawn of the Age of Modern Pornography--"free phone sex" being the first fusion of erotica and computers.
These two anniversaries bring to mind the time I was 14 years old, and first heard that lyric on Sgt. Pepper. “Twenty years ago” sounded like an eternity in 1967. In 2013, 30 years feels as if it could have been, oh, I don’t know, 2010, maybe.
I really don’t have much more to say about this anniversary or High Society magazine. In fact, everything I have to say about High Society, I already said in Beaver Street. So, I’m going to celebrate by doing what I always do—working on another book. If you feel the need to celebrate, the best way to do that would be to read one of my books and join me in psychic communion. I’ll feel your energy. I always do.
Actually, his name is Paul Slimak, but in Beaver Street I call him Henry Dorfman. He's my officemate, the managing editor of For Adults Only magazine, and an actor who, as I say in the book, "was suddenly getting one high-profile gig after another, invariably being cast as a pervert, a lowlife, or a Nazi." In his capsule bio for the Ensemble Theatre of Cleveland, where, beginning April 19, he'll be playing James "Jimmy Tomorrow" Cameron in Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, it says that he's also skilled in playing "weirdos, psychos, slimeballs, and scumbags."
As regular visitors to this Website know, Slimak, in the guise of his own comic creation, Erich von Pauli, a degenerate fugitive from the Third Reich, has made a series of promotional videos for Beaver Street, one of which Michael Musto wrote about in The Village Voice.
I’m pleased to report that Slimak’s acting talents will now be on display nationwide, beginning today, when the thriller Tomorrow You’re Gone, starring Michelle Monaghan, Willem Dafoe, and Stephen Dorff, opens in theatres and will be available On Demand. An exclusive clip of Slimak playing a slimeball opposite Dorff is available here.
In other news, negotiations are underway to bring Slimak and his wife, Agnes Herrmann, who plays Diana Clerkenwell in the von Pauli videos, to New York for Bloomsday on Beaver Street. Stay tuned for more details.
A bit of news for my American readers who've been waiting patiently for the better part of a month to order a copy of Beaver Street from Amazon: The book is back in stock, and it should remain so for some time. I have it on good authority that, after much cajoling, the Internet monolith has ordered a substantial quantity.
As for my U.K. readers, who have made Beaver Street a permanent fixture on Amazon's list of bestselling pornography biographies, which includes such heavy hitters as Jenna Jameson: The book is sold out (again) but should be back in stock in 7-10 days. Thank you for your patience. Your business is important to us.
And for those of you who are still wondering why you should read a book like Beaver Street, allow me to share with you the accolade that Headpress passed on to me the other day, from Clive Davies, author of Spinegrinder: The Movies Most Critics Won’t Write About, which will be released in July: “I just finished reading Beaver Street. What a great book! One of the most illuminating things [Headpress has] ever put out, I think. Has there been any talk of making a documentary based on it, I wonder? I can just imagine it as a loose, anecdotal, fun movie, maybe animated in the vein of The Kid Stays in the Picture or American: The Bill Hicks Story.”
Good idea, Clive. Anybody got a little seed money?
The War on Pornography is an ongoing effort, dating back to the dawn of recorded history, to cleanse the world of smut. It's an unwinnable war waged by radical religious groups and radical political groups of both the right and left wings. It's a subject I explore in Beaver Street, writing at length about the Meese Commission and their use of underage porn star Traci Lords as a pawn in a sting operation designed to bring down the porno industry in America. And it's a subject I've written about extensively on this blog, detailing porn star Missy Manners' relationship with anti-porn Senator Orrin Hatch, of Utah, and more recently deconstructing anti-porn activist Gail Dines and her efforts to have actors who perform in S&M videos charged with war crimes.
The War on Pornography is a crusade marinated in hypocrisy, corruption, and absurdity that never stops providing me with material, and the other day it provided a little more: Morality in Media (MIM), an interfaith religious group dedicated to the elimination of pornography and obscenity in American life, is best known for their "Dirty Dozen" list, which contains the names of individuals, corporations, and government agencies who, in MIM's estimation, are the "12 top enablers of our country's pornography pandemic." Among those names are such entities as Comcast, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Hilton Hotels, and the Department of Defense--because the Pentagon allows porn mags to be sold at commissaries.
MIM has just selected a new #1, the dirtiest of the Dirty Dozen: Attorney General Eric Holder. Why? Because Holder, they say, “refuses to enforce existing federal obscenity laws against hardcore adult pornography” and “has initiated zero new obscenity cases” since he’s been in office.
One of the points I make in Beaver Street is that “the biggest crooks cry ban pornography the loudest.” The examples I cite—Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Edwin Meese, Charles Keating, and Alberto Gonzales—either had to resign their offices in disgrace to avoid criminal prosecution or, in the case of Keating, went to prison after being convicted of multiple felonies.
Which makes me think that, unlike, say, Attorney General Edwin Meese, who, in the midst of fighting his War on Porn, was busy committing crimes ranging from influence peddling to suborning perjury, Eric Holder might actually be a paragon of moral rectitude. Which, I think, is what most Americans would want their attorney general to be.
Maybe you're celebrating Maundy Thursday, but I'm celebrating the first anniversary of the U.S. publication of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, an event marked by a responsive reading of a review by Byron Nilsson, on a site called Words and Music, which ran one year ago today.
And quite a year it's been! The good news about Beaver Street, one year down the road, is that it's sold out on Amazon. Again. The bad news about Beaver Street, one year down the road, is that it's sold out on Amazon. Again.
I’m not about to complain about a book selling out repeatedly. I will only say that when the book does sell out, as it’s been doing the past two months, I’d be happier if Amazon got it back in stock more quickly or kept more copies in stock so it didn’t sell out as often.
And I will express gratitude for the fact that one year after its U.S. publication (and two years after its U.K. publication) critics continue to write about Beaver Street and people continue to buy it.
And finally, I will extend an open invitation to all readers to come to the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street on June 16 for the Second Annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street celebration. The Very Reverend Byron Nilsson will be presiding, and he thinks I know how to “make words dance.” He said so in his review. I will be doing my best to make those words dance in public.
Traci Lords, child-porn-star-turned-minor-Hollywood-starlet, is back in the news. The other day, as the lurid trial of two Steubenville, Ohio teenagers charged with rape was ongoing, Lords told Piers Morgan the story of how, when she was ten years old and living in Steubenville--or "Stupidville" as she said everybody there calls it--her teenage boyfriend raped her. This is typical of the kind of stuff that's always happened in Steubenville, she said.
Lords, whom I describe in Beaver Street as an ambitious juvenile delinquent who, in the 1980s, using a fraudulent passport and driver's license, systematically sought work in the porn industry, has built her "legitimate" career on playing the victim--a story that the courts dismissed more than 25 years ago, either dropping the charges against or acquitting everybody who'd worked with Lords and was then arrested for child exploitation. Nobody, they said, could have known that she was a minor. (The only exception was the president of a video company who'd foolishly sold 50 Lords tapes to an undercover vice cop after it was known that she was underage.)
But because her tale of teenage sexual victimization makes such good copy, the media has always treated Lords without skepticism, and their reaction to her “confession” on Piers Morgan is a case in point. Saying that the “former porn actress” had “come forward” to make a “shocking claim,” they seemed unaware that this is a story Lords has been peddling for the better part of 25 years, singing about her rape, in 1995, in a song titled “Father’s Field,” and writing about it, in 2003, in her less-than-revealing memoir.
The only thing of genuine interest about Lords’ latest media foray, which was designed to promote her latest song, is how, at age 44, she’s still angry about everything’s that’s happened to her. It was anger that fueled her porno career, her music career, and her writing career. And if Lords is to be believed, the root cause of all that anger is that long-ago rape. Which is a story worth telling, possibly one that some people might find helpful, and definitely one that deserves to be told honestly.
By the time you click on the graphic to the left, "10 Sexy Photos from the History of Pornography" may very well have dropped out of the top 10 of the "Most Popular Blog Stories" in LA Weekly. But that's the ephemeral nature of the Internet. What's "hot" now is not going to be hot 10 seconds from now. Whatever the case, with all the tweeting and Facebooking, Beaver Street has had a good run in LA this week, and if there's one city where it should have had a good run, it's LA. The piece, posted Wednesday morning, led to an immediate sellout of the book on Amazon, which is the first time that's happened.
Meanwhile, over in Chicago, my Nowhere Man interview with Bryan "Shu" Schuessler was streamed Sunday afternoon on Core of Destruction Radio. As it was being streamed, I had a lot of fun on the chat board with Lizard Messiah, the guy who runs the Website. We talked about John Lennon, Beaver Street, Jim Morrison, and conspiracy theories. Lizard was unfamiliar with Lennon's first solo album, Plastic Ono Band, but when the interview ended, he played two cuts from the LP, Mother and Working Class Hero. Very cool. (If you missed the interview it's available as a free download here.)
Goatserpent, a Core of Destruction DJ, also logged onto the chat board for a while. I noticed on his profile page that under “Favorite Books” he lists “early 90s issues of Swank.” Hey, Goat, you ought to pick up a copy of Beaver Street. I worked for Swank in the early 90s.
Media exposure is the oxygen that keeps books alive, and this week Beaver Street and Nowhere Man both got a nice infusion of it. Between the Beaver Street pictorial in LA Weekly--trending #1 last time I checked--and the Nowhere Maninterview on Shu-Izmz (which will be streamed this Sunday on Core of Destruction Radio), I can unconditionally call this a good media week. Since it's Friday, it's snowing in New York City, and the Mistress of Syntax has taken a day off from work, my inclination is to end this post right here and go out and play in the snow.
The spread brings to life much of what I write about in Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography--like High Society magazine. Ironically, if you toiled for that esteemed publication in the 1980s, NSFW had an entirely different meaning: Employees were forbidden to read The New York Times, or any other newspaper, without special permission. Instead, the publisher demanded that everybody spend as much time as possible reading (and stealing ideas from) competing porno mags, especially Hustler, which he considered the "bible" of beaver books.
In the likely event that you don’t work in an alternate X-rated universe, then NSFW is indeed the correct designation for the Weekly’s Beaver Street spread. So, read it when you get home, and take a trip down the memory lane of 20th century men’s mags. It’s a world that’s fast disappearing.
Sometimes things happen as they should, even in the world of book publishing. What I'm referring to is the idea that if somebody reads one of your books and likes it, they might seek out another one of your books. Though I'm sure this has happened to me on numerous occasions, I rarely hear about it, as the average reader tends not to communicate with the authors he reads.
But this time I heard about it. Bryan "Shu" Schuessler, who runs the culture site Shu-izmz, read Beaver Street, ran a rave review, interviewed me on his radio show, and then read my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, not because he had any interest in Lennon or the Beatles, but because he liked my writing style and Nowhere Man has a number of true crime elements, which fascinate him. Up went another rave review, and last night we recorded another radio interview, which Shu will post sometimes this week and which will be available for download as a podcast.
For the most part, we talked about the background of Nowhere Man—how I came into possession of Lennon’s diaries, how I transcribed them, how they were stolen from me, how I recreated them from memory, and how it took me 18 years to find a publisher for a book that’s now considered an underground classic.
In the course of our conversation, Shu said something about Nowhere Man that I’d never heard before—that’s it’s a good book for people with attention deficit disorder because it has short chapters. To which I say, “Hey, ADD people, welcome aboard. Hope you like my book.”
And as our conversation ended, I said to Shu, “Thank you. It’s folks like you who keep folks like me going.”
“We’ve got to support those whose talents and endeavors we enjoy,” Shu replied.
The Daily Beaver is a thing unto itself that usually has nothing to do with anything else I'm currently writing. It's a promotional tool, a warm-up exercise, a place to occasionally let off steam, and a daily challenge. But one thing I don't do with these blog posts is spend a lot of time rewriting them. What you're reading is a first draft. Maybe I've read it through twice and made some minor changes before posting it. The whole process takes less than an hour.
My books, on the other hand, are probably a fifteenth draft that I've been working on and thinking about for years. They've been critiqued by editors, vetted by lawyers, and subjected to professional copy-editing. I'd hope the difference is apparent to even the casual reader.
I think if blogs existed in the 1970s, I’d have been a more effective blogger than I am today. And by “effective,” I mean that my postings would have gotten more hits and more comments. Because blogging is a better medium for inexperienced amateurs than it is for polished professionals, especially those who put their best work into books.
In the 1970s, I thought writing was easy. Which is to say, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was unpolished, unguarded, I had nothing to lose, and I said all kinds of outrageous things (usually about sex) without understanding the impact it would have on the people who read it. I’d not yet developed a filter, and drew little distinction between what I thought, what I said, and what I wrote. I didn’t understand how easy it was to offend people. I put down on paper whatever was in my head, and then, with little editing, published it in Observation Post, the so-called alternative newspaper at City College. And, boy, did I ever get a reaction… and comments. (See Beaver Street, Chapter 1, “How I Became a Pornographer.”)
I’ve learned a lot in the ensuing decades. For example, I now know that writing well is hard; that it’s not a good idea to publish many of the things I say privately; and that it’s a terrible idea to publish everything that crosses my mind, no matter how many hits and comments it might provoke. There are certain people I’d prefer not to offend. In other words, I’ve learned the art of restraint, which is the opposite of what people are looking for on the Internet.
So, if you want total abandon—at least the kind of total abandon that’s not going to get me sued—then you’ll just have to read my books. In fact, I think I’ll work on one now.
This week I've been celebrating the third anniversary of The Daily Beaver with a look back at the ten most popular posts and a selection of some of my personal favorites. As I was putting together Volume II of my personal faves this morning, it reminded me that anniversaries also serve a practical purpose: They are a time to take stock, evaluate, put things in perspective--to see what's come out of this three year frenzy of writing, promotion, and travel. So, once again, here's a random selection of blog posts that caught my eye.
The Business of Smut: Critique #2 (June 15, 2011)
A review of "Hard Core," by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, one of the articles Slate selected as an example of great writing about the porn industry.
Still on the Bus (Aug. 4, 2011)
A review of Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Cool Place, and a tribute to my friend John Babbs, who passed away last year. I ran this photo essay on my other blog, Maiscott & Rosen, because you can't run multiple photos on The Daily Beaver.
Yossarian Taught Here (Aug. 18, 2011)
A memoir by Joseph Heller’s daughter, Erica, prompted me to jot down some of my own memories of Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22, and one of my creative writing professors at City College.
The Trials of Traci Lords (Jan. 10, 2013)
A further exploration of one of the main subjects of Beaver Street: At age 44, the once underage porn superstar seems to have stopped complaining about being “exploited.” Instead, Lords complains that people won’t let her forget her X-rated teenage exploits.
Yesterday, to celebrate this blog's third anniversary, I ran Volume I of my most popular posts since The Daily Beaver's inception. Today I bring you Volume II, my five greatest hits of all time. And they're all related to pornography.
4.The Marvel Comics Porno Connection (June 29, 2011)
This video of Stan Lee explaining his partnership with Jack Kirby provides additional insight into one of the central themes of Beaver Street.
3.The Christy & Ginger Show (Apr. 24, 2012)
Big surprise: People love Christy Canyon and Ginger Lynn. But who knew they had a radio show, You Porn? And who knew I’d be their very special guest one day? (Note to anybody with Sirius XM Radio: I’d love a recording of my appearance on the show, air date May 10, 2012.)
2.About Cherry (Sept. 18, 2012)
I called About Cherry, starring Ashley Hinshaw, James Franco, and Lili Taylor, the best film about the porn industry since Boogie Nights. Mainstream critics hated it.
1.21 Facts About Porn Star Missy Manners (June 20, 2011)
There’s an enormous amount of interest in “Republican porn star” Missy Manners (real name Elisa Florez), former aide to anti-porn senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and former girlfriend of Artie Mitchell.
I launched this blog three years ago, on February 10, 2010, with the announcement that my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, was going to be published in Italy. Since then, there's been a lot of water under the bridge--the publication of three editions of Beaver Street, a UK and a US promotional tour, various battles with mega-conglomerates, and an assortment of earthquakes, hurricanes, and blizzards. As this past week has brought an influx of new readers to the Daily Beaver, I thought this might be a good time to look back on the 10 most popular blog postings--my greatest hits--which I'll run in two parts, beginning today with 10 through 6. And by "popular," I mean the individual posts that have gotten the most total hits over the years.
"People become porn stars because they're good at it; because they have no other options; because they have nothing to lose; and because they're desperate, either economically or emotionally or both." --from Beaver Street by Robert Rosen
The happy warriors of Facebook's Stop Porn Culture page have accused me of self-aggrandizement and other far more serious crimes. The self-aggrandizement charge, unlike such charges as being in favor of violence against women and being a "bourgeois revisionist and apologist for the system that oppresses millions of people around the world," might even contain a grain of truth. So, call me "Chairman Bob," and let's get on with it.
The online debate, Chairwoman Dines and her Happy Warriors vs. Chairman Bob, is heating up. Fortunately, the Warriors have disobeyed Chairwoman Dines’s edict: “Please do not engage with Rosen. He is white noise and our job is to close down the industry, not have fights with the wannabees.” And the Warriors, in their insubordination, have made a number of interesting points. I’d like to respond to all of them, but to do so in one blog post is impossible. So, this could go on for some time. (Note to Chairwoman Dines: What is it, exactly, you think I wannabe?)
First, a bit of background: Gail Dines came to my attention about two years ago, when Beaver Street was published in the UK. Her book, Pornland, was listed under Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature. I did a little research and found Dines to be a more palatable version of the late Andrea “AllSexIsRape” Dworkin. I agreed with much of what Dines said. A lot of porn is degrading—to women and men. I can’t stand watching it, either. It has nothing to do with sex or eroticism. But I don’t think that that’s the case with all pornography—a major point on which Dines disagrees.
The more I learned about Dines, the more I came to dislike her point of view. For example, in one of her lectures that I watched on YouTube, she called Vanity Fair “pornography.” Though she didn’t explain why, I assume it’s because they’ve run photos of topless women and women posing in lingerie. But to categorize Vanity Fair as porn is as absurd as calling for porn stars who participate in S&M videos to be prosecuted for war crimes. And to equate Vanity Fair with degrading X-rated videos is counterproductive. You’re going to lose people, like me, who might be inclined to agree with you.
It’s Dines’s stridency and unwillingness to consider any opinion other than her own that ultimately turned me against her. She says, for example, that if you’re not in favor of eliminating all pornography, then you’re in favor of violence against women—another absurd and counterproductive charge.
Has Dines ever spoken to any of the porn stars she wants to free from bondage? If she did, then she’d know that porn stars don’t want to be freed; that they went into porn due to lack of economic opportunity; that they think that porn is the best job they’ve ever had; that before porn, the best they could do was a minimum-wage job at Burger King.
Is Dines offering porn stars economic opportunity? A college education? Or is she a “bourgeois” professor sitting in an ivory tower at an overpriced private college, who only rails about the evils of pornography but has no real understanding of why people go into it or what it would take to get them out? Is Dines aware that porn stars see her as an ignorant woman who wants to take away their livelihoods and offer them nothing in return?
"Robert Rosen, author of Beaver Street, and occasional contributor to this FB page just wrote a rather juvenile piece on me on his blog. The pornographers and their cronies are so interesting because they have no concept of activism for social change. They assume that we are all like them in our desire to 'monetize' everything we do. This is a typical capitalist thinking that can't conceive of a world where people act on the desire to make lives better for others." --Gail Dines, author of Pornland
To recap: I’d written, in part, about Dines’s suggestion, in a column on Counterpunch.org, that Kink.com, a production company specializing in S&M videos, was in violation of international laws prohibiting torture. Apparently unable to distinguish between professional actors being paid to make S&M videos, and CIA agents torturing prisoners at black sites, she said that both the actors and agents had committed war crimes and should be brought to justice.
The inherent absurdity of this argument led me to suggest that Dines is more interested in selling books than she is in achieving her stated goal of eradicating pornography. Because if she ever succeeds in achieving the impossible—eliminating porn—then she’ll be putting herself out of business. And the anti-porn biz is a good and lucrative business, indeed. Just ask Traci Lords.
In any case, I think Dines’s statement at the top of this post deserves a response, and I’ll begin with her grammatically disjointed charge that I’m a “typical capitalist” who assumes that everybody wants to “monetize everything.”
If by “typical capitalist” Dines means that I have attempted to make my living as a writer, editor, and occasional teacher in a capitalist society—a society where I sell my time and work for money—then she is correct. And God help capitalism if I’m typical.
But I also took this charge to mean that Dines does not monetize her time and work, that she must be a socialist, a communist, or even an anarchist, whose purpose in life is to get out word to as many people as possible about the evils of pornography. I therefore assumed that her book must be available as a free download, and that Wheelock College, in Boston, where Dines is a professor of sociology and women’s studies, must be free tuition.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Pornland is selling for the standard Kindle price of $9.99, and that tuition plus room and board for four years at Wheelock will cost an undergraduate about $175,000—a fee that strikes me as a form of capitalism as pure and exploitative as pornography. It brought to mind an image of one of Dines’s students, in the year 2038, still struggling to pay off her student loan, and thinking fondly of Professor Dines and all that useful information she taught her about “body-punishing sex.” It even occurred to me that this imaginary student might have, at some point in her career, turned to the porn industry to earn a little extra money to pay off that crushing debt.
But enough about capitalism for now. Let’s turn, for a moment, to the charge of “juvenile.” Funny word, juvenile. If I didn’t know the meaning, and had to figure it out based only on how radical feminists have used it to describe my work, I might conclude that juvenile means “people who write in a humorous or satiric manner about the porn industry and its detractors.” Because the only other person who has described my work as “juvenile” is a radical-feminist book reviewer who, in order to trash Beaver Street, made up things about the book that are demonstrably false, and then based her opinions on those misrepresentations. She said, for example, that I “excluded female pornographers entirely” from the book, when, in fact, there are more than dozen women pornographers in Beaver Street, five of whom are major characters.
But this post is about the absurdity of Gail Dines, not the absurdity of radical feminist critics who have reviewed my work in a less than honest manner. And though I’d love to continue in this vein, it’s getting late, and there are more books to be written. So, I’ll have to continue on another day. But I will leave you with one last thought: If my work has pissed off porn kings (such as Lou Perretta) and radical feminists alike, I must be doing something right. Could it be that I’m telling the truth?
One of the odd things about the Beaver Street promotional campaign, which has been ongoing for two years, is that despite the coverage the book has garnered all over the cultural spectrum, in such places as Vanity Fair, Bizarre magazine, an academic site called H-Net, The Village Voice, Erotic Review, and Little Shoppe of Horrors (to name but a few), there hasn't been one review in any of the men's magazines that I write about in Beaver Street.
I suppose the primary reason for this lack of coverage is that Lou Perretta, who now owns two of the titles at the heart of the book, Swank and High Society, as well as every other porn mag except for Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler, is upset that I've blogged about the abysmal working conditions at his company and his campaign contributions to Scott Garrett, the Tea Party icon who represents New Jersey’s 5th congressional district. Perretta, apparently, has forbidden his merry staff, under penalty of termination, to so much as mention Beaver Street in or out of the office.
And I suppose that Playboy and Penthouse are not especially interested in books of any kind, and that Hustler doesn’t write about books unless Larry Flynt wrote them—though I’d think that Flynt would have gotten a kick out of my stories about his former rival, ex-High Society publisher Carl Ruderman.
Well, I’m pleased to report that a magazine read by everybody who’s anybody in adult entertainment has published a brilliant Beaver Street review in their February issue, which features a cover story about the “30 must-read books on the history of X.”
Adult Video News (AVN) has been called “the Billboard magazine of the porn industry.” It’s the mag that the mainstream media turn to when they need reliable information about smut. The review, “Walk on the Wild Side,” written by AVN editor Sharan Street, calls Beaver Street “brutally honest,” “compelling,” and says that it’s “a fascinating exploration of the common ground shared by [comic books] and pornographic magazines.” Street (Sharan, not Beaver) also does an excellent job of pulling out just the right quotes to give the reader a good sense of the book’s overall flavor.
Writers do not live by royalties alone, and if I've been thinking about work lately, it's because I’ve been looking for more of it. And I'm not just talking about writing work. Over the course of my working life, I've had an unusually diverse array of jobs.
I was about seven the first time I got paid for "real" work--making change for newspapers in my father's candy store, and I did such a good job he soon promoted me to soda jerk. If you think there's no skill involved in making egg creams, you're wrong. You need to use just the right amount of chocolate syrup, just the right amount of milk, and you have to squirt the seltzer in the glass at just the right angle and with just the right amount of force, so the head is neither too foamy nor not foamy enough. It's like drawing a perfect pint of Guinness, and it's an art I'd mastered by the time I was eight.
Since those days, which I discuss in the Beaver Street Prologue, my jobs have included, in no particular order: cab driver, Wall Street messenger, Good Humor man, art auction-house worker, envelope stuffer, drugstore delivery boy (wasn’t everybody?), produce-stand worker, clerical worker (various offices), election inspector, assistant air conditioner repairman and electrical worker, Pinkerton industrial spy (one day), camp waiter, camp counselor, swimming pool supply store worker, and porn movie extra. Then there was my brief agriculture phase: fruit picker (apples and pears), field hand, and poultry worker. And finally there are the things I’ve done and continue to do in my field: author, editor, reporter, critic, essayist, ghostwriter, speechwriter, advertising copywriter, and writing tutor.
I’ve always been open to doing just about anything, and I’ve gotten two books out of it. Both Nowhere Man and Beaver Street are the result of jobs I was willing to accept—editor/ghostwriter and pornographer.
As the astute critic John Branch has pointed out in his Beaver Street review: “From the outset, then, and through the remainder of the book, it’s mostly in terms of work that Rosen experienced the field of pornography.”
That’s because I’ve always found fascinating the concept of one person paying another to do something.
Anybody need any apples picked? I’ve got experience.
Janet Hardy, whose latest book, Girlfag, I wrote about the other week, told me about this Internet "thing" that's currently making the rounds among authors. It sounded like fun, especially the question about casting the movie version of your book. So, I did it.
It's called "The Next Big Thing" and here's how it works: I post and promote a blog entry that answers ten questions about a work in progress. I then "tag" five authors who answer the questions in their own post and tag me along with five other authors. And so on.
Here are the questions and my answers.
1) What is the working title of your book?
I’m calling Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography a work in progress because foreign rights and film rights remain untapped, and I’m putting as much effort into promoting Beaver Street as I am into writing my next book, Bobby in Naziland.
2) Where did the idea for the book come from?
From working as an editor of “men’s sophisticate” magazines (as they’re euphemistically called) for 16 years and realizing from my first day on the job at High Society, in 1983, that I was witnessing something extraordinary: the dawn of the age of digital, or modern, pornography.
3) What genre does it fall under?
I call Beaver Street an investigative memoir, meaning it’s a combination of investigative reporting and autobiography.
4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
An incomplete cast in order of appearance:
Bobby Paradise: Garrett Hedlund
Joe Angleini: James Franco
Maria Bellanari: Michelle Pfeiffer
Ellen Badner: Janeane Garofalo
Carl Ruderman: Gary Oldman
Irwin Fast: William Shatner
Chip Goodman: Wallace Shawn
Susan Netter: Jane Lynch
Ralph Rubinstein: Shia LaBeouf
Izzy Singer: Paul Giametti
Henry Dorfman: Paul Slimak
Arnold Shapiro: Steve Carell
Pamela Katz: Scarlett Johansson
Sonja Wagner: Sigourney Weaver
Annie Sprinkle: Kat Dennings
Georgina Kelly: Courtney Love
Georgette Kelly: Ashley Hinshaw
Bill Bottiggi: Jackie Earle Haley
Al Goldstein: Byron Nilsson
Ron Jeremy: Himself
Buck Henry: Himself
Roberta Goodman: Agnes Herrmann
5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
An investigative memoir about pornography in the age of the computer, from the birth of phone sex to the skin mag in cyberspace.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
After two agents failed to sell Beaver Street, I sold it myself to Headpress, a London-based indie.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?
About three years.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller. Beaver Street has been called “a Tropic of Capricorn for the digital age.”
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My experiences working in the pornography industry.
10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The political angle: the fact that historically, the biggest crooks have always cried, “Ban pornography!” the loudest, and that the four greatest anti-porn warriors of the 20th century—Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Edwin Meese, and Charles Keating—are either convicted felons or where forced to resign their offices in disgrace or face criminal prosecution.
