The Sporadic Beaver

John Lennon Through His Journals

March 4, 2014

Tags: Octavio Cavalli, Bendito Lennon, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Yoko Ono, New York, Robert Rosen, diaries

By Octavio Cavalli

Saturday, February 15, 2014: Meeting Robert Rosen in New York City

Maybe it's because I'm a novice when it comes to researching the life of John Lennon and promoting a book based on that research. But I didn't remember until I was in the midst of publicizing my Lennon biography, Bendito Lennon, that one of my Facebook friends was New York writer Robert Rosen, author of the best-selling Lennon bio Nowhere Man. Rosen's book is based on his knowledge of Lennon's diaries, which were given to him by his friend Fred Seaman, John's personal assistant from 1979-1980.

Robert commented on a post I made about my book, which led to a conversation that we conducted mainly through audio files, which we sent back and forth, between Buenos Aires and New York. I'd ask him questions about John's diaries and he'd respond in detail.

Since mid-2013 I’ve been correcting and revising Bendito Lennon, primarily adding new information and fresh material from all phases of John’s life. Among the new things I wrote about are John’s feelings as a Beatle, in 1963, when the group was being hailed as heroes in the U.K., but hadn’t yet conquered the world, and also his way of telling stories through his poems, tales, and songs. Robert Rosen was supportive of my endeavor to revise Bendito Lennon, and especially helpful regarding the last six years of John’s life. And I was very pleased to share my new information with him, and grateful that he’d agreed to meet me and talk about Lennon when I told him I was coming to New York.

On the afternoon of February 15, in the middle of a blizzard, with the temperature plunging well below 0º C, I met Robert in the neighborhood where he lives and where John also lived for a couple of years when he first moved to Manhattan: Greenwich Village. At Cafe Reggio, 119 MacDougal Street, we drank coffee and cappuccino as Robert accepted a paperback edition of Bendito Lennon and autographed my Spanish edition of Nowhere Man.

We talked about Lennon’s life, and Robert was humbled and impressed by how much I knew about John, especially his childhood. I, of course, couldn’t help but be aware that he was one of the few people who had access to John’s diaries, which covered much of his daily activities and feelings from 1975-1980. He told me what it meant to him to have Lennon’s diaries for more than six months, and he described the long task of transcribing them and deciphering every drawing, word, and letter. It was obvious, he said, that John was writing for himself, and that the diaries were not meant to be read by others, though they could have been a first draft of the memoir he never got to write.

He also told me about his shock and horror when all the material that Fred Seaman had given him, and that he’d studied and transcribed, was taken from his apartment... by Seaman. Later, Robert said, when Yoko Ono found out that Seaman, in despair after John’s death, had stolen all kinds of things from her Dakota apartments, she had Seaman arrested for grand larceny. When Robert met with Yoko to discuss what had happened, she asked him to give her his own diaries, so she could use them as evidence against Seaman. He did so, and she held them for 18 years.

Robert then told me how he wrote Nowhere Man, elaborating on what he remembered from Lennon’s diaries, incorporating notes from his own diaries, and spending years doing additional research. He concluded by talking about his impressions of John’s last years.

After Cafe Reggio, Robert and I walked in the Village, through the driving snow, to 105 Bank Street. He asked me if I knew which apartment John lived in. I wasn’t sure, and we agreed that researching John Lennon’s life is a difficult task for all writers, even ones who'd met him, and even if, like us, they'd had the opportunity to speak to members of his family, former assistants, and friends. Those closest to John are usually reluctant to talk about him to anybody who's writing a book.

Other people, thankfully, will trust an author to use their information responsibly, and will share their knowledge and opinions.

As of today, Bendito Lennon has sold out in Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile, and Mexico, but is still available as an e-book in Canada, the U.S., and Spain. The new edition, due to be published sometime in 2014, will be completely revised and will include all the information from my conversations with Rosen.