Anniversaries are useful things when it comes to promoting books, and many books are published to coincide with particular anniversaries--because there's always an upsurge in media attention, especially when those anniversaries have round numbers. November of this year, for example, is (shockingly) the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Beginning in the fall, you can look for a flurry of expensively produced volumes about John Kennedy, and don't expect to be able to pick up a newspaper or magazine--assuming you still physically pick up printed matter--without reading some kind of article about the latest book, TV show, or commemoration.
I've been conscious of the importance of anniversaries since Nowhere Man was published right before the 20th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. There's no question that the media attention surrounding that event was instrumental in putting the book on best-seller lists. Ever since, I've been seeking out anniversaries anywhere I can find them.
There are plenty of Beaver Street anniversaries to celebrate, though for the most part the media tend to overlook them—even though they are events of genuine historical significance. 2011, for example, was the 25th anniversary of the Meese Commission on Pornography and the Traci Lords scandal. I don’t recall hearing anything about either one of those events. In fact, Edwin Meese, arguably the most corrupt attorney general in the history of the United States, has managed to squirm back into the news, his corruption unmentioned as he mouths off about ways to impeach Obama. And this month, January 2013, is the 30th anniversary of free phone-sex, the first fusion of erotica and computers, and the beginning of the Age of Modern Pornography. Please clue me in if you’re aware of any commemorations. And while you’re at it, please join me in spirit on April 11 to celebrate the day, 30 years ago, that I began working in XXX. (Yikes!)
Amid all these anniversaries, there’s one personal anniversary that somehow escaped my attention: On January 12, 2011, Beaver Street was mentioned in the media for the first time, in the February UK edition of Vanity Fair, the one with Justin Bieber on the cover. This is significant because here it is, two years down the road, and Beaver Street continues to garner media attention. How rare is it that people are still talking about a book two years after publication? Trust me, it’s rare. And it is cause for celebration. You are cordially invited to join me in spirit as I toast to my ongoing promotional campaign.
These three photos ran with my interview in the print edition of StorErotica (December 2012). They do a nice job of encapsulating the final years of my career as an editor of adult magazines. I've come to call this my "Prisoner of Porn" phase--the post-modern sweatshop chapter of my X-rated odyssey, when I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to make it out of the business alive.
The photo on the left was taken in California, in 1998, where I'd gone to direct a series of shoots for Plump & Pink magazine. The model, whose name escapes me, was a P&P covergirl. Fittingly, I seem to look like a cross between Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Allen Ginsberg.
The middle shot, taken in the same California studio, is the photo that I used on page one of Beaver Street, and which I explain in detail in the Prologue. If you’d like to know why I’m wearing a headband and heart-shaped sunglasses and sitting between two models who are about to pose for a shoot for Shaved magazine, please click here.
The photo on the right was taken in my office in Paramus, NJ. The model, who appears to be sitting in my lap, is none other than Traci Topps as you’ve probably never seen her before--in her street clothes.
The complete interview will soon be available online.
The last time I heard anything of interest about Traci Lords, whose tale of alleged exploitation is one of the centerpieces of Beaver Street, was in August 2011. Lords had taken to Twitter to complain about how a certain online mega-conglomerate was unwittingly selling vintage issues of men's magazines containing pictures of her when she was underage. Lords, then 43, was still refusing to take any responsibility for what she'd done from 1984-1986.
Now Traci Lords, age 44½, is back, busy promoting her new album, titled (with no sense of irony) M2F2 or Music To Fuck To. She recently spoke to the Huffington Post about it, and they asked her the obligatory question about her porn career. Here's a condensed version of what she said:
“When I was doing porn… at 15 I was really wanting to take my sexual power back. Doing porn was my way of saying, ‘No, I’m going to fuck you’… I made those decisions [to do porn] when I was really young. The bigger bummer of it is that I feel like it’s something I’ve been on trial for all my life.”
The first part of this statement is similar to what she said in a passage in her memoir that I described in Beaver Street as the only 86 true words about her porn career in the book. But what makes this quote even remotely interesting is what Lords doesn’t say. Twenty-six years after the fact, she appears to have stopped complaining about being exploited. Instead, she’s chosen to complain about being put on trail for her entire life for that porn career.
Is it possible that Lords still doesn’t understand that that’s the price you pay for becoming an underage porn superstar and then blaming your success on the “vicious” people who “victimized” you by paying you thousands of dollars per day for the privilege of taking your picture? Has she forgotten that many of her former employers really were put on trial in a court of law, and found not guilty of all charges?
Judging by the evidence, she doesn’t understand and has, conveniently, forgotten. Just as in her memoir she’d also forgotten everything of interest.
One thing I've always liked about speaking to knowledgeable interviewers is that their questions can be challenging, and I'm often surprised by how much I know about things I didn't think I knew that much about--like erotic novelties, for example. Though I write about them in Beaver Street, and in 1976 I wrote a story for a local newspaper about The Pleasure Chest, I hardly consider myself an expert on the retail side of the subject. But after working on men's magazines for 16 years, I did learn at least two things:
1) Advertising for erotic novelties was a big money maker for the mags.
2) Anybody who chooses to open a sex shop better have a good lawyer.
So, when StorErotica, the glossy trade mag distributed to sex shops in the US and Canada, asked me, “If you had the opportunity to sit down with 1,000 adult store owners, what would you tell them about the ups and downs of the industry?” I was surprised to hear the following words come out of my mouth—words that were used as the pull quote:
“I just think that adult toys and fantasy playing are a very healthy way to pursue a sexual relationship, and that a store that anyone can walk into and feel comfortable is a good thing. It is absurd that there are so many jurisdictions in this country that try to make this illegal.”
My favorite part of the piece, which will be available online in the near future, is what they said in the intro about Beaver Street’s “immense readability.” It’s a quality I worked for many years to achieve, and one that I hope will soon be recognized at a sex shop near you.
From Paths of Glory, courtesy The Criterion Collection.
Why is it, you may wonder, that a peace-loving person such as myself uses the imagery of war--Autumn Offensive, Winter Assault, Spring Siege--to describe the ongoing Beaver Street promotional campaign? Because for as long as I've been involved with book publishing, I feel as if I've been at war with an industry that's at best indifferent and at worst overtly hostile to the idea that I might survive as a writer.
Anybody who goes into the book-writing biz for the money is either ignorant, delusional, or has a close relative in a powerful position at a major publishing house. Most people who become writers do it because they have to, because they can't stop themselves, because they hear that voice in their head and they feel a primal need to communicate. That’s why I've been doing it for 38 years
It was in the process of attempting to sell my first published book, Nowhere Man, that it occurred to me that I was at war—an ongoing war of attrition against two powerful forces.
The publishing industry, driven by wilful ignorance and irrational fear, spent 18 years rejecting Nowhere Man because, they said, there’s not enough interest in John Lennon, and Yoko Ono will sue.
Yoko Ono, it’s worth noting, has never sued a writer, not even writers who have, essentially, begged her to sue them in an effort to bring more attention to their book. However, in an effort to stop me from publishing Nowhere Man, she did try to pressure the New York District Attorney’s office to arrest me for criminal conspiracy, a farce I’ve written about elsewhere. When Nowhere Man was finally published in 2000, I felt as if I’d overrun Saigon and my personal Vietnam had come to an end.
As for Beaver Street, if you’ve been following this blog, then you know about my battles with Amazon and Google, two forces arguably more powerful than Yoko Ono. But I’ve said little about why every publisher in the US passed on Beaver Street before, without the assistance of an agent, I was able to find a home for it with Headpress, a London-based indie.
Publishing houses passed, they said, because:
1) Nobody wants to read a non-academic book about pornography that wasn’t written by a porn star.
2) Beaver Street is neither memoir nor history.
3) Beaver Street is neither pro-porn nor anti-porn.
4) We don’t know how to publish it.
All of which also goes a long way towards explaining why Amazon is eating the publishing industry’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, and between-meal snacks, thereby replacing an awful system with a more awful system.
There’s a war out there, baby, and it’s every writer, agent, and publisher for him (or her) self.
The first story I ever wrote for my local newspaper, The Villager, was about The Pleasure Chest, an upscale sex shop that's been at the same Greenwich Village location for 42 years. It was the summer of 1976--the Bi-centennial Summer, as The Pleasure Chest staff preferred to call it--and my assignment was to spend an entire shift in the store and describe what went on.
What went on was that a lot of well-dressed and decidedly non-sleazy men and women came into the store and bought some very expensive fashion accessories, most of them made of luxuriously soft black leather--S&M hoods, corsets, bras, etc. The Pleasure Chest, I thought, was more akin to a clothing store than a sex shop.
When I walked by The Pleasure Chest a few weeks ago, the stark and simple window display stopped me dead in my tracks. It consisted of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and a riding crop.
For those of you who’ve somehow missed the news, Fifty Shades of Grey is an overtly pornographic S&M epic and one of the best-selling books of all time. As I recently learned, an entire industry has grown up around it. Walk into any sex shop in the world and you can not only buy the complete trilogy, but you can buy any product mentioned in the books—ben wa balls, handcuffs, whips, you name it. The trilogy has made porn so respectable, it’s now being advertised on the sides of New York City bus shelters.
Because Fifty Shades of Grey is, essentially, a Harlequin Romance with explicit sex, it’s been dubbed “Mommy Porn.” And though it is an undeniable commercial mega-success, I’m unaware of any men who have read the book—probably because the average male is interested in reading something grittier and more sophisticated.
Perhaps, then, it’s time to offer an alternative to Mommy Porn. Let’s call it “Daddy Porn.” In fact, let’s call it Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, a book that’s dedicated to my father and that opens in his Brooklyn candy store, in 1961, with a bunch of the “neighborhood regulars” hanging out and deconstructing the latest volume to appear in his “special rack,” a display of sophisticated pornographic literature that featured such classics as Tropic of Cancer and Last Exit to Brooklyn.
Or Daddy Porn, if you will.
I have a dream. Next Christmas, when I walk by The Pleasure Chest, I want to see Beaver Street in the window, alongside some of the products I mention in the book, like a “plug-in vibrator the size of a small baseball bat” or maybe a cat o’ nine tails, to name but two.
And I believe I’ve taken the first step to achieving this “dream.” The December issue of StorErotica, a glossy trade mag that goes out to every sex shop in the US and Canada (and will soon be available online), features an extensive interview with me, in which I discuss Beaver Street and the sex-novelty business in general.
Let’s call it the first shot of the Beaver Street Winter Assault. In fact, let’s call it a direct hit.
First of all, Happy New Year! I've been in St. Louis for an extended Christmas break. While there, I didn't write a word and I ate too much, which is what I usually do in St. Louis when I'm visiting my wife's family. Now it's time to get back into a New York state of mind.
The image to the left is a scan of the cover and cover flap of the diary volume I finished the other day. As regular readers know, I've been a compulsive diarist since 1977. My two books, Beaver Street and Nowhere Man, were both based, in part, on those diaries. To remind me what's in a particular diary, I paste images on the cover that relate to significant or memorable events that happened over the course of that volume. So, 20 years from now, when I look at Volume 51, I'll know that I spent much of 2012 promoting Beaver Street, and that I went to the new Yankee Stadium on August 4. (No, I didn’t pay $175 to watch the Yanks lose to Seattle. It was a corporate freebie courtesy of the legal firm my friend works for. And that little strip of text to the left of Roger Maris is the invitation to Bloomsday on Beaver Street.)
I’m writing about diaries now because for Christmas, my wife gave me a 2013 New Yorker desk diary, which I’ve christened Volume 52. In Nowhere Man, I write at length about how John Lennon kept his journals in New Yorker diaries. Though it seems as if this is something I might have done at least once over the past 33 years, I never have kept my journal in a New Yorker diary—for various reasons. I’ve always preferred to write in blank spiral notebooks because the New Yorker diaries offer only a limited amount of space for each day. (Lennon overcame this problem by pasting into his diary additional sheets of paper.) Also, while I was writing Nowhere Man, a process that went on for 18 years, I spent too much time in Lennon’s head and I didn’t especially want to go back there.
So, there you have it. I’ll be keeping my 2013 journal Lennon Style. It was bound to happen some year, I suppose. Why not this one?
Bloomsday on Beaver Street was a celebration of both high and low culture, and nothing was more representative of the high-culture portion of the evening then the performance of my friend and neighbor Marty Linz. Linz, a cabaret and opera singer, opened with an attention-grabbing bit of Wagner, from Ride of the Valkyries (I think). She then segued into a bawdy and operatic rendition of Gershwin's Embraceable You—a stunning serenade to a dirty book that brought down the house.
This is my complete Bloomsday on Beaver Street reading of the so-called "dirty part" from the chapter titled "The Accidental Porn Star," pages 110-114. If you think it's easy to read this kind of stuff in front of your family, neighbors, and classmates from high school and junior high school, I suggest you try it sometime. I've posted a couple of more videos from the memorable night of June 16, 2012 here. You can find even more videos on Youtube.
When Paul Slimak, whom you may know as the Singing Nazi from the Beaver Street promotional videos, insists, in-character as Erich von Pauli, that you publish a close-up of yourself from your most recent photo session, you have no choice but to publish a close-up.
So, here's a close-up that in-house photographer Michael Paul shot the other day. I'm standing on the corner of West Street and Houston, in downtown Manhattan, waiting for the light to change and looking as if I'm about to tell you something--you've probably just asked me for directions.
As for the title of this post, it’s a reference to the famous line from the last few minutes of Sunset Boulevard, spoken by Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson): “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” And by the time Michael Paul (not to be confused with Paul Slimak, whom I call “Henry Dorfman” in Beaver Street) shot this, I was, after a hard afternoon of posing, more than ready for my close-up.
Bloomsday on Beaver Street was a celebration of literature of all kinds. Here is Mary Lyn Maiscott and HooP celebrating Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence with Mary Lyn's song about one of the novel's main characters, Madame Olenska.
Mary Lyn will be performing her Christmas song, Blue Lights, tomorrow on ReW & WhO?. You can watch the show live on the Internet, beginning at 4:00 P.M. Eastern Time. (Mary Lyn is scheduled to come on at 4:45.)
It's been almost six months since Bloomsday on Beaver Street, and even now when I run into people who were there, they still want to tell me stories about one particular guest at the event: Subway Vigilante Bernhard Goetz. It was only recently that I heard that "Bernie" was hanging out at the bar at the Killarney Rose, describing in detail to an enraptured audience how, on December 22, 1984, he'd shot four teenagers who'd accosted him on the subway. And it wasn't until long after the party that I heard about a lot of other things Goetz did that night, most of which are best not repeated here.
Goetz had come to the Killarney Rose because he's a porno fan and he's good friends with one of the main characters in Beaver Street, Pam Katz, whose real name is Joyce Snyder. Goetz had asked Snyder if he could read from the book at the launch event, and when Snyder passed along his request to me, I said, "Sounds crazy. Why not?"
In retrospect, I can think of a lot of good reasons why not. But Goetz showed up, took to the stage, and delivered a surreal non-reading. Here, at last, is the long-awaited video clip of his “performance.” That’s Byron Nilsson introducing Goetz and that’s Joyce Snyder calling out from the audience, “Read the book! Just read the book!”
Though I do my best to keep tabs on anything that pops up in the media having to do with Beaver Street or Nowhere Man, occasionally something slips by me. The photo to the right is one such example. Taken two months ago at the Banned Books Week event at the 2A Bar, in New York City, this shot of me sitting next to the Beaver Street character I call Pam Katz (real name Joyce Snyder), was posted on the Adult Video News website. But Google, apparently, finds the AVN site objectionable, and has deemed this major media organ unworthy of searching.
The photo, along with a gallery of the people who read from forbidden books having to do with sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, was finally brought to my attention. So, if you click here, you can see such performers as porn star Lisa Ann, Penthouse editor Lainie Speiser, Linda Lovelace expert Eric Danville, and Lez Zeppelin vocalist Shannon Conley reading from books that you might not necessarily find in a routine Google search.
I, incidentally, read from J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
It has been almost six months since the Bloomsday on Beaver Street launch party at the Killarney Rose for my investigative memoir, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography. This celebration of banned books, James Joyce, Ulysses, and all literature that has been branded pornographic, featured readings, rock 'n' roll, opera, and a surreal non-performance by a man who once ran for mayor of New York City.
Though I've posted a few truncated video clips of some of the performances, it's only recently that I've come into possession of the official Bloomsday on Beaver Street video--a complete documentation of every moment of the event. Here's the first excerpt: MC Byron Nilsson's masterful introductory monologue.
Stay tuned to relive the entire night, clip by clip.
In the Beaver StreetPrologue, I talk about how, after working in adult entertainment for 16 years, I was "totally burnt out on smut" but felt trapped in my job because "I'd become a professional pornographer and my career options were limited."
Fortunately, I was saved by a book deal, which coincided with my being fired. For the past 13 years, I've been able to stitch together something resembling a living through a combination of book writing, freelance writing and editorial work, and a number of odd jobs that have nothing to do with writing or publishing.
Most of my former colleagues, the majority of whom have been laid off or cut back to nothing as the magazine business collapsed in the face of free Internet porn, have not been so lucky. They've been forced into unwilling retirement because--as if it's not hard enough for members of the Baby Boom Generation (and older) to find any kind of work that pays a living wage in this economy--nobody, apparently, is willing to hire somebody who once worked in hardcore pornography. (I left the business in 1999, just before most magazines switched from a softcore to hardcore format.)
I’ve been thinking about this dilemma since an article from the Detroit Free Press was brought to my attention. A district attorney in upstate New York, Mark Suben, denied during a reelection campaign they he’d ever worked in pornography. Videos posted on Youtube then came to light, indicating that Suben, using the pseudonym Gus Thomas, had acted, in the early 1970s, in such X-rated films as Deep Throat Part II, Doctor’s Teenage Dilemma, and The Love Witch. Suben, however, has refused to resign, saying that the films were made over 40 years ago, they weren’t illegal, he wasn’t married at the time, he wasn’t practicing law, he wasn’t even a law student, and his studwork is irrelevant to his current job and law practice.
Suben’s opponent, of course, is saying that the issue is that Suben lied, not that he was once a porn stud. But would Suben have been elected if he’d admitted that he was once Gus Thomas? Well, considering that none of my former colleagues who are now seeking work outside the porn industry can get so much as the time of day from potential employers, I think the answer is self evident: If you’ve ever had any association with XXX, you are forevermore unqualified to make any contribution to society. This is, after all, America.
Now that all turkey carcasses have been stripped bare and there's no more stuffing leftover to stuff myself with, it's time to get back to blogging. But before I return to the final phase of the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive, I'd like to say a few words about what I've been working on between meals for the past week: Bobby in Naziland.
If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you already know that I've described Bobby in Naziland as a combination of historical fiction and black humor about a Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s where, to quote from the book, "World War II lingered like a mass hallucination on East 17th Street and large swaths of the surrounding borough." And if you know me personally, then you might think that that sounds an awful lot like a memoir. You would be correct.
When I finished Beaver Street, the question before me was: What next? And it occurred to me that there was some very rich material in the Beaver StreetPrologue that needed to be more fully explored—mainly the opening scene in my father’s candy store.
I spent the next two years writing down everything I could remember about that particular time and place: Flatbush in the 1950s and 60s. And I found myself with 400 pages of notes, fragments, anecdotes, character sketches, bits of dialogue, etc. I read through it, searching for common themes, and what jumped out at me was Nazis, Nazis, and more Nazis. I grew up surrounded by Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans, and for them, the war had never ended. This became the heart of the book.
Yes, Bobby in Naziland began as a memoir, but for reasons both practical and personal, it turned into a novel. And now, as I appear to be coming down the home stretch, I’m reminded every day of the William Faulkner quote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And Faulkner didn’t even have Facebook.
If you've read Beaver Street, then you're familiar with a character I call "Izzy Singer," a magazine editor and "porno intellectual" who took me under his wing when I went to work for Swank Publications. Izzy, as I explained in the book, showed me that pornography could be "a form of high art that required specialized knowledge and talent to produce."
Last year, I wrote about how Izzy, writing under the pseudonym "Irv O. Neil," had begun publishing on Kindle his short stories about female domination. And I said that one story in particular, "Learning to Be Cruel," had shocked me because Irv/Izzy was clearly writing from the heart, and the story gave me the feeling that he may personally enjoy having sexy young women treat him in the degrading manner that he so graphically and realistically described.
Over the past year, Irv/Izzy has published a number of other such stories on Kindle and has begun to attract some well-deserved attention. This week, along with three other fetish writers, he appeared on a Blog Talk Radio show, In Bed with Dr. Sue. For nearly two hours, they discussed their craft, the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, and took calls from listeners. It’s an interesting look into one of the darker corners of the publishing biz and a rare opportunity to hear a Beaver Street character speak. You can listen here.
It's interesting that a number of sites primarily devoted to horror, like The Bloodsprayer and Shu-Izmz, have taken such a liking to Beaver Street. Now you can add Little Shoppe of Horrors to that group. The venerable film mag--they've been around for 40 years--has run a delightful review of my investigative memoir in their latest issue, #29. It almost sounds as if it could be yet another rebuke to the hatchet job posted on Review 31 last month. That rather unpleasant critique put forth the opinion that, though Beaver Street was basically an anti-feminist piece of shit, certain low-minded individuals might find it "titillating."
Since the LSoH review is not available online, I'll take the liberty of quoting the last paragraph in full:
“If you are looking for some titillation, this isn’t the book for you. If you want to read about people, situations, a time and place in an industry that was looked down upon by many people (while many secretly gobbled up the magazines), this is a gem of a read. You won’t find yourself embarrassed reading it. You will find yourself fascinated by the cast of characters. This is a book both men and women would enjoy (even if the women were only trying to find out why men would even have been interested in that crap!)”
Well said, LSoH! Now I’ve got to go out and track down a copy.
If you happen to run a sex shop or "intimate apparel" store, then you're probably familiar with the trade magazine StorErotica. This is a serious publication that gets into nuts-and-bolts retailing issues like maximizing profits, store security, and hot new products. Well, I'm tickled pink to report that in the magazine's Hot Products section, among the James Deen endorsed dildos, they've listed Beaver Street, describing it as "an interesting and witty look at pornography from the early '70s through late '90s."
Considering chains like Barnes & Nobel have been less than eager to stock Beaver Street in their remaining brick-and-mortar stores, I couldn't think of a better place for my "intriguing" (as StorErotica calls it) investigative memoir to be sold. I mean why should Fifty Shades of Grey, which I noticed is in the window of my local Pleasure Chest, have all the fun? Isn't it possible that people who buy Doc Johnson vibrators are also interested in quality, thought-provoking literature?
So, I’d encourage all erotic products entrepreneurs to take StorErotica’s advice and order Beaver Street today. It’s the book that carries both the Vanity Fair and Erotic Review seal of approval. How can you go wrong?
Before Hurricane Sandy plunged me into 104 hours of pre-industrial living, and a certain election restored the tiniest glimmer of hope in American democracy's ability to function, I was, as I recall, writing about the vagaries of the book business.
On the British site Review 31, a critic that one of my more eloquent defenders described as "a tyro reviewer with a political ax to grind" had subjected Beaver Street to its first hatchet job. What I never got around to talking about is the upside of having your book trashed in an inaccurate and inherently dishonest manner: It sparked an online debate that ended up bringing more attention to Beaver Street than another rave review would have. It's the kind of debate that you just don’t see often enough these days--one that demonstrates the passion for books that still exists in this age of social media.
Also, the day the power came back on, a far more friendly British site, Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog, posted an essay I wrote a few months ago titled “My Book Promotion Philosophy.” The gist of that philosophy can be boiled down to one sentence: “Talk to anybody who wants to talk to you about your book for as long as they want to talk about it, and go anywhere people are interested in your work.”
In other words, I’m happy to report that the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive, though suspended for a week due to inclement weather, remains an ongoing operation.
The other day I responded to a review of Beaver Street, by Kate Gould, posted on a British site, Review 31. I took Gould to task for what was essentially a dishonest review, but limited my criticism to the review's most blatant and verifiable misstatement: "Rosen excluded female pornographers entirely from his history." Female pornographers, I said, are one of the book's main subjects.
Another critic, Neil Chesanow, has now taken this one step further, posting on the Review 31 site a detailed deconstruction of the review's inherent dishonesty. Chesanow's critique, in my opinion, is far more interesting and informative than the review itself. In fact, it does what Gould's review should have done in the first place: It provides an accurate picture of what Beaver Street is about.
Since Chesanow's piece might get lost among the other comments, I'm posting it here in its entirety.
By Neil Chesanow
It is a pity that a tyro reviewer with a political ax to grind saw fit to trash a funny, witty, engaging, informative history/memoir of the modern pornography industry because it wasn’t the feminist screed she had absolutely no right to hope it would be. As a result, her review is much more about her than it is about the book: a mark of rank amateurism.
Ms. Gould announces her misgivings about the porno industry early on. That alone should have disqualified her from reviewing the book; she lacks the objectivity necessary to write a bona fide review. She writes, for example, that she had hoped “Rosen’s account of the industry might engage intelligently with such issues” as “consent and the way in which porn teaches boys to view and treat women.”
If Ms. Gould knew a little bit more about feminist history, however, she would know that such a book—in fact, a whole flock of them—has already been written, primarily by feminists in the 1970s and 1980s, by women (and some men) who were mainly members of the radical feminist group Women Against Pornography. They included Susan Brownmiller, Adrienne Rich, Grace Paley, Gloria Steinham, Shere Hite, Lois Gould, Robin Morgan, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and the incomparable Andrea Dworkin, who maintained, among other bizarre notions, that all sex is rape.
There is no need for yet another of these books, and Mr. Rosen’s publisher, Headpress, would surely have rejected a manuscript along the lines that Ms. Gould would have liked to see because it has been done (and done, and done), and the desire for such a book today, even among the pathetically small number of women left who still consider themselves card-carrying feminists, is next to nil.
The subtitle of Mr. Rosen’s book, A History of Modern Pornography, Ms. Gould insists on taking literally in order to score her own points. In fact, Beaver Street is a memoir through which history is interwoven, and this is evident on the very first page. Ms. Gould writes that Mr. Rosen is “heavily biased” and “unable or unwilling to consider the existence or validity of any opinion other than his own.” Well, yes, because, you see, that is what a memoir is. Ironically, the same could be said of Ms. Gould’s review.
Ms. Gould unfairly takes Mr. Rosen to task for asserting that porn actress Traci Lords transformed “the ‘young girl’ into an object of such intense fascination, it’s now the single most profitable sector of the porno-industrial complex.” Mr. Rosen has scapegoated Ms. Lords, Ms. Gould contends, because “paedophilia is as old as time.” Yes, yes, but the porno-industrial complex, about which Mr. Rosen writes, is not as old as time, it is a recent invention, and its emergence roughly coincides with Mr. Rosen’s entry into it, which is precisely what makes his perspective on that industry valuable. It would be lovely to have a reviewer who could get such basic facts straight.
Ms. Gould snarkily sums up that “if you're looking for a dude’s take on smut mags, Beaver Street might be quite titillating.” Unfortunately, though, it seems she does not understand what the word titillating means: pleasantly stimulating, exciting, and erotic. Beaver Street is none of these things. Mr. Rosen’s deep ambivalence and frequent disgust with what he was doing during his porno years precludes that. Yes, the book mentions gangbangs and all manner of sexual acts, but none of these are lovingly described in salacious detail, not even Mr. Rosen’s account of his brief romantic relationship with a porno actress, which is tender and tawdry all at once—fascinating, yes, but erotic, no.
Ms. Gould is free to dislike Mr. Rosen’s book, but when one reviews a book for a public audience, one has a responsibility to review the work fairly on its own terms, not on a completely different set of purely solipsistic and irrelevant terms idiosyncratic to the reviewer. Ms. Gould fails to live up to this responsibility. Instead of serving us, the readers, she uses her review as opportunity to serve herself. Her review is titled “Masturbation Fodder.” And that is exactly what it is: not the book, the review.
A good question, if I say so myself. I mean why am I devoting all this time to blogging and tweeting and Facebooking and doing live events and answering in detail probing questions from websites that I’d never heard of a couple of months ago? The short answer is: I believe in Beaver Street; I think it’s a book that’s worth bringing to the attention of a wider audience beyond those who might normally be counted on to buy a book about the pornography industry. If this wasn’t the case, I couldn’t have written Beaver Street in the first place. And if I want to survive as a writer, then I really have no choice. This is what has to be done.
It is, of course, a very different media environment now than it was in 1999 and 2000, when I began promoting Nowhere Man. There was no social media then and I didn’t know what a blog was. And everything was less fragmented; if somebody wrote an article about Nowhere Man or reviewed it, a lot more people would see it, and it would invariably lead to more coverage. That rarely happens anymore. With Beaver Street, even a major article in a high-profile magazine will lead to a couple of sales, a burst of online activity for a day, and then it’s forgotten, washed away by the incoming tide of the 24-hour news cycle.
So what have I accomplished in the 18 months that I’ve been promoting Beaver Street in two countries? Well, in the U.K., where the book was published in 2011, Beaver Street does appear to be firmly entrenched on Amazon, taking up permanent residence in their top 20 books on pornography, and making regular forays to the #1 spot in that category, which includes such heavy hitters as Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star.
As for the U.S., despite a recent blizzard of rave reviews, the struggle continues. But I’ve not yet begun to fight.
Robert Rosen, Rew Starr, and the “Who,” Outlaw Bobby Steel.
Yesterday, I returned to ReW & WhO? for my second dose of Rew's Warholian "15 minutes of fame." I talked about Beaver Street. I talked about Nowhere Man and John Lennon. I talked about Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists. I talked about Bobby in Naziland. I talked about a skeleton in my closet that may surprise even some of you who think you know me well. And I had a blast. But enough talk. Let's go to the videotape!
Normally, I'd never intentionally post a link that that takes you Nowhere. But I'm making an exception today. If you're reading this before 2 P.M. Eastern Time, the following link to a site called Indies Unlimited will take you to a blank page. But if you're reading it after 2 P.M., then it will take you to my essay on how Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, a book that was rejected by everybody before it was finally published by a tiny independent press that operated out of tenement basement on New York's Lower East Side, became an international bestseller. Why is Indies Unlimited running this piece today? Because it's October 9, John Lennon's birthday. The former Beatle would have been 72.
Which is also why tomorrow, October 10, at 4 P.M. Eastern Time, I'll be returning to ReW & WhO?, the internet TV show that’s broadcast live from Otto's Shrunken Head in New York City. Rew and I will be talking about Lennon, Beaver Street, and skeletons in my closet. It's a lot to jam in to the "15 minutes of fame" that Rew bestows upon each guest. But Rew and I are pretty good at jamming. So, if you find yourself in front of a computer, please tune in. Or, if you find yourself in New York, please join us in the back room of Otto's, and help us celebrate the life of John Lennon.
Tomorrow, October 9, is John Lennon's birthday; he would have been 72, a numerologically significant number for the ex-Beatle: 7+2=9. (If you need further explanation, please refer to my Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, specifically the chapter titled "The Book of Numbers.")
This year, to celebrate Lennon, on Wednesday, October 10, I'll be returning to ReW & WhO?, the internet TV show with the Warholian premise that each guest receives 15 minutes of fame. The New York Times describes the show as a quirky blend of "live musical performances and interviews" featuring guests who are "a broad spectrum of East Village talent ranging from drag queens to lounge acts to published authors to museum curators."
In addition to talking about how, more than 30 years ago, I was given Lennon’s personal diaries to transcribe and edit, I’ll also be talking about my new book, Beaver Street, and Rew will be asking me about skeletons in my closet, because that’s what Rew does. Last year I told her that I don’t have any skeletons in my closet. “I put them all in my books,” I said. When she insisted that I divulge something, I told her about my “experiment in participatory journalism” that I describe in Beaver Street: posing for an X-rated photo shoot. So I guess I better do some research and find another good skeleton.
You can watch the live broadcast, from 4-6 P.M. Eastern Time, here. Or, if you’re in the New York area, you’re welcome to join the studio audience in the back room of Otto’s Shrunken Head at 538 East 14th Street.
October has always been a good month for me, publicity-wise. It was in October, 13 years ago, that the first item about my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, appeared in Entertainment Weekly magazine, and ignited a firestorm of publicity that put the book on best-seller lists in five countries.
Judging by what happened yesterday, this October appears to be keeping true to form. The day began with an excellent piece in Adult Video News about banned books in general and the Banned Book Week event I'll be participating in tonight, at 8:00, in New York City, at 2A in the East Village. I've never before taken part in a group reading with a porn star, so this should be both interesting and raucous. The porn star, Lisa Ann, best known for playing "Serra Paylin" in the Hustler video series, will be reading from Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. I'll be reading from The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger. And it's FREE. See the full lineup here.
Then the day ended with The Bloodsprayer posting part 2 of my epic Beaver Street interview. If you’re undecided about whether or not to come tonight, allow me, as I did with part 1, to boil down part 2 to the top 5 pull quotes.
“In the 60-odd pages Traci Lords devotes to porn in her book, in virtually every case she leaves out the Five Ws—who, what, where, when, and why—saying she was drunk and stoned the whole time and forgot everything that happened.”
“A normal company would have put Mario Puzo’s and Stan Lee’s typewriters in a glass case and employees would have been required to genuflect every time they walked by. But at Swank, it appeared as if the Goodman family didn’t want Martin Goodman’s sacred name sullied by the stench of his son’s smut.”
“The amateur exhibitionists are putting the professional studs and starlets out of business.”
“I say in the Beaver Street prologue that I wrote the book ‘to understand the cumulative psychic effect of having spent 192 months immersed in XXX and wondering if I’d ever get out alive.’ So, yes, writing it was cathartic.”
With any luck at all, I’ll be equally provocative tonight. Hope to see you at 2A.
A classic interview with Kate Copstick and Jamie Maclean of the Erotic Review.
In my career as an author, I've been fortunate that a lot of journalists have wanted to ask me questions about the books I've written. With Nowhere Man alone, I've done approximately 300 interviews since the book was published in 2000. I found that after the first 50 or so, I was rarely asked a question that I'd never been asked before.
I'm still in the early stages of this process with Beaver Street; I've done about 20 interviews so far, and still find myself surprised by questions. What I like about interviews, especially with writers who've actually read the book, is that their questions give me a precise sense of what people are most interested in. Their questions provoke me and make me think about things in news ways. For me, this kind of communication is the entire point of writing books.
Last week, a writer who goes by the pen name J. D. Malinger posted on The Bloodsprayer a very positive Beaver Street review, “Memoirs of an Editor of Pleasure.” He was so taken with the book that he’s now in the process of interviewing me. Malinger, who in his real life is a trained historian, has been asking me the kind of questions that don’t lend themselves to glib, offhand answers—questions about such things as misanthropy and misogyny in the porn biz. This interview, in fact, has been taking up most of my time the past couple of days, and I’m sure the end result will be epic. So consider this advance notice. Someday soon, there’s going to be one hell of an interview posted on The Bloodsprayer. Look for it.
Over the past two weeks, Bryan "Shu" Schuessler has been paying a lot of attention to Beaver Street on his site, Shu-Izmz, which, as he delicately puts it, has an affinity for "boobs, blood, and bush." Apparently, my investigative memoir about the porn industry is just what he's been looking for. He gave Beaver Street his highest recommendation, calling it in his review "a fascinating peek inside a world of sex, indulgence, and exhibitionism."
Recently, Shu interviewed me for Shu-Izmz Radio. Our extensive conversation, originally broadcast on Core of Destruction Radio, is now available as a podcast, which you can download here. We talk about pornography, politics, John Lennon, Nazis, and writing.
It takes me about a half hour to warm up to Shu, and to relax. But once I do, listening to this interview is like listening to a couple of old friends talking on the telephone. It’s very cool, so please check it out.
About a month ago, I noted that Amazon U.S. had reduced the price of the paperback edition of Beaver Street to $13.57 from its usual $19.95. This discount lasted all of four hours before Beaver Street returned to being one of the very few books on Amazon not discounted at all, not even by a penny. Why Amazon is doing this is hard to say. To call the decision-making process at this Internet monolith "opaque" would be an understatement. Most likely, they're trying to drive consumers to buy the Kindle edition, which is usually available for around $9.98, half off the cover price.
I also noticed that another significant discount briefly kicked in about a week ago, to coincide with my appearance at the Book House, in Albany. Perhaps this is Amazon's way of insuring that if anybody buys a copy of Beaver Street, it's not going to be from a brick-and-mortar store, where the book always sells for the full price.
I am aware that in these absurd economic times, a lot of people simply don’t want to spend $19.95 (plus tax) on any book, even one that they really want to read. So, if you’re one of those people who’ve been hesitating to buy Beaver Street due to the price, let this serve as a reminder that Amazon does occasionally offer the book at a significant discount, but the sale never lasts very long. All I can suggest is check the Amazon page often, and if you see Beaver Street marked down, grab it.
And if twenty bucks isn’t a big deal to you, please buy your Beaver at a real store, like Shakespeare’s or McNally Jackson in New York City, Powell’s in Portland, Left Bank or Apop in St. Louis, Quimby’s in Chicago, or the aforementioned Book House.
The positive Beaver Street reviews keep coming from all sectors of the cultural spectrum, and the latest one, "Memoirs of an Editor of Pleasure," from The Bloodprayer, by (ahem) J.D. Malinger, can best be described as "intellectual lowbrow." The site's slogan is "all the filth that’s fit to publish" (lowbrow). But Malinger describes himself as "a historian by training" (intellectual).
Malinger says that I tell my story with "charisma and charm" and that Beaver Street is "incredibly thoughtful, engaging and entertaining." His only quibble, and he makes clear that it's simply a matter of taste, is my distaste for editing "plumper" mags. Malinger, you see, is a "chubby chaser," and he's glad that the porn industry has at long last acknowledged the existence of such women.
(Note to Malinger: in celebration of Banned Book Week, I’ll be reading from The Catcher in the Rye on Thursday, October 4, 8:00 P.M. at the 2A Bar, 25 Avenue A, in New York City. Thought you might be interested.)
In other Beaver Street news, this Sunday, September 23, at 1 P.M. Eastern Time, Bryan “Shu” Schuessler will be talking to me on Core of Destruction Radio about such things as pornography, politics, John Lennon, Nazis, and writing. Hope you can tune in.
Here's a brief rundown of the events of the past day:
Last night, I talked to Bryan Schuessler, who'd recently posted an enthusiastic Beaver Street review on his site Shu-Izmz. In the course of our extensive conversation, we covered a slew of topics that included pornography, politics, John Lennon, Nazis, and writing. The interview will be broadcast this Sunday, September 23, on Core of Destruction Radio and will also be available as a podcast. Check their site for details.
The review of About Cherry that I posted here yesterday came to the attention of a number of people on Twitter, including the film's co-writer, porn star Lorelei Lee, who retweeted the last line: "Guaranteed to piss off Gail Dines." Among other things, I said that About Cherry was the best movie about the porn industry since Boogie Nights. Then, out of curiosity, I read a few other critiques, and was surprised to see how savagely critics had trashed the film. The Hollywood Reporter, for example, called About Cherry "dramatically feeble and fraudulent." Well, obviously I disagree, and I can say with some authority that this particular critic doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about. Bring on the controversy, baby!
A site called Indies Unlimited asked me to write a guest blog about how my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, became an international bestseller. My essay will run on Lennon’s 72nd birthday, October 9, and you can read it here after it goes live at 2 P.M. Eastern time.
Finally, please remember to visit Talk Story TV tonight at 9 P.M. Eastern Time for my live chat with Julia Widdop about Beaver Street. The technical problems we experienced last week appear to have been solved.
Since I tend not to write anything more substantial than a tweet when I'm traveling, this will be my last blog post until Monday. I'm leaving for Albany, NY, on the Megabus (who could resist the price?) tomorrow morning for my Beaver Street event at the Book House, on Friday, September 14, at 7 P.M. So, if you're in the Albany area and in the mood for a provocative discussion about pornography, please do drop by. I see that according to the "What's Happening in Literary Circles" listings in the Albany Times Union, I'm up against Vijay Prashad, at the Oakwood Community Center, where he'll be discussing his book Uncle Swami. He's charging five bucks. My event is free. It's a tough choice, I know, but I really do hope to see you at the Book House.
For those of you not in the Albany area, one more reminder about tonight: At 9 P.M. Eastern Time, I’ll be available for a live Internet chat hosted by Julia Widdop, of Talk Story TV. AMA, as they say, especially if you’ve read one or both of my books.
I knew from the outset that if Beaver Street was going to find an audience that went beyond the literary "underground," then I was going to have to bring it to people's attention reader by reader, blog by blog, event by event. And this is exactly what I've been doing since the book was first published in the U.K., in April 2011.
I'm happy to say that the past couple of weeks this strategy has been bearing fruit. A series of interviews and reviews have, indeed, sprung up in cyberspace, and today the deluge continues. Allow me to bring your attention to the two latest Beaver Street reviews.
The first is on a site called, appropriately enough, Bookgasm, the brainchild of Rod Lott, an Oklahoma City-based journalist who also writes for the alt-weekly there, the Oklahoma Gazette. In his appreciative critique, Lott, who says he’s fascinated by the porno world, calls Beaver Street “a smart book on a really sleazy venture.” I will vouch for the accuracy of that statement.
The second review can be found on Shu-Izmz, a site that takes you deep inside the id of its creator, Bryan Schuessler. Though Schuessler is primarily devoted to horror films, he’s also a fan of adult entertainment, and his enthusiasm for Beaver Street is infectious. The book, he says, is “a fascinating peek inside a world of sex, indulgence, and exhibitionism.” From the outset, I prayed that Beaver Street would find its way into the hands of a reader like Schuessler.
Before I go, let me again remind you to please join me for a live chat with Julia Widdop on Talk Story TV on Wednesday, September 12, 9 P.M. Eastern Time; and for a Beaver Street reading and signing at the Book House in Albany, NY, on Friday, September 14, at 7 P.M.
Even more common than the practice of authors paying for rave reviews, which I discussed yesterday, is the practice of authors anonymously trashing competitors' books. My John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, seems to be a magnet for such attacks, probably because, for the most part, I'm competing with a collection of vicious hacks.
One such review, titled "Worst Book Ever!" was posted on Amazon U.K. soon after Nowhere Man was published. "This book is just a bunch of lies," the anonymous critic (whose identity is transparent) wrote. "If I could rate this book 0 stars I would, but the computer makes you rate it 1 star and up. I think Robert Rosen should read [name redacted]'s books. Maybe he will get some sense knoked (sic) into him." He then posted a similar review on Amazon U.S., this time referring to his own book as "masterful."
I learned a long time ago that such critiques can help sell a book, provided that there are enough positive reviews to balance them out. Hatchet jobs make books seem interesting and controversial. Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, has 3,800 one-star reviews to go along with its 4,700 five-star reviews.
Yesterday, I also said that I never have and never will pay for a review. On one occasion, though, I have gone over to the dark side and anonymously trashed another author’s book. But it wasn’t a competing author and it was a special case, the first of its kind: A high-profile conspiracy theorist published a book implicating me in a CIA-backed plot to murder John Lennon.
I remember standing in a bookstore in Chicago, the week that Nowhere Man was scheduled to be published, reading this book in a state of shock and horror, and wondering how anybody who called himself a journalist could a) believe such a thing, and b) publish it without speaking to me first.
A few months later I got the brilliant idea to post an anonymous one-star review of this book on Amazon. What I wrote, though, was completely true: “Not only is this book so murkily written that it borders on unreadable, but the author offers not a shred of concrete evidence to support his paranoid fantasy—that the CIA was behind the death of every one of the [10 rock stars mentioned in the subtitle]. This is trash fiction masquerading as investigative journalism.”
Naturally, the author guessed who was behind this review and accused me on his blog of viciously attacking and ridiculing him.
Beaver Street has yet to be anonymously trashed by a competing author. Perhaps that’s because it’s usually porn stars who write books about pornography, and your average porn star has more integrity than your average conspiracy theorist or Beatles biographer. Or maybe porn stars just have better things to do.
It happens to the best of them. Herman Melville, for example. Moby Dick, published to mixed reviews in 1851, didn't find a lot of readers in Melville's lifetime and wasn't recognized as a great book till long after Melville was dead. I've heard writers say (though not recently) that they're writing for future generations.
I was never much into the idea of "making it big" after I was dead. I mean really, what's the point in spending years writing a book that nobody reads when you're alive? Yes, I write for money, but the thing that keeps me going day after day, especially during those long stretches between fat (and not so fat) paychecks, is a primal need to communicate, which I'm not counting on being able to do from beyond the grave.
That's why I've always done everything possible to bring my books to the attention of people who might enjoy reading them while I’m still here. My philosophy has always been: Talk to anybody who wants to talk to you about your book for as long as they want to talk about it, and go anywhere people are interested in your work. I’m the only American writer I know who’s traveled to Chile to do book promotion, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself.
Since 2000, when my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, was published, I’ve done more than 300 interviews, treating journalists from the most obscure websites as if they were Oprah. Cause you just never know. In fact, I’ve turned down only one interview request ever—from a Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorist who believes I’m the Zionist-funded CIA spymaster who gave the order to whack Lennon.
But there’s one thing I’ve never done and never will do to sell books: Pay for a positive review. A recent article in The New York Times pointed out that Amazon has been flooded with bogus five-star reviews written by critics who don’t read the books they’re reviewing and which authors are paying for: one review for $99, 50 for $999.
I wouldn’t do it because fake reviews sound fake; few people believe the reviews they read on Amazon; and even real five-star reviews (or rave reviews anywhere) don’t help much when it comes to selling books. (If they did, Beaver Street would be selling a lot better than it is.)
Which is to say, if I’m going to get more people to read Beaver Street while I’m alive, then I’m going to continue doing it the old fashion way—speak to anybody who wants to speak to me and go anywhere I’m invited.
Say what you will about the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Call it bloated. Call it amateurish. Call it Ishmael. The bottom line--and it's literally a bottom line--is that this series of S&M novels has sold nearly 50 million copies, and in so doing has made the book world safe for smut.
If it weren't for E. L. James, the British TV executive and mother of two, who began writing Fifty Shades as online fan fiction, I doubt that I'd have been invited to participate in a live Internet chat about Beaver Street on Talk Story TV on September 12 or to read from and sign my investigative memoir at the Book House, in Albany, NY, on September 14.
Fifty Shades of Grey and Beaver Street are both entertaining books about sex that contain explicitly pornographic passages. And there are, indeed, a number of S&M scenes in Beaver Street. But the similarities end there. Fifty Shades is fiction. Beaver Street is nonfiction that reads like fiction. Fifty Shades was written to arouse. Beaver Street, though arousing in many parts, was written to inform—to show the history of the late 20th century through a pornographic lens.
Ironically, critics have panned Fifty Shades of Grey and acclaimed Beaver Street across the cultural spectrum, from highbrow to lowbrow—which only goes to show that nobody cares what critics say. Which is to say, if, over the course of my lifetime, I can sell 1/100 of the number of books that James has sold, I’ll be a very happy author.
As the Labor Day weekend and the official beginning of the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive approaches, I'm posting a schedule of all the upcoming events that I'll be participating in over the next several weeks. This is as much for my own reference as for everybody who'd like to meet me, either virtually or in person.
Wednesday, September 12, 9 P.M. Eastern Time: Join me online for a live chat with Talk Story TV host Julia Widdop. I’ll be answering questions about Beaver Street, Nowhere Man, and pretty much anything else you want to ask me about.
Friday, September 14, 7 P.M.: I’ll be reading from and signing Beaver Street at the Book House, 1475 Western Avenue, in Albany, New York.
Thursday, October 4, 8:00 P.M.: In celebration of Banned Book Week, I, along with several other authors, will be reading passages from banned books at the 2A Bar, 25 Avenue A, in New York City. My passage, which I’ve not yet chosen, is from The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, a book I discuss in detail in Nowhere Man. I’ll post a link to this event as soon as one is available.
Wednesday, October 10, 4:00-6:00 P.M. Eastern Time:Rew Starr has invited me to join her again on ReW & WhO?, her long-running Internet TV show broadcast in front of a live studio audience at Otto’s Shrunken Head, 538 East 14th Street in New York City. I’ll be talking about John Lennon (October 9 is his birthday), Nowhere Man, Beaver Street, and possibly even my work in progress, Bobby in Naziland.
Here’s wishing everybody a great holiday weekend! I hope to see you somewhere soon!
Though more stuff about Beaver Street continues to pop up daily on the Internet, the latest being a questionnaire-type interview on author Pat Bertram’s site, I’d like to take a day off from promoting my investigative memoir and bring your attention to a book I just finished reading. Dublinesque (New Directions), by Enrique Vila-Matas (translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey), is a novel that I began on a train on the first day of my summer vacation, and I couldn’t put it down. Here's a capsule review:
A retired publisher of “serious literature,” who’s a recovering alcoholic about to turn 60, travels from his home in Barcelona to Dublin on Bloomsday to hold a funeral for the “Guttenberg Galaxy,” as he calls the age of printed books. Well done and deeply troubling, especially if you happen to be a writer who, a month before his 60th birthday, threw a launch party called Bloomsday on Beaver Street for his latest book.
Julia Widdop interviews Robert Rosen on Talk Story TV.
The Beaver Street autumn offensive is in full swing, and there's so much going on, I'm having a hard time keeping track of it all. So, let me start by sharing a video and two articles that have popped up in the past 24 hours.
The above interview, with Talk Story TV host Julia Widdop, will be broadcast Wednesday, September 12, at 9:00 P.M. Eastern Time. Click here to join Julia and me live in the chat room.
Author Benjamin Wallace is kind enough to devote a portion of his site to asking guest authors “20 Questions” that are more or less in the same vein as Vanity Fair’s “Proust Questionnaire.” These sometimes absurd inquires give writers an opportunity to show off their wit. You may decide for yourself how much wit I have.
Finally, here’s a great Beaver Streetreview by Marv Montag on his Magnificent Echo Chamber blog. Montag, who writes mostly about porn, had this to say about my book: “An excellent account of the author’s nearly two decades in the adult industry…. An intriguing and dirty [story] that’s well worth a read.”
And remember, if you’re in the Albany, NY area on September 14, come meet me at the Book House.
It's been quite some time since Amazon finally overcame their "computer glitches" and made the paperback edition of Beaver Street available to the reading public. But in the entire time the book has been for sale, Amazon had never offered it at a significant discount, as they do with virtually every other book they sell. Well, that's changed. Suddenly and for no apparent reason, Amazon has gone all Crazy Eddie on Beaver Street.
Those of you who once lived in the New York area and are of a certain age will remember Crazy Eddie as the stereo discount store whose omnipresent radio and TV commercials ended with the pitchman, Crazy Eddie Antar, screaming, “Our prices are insane!”
Though I wouldn’t call a 32 percent discount on the $19.95 cover price certifiably crazy, by Amazon standards, this is pretty nuts. Yes, it's true, you can now buy a paperback copy of Beaver Street for the unbeatably low price of $13.57, and if you’re an Amazon Prime member, shipping is free.
So, if you’ve been hesitant to buy Beaver Street because of the price, now’s your chance to act. And keep in mind that Crazy Eddie’s prices were so insane, he finally went bankrupt.
I found this post on Tumbler last night and it's the kind of thing that always gives me a much-needed jolt of inspiration. A complete stranger, who's obsessed with sex, loves Beaver Street. In other words, Kelly from Leicester is my perfect reader. Well, thank you, Kelly!
If you click on the picture, it takes you to a page that also includes a posting that went viral a few months ago--an excerpt from my other book, Nowhere Man: the Final Days of John Lennon.
In May, I discussed Beaver Street with Christy Canyon and Ginger Lynn on their Sirius XM radio show, You Porn. It was one of the most entertaining hours of radio I've ever participated in. Recently I came across this video of Christy in action as she discusses penis size with porn star Nikki Hunter on another Sirius XM show, Night Calls. This is totally filthy stuff, and though I can't say my interview with Christy got quite this down and dirty, it is a good example of Ms. Canyon's superior journalistic skills.
Penny Antine, whose nom de porn is Raven Touchstone, has written the screenplays for nearly 400 X-rated films. In short, she's an industry veteran who knows the business inside out, and is currently working on her own book about pornography. Antine wrote to me a few weeks ago to say that she'd read Beaver Street, and "enjoyed it immensely."
She then posted on Facebook’s Adult Films 1968-1988 page a brief review, which I’d like to share with you:
I read a very interesting book, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography. It’s not about the adult film industry but about the history of magazines like Swank, what they called “men’s” magazines back in the day. It was written by a terrific writer who worked in that biz for 16 years and tells it like it was. Lots of interesting tidbits in this book, i.e.—the man who created Swank and other such mags also created Marvel Comics. True. And Mario Puzo worked in that field while he was writing The Godfather. Yes. So anyone interested in this subject would enjoy this book. I got it through Amazon.
I took the summer off to concentrate on the new book I’m writing, Bobby in Naziland, and to recover from my exhausting battle with Amazon to make the print edition of Beaver Street available. For the past ten days I've been chilling with my family in Jonesport, Maine, in a house on the ocean, doing little more than eating too much lobster and blueberry pie as I watched the gothic fog roll in every day, and thought that if I stayed there long enough I'd start to write horror stories. But I wrote nothing while I was there, not even a postcard, and let me tell you, it feels good to go ten days and write absolutely nothing. Now that I'm home and feeling fully recovered, I'm more than ready to launch the Beaver Street autumn offensive, which I'll kick off by getting back in the blogging groove (though not necessarily every day just yet) and preparing for the first event since Bloomsday on Beaver Street.
On Friday, September 14, at 7 P.M., I’ll be reading and signing Beaver Street at the Book House in Albany, New York. And I can thank none other than E. L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, for this opportunity. Ms. James’s mega-blockbusting trilogy has made filth, especially of the S&M variety, palatable to the masses. In tribute to Fifty Shades, I will consider reading an S&M scene from my book. Though I’d like to point out that there is at least one major difference between James’s S&M and my S&M—Beaver Street is nonfiction. So, you 50 million S&M fans, if you’re in the Albany area and you like your S&M real, I hope to see you in September. I suspect you can all use a little literary discipline, if not necessarily a little bondage.
Until the official Bloomsday on Beaver Street video is available, these clips, shot by Bette Yee on her iPhone, will serve as a record of what happened at the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street, in New York City, on the extraordinary night of June 16, 2012, at the launch party for my investigative memoir Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography.
The MC (or “MC Supreme,” as I’ve come to call him) is Byron Nilsson. The videos above and below are in chronological order. If you were there, chances are you’re in one of these videos.
After reading Neil A. Chesanow’s Beaver Streetreview, Skip Slavic, a reader in Ohio, posted the following “comment” on Facebook. One can only hope that others agree.
Thanks to Mr. Chesanow’s fine review, this is a good place to say a few words: Beaver Street is indeed “splendid: elegantly written; well researched”—a completely enjoyable book. It does for the porn industry what Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels did for biker gangs, and that’s meant as a high compliment: the best personal, behind-the-scenes expose I’ve read since Hell’s Angels. The parts of the book that dealt with the comings (pardon the pun) and goings of the day-to-day travails of a working pornographer remind me very favorably of Henry Miller’s portrayal of life at the “Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company” [in Tropic of Capricorn]—the kind of giddy despair that comes through is disturbing… and brilliant. The discussion centering on the Lockhart Commission, Ed Meese, and Traci Lords should be required reading for anyone concerned about the lengths to which government will go to interfere in the personal lives of its citizens. In a nutshell, a really fine book, a remarkable story and an essential piece of history as well.
Yesterday I published a review of Beaver Street by Neil A. Chesanow that he’d posted on Amazon. I’d gotten in contact with Chesanow after reading the review, and the e-mail below is his response to some of my questions about his background and his expertise in writing about sex. It offers a good deal of insight into sex journalism, magazine publishing, and book publishing.
Since it’s late, I’ll save my excursion into the literature of porn for a future email. But I thought I might provide some perspective.
I wrote for the major women’s magazines from 1972 to 1996. My very first article, for Cosmo, was on sexual surrogates. I interviewed one on West End Avenue. I thought she had the hots for me. Sexual surrogates, by definition, are highly sexual irrespective of partners, but she wasn’t really my type and even though I was a tyro journalist, I felt it would be a gross violation of professional ethics to have sex with an interviewee.
But I have always been interested in writing about sex because it’s so difficult to write about. (That you made it seem so effortless is a big part of the brilliance of your book. It’s easy to take for granted, but writing about sex “in an acceptable way” is no mean feat.)
To flesh out my journalistic assignments, I started to contribute personal essays in, oh, the mid-1980s. I’m a self-abnegating person. The women’s magazines found that a man who could write about masculine issues of intense interest to women in a self-abnegating way was, I don’t know, aphrodisiacal, and I inadvertently found myself cast as a “man who could write for women.” It was a new thing, and for about two years, I owned it.