Even though I’d intended to be finished by now, my research continues—though I realize I have to set a limit on how much time I can spend learning the details of Lennon’s life. Because if I don’t, the work will be endless. There will always be new pieces of information, new sources, and new people to interview, and I’ll always want to rewrite some portion of the manuscript in order for the biography to be accurate and up to date. This, then, is the compromise I must make to complete the book, which has attracted readers around the world who want to know in detail the story of one of the greatest musicians and social leaders of 20th century.

Who Is Ruby Leggs?

May 1, 2013

Tags: Sonja Wagner, art, Ruby Leggs, Beaver Street, Chip Goodman, New York

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.

Notes from Underground

April 30, 2013

Tags: Beaver Street, High Society, Gene Gregorits, Carl Ruderman, pornography, New York, Necropolis Now, Ron Jeremy

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.

Look for it.

The Rialto Report

April 26, 2013

Tags: The Rialto Report, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Annie Sprinkle, New York, podcast, Kendra Holliday

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.

The Fire Next Time

August 16, 2011

Tags: Republican Convention, riots, New York, London

All this writing about rioting has gotten me to thinking about what it might be like in New York City should a bit of social unrest erupt here. Well, it's not terribly hard to imagine. We got a preview of what would happen in 2004, when the Republican Party invaded New York to re-nominate Bush on the ashes of the World Trade Center. So, I figure it'll be pretty much the same, with more fire and more carnage.

The entire city was in lockdown. Concrete barricades manned by heavily armed riot police and military—it was hard to tell them apart—sprung up overnight, on virtually every street corner in Midtown Manhattan. Chinook helicopters thumped overhead. At the first hint of trouble, the police carried out mass arrests, swooping in with plastic netting, and rounding up anybody who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stores and restaurants closed. Streets were deserted. Anybody who could leave town did. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t good for business (as our mayor had advertised). It wasn’t anything but ugly.

Which is why most sensible New Yorkers breathed a sigh of relief when London was chosen for the 2012 Olympics. The convention lasted only four days. The Olympics will go on for 17 days. Word to the wise: Get the fuck out of London if you can. Go to Spain. Or, better yet, tell them to go away. You’re London. You don’t need the Olympics.

New York Calling to the Riot Zone

August 11, 2011

Tags: London, New York, riots

Sitting here in my cluttered New York living room/office, tapping on my laptop, the London riots, though 3,500 miles away, feel uncomfortably close. My publisher, Headpress, whose site you may be reading this on, is in Wood Green, adjacent to Tottenham, where the riots began. A photographer I wrote about in Beaver Street, Steve Colby, lives in Hackney, about a half mile from the worst of the rioting on Kingsland Road. Another friend, who I stay with when I'm in London, lives in Crouch End, also not far from Tottenham.

Yet, from the perspective of these people, it’s tranquil in London. “All as quiet as anything,” reports Crouch End. “Everything OK so far,” says Wood Green.

But it wouldn’t be London without the gallows humor, would it? “A security guard clapped me round the head as I was exiting Foot Locker through the smashed window, but I managed not to drop the trainers!” reports a colleague.

“US size 11, if you get a chance,” I remind him.

Despite what your Prime Minister, David Cameron, says about a “lack of proper parenting,” and a “lack of proper morals” being the root cause of the riots, I’m inclined to believe that when people burn down their own neighborhoods, what they lack is something to lose. It doesn’t take a genius to see a connection between the violence and “the cuts,” as you call them—in health care, libraries, police, drop-in centers, etc., etc…. all the things that governments cut to balance their financial books on the backs of those who already have the least.

It’s the same thing that’s happening here, in America, where the economy is in a state of turmoil, the government has gone insane, 14-million people are unemployed, 46 million don’t have health insurance, those who have health insurance can barely afford to pay for it, and more and more people are left with a desperate sense of having nothing to lose.

I used to think that I’d be okay as long as I was coherent and could string together a couple of sentences. I don’t feel that way anymore. Whatever sense of security I once had has been shredded.

There are just too many people here, in New York, with nothing to lose, and too many people with plenty to lose who are losing more every day. Inevitably, the riots will come to America. And when they do, I can’t say I’m going to join them, but I certainly won’t be able to blame them.