In that capacity, I wrote about a multitude of subjects, but most especially sex. If a man has sexual fantasies involving other women during sex, is it cheating? Do married men masturbate? (When Ellen Levine, whom you mentioned in a footnote in your book, who was then the editor of Redbook, suggested this to me, I just looked at her. I couldn’t believe she was serious. It turned out to be one of my best-read articles).
But I’ve always found sex to be the most fascinating area of journalistic inquiry because so much of it is unspeakable, when journalism is about telling all. And this is the perfect time to be writing about sex. Online pornography has driven a stake into the heart of normality as a concept and it was a stake that needed driving. Sex surveys on our sexual habits conducted by the University of Chicago and other august institutions are about as accurate as a tip from a racetrack tout.
I could not help but notice that you were published by a British publisher. That a book of this quality wasn’t published by an American publisher is a scandal. Maybe you’ll get a reverse sale—you deserve one—but still! And that’s because there are a half-dozen middle-class suburban matrons who do all the sex book buying in this country, and if they find something offensive, which they regularly do, bang: no one will publish you here.
In 1992, I sold Redbook (via articles editor Diane Salvatore, an up-and-coming lesbian novelist, with Ellen Levine’s blessing) an article on sexual swingers. I said I would take an objective anthropological approach and they agreed. On their dime, I visited swing clubs in Florida and California, attended parties (fully clothed, but with no notepad permitted), and did a great many interviews.
I came away with a lot of good stuff that I hadn’t seen before and haven’t seen since. A majority of male swingers experience erectile dysfunction for up to a year (after which they either get over it or drop out of the lifestyle) because of their inhibitions about performing in public.
A majority of women, upwards of 90 percent, most of whom have never had a lesbian encounter before, regularly if not primarily engage in girl-girl sex.
The whole idea of swinging is to recognize that people a) have a need for a stable relationship with a significant other; and b) have pansexual desires despite this commitment, and to enable the latter without destroying the former. Most of the time it doesn’t work. But once in a while it does work. Because I said that in the article, and refused to retract it, I was fired, after working for the magazine for 10 years.
So I wrote the research up in a book proposal. I do a very nice book proposal. In fact, this was the only book proposal of mine that found no buyer. It was the six suburban dowagers who control everything. AIDS was efflorescing. They found the subject repugnant and, given the current epidemiological climate, irresponsible.
That left me with your alternative: sell it in Britain (or Germany) and hope for a reverse sale. I considered it. But the advance I was offered was less than I made writing a single magazine article, and there was much expensive research left to be done, all, apparently, out of pocket. It wasn’t financially feasible. So I passed and continued on with my life.
Due to the lateness of the hour, I’ll respond to your literature inquiry at another time. However, while I’ve read some porn star biographies, I mainly read scholarly investigations, and those tend to be thin in metanoic insight. That’s why your book is so valuable: it humanizes the enterprise. Love it, hate it, or somewhere in between, this is something human beings do for the delectation of other human beings, and the financial scale of the enterprise strongly suggests that if we are to come up with an accurate definition of sexual normality (not normalcy—that term was introduced by Calvin Coolidge and never exceeded its political context), the quaint Victorian meaning of that must be entirely scrapped. Kinsey said, “If it feels good, it’s normal.” That seems to be about the size of it.
The following five-star review of Beaver Street, posted on Amazon a few days ago, was written by Neil A. Chesanow who, from 1972-1996, wrote about sex for the major women’s magazines, including, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Glamour, and Mademoiselle.
A Real Page Turner
Beaver Street is splendid: elegantly written; well researched; full of knowledge that only the author, who worked in porn, could have had; and funny. It’s not only a valuable addition to the literature on pornography (by “literature” I by no means mean to suggest quality; it’s by and large pretty dismal), but a model for how that literature could be written cum literature (no pun intended).
It’s fortunate that the author’s actual perspective just happens to be the perfect perspective to have for a book like this: ironic, bemused, amused, intrigued, titillated, but ultimately dispirited and disgusted. In short: everyman. And it works beautifully. It lets him use dirty words and say dirty things, and admit to doing some of those things, without ever causing us to lose sympathy with him as readers. That and his gentle, graceful writing style, plus the richness of factual detail and depth of insight that he offers, make for a wonderful book: a real page turner.
The first video to surface from Bloomsday on Beaver Street: 31 seconds of the author greeting the crowd.
Before I switch to summer hours and cut back on my daily posting frenzy so I can concentrate more on the book I’m working on, Bobby in Naziland, and rethink exactly how I’m going to reboot my Beaver Street promotional campaign after the Amazon book-banning fiasco, I’d like to take a few moments to reflect on the past month, which was exhausting, traumatic, and rewarding.
Yes, June did, indeed, mark the end of an absurd three-month battle with Amazon to make the paperback edition of Beaver Street available. The company added a “buy box” on June 5, and three weeks later they finally had the book in stock. By the end of the month, Beaver Street appeared to be selling at least a little. But there’s no getting around the fact that three months of lost Amazon sales was damaging. The question I now face is how to repair the damage, and I’m certainly open to suggestions.
The highpoint of the month, of course, was Bloomsday on Beaver Street, the New York launch event, on June 16, at the Killarney Rose. This celebration of banned books and literature that had been branded pornographic made for a great party, with surrealistic touches and an electric atmosphere. You can read about it here, here, here, here, and here.
For the time being, the above video is the only video I have from the event. It’s the first 30 seconds of my reading, as I introduce myself to the crowd, and then stop to adjust the microphone. What I was about to say before the video cut off is, “Beaver Street is what happens when a writer can’t decide it he wants to be a humorist, an investigative journalist, a novelist, or a memoirist.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Funny thing, the unconscious. Somehow you know things, but you don't know how you know them, or even that you do know them. That's what happened when I was looking at the calendar, trying to select a day for the New York Beaver Street launch. I knew I was going to have it in on a Saturday in June and I knew I was going to have it at the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street.
June 16 jumped out at me.
Yes, I knew it was Bloomsday, named for Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of the James Joyce novel Ulysses, which takes place in Dublin on June 16, 1904. I was in Dublin once on Bloomsday, and participated in the daylong festivities, which included readings from the book. So, I figured: Bloomsday, Irish bar on Beaver Street, people will read from the book—perfect.
But I didn’t realize until yesterday how perfect it was. That’s when I remembered something I’d known all along: In 1920, a literary magazine published an excerpt from Ulysses that contained a description of Bloom masturbating. He’s at the beach, pleasuring himself as he watches a young girl, leaning back and revealing her “beautifully shaped legs.”
Joyce describes Bloom’s orgasm: “And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind blank and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lovely! O so soft, sweet, soft!”
The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice considered this passage pornographic, took the matter to court, and succeeded in having Ulysses declared obscene and banned in the U.S. for 13 years.
Beaver Street has not actually been banned—though in the eyes of many attentive readers, Amazon’s failure to make the paperback edition available comes pretty close. And some critics have, indeed, branded the book “smut.” (Happily, most recognize it as literature.)
Bottom line: Celebrating the publication of a “dirty book” in an Irish bar on Beaver Street on Bloomsday is the way to go. And I hope to see you all there for Bloomsday on Beaver Street. It’s free and it could be fun.
Regular readers of this blog are aware that the paperback edition of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography has been unavailable directly through Amazon U.S. since its publication here last month. Though Amazon has made the Kindle edition available, and is allowing outside vendors to sell the paperback edition, they claim that they themselves do not have the right to sell the paperback edition in the U.S.
Since becoming aware of this problem, my publisher, Headpress, the distributor, SCB, and I have repeatedly told Amazon, by e-mail, by telephone, and by letter, that they do have the right to sell the book in the U.S.
Amazon continues to insist that they do not.
Yesterday, in fact, I received a phone call from a woman at Amazon Author Central. She told me that the reason Beaver Street does not have a “buy box,” as Amazon calls the button you click to buy the book directly from Amazon, is because Amazon does not have the right to sell the book in the U.S.
I told her that Amazon had received a letter from the distributor over a month ago confirming that they had full distribution rights for Beaver Street throughout North America. I read the letter to her.
The woman repeated that Amazon does not have the right to sell Beaver Street in the U.S.
The conversation went around in circles. I told her that dealing with Amazon was more frustrating than dealing with the IRS.
The woman gave me a case number: 34451451. She said that this number should be used in any future dealings with Amazon.
When I hung up the phone, I felt as if I’d just played out a scene in a Kafka novel—probably one that doesn’t have a buy button.
I know this much: When any corporation, large or small, is unable to solve simple problems quickly—and adding a buy button to Beaver Street is about as simple as it gets—it’s symptomatic of deep-seated systemic problems throughout the corporation.
I look forward to discussing case #34451451 with Amazon at the BEA next month.
I've often said that the live radio interview is my preferred form of book promotion. I've done hundreds of such interviews since 2000, when my first book, Nowhere Man, was published. Usually, I'm sitting at home, in New York, talking on the telephone. When the chemistry's right and the host has actually read the book, the interview can be like free-form jazz--it can go anywhere.
My May 10 appearance on Christy Canyon and Ginger Lynn’s Spice Radio show, You Porn, out of L.A., was memorable for many reasons. Christy, an author in her own right, had indeed read Beaver Street—the book was full of her notations in the margins. She was an excellent interviewer who knew how to make me feel comfortable, asked all the right questions, and let me answer them at length. She also had a good sense of pacing, knowing when to gently cut me off if I was going on too long. The show got off to a fine start when Christy showed me her astonishing breasts, and asked if I recognized them.
“Yes,” I said, “I remember them well… and they haven’t aged at all.” I then urged the show’s listeners to give her breasts a well-deserved round of applause.
It was towards the end of the show that a character from the book, “Henry Dorfman,” who in real life is professional actor Paul Slimak, called in as Erich von Pauli, the deranged Nazi character he plays in the Beaver Streetpromotional videos. Von Pauli had everybody in the studio cracking up, as he praised the book’s superior literary quality and threatened to launch his V-2 missiles if Amazon doesn’t get their act together and make the print edition available immediately.
The show went so well, and everybody had so much fun, the Spice Radio people have invited me back to appear today, at 3 PM (EST), on The Tiffany Granath Show, on Sirius-XM channel 102. A rotating panel of sex experts takes your calls on this “advice show,” as it’s described.
Well, I’m ready, and I’m looking forward to seeing you on the radio this afternoon.
The author busts sod with a pickax in the Santa Barbara sun. Photo by Mary Lyn Maiscott.
I've returned from California jetlagged, upside down, and out of sync. My plan is to spend the next few days easing into New York reality and writing more about my Book Soup reading and my appearance on Christy Canyon and Ginger Lynn's Sirius-XM radio show, which went so well, the Spice Radio people have invited me back to talk about Beaver Street on The Tiffany Granath Show tomorrow, at 3 PM (EST). But before I embark on a day of dental appointments, laundry, and dealing with insurance providers, I want to share with you the most important lesson I learned in L.A. about selling books: The book itself doesn't matter. What's important is how you look when you're selling it.
If you want to move product, the best thing to do is get out in the California sun, take off your shirt, and wield the biggest, most macho tool you can find. So that’s what I did. And yeah, I realize I need to work on my tan. But if I say so myself, this ain’t too bad for a middle-aged author who’s generally loathe to venture into the afternoon sun. I’ll let you know how it works.
I'm leaving for California tomorrow morning, and since I tend not to post, or do much writing of any kind, when I'm on the road, this will probably be the last Daily Beaver entry for a few weeks. So I'll take this opportunity to remind whoever's reading this blog of the upcoming events in L.A. and in New York when I get back, and the general state of Beaver Street since its U.S. publication last month.
Thursday, May 10, 1 P.M. (PST): I’ll be talking about Beaver Street on Christy Canyon and Ginger Lynn’s Sirius XM radio show, You Porn, channel 103. It’s a live call-in show and you can reach us at 1(800) 774-2388.
Saturday, May 12, 4 P.M.: I’ll be reading from “The Accidental Porn Star” chapter and signing Beaver Street at Book Soup, L.A.’s coolest bookstore.
Saturday, June 16, 7 P.M.: Please join me for the New York launch party, Bloomsday on Beaver Street, at the upstairs bar of the Killarney Rose at 80 Beaver Street. There will be live music and readings, and the spirit of James Joyce will be present.
The State of the Beaver: Amongst a flurry of extraordinary reviews, which you can access from the home page, and a selection as a Vanity Fair “Hot Type” pick, Beaver Street continues to slowly find its way into independent bookstores such as Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, Book Soup in L.A., Left Bank Books and Apop Records in St. Louis, and Shakespeare’s, St. Mark’s Books, and MacNally Jackson (this week) in New York. You can also get it a Barnes & Noble in both the paperback and Nook editions.
Sadly and frustratingly, the paperback edition remains unavailable through Amazon U.S. due to ongoing “technical problems.”
And that’s the Beaver Street story up to this point. See you in L.A.!
The other day, this ad for MAC Cosmetics, which appears in the June issue of Vanity Fair, was brought to my attention. To say the least, the similarities between the MAC image and the image that appears on the cover of Beaver Street are striking. Which is not to say that the Mad Men who created this ad were studying the Beaver Street cover--though I suppose it's possible that it influenced them unconsciously. It merely illuminates a point that I make in the Beaver Street prologue--that pornographic imagery has become an "ubiquitous cyber-force" that has "penetrated virtually every niche of the mainstream media." I know that when I look at this ad, I can't decide if I want to buy a tube of red lipstick or have oral sex.
Yesterday, I floated the idea of having a Beaver Street launch party at the Killarney Rose, at 80 Beaver Street, in New York, sometime in June, probably on a Saturday night. A number of people responded enthusiastically to this suggestion, and wanted to know the exact date so they could plan their lives accordingly. Though I wasn't going to set a date until after I return from L.A., in late May, a glance at the June calendar gave me an idea: Bloomsday, June 16.
June 16, 1904, is the day that the James Joyce novel Ulysses takes place in Dublin. And for the past 57 years, this day has been celebrated in Dublin and elsewhere, generally with readings from Ulysses, as the events of the novel and its protagonist, Leopold Bloom, are relived.
What better day to celebrate Beaver Street in an Irish bar with readings from the book and live music?
So, let me float that date—Saturday night, June 16—and see how that works, especially for the musicians and the people who want to perform dramatic Beaver readings. I think James Joyce would approve.
For years I've been thinking that when Beaver Street is published in the U.S., I'm going to have the New York launch party at the Killarney Rose, at 80 Beaver Street. This old Irish bar is not far from the spot on Beaver and Broad where I looked up one day and saw the street sign that gave me the title of the book. Though I've poked my head into the Killarney Rose a couple of time to make sure it really exists and is not a figment of my imagination, I've never sat at the bar and had a drink.
Yesterday, my friend Byron Nilsson was in town. Byron’s a writer with an expertise in computers whom I met on the Internet in the mid-90s when I was editing a few dozen porn mags, and he became a regular contributor to such distinguished titles as D-Cup, Sex Acts, and Plump & Pink. We decided to walk down to Beaver Street and have drink at the Killarney Rose.
We went to the upstairs bar (there’s another bar downstairs), which seemed like a cozy private club because there was only one other person sitting there. The Australian bartender, Michelle, greeted us as warmly as I’ve ever been greeted upon walking into a New York City bar. As she drew a couple of pints, she asked us why we’d come to the Killarney Rose. I told her that I’d written a book called Beaver Street and thought this might be the perfect place to have the launch party—there’s a great back room that seems ideal for readings. Michelle immediately summoned the owner, John Moran, who was enthused by the idea of a Beaver Street launch party, especially after I told him, “I’m going to invite everybody I know in New York.”
Moran said that he'd give my guests a good price on food and drink and that musicians would be able to plug in their amps and provide live entertainment.
I said that perhaps I could even persuade Headpress to kick in a couple of quid so we could have an open bar, at least for the first guests to arrive. (Are you reading, David?)
By the time we’d finished our beers, the friendly barmaid, Michelle, the woman sitting at the bar, and the owner were all eager to get their hands on a copy of Beaver Street.
So, here’s where it stands: I’m leaving for L.A. next week for the Book Soup event, and will be back towards the end of May. I’m thinking that early-to-mid June is the time to launch Beaver Street on Beaver Street. I’ll read from the book—the “dirty part,” of course. Mary Lyn Maiscott and guitarist extraordinaire Gary Hoopengardner will provide the music. And Byron, who’s also an actor, has volunteered to read from the book as if performing a Shakespearian monologue. Hell, anybody who wants to read from Beaver Street is welcome to come up to the microphone and show their stuff.
Everybody’s invited and I look forward to seeing you on Beaver Street in June.
As I peruse the digital archives of The Campus, the "straight" student newspaper at the City College of New York, I continue to find more coverage of my work on Observation Post (OP), the "avant garde" (as they describe it) newspaper at CCNY that I edited in 1974.
The lead story in this issue—“Buckley says kick out editors over ‘bigotry’”—from March 15, 1974, is about Senator James Buckley, arch-conservative of New York, and his reaction to a cartoon of a nun “using a cross as a sexual object” (as The New York Times delicately put it) that I’d run in OP. The students that he wanted to expel were the art editor who drew the cartoon as a response to his education at the hands of “sadistic nuns,” as he explained it, and me. Buckley called the cartoon “a vicious and incredibly offensive anti-religious drawing,” and demanded that the entire college press be censored because of it—in order to protect the civil rights of students who were offended by pornography.
I tell the complete story in Beaver Street in the chapter called “How I Became a Pornographer,” and you can read it here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
The other week I went to the opening of Consent, an exhibition at Apexart in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood. The show is about pornography and the artwork was strictly X-rated. In the course of the evening I, along with my copy of Beaver Street, were photographed by a roving paparazzi. You can check out all the photos at Whack Magazine and LynseyG.com. Consent runs until May 12.
I'm leaving for St. Louis tomorrow for the Beaver Street launch events at Left Bank Books and Shameless Grounds coffeehouse. I doubt I'm going to have time to blog every day, but I did want to do one more post before I plunge into the chaos of the road.
Byron Nilsson is a writer whom I met online in the mid-1990s when I was searching for someone to write a column for D-Cup magazine about the “pornocopia” of free X-rated material that had suddenly become available in cyberspace. Byron, a skilled journalist, an erudite pervert, and a computer expert, was perfect. So, I hired him, and he became one of my most reliable and frequent contributors, staying with me till the end.
To celebrate the US release of Beaver Street yesterday, Byron posted a piece on his blog that’s a combination review, memoir, and cultural/historical/political critique. To his credit, he does not shy away from commenting on the fact that Tea Party congressman Scott Garrett has been accepting campaign contributions from my former boss, Porn King Louis Perretta.
In the essay, “Protecting Us from the Evil of Protecting Us from Evil,” Byron describes Beaver Street as an “entertaining... well written... hands-on, first-person romp through the business of smut in the last part of the 20th century.” He also credits me with knowing how to “make words dance,” and with “grinding out some of the most amusing girl copy” he’s ever seen.
You can read the entire essay here. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing all you guys in St. Louie.
If I may elaborate on yesterday's blog post, about the PR person from a major publishing house who told a roomful of authors, "We turn down good books from people we think aren't good-looking enough": Part of what bothered me, and everybody else who was there that night, was the arrogance and self-satisfaction with which this woman made that statement. She said it in a tone that communicated, "That's the way it is. That's the way it should be. There's nothing wrong with it. And even if there were, there's nothing you can do about it."
Which raises a question that went unasked: When, exactly, did the publishing industry lose the ability to market books because they’re good, rather than because they were written by (or, more likely, ghostwritten for) young, pretty celebrities?
Today, of course, is the semi-official US publication day of Beaver Street—a good book, critically acclaimed in the UK, and written by an author who’s neither young, pretty, nor a celebrity in the Hollywood A-list sense of that word. (Though my name does appear in boldface in the current issue of Vanity Fair.) And I’d like very much to prove to whomever might be paying attention that my aesthetic and chronological shortcomings will not interfere with my ability to get out there and “move product,” if I may use such a term.
The idea of the writer as performer is often a contradiction in terms. Writers, in general, are solitary, introverted people who are very good at sitting alone in a room and listening to the voices in their head. Getting up in front of a roomful of strangers and reading from a book can be a difficult, even painful thing to do. The skills required to write a good book, which can take years of sitting alone in that room, are not the same skills needed to give the compelling live performance that's often necessary to sell that book, or to get a publishing deal in the first place.
And yet, in the publishing industry, which is undergoing its most wrenching changes since the invention of the printing press, more emphasis is put on a writer’s ability to promote a book after its published than his ability to write the book. Which goes a long way towards explaining why so many lousy books are published.
Several years ago, before the age of social media, I attended a seminar on book promotion sponsored by the Authors Guild. A distinguished panel of PR people, book editors, and very successful writers shared their thoughts with an auditorium full of published authors, many of whom were accomplished in their own right. The head of PR at a major corporate publisher was the first person to speak, and the first thing she said was, “We turn down good books from people we think aren’t good-looking enough.”
You could feel the air go out of the room.
What astonished me was the simple naked truth of this statement. I’d suspected for some time that this, or something like it, was the case, but I’d never heard it expressed so baldly, by a person in a position of authority. And I’m sure a lot of my fellow authors felt exactly as I did: I don’t look like a movie star. I may as well hang it up now.
I thought about Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, one of the best-selling books of all time. Puzo, whom I discuss at length in Beaver Street, was, to put it bluntly, ugly, overweight, and hated going on TV. I wanted to ask this PR woman if she’d have passed on The Godfather because Puzo wasn’t good looking enough. But the answer was self-evident.
Later, a ghostwriter asked the panel a question about promoting ghostwritten books. “Baby,” came the answer from a famous advice columnist, “you’re too good looking to be a ghostwriter. You need to write your own book.”
What became clear by the end of this eye-opening evening was that there are three things publishers are looking for in an author:
1) Somebody who’s young, good looking, and comes across well on TV, i.e., a “celebrity.”
2) Somebody who has their own TV show, a syndicated newspaper column, or a website that gets several hundred thousand hits a day.
3) It helps to have written a book, but if the author has everything in numbers one and two, it’s not really necessary. That’s what ghostwriters are for.
I bring this up now because Beaver Street is being published in America this week, or so I’m told, and as I prepare to leave for St. Louis for the various launch events, the promotion angle is very much on my mind. I’m not young. I’m not beautiful. I’m not a trained performer. But I’ve written a good book, I’ve been doing this promotion thing for a dozen years, and I know, at the least, I give good interview. So, I’m just going to go out there and do the best I can.
Matt Holliday, of the world champion Cardinals, is not the only Holliday in St. Louis, and in certain circles he's not even the most famous. Kendra Holliday, Sex Positive St. Louis Co-Founder, editor of The Beautiful Kind (TBK), and Hustler model, is giving the left fielder a run for the money, at least in the sexual underground, and up to a couple of months ago I didn't know that St. Louis had one--even though I've been a regular visitor to the city for over 20 years.
Kendra Holliday, who’s recently posted a series of rather provocative “birthday suit” pictures, is the reason I’m coming to St. Louis to launch Beaver Street next week. When we did our three-part Beaver Street interview for TBK—part three is now reposted on the Sex Positive St. Louis homepage—I knew that I’d found a kindred spirit, a woman who I like to describe as the Annie Sprinkle of the Midwest.
A launch event, April 3, at Shameless Grounds, hosted by Kendra, and focusing on Beaver Street’s pornographic aspects, was a natural. And when the legendary independent bookstore Left Bank Books invited me to do a reading the following night, in which I’ll explore the book’s literary qualities, there was no way I could stay away from the “twenty-seventh city,” as Jonathan Franzen calls it. (Twenty-seven is my lucky number.)
So, St. Louis, here I come. And I’d like to personally invite Matt Holiday to expand his horizons and come to both Beaver Street events. In St. Louis, the Hollidays should stick together, especially on Beaver Street day.
As I write this, cartons of the US trade paperback edition of Beaver Street are headed for various warehouses and bookstores across America. The official pub date is March 28, and that should more or less conform to reality. At least one carton has already landed in St. Louis, where I'll be doing two launch events, at Shameless Grounds coffeehouse, on April 3, and Left Bank Books, on April 4. I've not yet seen the US edition of my book, but I have been rehearsing the passages I plan to read. It's under control
Also, as you may have noticed, I’ve been blogging a lot lately—because I’ve had a number of things I’ve wanted to say, and because it’s now the law of the publishing world that authors who have a book coming out must blog, tweet, and post on Facebook as much as possible—preferably every hour. They tell me this helps sell books, and maybe it does.
I will try to keep you up to date with one blog post, etc. every weekday. But I also plan to give myself weekends off for good behavior. I have other books to write, you see, like Bobby in Naziland, which I’ve been working on for some time, and I have only so much creative energy. We can talk about it when I get to St. Louis, where I’m very much looking forward to seeing you, whoever you are.
Certain people whose opinions I respect have been questioning one of the ongoing stories I've been covering on this blog--the fact that New Jersey Tea Party congressman Scott Garrett has been accepting campaign contributions from my former boss, the porn publisher Louis Perretta.
It has been pointed out that I sound self-righteous in these postings, like Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist who often writes about child prostitution and human slavery. It has been pointed out that the Garrett-Perretta story is not a “mini-Watergate,” as I’ve described it, because there’s nothing illegal about a porn king donating money to a Tea Party politician. And it has been said that I’m a hypocrite because I once worked in pornography and that I took Perretta’s money for the nearly seven years that he employed me.
To respond to the last point first: Yes, I worked in porn for 16 years, and I endured because I needed a job, and porn paid a living wage. Like many of my colleagues, I saw it as a “survival job,” a way to pay the bills as I continued to pursue what I really wanted to do—write books. As I say in Beaver Street, much of what I did disgusted me, but I was able to carry on because I had a strong stomach. I don’t dislike porn; I dislike the kind of porn I was doing—schlocky, grind-it-out-as-fast-as-you-can, anti-erotic porn. If criticizing the people who grow wealthy by splattering this kind of stuff all over the planet while grudgingly paying me a living wage makes me a self-righteous hypocrite, then so be it. I’m a self-righteous hypocrite.
And, of course, it’s true that it’s not illegal to donate money to political candidates. What makes the Garrett-Perretta story scandalous on a mini-Watergate level is the mind-boggling hypocrisy of a candidate from a political party that wants to destroy the porn industry accepting contributions from one of the largest producers of hardcore pornography in America. Which begs a number of questions: Why is Perretta giving money to people who want to put him out of business? Because he likes the Republican platform of tax cuts for the rich and fuck everybody else? And what if the Vatican’s own anti-porn candidate, Rick Santorum, gets the nomination? Will Perretta give him money, too, just to help defeat the foreign-born, Muslim-socialist who currently occupies the White House?
I could go on indefinitely dissecting this kind of lunacy, but there’s no need to. Because the story of corrupt conservative Republicans who will stop at nothing in their efforts to destroy the porn industry is at the heart of Beaver Street.
I will say, however, in the course of my career, I’ve always written what I thought to be the truth without worrying if the people I was writing about would like what I had to say. That was the case with my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man. That was the case with Beaver Street. And that will continue to be the case with this blog.
Not all porno kings are like Larry Flynt, Al Goldstein, Hugh Hefner, and Bob Guccione--famous, self-made men, American icons who reveled in their sleaze, took pride in their product, and spared nothing in their quest to produce the best possible erotica and/or filth. There's another class of porno king, as rich as any of the above men, but virtually unknown as pornographers outside the "adult entertainment" industry.
These anonymous porn mongers have five things in common: They’re all men. They were all born to wealth. They all used their wealth to create pornography empires. They all increased their wealth immensely by producing pornography on an industrial scale. And they all went to great lengths to publicly portray themselves as respectable businessmen, unconnected to XXX.
Having worked for three of these men, I’ve written about them at length in Beaver Street. They are Carl Ruderman, former publisher of High Society magazine and the father of “free” phone sex; the late Charles “Chip” Goodman, former president of Swank Publications; and Louis Perretta, who bought all the Swank titles from Goodman in 1993.
I bring this up now because, as the “real” media continue to investigate the story that I broke here last month about Tea Party congressman Scott Garrett (New Jersey, 5th district) accepting campaign contributions from Perretta, who is now one of the largest producers of hardcore pornography in America, they seem to be having some difficulty establishing that Perretta is, in fact, a pornographer. The Federal Election Commission documents that detail Perretta’s contributions to the Republican Party over a ten-year period list him as a self-employed business executive with the Great Eastern Color Lithographic Corporation, the now shuttered printing plant in Poughkeepsie, New York, where Perretta once printed his porn mags. And beyond this website, a Google search for any connection between Perretta and porn reveals little that’s verifiable. Perretta, in short, has done a commendable job of covering his X-rated tracks.
As we wait for some intrepid reporter to pull the trigger on this sordid political scandal of right-wing extremism and hardcore pornography, it would be instructive, I think, to further explore the phenomenon of pornography kings who go to great lengths to obscure the source of their wealth. And I will do so over the course of this month. So, stay tuned.
My posting yesterday about Tea Party congressman Scott Garrett's links to Louis Perretta, one of the largest producers of hardcore pornography in America, got me thinking about the Leonard Cohen classic "Everybody Knows." Like many of Cohen's songs, it's a surreal commentary on life, politics, and society. Cohen's grim message is that everybody already knows everything about everything and everybody, but it doesn’t make damn bit of difference. The dice are loaded. The fight's fixed. The war's over. The good guys lost. And there's nothing we can do about it.
In the case of Garrett, a man who’d like to put robber barons in charge of America and turn back the clock to the 19th century, I’d hope that Cohen, who has a reputation as a visionary poet, is wrong. Because despite a lack of attention in the mainstream media, everybody who cares about Scott Garret and his bid for reelection in New Jersey’s 5th district knows that he’s been accepting campaign contributions from Porn King Louis Perretta, and that for years Garrett’s eastern district office and Perretta’s porn operation were in close proximity on the second floor at 210 Route 4 East, in Paramus.
Who’s everybody? Oh, just the Democratic Party and the mainstream media. Which begs the question: If everybody knows about Garrett and Perretta, how long can this story remain an open secret, especially when you take into account that the Democrats seem to think Garrett is unbeatable and are having enormous problems finding a credible candidate to run against him?
As I said yesterday, chances are this story will break on a large scale before Election Day. But it’s hardly a sure thing. Neither the Democratic Party nor the media are known for having a backbone, and to break a story like this, even though it’s public record that Garrett accepted campaign contributions from Perretta, requires a certain amount of courage. Why? Because I am the source of this story and I am, more or less, an “unknown” who has worked in the pornography industry, which is how I know about Perretta, who’s gone to great lengths to obscure the fact that he controls a pornographic magazine, web, and video empire. (Read all about it in Beaver Street.)
So, how long can this story, or any story of magnitude, remain under wraps? Well, in the case of my previous book, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, everybody knew about it for 18 years before it finally found its way into print. And with any luck at all, in 18 years, Garrett will be little more than an embarrassing footnote to New Jersey’s political history.
In the meantime, all I can suggest is enjoy the video. And check out the Don Henley version, too. He’s a much better singer than Leonard Cohen.
"You live in New York," people in St. Louis have pointed out. "Why do you want to come here to launch your book?"
The short answer: I'll go anywhere in the world where people have expressed an interest in my work. I've traveled to Mexico City and Valparaiso, Chile, where I didn’t even speak the language, to present my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man. Those journeys proved to be two of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life. And I'm going to St. Louis because the city is offering me a unique opportunity to present both the pornographic and the literary sides of Beaver Street.
I made the decision months ago, after The Beautiful Kind editor, Kendra Holliday, interviewed me for her website. Kendra, who described my book as “a surreal, perverted mindfuck,” strikes me as the Annie Sprinkle of the Midwest—a creative, literate woman with the courage to put the darkest realms of her sexuality on public display both on her website and, recently, in Hustler magazine. The event she organized at the Shameless Grounds coffeehouse, on April 3, is the perfect venue to discuss some of the darker, X-rated aspects of Beaver Street, mainly a chapter I wouldn’t dare read publicly anyplace else. In “The Accidental Porn Star” I describe in graphic detail what it was like posing for a porn shoot, and the high social price I paid to conduct this “experiment in participatory journalism.”
Then, Left Bank Books, the foremost independent bookstore in St. Louis, invited me to do an event there on April 4. What better place to discuss the literary aspects of Beaver Street, a book that I describe as an investigative memoir? At Left Bank, I’ll read from the prologue and discuss a literary journey that began in my father’s candy store, in Brooklyn, where he sold numerous controversial books, like Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller, and Last Exit to Brooklyn, by Hubert Selby, that had made it to his “special rack” only after enduring protracted censorship battles.
So, my literary journey is now taking me to the turf of such people as Mark Twain and Jonathan Franzen. Boy, am I looking forward to the trip.
I've gone to enough readings at bookstores, cafes, and bars to say with authority that reading from one's book is not an easy thing to do well. For the most part, no matter how good the book is and no matter how famous the author is, most books, especially "literary" books, are not written to be read out loud to an audience. They're written to be read to yourself, preferably in solitude. Yet, virtually all authors are expected to give readings, and I'm no exception. I've shown up in my share of rowdy bars to read to a dozen heckling drunks from Nowhere Man, a book that I've often said was meant to be read under the covers, with a flashlight. I’ve also read well-rehearsed Nowhere Man passages over the radio and heard that people driving in cars had pulled over to the side of the road so they could listen without distraction.
Last night I began thinking about what, exactly, I’m going to read at Shameless Grounds, the “sex positive” St. Louis coffeehouse where, on Tuesday, April 3, at 7 pm, Kendra Holliday and I will be launching Beaver Street upon America. And I decided to read from a chapter that I would not consider reading out loud in any place other than Shameless Grounds. “The Accidental Porn Star” is about shame and pornography, and like all of Beaver Street, it’s written in a conversational tone that makes it ideal for a public reading.
So, I’m going to nurse and rehearse the passage I’ve selected, and when I show up at Shameless Grounds, I’ll be ready to read. Hope you guys are ready to listen. In the meantime, you can check out Beaver Street at the Shameless Grounds library.
When you're trying to get a little attention for your book and find yourself in a street fight with authors who have actual publicity budgets and are backed by powerful corporate publishers, any victory is a major victory. Which is why when a book like Beaver Street, published by Headpress, a small London-based indie, finds itself in the much sought-after real estate of the “Hot Type” section of Vanity Fair, it’s cause for celebration.
But there Beaver Street is, in the April Vanity Fair (Julia Roberts on the cover), on sale today in the US and UK. “Robert Rosen dives into Beaver Street (Headpress),” it says. And I suppose I do—dive into Beaver Street, that is.
So, look for Beaver Street on the Web or in a bookstore near you on March 28. In the meantime, virtual high-fives all around.
Any month that I find out that Beaver Street will be mentioned in the Hot Type section of Vanity Fair (on sale March 6), that I'm invited to do three Beaver Street events in two cities, that I unearth a sordid political scandal, and that my website reached a new high in traffic qualifies as a good month, especially when that month has only 29 days.
There’s no question that the Scott Garrett story drove the bulk of February’s traffic. I’d never heard of Garrett, an ultra-conservative Tea Party congressman representing New Jersey’s 5th district, until a couple of weeks ago. That was when I learned that porn magnate Lou Perretta, whom I’d once worked for, had been contributing to Republicans.
I’d known my former boss was a Republican since 1998, when he demanded I remove from a satiric feature titled “The Illustrated Starr Report” a reference to Kenneth Starr as a “deranged prosecutor.” (Perretta had no problem with the grotesque illustrations of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in flagrante delicto.)
But what caught my eye as I examined the easily accessible public documents detailing Perretta’s political contributions over a 10-year period was the name Scott Garrett, which popped up repeatedly.
Some basic research revealed that Garrett, who was elected by a comfortable margin, is anti-voting rights, anti-woman, anti-worker, anti-gay, anti-environment, and anti-science. That his office was on the same floor in the same office building as Perretta’s office, and that the politics of a Tea Party Republican and a Porn King seemed to mesh in so many ways, was the subject of my two postings about Garrett.
If the Garrett story should reach an audience beyond The Daily Beaver, that would, indeed, be a bonus—an example of one of journalism’s classic purposes: to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Because it’s frightening that a politician who you’d think would be more at home in the reddest, red-neck corner of Alabama could be elected to Congress in Bergen County. But considering my own experiences toiling for seven years on Perretta’s Bergen County porn plantation—which I’ve written about in Beaver Street—it’s not terribly surprising. In fact it’s just more proof that you don’t have to venture far from New York City to find Red America in all its ignorant, bigoted glory.
My wife's family is from St. Louis, so I've spent a bit of time there in the past 20 years, enduring some brutally cold winters and scathingly hot summers. But I like the city, especially Soulard and Benton Park. I like the Mississippi River and the Gateway Arch. I like the Cardinals--the team and the bird. I've even considered living in St. Louis on those days when New York felt like too much. Well, in April, I'm going back for two big Beaver Street events.
The first one, hosted by Kendra Holliday, editor of The Beautiful Kind, takes place on Tuesday, April 3, at 7 pm, at Shameless Grounds, a “sex positive” coffee shop, where you can already find Beaver Street in their extensive lending library. There’ll be an informal talk, a Q&A, and I’ll be reading from Beaver Street.
Twenty-four hours later, on Wednesday, April 4, at 7 pm, I’ll be reading, signing, and answering questions at St. Louis’s foremost independent bookstore, Left Bank Books, where such luminaries as Salman Rushdie, David Sedaris, and Jimmy Carter have gone before me.
So, if you’re in the area, please drop by to one or both events. I always want to meet the people who’ve read my books. As for my in-laws, I expect you all to be there, no excuses. And bring all your crazy friends.
A year ago tomorrow, I flew to London to begin promoting the UK edition of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, a process that I hoped might go on for a decade or two, if not forever. The book was published in England in April 2011, and if you look at the right-hand column, you can see some of what the critics had to say about it. Yes, words like "Enormously entertaining," "Entertaining, insightful, and hot," and "Shocking, evocative, and entertaining," did, indeed, help to sell a couple of books, thank you very much.
Now, here it is a year later, and I’m sitting in New York, awaiting the publication of the US edition of Beaver Street on March 28. The new cover (right), features one significant change: It says “Vanity Fair Hot Type Pick,” and Beaver Street will be in the “Hot Type” section of the April issue. But there are other changes, too. The critical response to the book made the editors at Headpress realize that Beaver Street is more a work of literature than journalism, and therefore, to give the book a more “literary” feel, the photo section has been removed. (If you want to see the photo section, e-mail me and I’ll send you a PDF. Or hurry up and buy a copy of the UK edition while they last.)
Then, of course, Beaver Street will be available on Kindle, Nook, and all the other formats that e-books come in. So, if you prefer reading books on your tablet or telephone, hey, be my guest. (The cover, incidentally, looks beautiful on the Kindle Fire and color Nook.)
And finally, I’m going to be doing Beaver Street events pretty much any place they’ll let me. There’s already a reading scheduled for Book Soup in LA on May 12, and I’ll be announcing more readings in other cities in the next couple of days. So, if you’ve been waiting to get your hands on a copy of Beaver Street, the wait’s almost over. And if you’d like to meet me, please come to one of my events. Because I’d like to meet you, too. I’m sure we’ll have a lot to talk about.
Ladies and gentlemen, mark your calendars. I'll be reading from Beaver Street at Book Soup in LA on Saturday, May 12 at 4 pm. This is one of many such events, in various cities across the US, including New York and St. Louis. Hope to see you there. Publication is only a month away, so keep checking back for updates.
Headpress has posted on their site a Beaver Street "flip book" containing five full chapters. Click here to check it out.
Available now in the UK in trade paperback and Kindle editions, Beaver Street will be published in the US on March 23 as a trade paperback and an e-book in all formats.
Big thanks to everybody who’s already bought Beaver Street, and especially to those who’ve posted reviews on Amazon.
Looking forward to seeing you all at the big Kendra Holliday launch event in St. Louis, and the publication party in New York, at the Killarney Rose(n) on (naturally) Beaver Street, dates to be announced.
Well, the piece isn’t satire—it’s journalism written in a satirical manner.
It’s not as if Perretta did all 20 things to everybody at once. That would have violated both the eighth amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and the Geneva Conventions. And we weren’t technically prisoners of war. It only felt that way.
The 20-Point Plan is simply a catalog of Perretta’s abysmal behavior, either toward me or toward other employees, over a 20-year period.
I doubt Perretta was even conscious of what he was doing, or thought that the “strategies” he used to control his employees were anything out of the ordinary. When he bought Swank Publications, he essentially shanghaied from New York a group of sophisticated and experienced publishing professionals, and treated them as he was accustomed to treating the people who worked in his printing plant in Poughkeepsie.
Amazingly, until Joyce Snyder (“Pam Katz” in Beaver Street) filed her age-and-sex-discrimination lawsuit, no employee or ex-employee had ever sued Perretta—for anything. Possibly, this was out of fear of losing their job and never being able to find another one; a lack of resources to pursue legal action against a wealthy businessman; or the knowledge that a lawsuit of any kind could drag on for years and they might not even win.
Perretta’s like the Newt Gingrich of sleaze—a classic schoolyard bully who nobody ever punched in the face. Then one day, Joyce Snyder, a little wisp of a woman, knocked him on his ass with a savage left hook to the jaw (metaphorically speaking). Snyder, sophisticated in the ways of the law—she’d considered going to law school at one point and had worked for private investigators—had the resources and the courage to go after Perretta. She also had nothing to lose. Snyder had devoted virtually her entire 31-year-career to pornography, and after Perretta fired her, she knew that at her age, with Perretta buying up every porn mag in existence, and with the economy in its tattered state, she’d never work again.
Perretta screamed so loud when he found out Snyder was suing him, I could hear his howls back in New York City. And that’s only a slight satirical exaggeration.
Everybody knows a demoralized workforce is an easy-to-control workforce. Lou Perretta, pornographic publishing magnate who now owns every significant stroke book with the exception of Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler, began instituting this plan in the early 1990s, when the economy was booming. With the onset of the recession, this plan has become insidiously effective--Perretta can now boast one of America's most demoralized workforces. The only monkey wrench in the works has come from former employee Joyce Snyder ("Pam Katz" in Beaver Street) who has sued Perretta for age and sex discrimination. So, a word of warning to any bosses who are considering instituting the Perretta Plan: Consult your attorney. Though effective in the short run, institution of this plan may cause severe financial and legal hardship and can lead to chronic heartburn and ridicule.
The Perretta Plan
1. Never give an employee a merit raise no matter how well they perform.
2. Never give an employee a raise even if you double or triple their workload.
3. Never praise an employee’s work. (If you do, they may ask for a raise.)
4. Loudly and publicly denigrate every employee’s work as often as possible, with a minimum of one time per year.
5. Nobody is indispensable. Fire the most talented and experienced employees.
6. If a downsized employee asks for severance for three decades of service, say, “Your 401(k) is your severance.”
7. Produce a product that’s of questionable legality and aesthetically vile—hardcore pornography, for example—that will so taint anyone associated with it, they’ll never work again after you fire them.
8. Scream at all remaining employees for the most trivial mistakes. The more trivial the mistake, the louder you should scream. Make it clear that you think everybody who works for you is a fucking idiot.
9. Refer to minority employees as “animals.” Dare them to sue.
10. Foster a climate of subtle religious bigotry. For example, if you see two or more Jewish employees standing together, say to them, in a jovial tone, “This place is starting to look like a yeshiva.” This will cause maximum discomfort with minimal legal exposure.
11. If business is bad, cut salaries by 25%. (Note: This means all employees. Do not cut salaries of only female employees. This is illegal. See Joyce Snyder.)
12. Cut lunch hour to a half hour.
13. Have the most incompetent employee act as office spy. Allow him to sleep at his desk.
14. Fill all executive positions with blood relatives only. Nepotism is the answer to any staffing question.
15. Under penalty of termination, forbid employees from doing any outside freelance work.
16. Give employees only inferior, dilapidated, lower-back antagonizing office furniture.
17. Confine highest-paid employees to offices without heat and air conditioning.
18. No need to hire cleaning people. Employees with advanced degrees should clean toilets, too.
19. The Friday after Thanksgiving is not a holiday. Take away a vacation day from any employee who does not come to work that day. Dock the pay of any employee who does not have a vacation day.
20. Special Bonus Strategy (For Advanced Users Only): Announce after Thanksgiving that the office will be open between Christmas and New Year’s. Announce on Christmas Eve that the office will be closed between Christmas and New Year’s; that employees will be charged five vacation days; and that employees without vacation days will be docked one week’s pay.
It's been almost 13 years since I was fired from Swank Publications, a turn of events that so delighted me, for the next five years I woke up every morning in a state of ecstasy--because I didn't have to go to New Jersey to crank out pornography under ever-increasing deadline pressure.
Swank’s publisher, Lou Perretta, known to some employees as “Satan in Suspenders,” wasn’t the most depraved pornographer I’d ever worked for. (That distinction belongs to the elegantly attired Carl Ruderman, who published High Society before selling it to Perretta last year.) But the atmosphere in Perretta’s offices, situated on the side of a highway in Paramus—Please Ram Us, as some of my former colleagues called it—was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in any job I’ve ever had, in or out of pornography.
Yes, Perretta’s Swank was a boring, depressing, purposefully demoralizing company staffed with people smothered by fear and hopelessness. It was so grim that I used to look forward to going to the dentist if it got me out of work an hour early. But this is how a lot of corporations are run today—business as usual, in other words. What sets Swank apart is that they pushed this modus operandi into the realm of the legally actionable, some of the details of which are documented in the age-and-sex-discrimination lawsuit Joyce Snyder (I called her “Pam Katz” in Beaver Street) filed against Perretta.
I originally wrote about Perretta in the Beaver Street chapter titled “The End of History at Swank Inc.,” describing how a job I once enjoyed had been reduced to “assembly-line toil at its worst,” and “an exercise in postmodern sweatshop drudgery.”
But I didn’t go into more detail because Beaver Street is about the history of pornography, and as the chapter title indicates, that history ended in Paramus.
At Lou Perretta’s Swank Inc. pornography was almost beside the point.
Perretta was a printer who owned Great Eastern—since shuttered—a printing plant in Poughkeepsie that was once that city’s second largest employer next to IBM. He bought Swank and just about every other porn mag in existence as fodder to keep his presses running 24/7.
The story of Swank under Perretta ceases to be a story about pornography and becomes, instead, a tale of the ugliest face of soul-and-job-destroying modern day capitalism. And in light of Snyder’s age-and-sex-discrimination lawsuit, it’s time to examine more closely what went on there.
In next week’s installment, I’ll further explore the toxic atmosphere of Swank Publications under Perretta—a toxicity that went far beyond the mere tyranny common to all porn publishing companies.
"Pam Katz," an editor at Swank Publications whom I worked with for 16 years, is a "character" in Beaver Street. I describe her as a "mutant pornographic genius with a second sight for recognizing cover shots where nobody else saw them." She also wrote and produced four classic porn movies, Public Affairs and Raw Talent, parts I-III, and came up with the idea for X-Rated Cinema magazine. She was, in short, a great pornographer and a talented editor with a wicked sense of humor and a stringent code of business ethics.
I put “Pam Katz” in quotes because that’s not her real name. In Beaver Street, though all the “characters” are real, I use pseudonyms for all non-public figures. Well, Pam Katz is no longer a private citizen. Her real name is Joyce Snyder.
Last February, after 31 years on the job, Snyder was let go at Swank Publications. In response, she filed an age and sex discrimination suit against the publisher, Lou Perretta.
The legal documents are public record, available online.
In future postings, I’ll be commenting further on this lawsuit. I also plan to describe in even more detail than I did in Beaver Street the atmosphere of Swank Publications under Lou Perretta that led to the lawsuit.
Joyce A. Snyder v. Louis Perretta is significant not only on its own merits, but because with the exception of Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler, Perretta has a virtual monopoly on the porn magazine business, which has become a festering symbol of the festering economy of post-industrial America, where talented, highly experienced people can no longer earn a living wage.
This is class warfare. Stay tuned for further dispatches from the front lines.
If you've been paying attention, then you've probably noticed that I've spent the past week reorganizing this Website for the U.S. publication of Beaver Street as a trade paperback and e-book on March 23, 2012. Which is to say that the home page is now completely devoted to Beaver Street; there's a separate Beaver Street page with an excerpt from the book; there's a separate video page; and there's a separate page for my Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, which the Spanish newspaper iLeón recently chose as one of the 10 essential music bios of all time.
Also, as you may have noticed, I haven’t been blogging much lately, choosing instead to devote my time and energy to the book I’m currently working on, Bobby in Naziland. Well, between now and March 23, I’m going to slowly ease back into the daily blogging groove, posting once or twice a week for the time being. So, please check back regularly for updates.
For those of you visiting this site for the first time (perhaps seeking information on porn star Missy Manners) allow me to bring you up to date: Last year, Beaver Street was published in the U.K. to critical acclaim across cultural spectrum. (Check out the blurbs in the right-hand column and links to reviews on the home page.) On more than a half dozen occasions, it’s surged to the top of the heap of Amazon U.K. porn bios, where even on the worst day, it generally resides in the top 20, among the likes of Jenna Jameson, Ron Jeremy, and Annie Sprinkle.
This augurs well as I kick off The Year of the American Beaver, which will begin in St. Louis—yes, St. Louis!—with a launch party hosted by Kendra Holliday, whom you can see in the March 2012 issue of Hustler magazine. Then, we return to New York for a party on Beaver Street, in downtown Manhattan. Stay tuned for details, and I hope to see all of you there.
Two days ago I made my debut on the Rew & Who? show. If you were unable to watch the live webcast from Otto's Shrunken Head in New York City, here are the two video clips of my interview with Rew and her co-host, Alan Rand.
In addition to talking about and reading from Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, I also spoke at some length about my new book, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, which is out now in the U.K. and will be published here in March 2012, and the book I’m currently writing, tentatively titled Bobby in Naziland.
Among the people appearing with me for this tribute to John Lennon and Rew’s brother Richard “Dicky” Kesten were May Pang, whom I haven’t seen since 1981; my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, who sang Lennon’s “I’m Losing You” and her own Christmas song, “Blue Lights;” and Hoop, who played guitar for Mary Lyn, and sang his original song about Lennon, “Oh, John.”
This is the cover of Volume 50 of my diary, which I began on August 15, 2010 and completed November 9, 2011. The images and text on the cover are there to remind me of the significant events that occurred over the span of the volume. When I'm looking for something twenty years from now, I'll know that in this volume, two of my books were published, the Italian edition of Nowhere Man and the UK edition of Beaver Street. On one flap is some Italian Nowhere Man promotional copy. On the other flap is the badly stained Beaver Street cover. The stains are the work of my cat, who apparently freelances as a book critic. We often disagree.
When I was in London, I gave a Beaver Street pep talk to the sales force at Turnaround, Headpress's UK distributor. For the finale, I played episode three of Erich von Pauli on Beaver Street, and the reps applauded enthusiastically.
“When are you doing a Broadway musical?” one of them asked.
I mentioned this to Paul Slimak—Henry Dorfman in the book—the actor who plays renegade Nazi Erich von Pauli. He loved the idea of a Broadway musical, and suggested that I write a skit to showcase his musical talents, as well as the talents of his wife, Agnes Herrmann (Diana Clerkenwell), and their voice coach, Kevin S. Foster (Captain Derek Lancashire).
“We can sing Mozart,” Paul said. “Something from ‘The Magic Flute.’”
“Excellent choice, Mein Führer,” I replied, and wrote the script for episode four, Erich von Pauli Sings Mozart, above.
Boy, do these kids ever sing their hearts out—all in the service of Beaver Street!
For those unfamiliar with Paul and Agnes’s long and distinguished acting careers, or should you want to see some of their other work, check out Paul as the Priest in Cookie, as Jay, a john in Working Girls, and famously, as The Weeping Nazi on the premiere episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
Agnes has most recently appeared in The Road, as Archer’s Woman. And next year, look for both of them in Boot Tracks, starring Stephen Dorff and Michelle Monaghan.
Can Beaver Street: The Musical be Broadway bound? With talent like this you gotta believe.
Kendra Holliday, editor of The Beautiful Kind, has titled the third part of my Beaver Street interview "Sex Is a River of Fire."
I don't believe that sex is a river of fire. Rather, I'm quoting one of the many things Pentecostal pastor Jimmy Swaggart said after being caught up in a prostitution scandal in 1988. And it's typical of what Americans say about sex as they spend billions of dollars per year on pornography and prostitution.
Why is America such a hypocritical country, especially when it comes to sex? That is the question I discuss in the final part of this interview.
In the course of my writing career I've done hundreds of promotional interviews. Most of them are a blur of canned questions asked by people who didn't read the book and in some cases probably didn't even read the press release. This is typical. Most writers will tell you the same thing. However, since I began promoting Beaver Street six months ago, I've been lucky. All of my inquisitors have been passionate about the book.
Kendra Holliday, whom I’ve been communicating with by e-mail and telephone, is the editor of The Beautiful Kind. She describes herself as “a 38 year old bisexual mother located in St. Louis,” and “a passionate sexplorer” of “kinks, fetishes, BDSM, swinging, and polyamory.”
Well, I can certainly vouch for her passion, at least when it comes to Beaver Street. She’s the kind of reader every writer hopes for.
I consider myself extremely fortunate that Kendra thought enough of Beaver Street to conduct an extensive interview. Here’s a link to Part 1, titled, “Does Nothing Shock You?”
Last night, after six months of nonstop promotion on two continents, Beaver Street surged, albeit briefly, to the top of the heap. True, the heap in question is Amazon UK's Bestsellers in Pornography Biographies. But it is a heap that includes such classics of the genre as Jenna Jameson's How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, Ron Jeremy's The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz, and Annie Sprinkle's Post-Porn Modernist.
I’ll take my number ones where I can get them.
This sudden surge, I imagine, can be attributed to my two recent interviews on The Sleazoid Podcast, as well as word of mouth. As I’ve been saying all along, Beaver Street is a page-turner. Once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down, even if porn isn’t a subject that particularly interests you. Because the subject matter of Beaver Street goes far beyond porno. Don’t take my word for it. Read some of the Amazon reviews. Or just buy the damn book and see for yourself.
I’ll also go so far to say that this is going to be the first of many number ones, brief and otherwise, in numerous categories both on Amazon UK and Amazon US, when the book is published here in March 2012. How do I know this? I just do. Call me a prophet.
In the meantime, I’ll take a day to quietly celebrate Beaver Street's first visit to the “Toppermost of the Poppermost,” as a certain British rock band used to say.
The first is my experience posing for a porn shoot, which I explore in a chapter called "The Accidental Porn Star." This was both an effort to gain insight into a porn star's state of mind, and an experiment in participatory journalism. I wanted to take journalism to a place it had never been before, and no real writer had ever stepped in front of a camera and reported on what it was like to have sex. More interesting than this sordid act of exhibitionism, however, was my colleagues’ horrified and disgusted reaction to what became known as "The Five Dollar Blowjob."
Then I examine America’s sexual schizophrenia in the chapter titled “So You Want to Talk About Traci Lords.” Why, I ask, did the government treat as a victim a juvenile delinquent with a fraudulent passport and driver’s license who systematically sought work in the porn industry, and treat the photographers and filmmakers who hired her as criminals?
For links to more Beaver Street interviews, articles, and reviews, click here.
Allow me to take a morning off from exploring the meaning of the Third Reich and its impact on the good people of mid-century Flatbush, as I've been doing in the book I'm currently writing, tentatively titled Bobby in Naziland, and instead say a few more words about Beaver Street, scheduled for U.S. release in five months, on March 23, 2012.
Those of you who’ve been paying attention to this site’s home page may have noticed that my campaign to bring Beaver Street to the widest possible audience is already underway. Last week, The Sleazoid Podcast posted Part One of their interview with me, and boy, do they ever let me talk—about everything from my days as the editor of a radical student newspaper at the City College of New York, at a time when the energy of the anti-war movement was giving way to an emerging punk sensibility, to my tenure as an editor at Swank Publications during Porn’s Golden Age. They’ve also put together a very cool trailer, above, to promote the interview. Part 2 should be posted any day.
This is how it’s going to be for the next five months and beyond, a long march, blog by blog, reader by reader, as I talk to anybody who wants to talk to me about Beaver Street—an exhausting but necessary process, though one that I welcome and enjoy.
The alternative, of course, would be to stop believing in evolution and promote my book by running for president as a Republican. Seems to work for Herman Cain.
A few months ago, I wrote a series of reviews about five articles that Slate had cited as "great writing" about the porn industry. Some of these articles, I thought, were hardly examples of great writing, and one of them was barely about the porn industry.
Recently, one of the writers I critiqued responded on her Forbes.com blog to my review of her porn book and to general criticism of her work. In a piece called “This Is Why You’re Stupid, or How to Deal with Criticism on the Internet,” Susannah Breslin took issue with anonymous posters who’ve called her a “c***,” a “f***ing moron,” and a “festering boil.” Her conclusion: Don’t blog if you don’t have a thick skin, and it’s better to get a vicious reaction than no reaction at all. I couldn’t agree more, especially about the thick skin.
I’ve written similar pieces myself, most recently comparing two Nowhere Man reviews that appeared on Amazon the same day, one a five-star rave (in Italian) and the other (since deleted) a one-star hatchet job. I pointed out that this is a microcosm of the type of criticism that Nowhere Man has been subjected to for the past 11 years, that it’s as if the critics had read two different books, and that it’s always the most ignorant critics who post the most vicious comments.
In any case, Breslin devoted a good portion of her blog to analyzing my criticism of her book They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?. She didn’t like my comparing her to the late Andrea Dworkin because Dworkin, she said, was “passionately anti-porn” and she isn’t. She thinks it’s unlikely that Senator Orrin Hatch will use her book as evidence in his anti-porn crusade, as I predicted. She disliked the fact that I called her writing “humorless” because, she insisted, she has a sense of humor. And she said I seemed to suggest that Beaver Street is a better book than They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?.
Well, I’ve reread my critique of Breslin’s book, and I think it still stands up. Breslin might not be like Andrea Dworkin, the person, but her book is definitely anti-porn in a way that Dworkin would have liked. And Breslin’s thesis—that porn is bad, stupid, ugly, and violent—plays right into Orrin Hatch’s hands, confirming everything he says about the industry and the need to investigate it more vigorously. (His crusade appears to have stalled for the time being, which may be why he hasn’t yet presented Breslin’s book as evidence.)
I didn’t say that Breslin doesn’t have a sense of humor. One can indeed be detected in “This Is Why You’re Stupid.” I described the mood of They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They? as “grim and humorless”—because it is.
And finally, I didn’t suggest that Beaver Street is a better book than They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?. I said only that Breslin covered some similar material in her book, specifically, “the predilection of conservative administrations, like Bush II, to declare war on porn, often with embarrassing results.”
Ms. Breslin, I feel as if we’re playing tennis, and the blog’s back in your court. But before you return my serve, perhaps you should decide for yourself how Beaver Street stacks up against They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?. U.S. pub date is March 23, 2012. Review copies are available now, and, in my opinion, you’re more qualified than most people to review it. Beaver Street, I might add, is very much up your pink slip and recession alley.
I went down to Zuccotti Park yesterday to again take the temperature of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Here's my report:
The reason Eric Cantor is calling the demonstrators a "mob" is because they're screaming for the blood of politicians like Eric Cantor, who defend the wealthy at the expense of everybody else--the 99% that the demonstrators keep referring to.
If I were an investment banker, my blood would have run cold when I heard the flag-waving, drum-pounding demonstrators chanting, “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!” as they marched from the statue of the Wall Street Bull, adjacent to Beaver Street, to Zuccotti Park.
The demonstrators are really fucking angry, and anybody who can’t understand why is willfully ignorant. Most of them are students or recent graduates whose education left them with a crushing debt that they’re unable to even think about paying off because there are no decent jobs.
In Zuccotti Park, now surrounded by police and media, the Spirit of the 60s has been reborn in all its ragged, funky glory.
I’d have been really insulted if Beaver Street hadn’t been checked out of the Occupy Wall Street Free Library.
The countdown clock you see here, marking the time until Beaver Street is published in the US, signifies another change in this website and in this blog in particular. As regular readers are aware, I've been posting here five days a week—on Beaver Street itself, occasionally on Nowhere Man, and on whatever might be happening in the world that I feel like writing about, like the riots in the UK and, more recently, the Occupy Wall Street protests.
For the next few months, until the US Beaver Street launch, I’ll be posting here more sporadically, adhering to no particular schedule. Naturally, I’ll continue to comment on any significant Beaver developments, as well as the recent publication of the Italian edition of Nowhere Man. But it’s time for me to focus more of my energies on other things, like the new book I’ve been writing.
So I’d like to send out a big Thank You! to everybody’s who’s bought Beaver Street (and Nowhere Man in any language), to all the critics and journalists who’ve written about my books (or are planning to), and especially to the regular readers of this blog—the ones who’ve checked in every day, and gave me a reason to keep doing it.
Keep in touch, and stay tuned for some big changes.
Liberty Park (aka Zuccotti Park), where three weeks ago the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators set up camp, is about a mile from where I live. I've been dropping by there on a regular basis, usually in the late afternoon, to take the temperature, so to speak.
The temperature is rising.
The energy remains peaceful, cooperative.
The free food provided makes the atmosphere seem almost Woodstockian.
The drum circle continues to provide the heartbeat.
There is an edge.
It occurred to me that it wouldn’t take much of a spark to set off something more confrontational, and possibly ugly, as police encircle the park.
At least one liberal New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, disagrees. He said that the occupation “feels like a spark set down on wet grass: It’s just hard to see how it truly catches fire.” In a front-page article, a protester was quoted as saying that the occupation will end when the temperature drops below 50 degrees.
The Times, which depends on companies like Tiffany’s, and real estate brokers selling $5-million condos, for advertising revenue, is never going to endorse the occupation.
I think that when the occupation continues into the dead of winter, the media will begin to draw analogies with Valley Forge. And, if they’re smart, companies like Marmot and The North Face will donate winter clothing, and local stores, like Paragon, will donate camping gear.
I stopped by again on Sunday and donated a copy of Beaver Street to the free library. The librarian—yes, they have a librarian—graciously accepted my donation. I departed with a free copy of The Occupied Wall Street Journal.
A few blocks to the south, near Beaver Street, the Wall Street Bull is now surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards. He needs them.
Much of the time I spent writing Beaver Street was devoted to research. It took me about a year to unearth all the information I needed for the Traci Lords chapter alone. Though time consuming, the problem wasn't finding material. Between Lords and the Meese Commission, there was too much material, and the challenge was to sift through it all, figure out what was important, and then integrate it into my narrative.
Carl Ruderman, the anonymous publisher of High Society magazine, posed an entirely different problem. The “Invisible Man of Smut,” as Al Goldstein called him, hid behind figurehead publisher Gloria Leonard and went to great lengths to keep his name out of the media, at least in connection with anything having to do with porn. In fact, as I said in Beaver Street, “an internet or library search for any connection between pornography and Carl Ruderman produces little that’s concrete or substantiated.”
Well, that’s changed since the book was published. In the past year, much that connects Carl Ruderman to pornography has been popping up on the internet. One example that I wrote about a few months ago was an article in the New York Observer that bore the headline, “Porn’s ‘Invisible Man’ Prices His Condos at $13.5 M.”
Yesterday, I found something even juicer: the Justice Department’s 1987 appeal of the dismissal of an indictment against Ruderman for “various federal obscenity crimes in connection with the operation of a ‘dial it’ telephone service whereby persons could call a New York City telephone number and listen to a sexually suggestive, pre-recorded message.”
You can read the entire document by clicking here.
I’ve posted this link for my own reference and as a service to any future researchers who want to cast more light on a man who revolutionized the porn industry but has, for the most part, managed to escape being credited (or indicted) for what he did.
I received word from Headpress the other day that Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography will be published in trade paperback in the United States on March 23, 2012. It will also be available as an e-book in all formats, including Kindle.
Beaver People, start your countdown! It's only six months to springtime.
I’m especially excited about the Kindle edition. Over the past few months, Kindle (and other e-readers) has reached a tipping point in New York. Not only do I see more and more of them on the subway, but when I tell people about Beaver Street, their first question is often, “Is it available on Kindle?” Indeed, people have told me that they will only buy a book if it is available on Kindle. (Yes, I know, you love your Kindles.)
I’m also aware that a certain segment of the reading public prefer not to be seen on subways and buses reading a book titled Beaver Street. Well, with an e-book, nobody can see what you’re reading. But please, promise me, when strangers inquire why you’re laughing out loud, you’ll tell them it’s because you’re reading Beaver Street.
Okay, then, I’ve got six months to prepare for the big day. All I can tell you at this point is that I'm going to have a publication party in an appropriately sleazy bar on Beaver Street, in downtown Manhattan. You’re all invited.
The good people of The Sleazoid Podcast wouldn't be the first to suggest that Beaver Street is a movie that needs to be made. R.C. Baker, of The Village Voice, said in his Amazon review, "Vivid and funny, Beaver Street moves at a cinematic pace, a period piece that picks up the story of modern porn where Boogie Nights leaves off." And, of course, I, too, have entertained such big-screen fantasies, musing over the possibility of Martin Scorsese directing (Who does sleazy and gritty better?), Justin Timberlake portraying a younger me, and Paul Slimak, whom I call Henry Dorfman in the book, playing himself. (Check out Slimak's work in the Beaver Street promotional video, above.)
Whether or not a filmmaker comes along and snaps up the rights to Beaver Street is obviously beyond my control, and I’m not about to max out my credit cards producing the movie myself. But with Beaver Street scheduled to be published in the US sometime in 2012 and Nowhere Man about to undergo an Italian Renaissance, I’m feeling unusually optimistic.
So, I’m putting the idea out there, my daily message in a bottle: Come on, Hollywood, let’s make Beaver Street, the movie. If it ain’t a natural, I don’t know what is.
Posting on this blog often strikes me as the cyber-equivalent of sending out messages in bottles. I cast my words upon the great ocean of the Internet, and who knows who's going to see them. And if somebody does see them, who knows how they're going to react or if they're going to react at all.
And though The Daily Beaver and Beaver Street itself have been consistently provoking positive reactions from all levels of the culture, highbrow to lowbrow, it still comes as a surprise each time it happens.
It happened again yesterday. The Sleazoid Podcast, which I was unfamiliar with, had some rather kind things to say about Beaver Street. If you click on this link, you can hear them beginning about 18 minutes into the show.
The host, Mike Ashcraft, having read a Beaver Street review, now wants to read the book because it was written by the author of the John Lennon bio Nowhere Man, and because “It’s an expose completely blowing the lid off the adult industry.” So he ordered it from Amazon—apparently from one of the marketplace sellers, as it hasn’t yet been published here.
“Beaver Street?” said Ashcraft’s co-host. “It sounds like a movie we all need to make.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Ashcraft has already invited me to come on The Sleazoid Podcast and talk about Beaver Street. Dear readers, I am so ready to talk.
Nasty business, academia. Imagine what it must be like to say something inconsequential about an obscure theory only to have 14 other professors in your department, all of whom are competing for the last remaining tenured position, drag you into a metaphorical dark alley and viciously pummel you to within an inch of your professional life.
I got a taste of this kind of scholarly brutality when I sent to the so-called anonymous professor who once edited Swank magazine (I call him “Jack”) the H-Net review comparing Beaver Street to Whitney Strub’s Perversion for Profit. (Jack had previously weighed in with his opinion about Beaver Street.)
At the time I sent it to him, I was still not aware that a revised version of the essay, by Patrick Glen, PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield, had been published on H-Net, and I lightheartedly suggested that “Jack” had written it himself, on a sojourn to England.
Here is the anonymous professor’s response to “Free Speech and Competitively Priced Smut: Pornography in the United States,” an essay that I thought was brilliant, and that another reader has lauded as “the first scholarly paper to refer to the ‘insertion of fifteen billiard balls into a man’s anus followed by an elbow-deep fist-fucking.’”
I may have been a bit slow in responding to this for a reason—it is a gargantuan pile of silliness. First, from the spelling and punctuation, it is safe to assume the review is from the UK (or perhaps Oz.) Second, its possibly valiant attempt to merge a post-mod theoretical study (meaning it is largely improvised according to political need) and your authentic and gritty memoirs is sad and strained. I wouldn’t be the first to compare the former to a type of mental masturbation that aligns reality with the titillating prospect of a “reasonable” theoretical outcome, no matter how outrageously this interferes with perceived facts. I’m afraid I don’t have the energy or inclination to respond more fully, but I’ll add that the stylistic errors throughout attest to a desire to put the message before the medium, to the certain detriment of both.
Frankly I enjoyed best Sonja’s comment—“I’m one of those women that worked as an art director for D-Cup. I assure you I am a feminist.”—which simply blew apart the absurd posing of both the “academic” study and the review itself. Pfft.
PS—I’d probably give him a C-. He’s fairly articulate, though makes stylistic errors that a grad student should not. (Was there no editor?) The main problem is that his approach is simply wrong-headed—it follows a construct that is largely improvisational and therefore less than useful. He does (perhaps by accident) make some useful observations.
Do we have a genuine, take-no-prisoners academic controversy brewing? One can hope.
And if you add the sex critics (Erotic Review) and the chorus of professional, semi-professional, and amateur critics on Amazon US and UK who have weighed in with unanimous five-star reviews… well, one might be tempted to argue that Beaver Street is a dirty book with universal appeal.
But one would be best advised to hold his or her tongue until Traci Lords, the right-wing media, and others with delicate sensibilities render their opinions.
The scholarly analysis comparing Beaver Street to Whitney Strub's Perversion for Profit that I wrote about last week is showing signs of being a turning point in Beaver Street's publication.
The essay, titled "Free Speech and Competitively Priced Smut: Pornography in the United States," by Patrick Glen of The University of Sheffield, and published on the humanities and social sciences site H-Net, seems to have persuaded certain people, who were leery or dismissive of Beaver Street because of its subject matter, to reconsider the book's merits.
Their thinking seems to be: If a scholar, in an academic paper, is describing Beaver Street as “thought provoking,” “vivid,” and “a rich account,” etc., perhaps it’s more than a dirty book. Perhaps it’s even a book worth reading.
But my favorite reaction to the essay comes from an old friend who plays a small but crucial role in Beaver Street. On page 146, he informs me that while I was incommunicado in the mountains of Idaho, trying to forget about what I did for a living, Traci Lords had confessed to being underage for her entire porno career.
Here’s what he said in his e-mail:
Congratulations, Bob. Not only is the analysis flattering, but you are now responsible for the first scholarly paper to refer to the “insertion of fifteen billiard balls into a man’s anus followed by an elbow-deep fist-fucking.”
I hope that no federal funding went to pay for this paper; you might end up being named in a tirade by Eric Cantor on the floor of Congress and will have to defend yourself in the presidential election.
To which I replied:
No need to worry about Cantor. The paper is a product of the British university system. Someone should alert the Queen.
Hey, Carl, Bob Rosen here. How've you been? I know it's been a while since you gave the order to fire me from High Society for "giving the magazine a bad name"--27 years to be exact. But no hard feelings, really. I was glad to be out of there, and you gave me some priceless material for Beaver Street. Thanks for that!
In any case, I’m writing to tell you about a Google search that brought somebody in India, of all places, to this blog a couple of days ago.
You can usually see where visitors to the site are located, and the search terms they used to find whatever they were looking for. Well, this particular query is a doozy.
Here it is, and it’s an exact quote:
“carl ruderman” fraud or launder or embezzle or crime or smuggle or ofac or judgment or jail or rico or terror or corruption or felony or trafficking or drugs or bribe or sanctions or extradite or subpoena or laundering
Wow! Talk about giving a magazine a bad name!
(OFAC, incidentally, is the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the Treasury Department. I had to look it up.)
So, Carl, enjoy your holiday weekend, and feel free to write anytime.
PS—I’ll be sure to let you know when Beaver Street is being published in the US. If you come to the pub party, I’ll give you a free autographed book. You deserve one.
The source of the "anonymous" review that I posted last week, comparing Beaver Street to Perversion for Profit (Columbia University Press), by Whitney Strub, has been located. Titled, "Free Speech and Competitively Priced Smut: Pornography in the United States," it was written by Patrick Glen, a PhD candidate at The University of Sheffield, in England, and published on H-Net, which describes itself as "An international consortium of scholars and teachers," dedicated to the advancement of "teaching and research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences."
Well, I’ll drink to that. And while I’m at it, I’ll post a blurb on my homepage.
Now that I've had time to fully contemplate the anonymous review I posted last week, comparing Beaver Street to Perversion for Profit (Columbia University Press), by Whitney Strub, a history professor at Rutgers University, I'd like to share a few more thoughts.
The review, which apparently ran (or is about to run) in an academic journal, is important because it shows that Beaver Street, condemned by some as “smut,” is being taken seriously in academic circles, which is something I was hoping for but hardly counting on. And, of course, the critic, whoever he or she is, totally gets what I did in the book: “By combining memoir and historical account Rosen constructs a vivid impression of how the pornography industry worked and the tensions imposed on the individuals involved, describing a reality that was shocking and mundane in equal measure.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
For those of you who don’t have the time to plow through the review’s densely written 1,869 words, I’ve taken the liberty of condensing it, Reader’s Digest style, to a few salient points.
· Rosen … describes the pressure and paranoia of being under the surveillance of the anti-pornography crusaders and maintaining sales whilst satisfying both publishers’ requirements and readers’ tastes. A sixties counter-culture participant of the kind that later pornography opponents feared, Rosen celebrates the subversive potential of the medium.
· Some of Rosen’s protagonists inspire sadness as they are exploited, alienated from society, experience feelings of shame and some rather unhappy personal lives … [T]his results in a rich account that adds considerable depth and texture to any understanding of how the pornography industry worked.
· With his encyclopedic knowledge of applied obscenity laws, Rosen details how he and his counterparts tried to provide their readers with the “smut” they demanded.
· The stigma surrounding pornography attracted an eccentric milieu as those intoxicated with wealth and sex mingled with social outsiders. Rosen captures them evocatively, the good and bad, which is a handy reminder that the book is as much of a literary as it is a conventional historical account.
· Rosen adds further confusion to the reading of gender and partial confluences of feminist and New Right politics with his account of the Traci Lords scandal … This wider issue in pornography is energised by Rosen as he describes the panic to remove every image of Lords from the D-Cups office to prevent accusations of child pornography.
· Overall both Strub and Rosen have written thought provoking and entertaining histories of modern United States pornography. Neither revel in smut—as the readers of Stag may have done—yet, neither are they coy, thus enabling the reader to gain a solid understanding of a large part of the print, film and now web-based pornographic media and its socio-political context.
· Readers of more “vanilla” tendencies may be put off by graphic descriptions of hard core pornographic scenes, such as [Rosen’s] account of the “insertion of fifteen billiard balls into a man’s anus followed by an elbow-deep fist-fucking”. Rosen’s candour is not simply aimed to titillate, but to inform about pornographic publishing using its own idiom. What both Rosen and Strub convey is how pornography comes into contact with greater narratives of obscenity, permissiveness, sexuality and gender. It is apparent from their accounts how pornography is a vital and rich subject for analyzing a range of social pressures and competing narratives.
The below review, comparing Beaver Street to Perversion for Profit, is brilliant. It was posted anonymously online. I'd like to know who wrote it and where it was published. An academic journal, I presume.
Whitney Strub. Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. 382 pp. $32.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-14886-3; ISBN 978-0-231-52015-7.
Robert Rosen. Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography. London: Headpress, 2010. 256 pp. $20.00, ISBN 1900486768; ISBN 978-1900486767
Perversion for Profit and Beaver Street contribute to understanding the negotiations and social fault lines that pornography brought into acute focus in the twentieth century United States. Whitney Strub’s Perversion for Profit describes and analyzes the cat and mouse battle between the mostly prudish, incrementally more aligned to the New Right, defenders of public morality and a pornography industry whose more unwholesome proclivities and economic successes provoked controversy. In some cases this clash led to legal action and tested the limits of the right to free speech. Robert Rosen’s Beaver Street is a less conventional history. Rosen edited, wrote and, on one occasion, featured in pornography in a career spanning sixteen years. By combining memoir and historical account Rosen constructs a vivid impression of how the pornography industry worked and the tensions imposed on the individuals involved, describing a reality that was shocking and mundane in equal measure. The two books complement each other, providing an absorbing discussion of both permissible social mores and obscenity in the context of interpretations of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Strub offers a meta-textual analysis from the voluminous and lively body of literature surrounding pornography and pieces together the skirmishes prompted by pornography and obscenity focusing upon campaign groups, politicians, judges, lawyers, pornographers and the general population. Strub’s analysis has some parallels to other works on censorship by Paul Boyer, Nicola Beisel, Andrea Freidman and Leigh Ann Wheeler.(i) Nevertheless, it extends the project and local focus that Andrea Freidman, for example, explored in her work on obscenity in pre-war New York. Perversion for Profit stands out by concentrating in great detail and scope on a period in which pornography proved a cultural mainstay and a political issue. Strub’s inclusion of the local battles in which obscenity proceedings emanate before eventually reaching the Supreme Court underlines the key friction between local and national law-making is key to the book’s success. By showing these frictions Strub helps contextualize the change from the rather polite opposition to pornography posed by the relatively moderate Citizens for Decent Literature to the Communist scaremongering of the New Right or the outraged moralist New Christian Right.
Rosen, on the other hand, provides an account of his personal experience interspersed with a wider history of pornography. He describes the pressure and paranoia of being under the surveillance of the anti-pornography crusaders and maintaining sales whilst satisfying both publishers’ requirements and readers’ tastes. A sixties counter-culture participant of the kind that later pornography opponents feared, Rosen celebrates the subversive potential of the medium. Nonetheless, he admits that his kind of pornographer was outnumbered by those who were simply sexually precocious, cash-strapped writers (for instance Mario Puzo) or capitalists allured by the financial rewards of selling sex. The precariousness of the industry is apparent in Rosen’s account. He describes magazines folding, participants finding more mainstream occupations and editors developing cocaine habits. The dark side of pornography is also not obscured. Some of Rosen’s protagonists inspire sadness as they are exploited, alienated from society, experience feelings of shame and some rather unhappy personal lives. Together, this results in a rich account that adds considerable depth and texture to any understanding of how the pornography industry worked as a sector of the print media, particularly in regard to the uniquely intense outside scrutiny it received.
Perversion for Profit takes the reader through the ruptures in the modern anti-porn movement. Following the Second World War, pornography was restricted under the law. Simultaneously, a liberal legal interpretation of free speech predominated, positing that censorship was anathema to American values. As the production of pornography on an industrial scale became more viable, the number and circulation of magazines increased; higher sales were prompted by more and more brazen and titillating pictures. In response, as Strub argues in chapter three, an organized antiporn movement emerged. In 1963 Citizens for Decent Literature released the documentary Perversion for Profit which focused upon “the extent of the pornography racket and the different types of pornography”. This was coupled with the emergence of local chapters of the group which put pressure on local authorities to prevent obscene literature in the community. Strub’s explanation of the way in which the First Amendment was tested by national and state legislatures when creating and applying obscenity laws is impressive. In the latter half of the book he explores the way in which the First Amendment debate intensified and became politicised by the New Right and New Christian Right. This qualitative change in the antiporn movement was in some ways mirrored in the more outré pornography that began to be produced at the same time, allowed by, as Strub argues, the permissive social changes of the sixties and seventies. However the internal vicissitudes of the pornography industry and its magazines are naturally better explained by Rosen.
Rosen’s account fits the general narrative that Strub proposes. For instance, Rosen recalls being the subject of an early seventies obscenity dispute as the editor of City College’s student newspaper Observation Post following the publication of a cartoon that depicted a nun masturbating with a crucifix. This cartoon was debated in the United States Senate by Republican James Buckley and led to a cunning bill that circumnavigated the hegemony of liberal free speech laws by cutting the funding for student papers. A few years later as a result of sustained unemployment and a job offer, Rosen was working for pornographic titles High Society (followed by Stag then D-Cups) and again irking the moral purists. Interestingly Rosen discusses the daily precautions taken to prevent obscenity accusation, the placement of strategic blue dots, the politics of “split beaver” and the adjustments made to magazines to satisfy stricter Canadian obscenity laws. With his encyclopedic knowledge of applied obscenity laws, Rosen details how he and his counterparts tried to provide their readers with the “smut” they demanded. The completion of this finely balanced task is interspersed with anecdotes of censorious threats and colorful colleagues both in front of and behind the camera. The stigma surrounding pornography attracted an eccentric milieu as those intoxicated with wealth and sex mingled with social outsiders. Rosen captures them evocatively, the good and bad, which is a handy reminder that the book is as much of a literary as it is a conventional historical account.
Although Strub’s book is thoroughly engaging throughout, his focus upon reactions to modern pornography by American feminists is particularly thought provoking. It resists the often-held assumption that feminists are categorically opposed to the medium and its frequent explicit sexism. Strub is insightful when analysing the marriage of convenience between anti-pornography feminists such as Angela Dworkin and the vehemently anti-feminist New Right. Strub argues that Dworkin and the New Right’s dalliance was due to American liberalism’s failure to provide a space for a debate on sexual politics. In fact, many feminists sought to protect society from censorship and, as Strub shows, were thus compelled to defend pornography despite its failings. Rosen further complicates interpretations of gender politics—which seem inextricable from pornography—by giving instances in which strong women have worked in porn as actors or magazine staff. Indeed, it is important to take into account that these women were not feminists and have often been subject to disapproval from feminists; even feminists who support women in pornography’s inalienable right to free speech have remained uncomfortable with their submission to misogyny. Also instances of advancement within pornography do not disguise how few women were in positions of real power in the porn industry, or that women who become porn actors were often discarded decades before their male counterparts. The exploitation of women is an issue that historians of pornography cannot ignore and which could be explored more in both texts.
Rosen adds further confusion to the reading of gender and partial confluences of feminist and New Right politics with his account of the Traci Lords scandal. Lords was a highly successful porn actor who in 1986 admitted to having acquired a false driver’s license and passport when she was fifteen in order to appear in pornographic films and photographs. Rosen relates how Lords deployed quasi-feminist tropes to justify her advancement in the maleficent pornography industry and in response to her personal narrative of exploitation by older men in the industry and relatives. Nevertheless, the New Right responded by espousing a rhetoric that focused upon child protection and child pornography. This is slightly incongruent with Strub’s conceptualisation of a marriage of convenience, as in Rosen’s account and this instance, both rhetorical language from the New Right and Lords’ peculiar brand of self-defined feminism seem to share aims, but remain separate. Nevertheless, the strategy acrued the right considerable political capital and had significant legal ramifications for the magazines. Ronald Reagan added the ‘Traci Lords amendments’ that Rosen argues were superfluous and craven changes to the already robust Child Protection Act of 1984. Lords eventually parlayed her infamy into a moderately successful non-pornographic film career. This wider issue in pornography is energised by Rosen as he describes the panic to remove every image of Lords from the D-Cups office to prevent accusations of child pornography. The Lords affair shows how coupled with Strub, both texts work to problematize the reading of gender, and narratives of liberalism and conservatism that compete for control. Albeit it is important to note that Strub is somewhat unconvinced about Rosen’s implicit assumption that pornography can be a tool for the advancement of women.
Overall both Strub and Rosen have written thought provoking and entertaining histories of modern United States pornography. Neither revel in smut—as the readers of Stag may have done—yet, neither are they coy, thus enabling the reader to gain a solid understanding of a large part of the print, film and now web-based pornographic media and its socio-political context. Rosen’s lack of squeamishness may be off-putting for some. Readers of more “vanilla” tendencies may be put off by graphic descriptions of hard core pornographic scenes, such as his account of the “insertion of fifteen billiard balls into a man’s anus followed by an elbow-deep fist-fucking”.(ii) Rosen’s candour is not simply aimed to titillate, but to inform about pornographic publishing using its own idiom. What both Rosen and Strub convey is how pornography comes into contact with greater narratives of obscenity, permissiveness, sexuality and gender. It is apparent from their accounts how pornography is a vital and rich subject for analyzing a range of social pressures and competing narratives.
i Paul Boyer, Purity in Print: The Vice-Society Movement and Book Censorship in America (New York: Charles Screibner’s Sons, 1968); Nicola Beisel, Imperiled Innocents: Anthony Comstock and Family Reproduction in Victorian America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997); Andrea Freidman, Prurient Interests: Gender, Democracy, and Obscenity in New York City, 1909-1945 (New York: Colombia University Press, 2000);Leigh Ann Wheeler, Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2004).
ii Robert Rosen, Beaver Street, p. 56.
Beaver Street's first brush with notoriety occurred nine years ago, when The New York Times ran an article partially inspired by an embryonic Beaver Street manuscript. "A Demimonde in Twilight" profiled a number of literate porn writers surviving in New York City in the declining days of magazine publishing. Two of those writers, "Izzy Singer" and "Maria Bellanari," are major characters in Beaver Street. (They went by different names in the article.) The story also discussed the connection between magazines like Stag and Swank, writers like Mario Puzo and Bruce Jay Friedman, and Marvel Comics, a "secret history" that I explore at length in Beaver Street.
It was written by Matthew Flamm, a journalist who’s been instrumental in bringing attention to my work. In 1999, Flamm was the first one to write about my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man. His item in Entertainment Weekly sparked a conflagration of media coverage that put Nowhere Man on best-seller lists in five countries.
Flamm has at last read the published version of Beaver Street, and has posted his distinctly New York-flavored review on Amazon. I will quote it in its entirety below:
Robert Rosen’s Beaver Street is both an absorbing memoir of a writer's struggle to make a living and a brief history of pornography as it grew from a mom and pop business into the industrial giant it is today. But this well researched, smartly written, surprisingly funny book is also a one of a kind tour through a fast-disappearing underbelly of American popular culture. Rosen, a pre-gentrification New Yorker, fell into porn when it still held a certain countercultural allure. His cast of characters includes hapless, aspiring artists, shrewd businessmen (and businesswomen), all-out neurotics, sexual desperados, and conniving egomaniacs. Kind of a cross section of a broken down IRT local train circa 1980. Beaver Street shows us an alternative Grub Street, one that many of us never knew existed.
I've written about the Beaver Street index, perhaps the only index in any book in which "North, Oliver" is followed by "North, Peter." I've written about the David Foster Wallace-inspired footnotes, in which I detailed the impact of such things as the Traci Lords scandal on "postal workers from Pittsburgh who shot exhibitionist housewives shaving their pudenda for cheap thrills and a taste of 'trailer-park celebrity.'" But I've yet to say a word about a section of the book which some people have told me is their favorite part—the appendix.
Yes, the appendix, so called because, like a human appendix, if you remove it, the book can live without it.
One reason I wanted to write a book like Beaver Street is because I thought, having lived through it, I wouldn’t have to do a lot of research. I was wrong. The more I wrote, the more I realized there were too many things I couldn’t explain. And to explain the history of modern pornography, at least to myself, I ended up tracing that history from cave paintings in the Lascaux region of France, c. 33,000 BC, to the dawn of modern porn: the day in 1983 that High Society publisher Carl Ruderman acquired three 976 lines.
The appendix is a byproduct of that research, kind of a Mel Brooksian History of the World that concentrates only on how pornographers were always among the first to exploit new technology for economic gain. So, until I find the time to expand this appendix into an all-encompassing, thousand page History of Pornography, I’ll leave you with piece of the appendix from 1839 and the Industrial Revolution:
“The development of photography, a fusion of art and science, is attributed to many people, and it’s the greatest piece of moneymaking technology pornographers have yet to see. Though taking pictures is an expensive, complex process, this is hardly a deterrent to the ambitious sex entrepreneur. In fact, it’s as if the first words spoken upon the invention of the camera were: Let’s shoot some porno!”
They're rioting in England! The economy's melting down! Everything's out of control! So let's talk about art again.
The other week I wrote about the erotic paintings of my former art director Sonja Wagner, a character in Beaver Street who goes by her real name and has some of the best lines in the book. Her paintings, I suggested, served as useful illustrations of the ongoing debate about what is art and what is smut. And I said that even her most overtly pornographic images, ones that I wouldn’t risk showing on this website, are still, clearly, art—because of the skill and imagination with which they were created, and their emotional impact.
I’ve also come to realize that Sonja’s paintings, based on her D-Cup layouts, are a parallel narrative to Beaver Street, though to appreciate this you had to be there, either when the photos were shot or when Sonja and I put together the layouts.
Her paintings remind me of the photographers who shot them—Steve Colby, John Lee- Graham, and Falcon Foto—of being in London or California and directing the shoots, of interviewing the models, or of simply standing in Sonja’s cubicle and watching her place the photos down on boards, and slice them with her X-acto knife to achieve a perfect fit. All of which I wrote about in Beaver Street.
And it amazes me that these layouts, created decades ago to be nothing more than disposable trash and masturbation fodder, have been transformed as if by magic into enduring works of art.
This is how the paper described Nicholson Baker's latest pornographic opus on the cover of their Sunday magazine section—probably the first time in its history the upstanding media organ has used "filth" as a term of praise.
Set in a sexual theme park and scheduled to be published tomorrow by Simon & Schuster, “A Book of Raunch,” as Baker’s novel is subtitled, has given the Times license to use language that they’d normally consider inappropriate.
Their profile of Baker’s quiet life in Maine, by Charles McGrath, titled “The Mad Scientist of Smut,” makes me wonder if I was hasty in insisting that Headpress refrain from labeling Beaver Street “smut,” lest we offend the delicate sensibilities of certain critics who need to believe that only they possess the ability to distinguish art from filth.
“Nicholson Baker does not look like a dirty-book writer,” McGrath’s piece begins. “His color is good. His gaze is direct, with none of the sidelong furtiveness of the compulsive masturbator.” Towards the end of the article, he describes a scene in the book “in which a woman who has been magically miniaturized finds herself trapped inside a man’s penis and can be released only by ejaculation.”
This from a newspaper that in 2002, apparently fearful of double entendres, refused to print the title Beaver Street in an article about the porn industry
The Times take on pornography is always fascinating—for the insight it provides into their schizophrenic editorial psyche and the ever-changing standards they arbitrarily apply to whatever they might be publishing. And Nicholson Baker is, indeed, one of the few living American authors who can write a dirty book and get this kind of coverage. (Philip Roth may be the only other one.)
Baker’s ability to inject his filth deep inside mainstream America with one powerful thrust humbles me, and I bow to him.
"Is there any piece of porn writing you're most proud of?" Ben Myers asked when he interviewed me about Beaver Street for Bizarre magazine. Due to space limitations, my answer wasn't published. Here it is now:
High Society and Swank Publications hired a lot of good writers to crank out mindless, disposable filth. But good writing was actively discouraged. At HS the editor occasionally threatened to do an issue with no words at all, just to prove how unnecessary writers were. At Swank, Chip Goodman, the publisher, explicitly told me not to write the kind of articles that would make people want to keep the magazines. He wanted his readers to throw out each issue and buy the new one.
But every year, as a matter of professional pride, I made it a point to write and publish at least one good story. An essay I wrote for D-Cup about The Fermata, by Nicholson Baker, comes to mind. It’s a novel about a man who has the power to stop time, and he uses this power to undress women in public places and occasionally masturbate. In the course of writing the piece, I ran into all kinds of problems with Canadian censorship—undressing women when they don’t know they’re being undressed is considered rape and degradation in Canada, even if the context is satiric literature.
What started out as a straightforward review evolved into an essay on the absurdity of Canadian censorship regulations. The illustration that I commissioned for the story was a picture of Baker sitting on a subway train with an enormous erection, jerking off while looking at a naked, large-breasted woman.
A few weeks later I went to see him give a reading at Barnes & Noble and I brought the mag with me. He’s signing everybody’s copy of The Fermata, and when it’s my turn I drop the picture of him jerking off on the table. He does a double take and breaks up laughing. But he signs it, gives me his address, and asks me to send him a copy.
Note: House of Holes: A Book of Raunch, Nicholson Baker’s latest pornographic opus, will be published on August 9.
The other day I wrote about how Amazon was unwittingly selling vintage issues of men's magazines containing pictures of Traci Lords, the porn superstar who was underage for her entire career, and whose deception nearly destroyed the adult industry 25 years ago. As this latest development shows, Lords’ ancient actions, which I’ve detailed in Beaver Street, continue to reverberate.
Thus far, however, only Curtis Cartier of the Seattle Weekly has been covering the story, and he’s provided an update on his blog.
According to Cartier, Amazon has pulled most of the issues (apparently provided by extremely foolish and/or ignorant “marketplace sellers”) containing pictures of Lords. Though he said that one image of an issue remained—the August 1985 Swank, with Lords on the cover—that, too, has since been removed.
Cartier also noted that Lords has been tweeting about Amazon.
Tweet #1: I just found out that Amazon is selling my old kiddie porn mags. Not ok.
Tweet #2: Amazon = losers of week for selling child pornography.
Tweet #3: I wish I had a legion of lawyers to kick Amazons ass. Aren’t there enough attractive willing adults out there to exploit?
Tweet #4: All this Amazon drama has driven me to sobriety.
Some things never change. A middle-aged Traci Lords who, beginning in 1984, used a fraudulent passport and driver’s license to systematically seek work in the porn industry still refuses to take any responsibility for what happened. “I was drunk! I was stoned! I was victimized!” she said 25 years ago, when the scandal broke.
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 a 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.)
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.
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.
I’m going to kick back for a couple of days and celebrate a long holiday weekend by doing nothing that involves words. But before I vanish into a haze of food, family, and fireworks, I want to thank everybody who’s taken the time to read this blog, and I especially want to thank the people who’ve bought Beaver Street, who’ve written about it, and who’ve created videos and artwork to promote it. You know who you are.
Sometime after Nowhere Man was published, in 2000, I set out to write the best book that had ever been written about pornography—because nobody who’s worked in the industry has ever adequately or entertainingly explained the impact of porn on modern culture, politics, and society. This was my modest ambition and, obviously, it’s up to other people to judge whether or not I’ve succeeded.
Beaver Street has been out in the UK for a couple of months now, and it’s gotten a bit of media attention, thank you very much. But this is just the beginning, a dress rehearsal for the big show—its inevitable publication here, in America. And I, of course, intend to keep slogging away, doing everything I can to see that it reaches its intended audience.
To paraphrase Lucinda Williams: “It’s a long way to the top if you want to write a book.”
Stan Lee explains his partnership with Jack Kirby.
The intimate connection between porno mags, like Stag, and Marvel Comics is a subject I discuss at length in Beaver Street, in a chapter called “The Secret History.” A few days ago, The New York Times weighed in with an essay about the ongoing copyright battle between the heirs of Jack Kirby—who, along with Stan Lee, created many of the Marvel Superheroes, like Spider-Man—and the Marvel Corporation, now owned by Disney. Produced as a “works for hire,” these characters are now worth billions of dollars.
The Times article, “Marvel Superheroes and the Fathers of Invention,” by Brent Staples, is an interesting companion piece to Beaver Street, shedding even more light on how the company that gave rise to a both a comic book and pornographic empire has exploited its workers through three generations.
It’s not in my nature to complain about any publicity that I get for Beaver Street. As I’ve found out time and again, a vicious review can sell as many books as a good one. What’s important is that people are reading my books, and care enough to write something about them.
But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon: A series of Beaver Street reviews has gone viral, and they’re all mash-ups of blurbs, press material, and previously published reviews, with an occasional dash of original thought thrown in for good measure. And they’re all written in a weird kind of subliterate English that sounds as if it were partially computer-translated, perhaps from Bengali.
In one review, titled “Beaver Street: The Pornography Explained,” the writer says, “The real actors behind the scene had to sweat for long hours to fetch something ever new so that the consumers could satisfy their ‘affluent’ needs.”
That’s the strangest metaphor for masturbation I’ve ever heard.
I pictured a guy in India, who speaks English, but not well enough to express complex thoughts, and who doesn’t quite understand American pop culture, writing these reviews for 25 cents each.
Other people have pointed out that you don’t have to go to India to find writers willing to crank out articles for 25 cents, or less. You can find them here, in America, working on content farms, like Demand Media—21st-century digital sweatshops where, in some cases, writers are required to produce an “article” every 25 minutes over the course of a 70-hour workweek.
The purpose of these articles is to generate page views and advertising revenue by placing “high demand” search terms in their headlines. And they’ve changed the classic rules of publicity. No longer is it all good, even if they do spell your name right. In some cases, publicity is just bizarre. Though I suppose it is good that “Beaver Street” has been identified as a high-demand search term.
The July issue of Bizarre magazine, with my Beaver Street interview, “The Porn Identity,” by Ben Myers, has come to America, or at least to New York City. I saw it yesterday at Universal News, on West 23rd Street, and also at Universal News on West 14th Street.
An outrageous British “alternative” mag that’s into fetishism, body modification, and the counterculture in general, Bizarre can be shocking even to the jaded. The July issue is a “porno special” with “36 pages of kink”—which includes my interview. Get it while it lasts.
Taking one of our periodic looks into the diversity of Beaver Street subject matter, today we’ll explore one of my favorite letters of the alphabet, M, which in the book’s comprehensive index covers, among other things, the novelist who wrote The Naked and the Dead, my wife, a men’s adventure mag once edited by Bruce Jay Friedman, a French impressionist painter, a porn star who once worked for Senator Orrin Hatch, and a mass murderer who some people think is “a genius gone wrong.”
Mailer, Norman 138
Maiscott, Mary Lyn 205
Manet, Édouard 173
Manners, Missy 142, 162
Manson, Charles 30, 118
In my interview with Ben Myers that ran in the July issue of Bizarre, I explained that I served as the male model in a shoot called “The $5 Blowjob”—I describe the experience in Beaver Street—because no real writer had ever gotten in front of the camera and reported on what it was like to be a porn “star.” As I mentioned to Myers, one of the writers who failed to take advantage of this kind of opportunity is Martin Amis, when he wrote a piece about the porn industry in California, “XXX Marks the Spot,” for Tina Brown’s short-lived Talk magazine. (Another version of the article ran in The Guardian.)
Amis’s article, a classic example of an outsider writing about an industry he doesn’t understand or have any real feeling for, lacked genuine insight. His big “scoop”: “Anal is hot.”
Though he blew it on the porno piece, I still admire Martin Amis’s writing. In fact, I used a quote about modern literature’s treatment of masturbation from his novel London Fields at the beginning of Beaver Street.
James Wolcott recently mentioned “XXX Marks the Spot” in his Vanity Fair blog—he called it “a quite vivid article about visiting a hardcore porn set.” It was part of a posting noting that Amis is moving to Brooklyn and had written to him asking if he knew “any cool places to hang out” there. Wolcott, a resident of the Upper West Side, couldn’t help him.
Having escaped from Brooklyn 36 years ago, when Brooklyn was still a place to escape from, I don’t think I could help Amis either. However, once he settles into his new digs, I would like to chat with him about pornography, literature, and Brooklyn.
I’m right across the bridge in Manhattan, practically walking distance from Cobble Hill—assuming Mr. Amis likes to walk. Or, if he prefers, I can cross the bridge. Den, maybe, we can grab a coupla ’dogs at Natan’s. Dat, t’me, is duh ting t’do in Brooklyn, as Thomas Wolfe might have said.
I’d like to share with you two paragraphs from an essay published on The Huffington Post about Congressman Anthony Weiner, by Rabbi Irving Kula, titled “The Roasting of Weiner and the Public Good.” The rabbi makes the same point here about the porn industry that I make in Beaver Street. But it’s a point that can’t be made often enough.
“Tweeting sexually suggestive texts, including highly inappropriate images, to seven women was stupid, tasteless, and crude as well as narcissistic and sexually immature. But Weiner is a teeny issue that we have blown up to avoid confronting something deeply wrong in contemporary America. We pounced on Weiner for lying about his tweets, which he did out of a justified sense of embarrassment, all the while that we lie about the sexual eccentricities/pathologies of our own culture, which surely embarrass us. Weiner is the tip of the iceberg of our sexual issues. Estimates are that the porn industry in this country is a fourteen billion dollar industry that reaches into our finest corporations. Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company pulls in more than 50 million dollars from adult programming. You will not read in it their annual reports but all the nation’s top cable operators, from Time Warner to Cablevision, distribute sexually explicit material to their subscribers. Same with satellite providers like EchoStar and DirecTV, which may make as much as five hundred million dollars off of the adult entertainment business. Then there are our big hotel chains: Hilton, Marriot, Hyatt, Sheraton and Holiday Inn, which all offer adult films on in-room pay-per-view television systems. And they are purchased by a whopping 50 percent of their guests, accounting for nearly 70 percent of their in-room profits.
“But wait there is more. According to a CBS News 60 Minutes report 89% of porn is created in the U.S. $2.84 billion in revenue was generated from U.S. Internet porn sites in 2006. $89/second is spent on porn. 72% of porn viewers are men and 260 new porn sites go online daily.”
In Beaver Street, I discuss putting together a pornographic style sheet that covered “stylistic and syntactical issues not covered by the bible of publishing professionals, The Chicago Manual of Style.” One of the common mistakes I noted was the spelling of “anilingus.” Writers misspelled this word nearly one hundred percent of the time: “analingus.”
The other day Headpress sent me the July issue of Bizarre magazine, with my interview, by Ben Myers. Thumbing through the mag, I came upon a profile of Woody, a “deviant” tattoo artist. As you can see from the photo, Woody is unfamiliar with “The Beaver Street Manual of Style.” Which just goes to show, even “inking icons” need a good proofreader.
Next up in my critique of great “smut” writing recommended by Slate is a 10,000-word excerpt of a self-published book, They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They? (2009), by freelance journalist Susannah Breslin, who also blogs about being downsized for Forbes magazine.
A collection of interviews and reportage conducted on the sets of various X-rated videos, the piece is a classic example of the Andrea Dworkin School of Anti-Porn Writing. And it’s hard to say who might consider it “great” other than Senator Orrin Hatch, who will undoubtedly use Breslin’s book as evidence in his quest to persuade the Justice Department to launch a vigorous investigation of the porn industry.
I’ve no doubt that Breslin did an enormous amount of research and reporting. But to present her findings as “typical” strikes me as a gross distortion. The essential problem with the piece, I think, is that the author lacks any genuine sympathy for the people she’s writing about. Clearly she finds them interesting, but she never lets the reader forget that she’s not one of them, that she’s above it all, that pornographers are some other species, not quite human.
Yet, Breslin also displays far less ignorance than many others writers I’ve read who’ve done similar stories. And she explores a number of issues that I cover in Beaver Street, such as the predilection of conservative administrations, like Bush II, to declare war on porn, often with embarrassing results.
Thumbnail Critique Thesis: Porn is bad. Porn is stupid. Porn is ugly. Porn is violent. Blame it on the recession and free Internet porn. Mood: Grim and humorless. Highlight: Breslin interviews Jim Powers and porn star Ryan Hunter as he directs her in Fuck Machine 5, a video in which the “costar” is an “animatronic phallus” rather than a human male. Sample Quote: [A man interviews a porn star on camera] “So, what do you do for a living?”
“I work in porn.”
“Absolute whore, right?”
“What kind of whore?”
“Piece of shit whore?”
“Piece of shit whore.” Also See:“A Rough Trade” by Martin Amis
At least that’s what they’re calling it on Slate, in a piece that somehow overlooks my own contribution to the genre, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography. Of course, I don’t take such slights personally. I just added a comment, pointing out their oversight. (I urge you to do the same, assuming you regard Beaver Street as a great read.)
For the record, the five reads they selected are: The Devil and John Holmes, by Mike Sager, from Rolling Stone; They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?, by Susannah Breslin (self published, 2009); Scenes from My Life in Porn, by Evan Wright, from LA Weekly; Barely Legal Whores Get Gang F***ed, by Zac Smith (Rumpus, 2009); and Hard Core, by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, from Atlantic.
As the author of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, and the subject of an experiment in participatory journalism called “The $5 Blowjob” (which I describe in the book), I feel I should offer a few words of advice to Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York.
Congressman, if you have an uncontrollable impulse to show pictures of your erect penis to strangers on the Internet, find another line of work. May I suggest pornography? You won’t even have to change your name.
As strange as it seems to be wearing the mantel of “Gonzo Filth Legend” (GFL) that Bizarre magazine has bestowed upon me, the appellation is, perhaps, an apt description of my id around the time I was 20, and editing Observation Post, an “alternative” student newspaper at the City College of New York. (I describe this experience in some detail in Beaver Street.) Back in those days, though I didn’t admit it to myself (at least in those words), I dare say I aspired to be a GFL. Now, 38 years later, according to Bizarre, I’ve done it.
The reaction of my homeboys has been predictable.
“Anything less than a ‘Gonzo Filth Legend’ would have been an insult!” writes Paul Slimak, whom I call “Henry Dorfman” in the book. (Paul now plays unreconstructed Nazi Erich von Pauli in the Beaver Streetpromotional videos.)
“Seems you should print up some cards with that as your title,” writes a Facebook friend I know from junior high school, who prefers to remain anonymous.
“I hope I’m able to introduce you in those terms to some of my friends,” writes an editor who works with my wife, and whose name, as a matter of prudence, I shall not mention.
Former editor of For Adults Only, Izzy Singer, however, has pointed out an inaccuracy in the article. “As I recall,” he writes, “I commissioned ‘The $5 Blowjob,’ not you.”
Yes, Izzy, you are correct. And that’s exactly what it says in Beaver Street.
One reader in London, who works with photographer Steve Colby and helped me organize shoots for the various magazines I edited back in the day, said that the layout reminds her of her favorite mag, Razzle, from the 1970s. The piece set off a flood of nostalgia: “I remember Steve having to do themed five-girl shoots for Razzle—five girls in a plastic paddling pool filled with baked beans or custard, that kind of stuff. Fun, except the studio was whiffy for weeks afterwards! Did some good themed stuff for you, too, if you remember—the two-girl Egyptian shaved set! Or the girl on the swing, in front of a romantically painted backdrop, who shaved her head! Wow! Imagine getting away with that these days...”
And a reader in Chile (where I’d gone in 2005 to promote Nowhere Man) writes: “As I read that article I cannot stop laughing or being surprised. Taking mescaline in S&M clubs... fake boobs exploding in the middle of a scene… Excellent stories, what can I say? It doesn’t even seem real... Ben Myers deserves an award, because it’s an excellent article, fun and freaky, in a way that you want to eat that book of yours.”
Thank you, dear readers. And keep those cards and letters coming in.
Headpress has posted the Beaver Street layout from the July issue of Bizarre, the popular British lad mag, which goes on sale tomorrow in the UK. It’s an amazing piece, written by Ben Myers. And it makes me wonder if I’m the first writer in the history of Western Literature whose work has been endorsed by both Bizarre and Vanity Fair. (Not to mention the Erotic Review.)
A Prague Legend. Photo by IneedCoffee / CoffeeHero.
In yet another look into the diversity of subject matter found in Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, we explore the letter K, which covers, among other things, a grotesquely imaginative writer in Prague, a classic book of sex positions, two porno superstars, a former Hustler editor, and a racist organization known for cross burning.
Kafka, Franz 164 Kama Sutra 126
Kane, Sharon 63, 64
Krassner, Paul 29
Ku Klux Klan 144
Kupps, Kimberly 175
That’s what they’re calling me in the coming attractions for the July issue of Bizarre, a popular British “lad” magazine that covers such subjects as tattooing, piercing, fetishism, and according to Wikipedia, features “interviews with famous counterculture figures” and showcases “cult directors, musicians, and authors.”
This is not the appellation I might have chosen for myself (and certainly not one that would please my mother), but I am a practitioner of “gonzo” journalism, I have on occasion written “filth,” and it’s always nice to be called a “legend.” So, I’ll take it.
The issue, which goes on sale “in all good shops” in the UK on June 7, is dedicated to pornography—“The sexiest skin stars, the grubbiest grandmas and the filthiest flicks!” as Bizarre puts it in the coming attractions.
Ben Myers, the critically acclaimed author of Richard, a novel about Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers, interviewed me about Beaver Street. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that he asked me some of the most outrageous questions any journalist ever has. And I answered them gleefully.
In New York, you can find Bizarre at Universal News and most shops that carry foreign periodicals. Ask for it by name. And don’t let them sell you a copy of Harper’s Bazaar.
Hey Alan, thanks for the feedback. Appreciate your perspective and the energy you put into writing it. Thank god you weren’t bored with Beaver Street. As a rule, I don’t argue with critics. Tried it too many times with Nowhere Man and found you can’t change people's minds. So, I stand by what I wrote. The book speaks for itself. I didn’t use Arnold Shapiro’s real name cause he’s not dead—dead on the inside doesn’t count—and he’s not a public figure or even a limited-purpose public figure. (I explained it in the author’s note.) This is the most negativity I’ve received from somebody who’s capable of genuine critical thought. But that’s encouraging, as I’m sure you know what Oscar Wilde said about when the critics disagree. (See the preface to Dorian Gray if you don’t.) I am going to share your critique with a few other Swank alumni cause I’m sure they’ll find it as interesting as I do.
A former co-worker at Swank Publications sent me this e-mail after reading Beaver Street. Both complimentary and scathing, it serves as a reminder of what happens when you write books about real people. I’ve changed his name as well as the names of any non-public figures and still-living former colleagues that he mentions. All names in the letter correspond to the names I used in the book. The redacted names do not appear in the book.
OK, Bob, finished the Beaver. It’s obvious the work you put in, research, continuity, editing, organizing. You juxtapose the subjective and objective in interesting ways. As an insider, you still surprised me with new info and reminded me quite tactilely what we saw, felt, and dealt with. I can only imagine readers who weren’t there being pulled in and getting a good idea of it. The evolution of the biz does indeed mirror and contradict society simultaneously. All that is very effective and reads well without lecturing.
The pacing is good all along but feels like it jumps at the end. You go from lots of detail and everyday experiences to and overview in the last couple chapters. Was this your decision or a result of editing?
Your disdain for the biz, employers, and self-loathing is palpable. Not sure who you’re blaming. Them for over-paying you, your dad for exposing and inspiring you to pursue fringe publishing, yourself for not doing something else despite the money. (You don’t make it sound like it was easy money—being disgusted, nauseated, adjusting and adapting to each and every thing thrown at you. And you appear to never say no...)
A couple other things I question: How do you know Chip [Goodman]’s moods were solely influenced by the amount of coke he did? That he had a Napoleonic complex is clear but do you know if he was ever diagnosed as bi-polar, had family issues, painful teeth or any of a million other things that cause mood swings? Yeah, we know he did coke but there is nothing on record about rehab, ODs or the like. I think you take a broad stroke there merely to smear someone you despised and depict with great judgment. Same for [Carl] Ruderman but to a much less scathing degree. And it seems you spared “Arnold Shapiro” all but being a kiss-ass yes-man. Plus I thought you said you used his real name. Why not out him? He was perhaps the bigger douche in the big scheme of things because of his duplicitous and hypocritical relationship with and against Chip. You mention his flip-flopping to please the boss but not his loathing for him behind his back, all the while dancing to the bank and doing his investing on the phone while we toiled and made him more and more money. You also point out the money thrown at you for pick-up books but don’t mention how he would pay outside people double what he gave full-time employees. Outsiders wouldn’t know that, just saying.
And lastly, the thing I like least is your treatment of Bill Bottiggi. Why out his scam? And imply the connection to his murder? Totally not necessary and I might ad, not cool. Seems a crappy way to treat a troubled guy. Not to mention he was a very sweet soul despite his problems. If there was something he did to make your life difficult in some way, fucked you over, ripped you off or dissed you in any way other than trying to get you high and hitting on you, albeit in an awkward indirect way, if that’s what he was even really doing, I could see dragging him through the dirt. But he was simply a misfit, a generally innocuous misfit who was a victim of murder. A murder that you off-handedly say was never solved. [Murder theory redacted.] That plausible and grim theory is every bit a shitty story to tell, and thankfully left out, but if you don’t know one way or the other. why suggest anything? It seems you had something against him or just couldn’t resist including a juicy tidbit and the chance to include a salacious tale of sex, drugs, and murder. Which is it? You couldn't get the picture of his carved-up corpse out of your mind? Really? Well, me neither. I mourn for him and still raise a Bloody Mary in remembrance each Thanksgiving morning. I hope you rest easy knowing you’ve scandalized him in such an exploitive way. Yet you fail to mention genuine scum like [name of non-public figure redacted] (the coke-head art director of Swank), [name of non-public figure redacted], that other creep editor Chip brought in from Puritan. These were true pornographers in every deviant definition of the word, who were more over-paid than you to raise the bar of distaste.
So summing up, nice research, some nice writing, a peek into a time gone by but overall rather self-aggrandizing. I’m not too surprised but none-the-less disappointed you had to go down that road. Good luck with the sales anyway. I do admire your dedication and success. —Alan
This is the professor’s response to my five-part video interview with Kate Copstick and Jamie Maclean of the Erotic Review.
Interesting stuff. Thanks for the link.
I think you’re becoming a bit of a gloom and doomer. You’ve witnessed a migration of media for porn over the last 40 years or so, from paper and film to audio and video and now almost entirely to the Web. I don’t think it’s death by a long shot, only evolution. There must be considerable money in the industry still, as it answers a basic human need. It’s just become more invisible, even than the dapper Ruderman, hidden in an invisible electronic empire. There’s loads of the stuff (har har) on the Internet—it’s not a charity gesture, right? There will undoubtedly be another media that will replace the Web at some point, probably developed by a future Kevin Goodman.
The quality issue is another point. I think that plot is important—at least a trace of it—to make the material effective. The pizza delivery boy, gardener, maid, the chance meeting, all adds spice to the moment which would be otherwise generic and hollow. I have not extensively surveyed the material but suspect that story—and to an extent acting—are still important. Yeah, the self-glorifying awards ceremonies and visibility are gone, but that’s more the result of a puritanization of society from the libertine 70s. I mean, was there that much acting and directing talent back then? Part of this attitude might be driven by your take on Pamela Katz’s recent dismissal, but I am uncertain about the correlation—she was doomed as a print dinosaur and to be honest I didn’t see it as genius as much as persistence.
But, hey, l’chaim, Bob. Good to see you're getting positive mo.
Yesterday I noticed that the Erotic Review, the “posh” and literate British magazine that had already given Beaver Street an outstanding review had also slapped on their “Hot Pick” seal of approval. I guess this is kind of like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval… but different. In any case, this seemed like a good time to reflect upon a few of the encouraging signs that have shown themselves to Beaver Street over the past few months.
1. Beaver Street was a “Hot Type” selection in Vanity Fair UK, which is a pretty classy seal of approval, too.
2. Village Voice columnist Michael Musto called Beaver Street “Entertaining, insightful, and hot.” And he was amused by one of the promo videos, too.
3. David Comfort, writing for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, called Beaver Street “riveting” and said that I’d invented a new genre, “a confessional for-adults-only romantic comedy with a rare, thoughtful twist.”
4. Jamie Maclean, editor of the Erotic Review, said, “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.”
Tomorrow we shall return to our regularly scheduled correspondence.
This is the response to the e-mail I posted yesterday.
Ah, good times. Low-walled doorless offices with grumpy neighbors (maybe there was an environmental influence). The ebb and flow of editorial and art people, especially the calculated rambling of the creative director—causal, yet poisonous. And a pretty decent view. (If the offices were still in the same place on 9/11—and I showed up to work on time—it would have been a truly twisted view: doomed 747s at eye level.)
Did you write down the Lou Grant thing in the journal at some point? Either that, or your memory is strangely preserved.
So if porn stars don’t do it for art’s sake, then is it just for money? Is there some twisted idea of glamor involved? Or a psychological quirk? You put the people front and center here (with a touch o’ general history) and it seems like these are questions that are suggested in your work. There’s plenty of people more than happy to guess at this stuff from the outside—you write from a position of privilege by comparison.
Blog this if you wish, shorn, of course, of particulars.
This is my response to the e-mail I posted yesterday.
Thorny? Me? As I recall, you once did compare me to Lou Grant. But that was a long time ago.
I’m finding this exchange so entertaining that I’m considering publishing the whole thing on my blog, or most of it anyway. Will obviously have to edit carefully to hide your identity. Just want to make sure you don’t have a problem with that.
I’d say that with the exception of the later work of Annie Sprinkle there are no porn stars who consider their work art.
I was strangely nostalgic when reading your thorny responses. I suppose I was throwing out some rhetorical questions. But still the same, you are far better qualified to meditate on some of the inherent issues here—i.e., the need to escape from reality (oddly characteristic of all of Martin Goodman’s publications)—than Martin Amis. You’ve earned the right to discuss some of these “big” issues by virtue of your history. You take the trouble (like John Heindenry did in What Wild Ecstasy) to trace histories of the industry that have not been brought forward elsewhere, and can guess their significance as well as or better than anyone else. This wasn’t necessity, just a road that might have been followed.
I guess what appears interesting about the “creators” is not the editors, but performers. Is porn Art to them?
My imperfect knowledge of your history led me to hypothesize about those I thought to be anonymized characters but who were real folks. Bill Bottiggi, for instance, seemed like a composite but upon reflection I recalled him from office lore.
In any case, an insightful and detailed adventure through the shadowy world of the porn industry, replete with lively anecdotes. Good luck with it.
This is my response to the e-mail I posted yesterday.
It’s funny, just as I pushed the send button it occurred to me that you teach in a state where most people don’t believe in evolution, and that you wouldn’t be able to publicly comment on a volume such as Beaver Street. In any case, I do appreciate your academic perspective.
I’m afraid you'll have to look elsewhere for your broad history. That’s why I called the book “A History of Modern Pornography,” not “The History.” Something tells me “The History” would weigh in at 1,000+ pages. Barring a $1-million advance, I’ll wait for somebody else to do it.
I’d have to agree with you that explaining what motivates consumers is too obvious: They need masturbation fodder, a point I believe is made in the Martin Amis quote on page 2: “Masturbation was an open secret until you were thirty. Then it was a closed secret. Even modern literature shut up about it at that point, pretty much. Nicola held this silence partly responsible for the industrial dimensions of contemporary pornography—pornography, a form in which masturbation was the only subject. Everybody masturbated all their lives. On the whole, literature declined the responsibility of this truth. So pornography had to cope with it. Not elegantly or reassuringly. As best it could.”
Also think it’s pretty clear what motivates the creators (you, me, and most other people), a point I made in Chapter 3: We needed a job. People like Izzy Singer, of course, are the exception. They are exactly where they want to be. They’d never consider doing anything else. To them, Porn Is Art.
I am wondering which characters you got lost with. You’re the first person to say that.
No, no doppelgangers. The main part of the “personal” narrative ends around the time you appeared on stage.
Thanks for reading. Always fun jousting with the critics. (Far more fun than writing something new.)
This is the response to the e-mail I posted yesterday.
Thanks for the galleys. For some reason, I put aside the book I was reviewing, [title redacted], and got through your book rather rapidly onscreen.
All in all, a nice package. I would have preferred to see more broad history (no pun intended) and cultural hypothesis about porn—what motivates the consumers as well as the performers/creators—but that is either too obvious or too deep, I guess. You’re perched on a seat few share and in a real sense have authority to opine about porn as phenomenon; I woulda liked to have seen more. The blend of personal experience and general history overall works well, though, one buoying up the other.
Part of the game with those associated with your travails is playing who’s who, of course, and I was most surprised by the High Society stuff, which I’d forgotten. In any case, the portraits of both that operation and Swank Publications were pretty spot on. I understand the need to mix personas for privacy’s sake in a memoir, but I got lost with a couple of the characters. Not that that didn’t make them interesting in their own right; I was continually impressed with your ability to bring characters to life through detail, idiosyncrasies. By the way, I didn’t spot any doppelgangers—did I miss anything?
One factual point: recently researching the life of an author who wrote science fiction, CM Kornbluth, I came across mention of Martin Goodman’s 50s operations including first edition paperbacks of some sci fi classics (or near classics). It was the same profit setup as porn—crank out 200 manuscript pages per month for $x, publisher slaps on a lusty cover, repeat. I don’t have the book on hand anymore that references this (I borrowed it on interlibrary loan, being a poor academic), but it’s the only bio on CMK that exists. In any case, I thought this expanded the Martin story in a useful way—in his desire for profit and ability to sort talent, it’s almost as if he stumbled on these cultural pressure points (pleasure points?) and fostered entertainment industries (sci fi, porn, comics) that would loom large 50 years later. Maybe worth adding if you can.
I think you’ll understand why it’s best for me to refrain from public comment on this project, despite my enthusiasm. Thanks for the look-see and good luck.
The following is the first e-mail I sent to a former editor who worked with me at Swank publications and also worked at High Society. He now holds a prestigious position in academia. That’s why I’ve given him a pseudonym and in future e-mails will disguise any details that could be used to identify him. I’m running this correspondence to contrast my perspective with the academic perspective and to give a sense of what an author goes through as he prepares to publish a book and searches for anybody who might be willing to give him a useful blurb.
As promised, attached are the (very) uncorrected (and long awaited) Beaver Street galleys minus the real cover and pictures. I’ve been sending this to a limited number of people, mainly a few “characters” in the book, and a few friends and journalists who I know are interested. Printed galleys with pix and cover are still a few weeks away. But I am interested in any feedback, possibly to use as promo copy.
The Erotic Review has liberated Jamie Maclean's Beaver Street review and made it available for all to read. Pretty good blurb, too, plugging it on their home page: "Rosen's hilarious and autobiographical account of the 1980s NY Pornmeisters, their tumescence and, for some, their detumescence. It's filthy work if you can get it…"
I’d like to say a few more things about Jamie Maclean’s review of Beaver Street in the Erotic Review. For one thing, I love the way he tied together the critique with references to odor in my book—my description of the fetid smell of the Hellfire club, the Henry Miller quote I used at the beginning, and his description of the way the book “captures the aroma of pornography.” I remember coming upon the Miller quote—“Sex is not romantic, particularly when it is commercialized, but it does create an aroma, pungent and nostalgic”—and knowing immediately that it belonged in Beaver Street, though I hadn’t connected it with the Hellfire scene. It was unconscious, as these things often are.
I can already see the term papers: “Odor Imagery in Beaver Street.” Which raises the question: Can odor be an image? I’m not sure. It doesn’t necessarily create a picture in my brain. But it does create a smell.
I also think I should take Maclean’s advice: Bottle the aroma and sell it like perfume. I’ve got a great advertising slogan: Beaver Street, for that unmistakable stench of pornography.
Normally, you’re lucky to get one decent pull quote out of a review. But Jamie Maclean’s review of Beaver Street that ran in the May issue of the Erotic Review, and that I posted in its entirety yesterday, contains a wealth of pull quotes, any one of which would look good on the cover of a future edition of Beaver Street. Below, I’ve selected five, and I ask you, my readers, to vote for the one you like best by leaving a comment. Come on, guys. I don’t often ask for reader participation. Let’s show a little enthusiasm!
1. “Enormously entertaining.”
2. “Fast-paced, ironic style, underwritten by a wealth of hilarious experience, insider knowledge and serious research.”
3. “A revealing examination of North America’s bafflingly schizoid sexual psyche.”
4. “No exposé of sleazy pop culture has ever got this up-close and personal or received such intelligent, funny treatment.”
5. “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.”
Why did Robert Rosen throw up a promising journalistic career at the age of 30 to spend the next sixteen years of his life as a porn magazine editor, even taking part in a shoot (for reasons of journalistic integrity and in the name of transgressive art) called The Five Dollar Blow Job? ‘In many ways,’ he writes, ‘my professional pornographic odyssey is an ordinary tale of economic survival in New York.’
As someone who has spent roughly this length of time in ‘adult’ publishing, I could identify with the author of an enormously entertaining book about working behind the triple x-rated scenes of magazines such as High Society, Stag and D-Cup. I could also relate when Rosen had ‘not only become unmoored from all sense of conventional sexual mores (…) but I’d ceased to think rationally about sex itself.’ Or the times when the whiff of ‘fetid air, thick with the smell of urine and underlying stench of decay, made me stick to my stomach.’ In fact, here Rosen is describing a visit to Hellfire, an S&M club in NY’s meatpacking district, yet the experience works well as a metaphor for his equivocal reactions to having to occasionally ‘tread the fine line between arousing and sickening.’
The title of Robert Rosen’s Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography is a clue to the book’s fast-paced, ironic style, underwritten by a wealth of hilarious experience, insider knowledge and serious research. Yes, it is a history, and an important one at that, but it’s also an engaging slice of autobiography, a revealing examination of North America’s bafflingly schizoid sexual psyche and a tour d’horizon of some of the monoliths that dotted the late 20th century US porno landscape.
Among these were the kings of the stroke mag world, the aptly named Carl Ruderman (the ‘Father of Phone Sex’), ‘Chip’ Goodman, Larry Flynt and Screw’s Al Goldstein. And what often surprised these pornmeisters were the technological leaps that made some very rich indeed but which also, occasionally, bankrupted them. Rosen ably covers the Lockhart Commission on pornography, conceived by a desperate Lyndon Johnson beset by Vietnam War unpopularity and brought forth by the foul-mouthed Nixon and his sleazy, morally bankrupt cronies. He reserves his big guns for its successor, the Iran-Contra-linked, anti-porn, Meese Commission. Finally the author excoriates the staggeringly treacherous behaviour of Traci Lords, the weaselly, mendacious little madam who nearly brought the porn industry to its knees.
A billion dollar industry usually touches everything and everyone, and porn is no exception to the rule: US politics, international trade, Adolf Hitler, Jack Nicholson – even Spiderman and The Godfather. However Rosen is wisely selective when he revisits his deeply unlikeable former employers and the enjoyable, but complex (almost everyone is called Goodman, but don’t worry, the footnotes are excellent), warren of US porn-mag publishing of the early 1980s.
Surely no exposé of sleazy pop culture has ever got this up-close and personal or received such intelligent, funny treatment. As Rosen shrewdly quotes from Henry Miller’s Quiet Days in Clichy at the beginning of the book: ‘Sex is not romantic, particularly when it is commercialised, but it does create an aroma, pungent and nostalgic.’ 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.
Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography by Robert Rosen; Headpress; ISBN 978-1-90048-676-7; £11.99 from Headpress
The late David Foster Wallace was no stranger to the porn industry. Writing as Willem R. deGroot and Matt Rundlet for the September 1998 issue of Premiere, Wallace’s satiric takedown of the Adult Video News awards, “Neither Adult nor Entertainment,” was laced, as was most of his work, with hilarious footnotes. Wallace pushed the use of annotation to the limits of comic absurdity in a way I’d never seen, and by so doing, he paved the way for me to do the same thing in Beaver Street.
My footnotes, I think, add a new dimension to the book. As an example, I'll quote from the footnote on page 156, which describes the people on fringes of the adult industry who magazine editors could no longer work with in the aftermath of the Traci Lords scandal:
“These ‘marginal’ photographers and models were the people who made porno interesting, gave it what passed for a soul, and delivered the true grit and unvarnished reality of American sexuality—like the plumbers from St. Louis who sent in sleazy Polaroids of their naked girlfriends splayed pink on rusting lawn chairs in junk-strewn backyards; the garbage men from Detroit who submitted strangely erotic images of tattooed dancers with oversized clits posing on grungy toilets; and the postal workers from Pittsburgh who shot exhibitionist housewives shaving their pudenda for cheap thrills and a taste of ‘trailer-park celebrity.’”
Last month I found an enthusiastic Beaver Street thread in an online forum called AVMANIACS . So, I registered for the forum and told its members that I was available to discuss the book. A good portion of discussion, thus far, has focused on Traci Lords, whose story is at the heart of Beaver Street.
Interestingly, a number of posters appear to be about the same age as Lords, who was born in 1968, and many of their questions have to do with how Lords was able to acquire fraudulent ID. One poster said, for example, “I was a teenager in the same era as Traci Lords (and I think I’m a little smarter than your average porn actress), and you should have seen MY pathetic attempts to procure a fake ID. I find it hard to believe a fifteen year old ON HER OWN c. 1984 could get a fake birth certificate, a fake US passport, etc.”
First of all, Traci Lords was not your average porn actress. As I say in Beaver Street, she was the world’s greatest anti-porn star. And this poster has not taken into consideration her level of desperation. Lords didn’t want phony ID to buy beer. She needed the ID to survive. (I wonder if the poster made a serious effort to acquire a phony birth certificate, as Lords did.) As the porn industry found out too late: Never underestimate the capabilities of a ruthless and ambitious 15-year-old woman.
In the fifth and final part of my conversation with Kate Copstick and Jamie Maclean of the Erotic Review, we discuss the interplay of the personal and historical in Beaver Street, and how the book looks at the late 20th and early 21st centuries through a pornographic lens. Click here to watch all five parts of the interview.
The previous name, Advertisements for Myself, an allusion to Norman Mailer, served me well in the lead-up to the publication of Beaver Street. But now that the book’s out in the UK, and I’m posting daily on all matters relating to it, it was time for a more accurate name. So, with apologies to Canada, where the beaver is the national symbol; Oregon, the Beaver State; New York, where the beaver is the state animal; and my alma mater, the City College of New York, where the beaver is the school mascot, I bring you the first installment of The Daily Beaver.
No, I’ve not yet given my mother a copy of Beaver Street, though I intend to give her one when she’s in town later this month. She is, after all, referenced in the book, though she doesn’t know that yet. (I don’t think she reads this blog.) And she is aware that her name is in the acknowledgements. “Do you want your name in the acknowledgements?” I asked her as I was compiling the list.
She said yes.
“Are you sure? You know it’s a dirty book.”
She said yes.
“You realize it’s going to be like being Henry Miller’s mother.” It was the best example I could think of on the spur of the moment.
“I’d like to be Henry Miller’s mother,” she said.
Well, happy Mother’s Day, mom. Hope you still like being Robert Rosen's mother.
The author of Beaver Street categorically denies any connection between his book and the film The Beaver, starring Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson. There is, however, an interesting story in Beaver Street about how John Hinckley wrote letters to High Society magazine urging them to run more nude photos of Jodie Foster.
In part four of my conversation with Kate Copstick and Jamie Maclean of the Erotic Review, we talk about how anybody with a video camera, a girlfriend, and an Internet connection can become an instant porn star.
Beaver Street is going fast on Amazon UK. But you can always order it directly from Headpress.
Beaver Street is a dirty book that’s as much about politics and economics as it is about pornography, and much of what I wrote continues to be relevant to the latest breaking news. Senator Orrin Hatch’s call for the vigorous prosecution of pornographers is, of course, one example. Osama bin Laden is another. Though the book doesn’t mention him by name, it does reference his deeds in an effort to illuminate the government’s hypocritical and insane response to the “pornographic menace” at a time of genuine national crisis.
In the chapter titled “So You Want to Talk About Traci Lords?” I describe 2002 as “a fearful, repressive moment in American history, filled with echoes of McCarthyism and worse.” I then explain how “amidst the wars, death, terrorism, and threats of annihilation from ‘weapons of mass destruction,’” Congress takes the time to unanimously pass a resolution condemning a book, Harmful to Minors—a well-reasoned indictment of abstinence-only sex education, by Judith Levine, published by the University of Minnesota Press—as a work that promotes child pornography.
So, it’s taken the government ten years and how many billions of dollars to kill bin Laden? Is anything going to change now that he’s dead? Just asking, as they say.
More than any other part of Beaver Street, I enjoy looking through the obsessively comprehensive index--because it takes every little thing I wrote about and arranges it in a random way that makes the book seem fresh. What the hell did I write about Marlon Brando (pg. 77) and Mel Brooks (pg. 97)? Oh... right... of course. How could I forget?
I'm especially amused by the absurd and occasionally illuminating juxtapositioning of certain names. For example, having once employed the porn star Missy Manners, this is probably not the first index that has Orrin Hatch (pg. 142) on top of Annette Haven (pg. 139). But I suspect that it is the first index to have the porn star Eric Edwards (pgs. 60, 108) in the middle of a Thomas Edison (pgs. 131, 164, 197)/Albert Einstein (pg. 115) sandwich.
To check out more of the index, or any other part of Beaver Street, get your copy now directly from Headpress. Support independent publishing!
When Headpress released Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography in the UK last week, it immediately sold out on Amazon, and many people who ordered the book are still waiting for delivery. The good news is that more copies are on the way, and you should be receiving your Beaver soon. In the meantime, you can order the book online directly from Headpress, Blackwell's, and Langton.
Why am I going off here every day about Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and his call for more vigorous prosecution of pornographers? Well, aside from the fact that he once employed a woman who became a porn star, his call for the vigorous prosecution of pornographers is a classic sign of deep-seeded political corruption. It’s like a cry for help or a symptom of a terminal disease.
“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” Samuel Johnson said over 200 years ago. Today, prosecuting pornography is the last refuge of the doomed politician. Just ask Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Edwin Meese, Charles Keating, and Alberto Gonzales. Or read all about it in Beaver Street.
Orrin Hatch of Utah is one of the leaders of the pack of senators calling for vigorous pornography prosecutions. I mentioned him in Beaver Street because his former aide Elisa Florez is “Missy Manners,” who starred in the Mitchell Brothers' XXX film Behind the Green Door: The Sequel (1986). Check out her photo here.
On the 25th anniversary of the Meese Commission and the Traci Lords scandal, 42 senators are demanding the Justice Department vigorously prosecute pornographers. This is one of the stories at the heart of Beaver Street. Every time conservatives come to power, they do the same thing, and it plays out the same way: The anti-porn warriors are exposed as criminals, and resign in disgrace. Read the full story at Politico.
In the third part of my chat with Kate Copstick and Jamie Maclean of the Erotic Review, we discuss the collapse of pornography as a viable business. And as we continue to wait for the online booksellers to replenish their stocks, please order Beaver Street directly from Headpress.
Here's the second part of my chat with Kate Copstick and Jamie Maclean, in which I discuss working on both sides of the camera in the adult entertainment industry. You can order Beaver Street directly from Headpress as we await the online booksellers to replenish their stocks.
Beaver Street, my first book in 11 years, has been published today in the UK and already it's sold out on Amazon. But copies are still available directly from Headpress. Click here to order. And check out this very British interview with Kate Copstick and Jamie Maclean of the Erotic Review.
Beaver Street is being published tomorrow in the UK. It's my first book in 11 years and who knows how long it's going to be till the next one. I've launched a Beaver Street page on Facebook. You know how it works. Click here and show a little Beaver love.
...Paul Slimak and Agnes Herrmann have graciously shot another Beaver Street promo video. Paul is a character in the book; I call him Henry Dorfman. He's a professional actor who specializes in playing Nazis. Agnes is also a professional actor and voice-over specialist. She's appeared in such films as The Road. Thank you Paul and Agnes!
Sean Moncrieff, host of Moncrieff! on Newstalk Radio Ireland, was quite taken with the names of some of the porn stars I mention in Beaver Street. “They’re like superheroes,” he said of Deena Duo, Pandora Peaks, and Busty Dusty. But his favorite porn star was Auntie Climax, so christened by Izzy Singer, editor of For Adults Only magazine.
Singer was tickled pink to hear that a name he’d dreamed up decades ago was being discussed on an Irish radio show. “I was standing in the middle of Eighth Avenue, crossing the street, when it popped into my head,” he said.
“You never know when the Muse will speak,” I told him.
“Yes, lad,” he replied in an Irish brogue, “but she wouldn’ta given me such a lastin’ jewel had I not been supplicatin’ meself at her door for seven days and seven nights!”
Did my first official Beaver Street interview this morning--the Moncrieff show on Newstalk Radio Ireland. Would have posted the link here had my internet not been down. (Thank you, Time Warner.) If you'd like to read more about the book and my upcoming UK tour, check out The Macwire.
I'm riding in a minivan with Ron Jeremy and Seka. Jeremy's driving, I'm in the passenger seat, Seka's sitting behind us. I ask Jeremy if he'll give me a blurb for Beaver Street. "You talk too much," Jeremy says.
I've posted the Beaver Street Prologue here. I hope this will entice some of you to pre-order the book and those of you in the media to request an advance reader's galley, which will be available by the end of the month. (PDF galleys are available now.) A special note to any readers from Brooklyn: The Prologue opens in my father's candy store on Church Avenue, in 1961.
If you’ve watched any of the Beaver Street videos on my home page, you may have wondered about the actor who plays Erich von Pauli. His name is Paul Slimak and he’s a character in the book. If he looks familiar, that’s probably because you remember him from his appearance as the Weeping Nazi on the premier episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien. With the second (or is it third?) coming of Conan imminent, von Pauli has written an open letter to Conan, asking him to allow the Weeping Nazi to return and contribute to the launching of his “new comedy Reich.” You can read von Pauli’s letter here.
One problem with writing a book about pornography is that a lot of people who enjoyed reading Beaver Street are hesitant to say so publicly. The author of the blurb on my home page--"Robert Rosen is a genius for connecting Traci Lords to Iran-Contra"--once worked in porn. Now he has a serious, high-profile job, and would prefer that people didn't know about his X-rated past. Who can blame him? But I love his insightful comment because it goes right to the heart of the book--the "climax," if you will--and it shows the wide, provocative range of material that Beaver Street covers.
On the eve of John Lennon's 70th birthday, as my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott (the Mistress of Syntax), and I continue to work on correcting the Beaver Street galley, I've taken a few minutes to talk about Lennon on The Louie Free Radio show. I've also accepted an invitation from the journalism department at SUNY Purchase to participate in a panel discussion on the myth of John Lennon on December 2. And here's a link to a piece by David Comfort, author of The Rock & Roll Book of the Dead, that discusses Nowhere Man and Lennon's fascination with number 9.
Annie Sprinkle is a former porn star with a Ph.D, a photographer, an author, and self-described “ecosexual artist.” I was her editor in the mid-1980s when she was a columnist for Stag magazine. Annie is now a character in Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, and that’s why I sent her a galley of the book. Here’s what she had to say:
“Thank heavens Robert Rosen has documented his, mine, and your wacky, tacky, rich and fun smut-rag history. Beaver Street is a deliciously delightful read, a fabulous book. He captures the complexities, ironies, and color of the times when sex magazines ruled. As a girl who has been round the Beaver Street block, I can attest that this is the raunchy truth, extremely well told.”
I continue to be encouraged by the reaction of people who’ve been reading the Beaver Street galleys. The running commentary below is from Darius James, author of Negrophobia (St. Martin’s Griffin) and That’s Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss ’Tude (St. Martin’s Griffin).
I’m lovin’ this so far. I SERIOUSLY think this should be a movie.
The more I read the better it gets. Very insightful. Especially like "The Secret History." Funny how so much of this dovetails into my own world.
I’m three-quarters through with the book. I have something like 40 pages to go. Real interesting about Traci Lords.
Beaver Street is a lucid and entertaining read. Made me want to jump back in the porn game myself if there was one.
A few days ago I sent the uncorrected proofs for Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, which Headpress is scheduled to publish in the UK in October, to four “characters” in the book, former coworkers who knew they were in it, but had never seen it. Below is the response of the character I call “Pamela Katz,” an editor and filmmaker who once dated the late Ruben Sturman, who the government considered the most prolific pornographer in America. Let’s call this the first review:
I’ve just completed Beaver Street, and as you could guess, I could not put it down. Can not determine WHY this was not bought in USA because there is nothing like it...no comprehensive history of modern porn, especially The Golden Age, which we were so fortunate to experience. I used to call you Nosy Rosey. Did not know you were a diarist. But noted you were always asking “why” and were just (to me) nosy. You were like a visiting anthropologist, like Margaret Mead observing the Samoans. But you were in the thick of it, not just observing, which is what makes the book work. (As you call it an investigative memoir.) Perfect mix of personal experience, research, reporting, and conclusions.
Did I ever tell you that Traci Lords lived with Greg Brown and Walter Gernert (the Dark Brothers)? She was so into the porn lifestyle. It’s like I had totally forgotten how outrageous my life had been. I remember, as if it were yesterday, Ruben Sturman telling me (while seated on a banquette at a fancy French restaurant) how some book/video store didn’t pay him his cut and he’d had to firebomb it. Telling me that like any other guy chats about “my day at the office,” remembering having the diner next to us overhear all this. Remembering how very candid he was and how uncomfortably paranoid his candidness made me feel. Insanity, all of it. Remembering doing a photo shoot on Baltimore’s Block. Sex with a stripper. Owner put a loaded gun to my head. Remembered fighting with the Teamster’s Union over equipment rental for Raw Talent. So many stories...point is, I wish I had kept a diary. Because it was all pretty incredible compared to my life in porn now. The Eighties were insane.
Anyone reading the book will also be surprised how many female pornographers were working. You not only captured the past, you offered an overview of a huge, pervasive industry people know little about. You nailed it!
Two months ago, the photographer Marcia Resnick shot the picture you see here and on my home page. This will be the official Beaver Street author's photo. (If the author's photo is here can the cover be far behind?) I'm very happy to have had the opportunity to work with a photographer as talented as Marcia, and I'm delighted with this artful shot. If you're not familiar with Marcia's work, please check out her website. It's a treat to look at. And please stay tuned for more news as the publication of Beaver Street draws ever closer.
Erich von Pauli Addresses the British Empire on the “Beaver Street” Issue, the first of many Beaver Street promotional videos, is scheduled to be officially released in early August; it’s “unlisted” on YouTube. But I’m offering a sneak preview to the readers of this blog.
The video is intended as parody. If you find Nazi humor offensive, please don't watch it. But if you enjoyed The Producers, Mel Brooks's 1968 film, then Erich von Pauli might be your cup of tea. I encourage you to watch it in the full-screen mode.
OK, it's true, at least one person in Germany has pre-ordered Beaver Street sight unseen. There is a "verkaufsrang" or "sales rank" as we say here. Kudos to Mark the K, the artist who created the poster on my home page. Any other insurgents out there?