The Sporadic Beaver

Birth of a Book

April 25, 2017

Tags: Robert Attanasio, Erotic Review, Nowhere Man, Beaver Street, 1970s, Punk, Rolling Stone, Playboy, writing

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 invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

WTF Is Football Porn?

February 4, 2016

Tags: football, pornography, Chelsea G. Summers, Vocativ, Super Bowl, Playboy, Traci Lords, Lou Perretta, New Jersey

When Chelsea G. Summers wrote to me last week, asking how and when "football porn" became a thing, my first thought was, WTF is football porn?

My second thought was, Wait a minute, I know what football porn is: It's the biggest cliché in pornography (see Debbie Does Dallas). How many times when I was editing adult magazines did I run pictorials involving football players and cheerleaders?

Which reminded me of my first exposure to football porn. In the 1960s, when the Green Bay Packers ruled the football world, I came across a Playboy with a “Little Annie Fanny” cartoon strip. In that strip, the “Greenback Busters” gang-rape Annie on the 50-yard line, before a cheering, sellout crowd. (This was considered funny a half-century ago.)

I got lost in a football reverie, remembering how I covered the football team for my high school newspaper, and wanted to be a professional sportswriter. Then it took a darker turn, to locker-room hazing, sexual assault. Why, all of sudden, was there a rash of stories about this… and stories like the one out of Steubenville, Ohio, hometown of underage porn star Traci Lords and the scene of a notorious rape involving high school football players? And why was there a rash of stories about college football stars who raped and got away with it… because they were football stars and the schools made a lot of money from them?

What is it about football? Plenty, I suppose, but that’s a question that’s going to take more than a blog post to answer.

I finally told Chelsea G. Summers that there has been football porn as long as there has been football, which began in 1869, in New Jersey, where, perhaps not so coincidentally, adult magazines, under the benighted reign of Lou Perretta, went to die.

You can read Chelsea’s article, “Deep Inside the World of Football Porn,” in Vocativ.

And you can watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. I hear it’s on TV.


An Open Letter to G. Barry Golson: Take 3

February 21, 2015

Tags: G. Barry Golson, Playboy, The Betrayal of John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Yoko Ono, Fred Seaman, David Sheff, Elliot Mintz, David Lewis, diaries, Mexico, Proceso, Steven Gutstein

It's been almost six years since anybody has used the absurd distortions, half-truths, and outright lies in a story published by Playboy magazine, in 1984, as irrefutable proof that I'm a very bad person. I thought that posting the open letter, below, on two other Websites, had taken care of this matter once and for all. But apparently it hasn't. Like a cancer that can be controlled but not cured, the Playboy article has flared up again. Sadly, it's time for another round of treatment. So, for the third time, here's the letter, originally written in May 2009.

Dear Barry,

I’m sorry to interrupt your Mexican retirement, but we need to discuss a bit of unfinished business—something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for 25 years. I know that’s a long time, but there’s no past in cyberspace. There’s only what’s out there now. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Internet, it’s that if you put out information people want, they’ll find it. Take my word for it. Internet killed the magazine star.

Imagine if there were a blogosphere in 1984.

The funny thing is, over the past nine years, as I traveled around the U.S., Europe, and Latin America promoting my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, conducting some 300 no-holds-barred interviews and press conferences, nobody has ever asked me about the Playboy article. It’s almost as if it’s ceased to exist.

But the story is still out there, buried in the dark crevices of cyberspace, like an unexploded bomb left over from an ancient war. And it’s accessible to those who want to find it—like the Zionist-conspiracy theorists who’ve embraced it as irrefutable proof that the Jews murdered Lennon (with a little help from the CIA).

I can no longer pretend that the article doesn’t exist, especially now that every day another story from that long-gone era seems to resurrect itself online, and especially now that the exhibition on Lennon’s New York City years at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex has put the past so prominently back in the news. Yes, Barry, I think it’s time to drag the article out into the open and expose it to a bit of sunlight.

The story, as you may recall, was no small matter. It was about 6,000 words and written by a journalist of some repute, David Sheff. It received a great deal of media attention when it was published. But what really gets me is that Playboy still had a reputation for journalistic integrity at the time and at least some people really did buy it for the articles. I was one of them. I believed in Playboy’s journalism. That’s why I sent you my manuscript—the manuscript that would become Nowhere Man. You were the executive editor in charge of interviews and articles.

I remember very well the day we met in your New York office: July 27, 1982—my 30th birthday. You had some nice things to say about my writing; you especially liked my chapter about Lennon’s relationship with Paul McCartney (“His Finest Hour” in Nowhere Man).

We spoke for quite some time, and I told you how after Lennon was murdered, his personal assistant, Fred Seaman, said it was time for us to begin work on the Lennon biography John had asked him to write in the event of his death, using any source material he needed to complete the project. I told you how Seaman gave me Lennon’s diaries, how I transcribed and edited them, and how Seaman then sent me out of town, ransacked my apartment, and took everything I’d been working on. I told you how I had re-created from memory portions of Lennon’s diaries. In short, I told you the entire Nowhere Man backstory—a story that I thought was the equivalent of a rock ’n’ roll Watergate. I also told you that I was in dire financial straits and needed a break.

You then strung me along for the rest of the summer, assuring me that you hadn’t forgotten about the story and that my name was in your Rolodex. But you never gave me an assignment.

So I sent the manuscript to Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone, and met with him, too. At least he was up-front with me. He told me that he couldn’t publish the story and that the only way I could “save” my “karma” was to tell Yoko Ono herself what had happened. I met with her in the Dakota in September and told her the story. She then asked to read my personal diaries, and I gave them to her—16 volumes covering more than three years.

You finally called me in April 1983 to say that you’d assigned the Lennon diaries story to Sheff, and you asked me to cooperate with him—neglecting to mention something I didn’t find out until I saw the article in print: Ono had given you and Sheff (who was collaborating with his wife at the time, Victoria Sheff) access to my diaries. Because I thought that this was the only way I’d be able to tell the story, I allowed David Sheff to come to my house and interview me for two hours.

You had my trust, my cooperation, my manuscript, and my diaries, the intimate details of my life. And what did you do? You ran a story in the March 1984 Playboy, “The Betrayal of John Lennon,” that had one purpose only: to silence me by destroying my credibility, my reputation, my career, and my life. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that of the countless articles and reviews that have since been written about Nowhere Man—most of which, I might add, are positive—none of them, not even those written by anonymous character assassins, comes close to the sustained maliciousness and contempt of the Playboy story. It is indeed in a class by itself.

And now, 25 years later, I think it’s time for you to answer a couple of questions.

Let’s begin with my diaries. You had at your disposal approximately 500,000 words that I’d written in the heat of the moment. From them, you extracted about 200 words, including 5 that seem to be the only thing most people remember about the story—the takeaway, so to speak, the line the conspiracy theorists quote over and over. I can assure you that I’d prefer not to repeat my comment about what I saw as Ono’s skillful exploitation of the Lennon legacy: “Dead Lennons=BIG $$$$$.” But I’m not the one who made it public. And it certainly wasn’t my idea to depict the comment as an indictment of my own behavior, portraying myself as a criminal conspirator drooling over Lennon’s corpse.

That was quite an image, Barry. But don’t you think it would have been appropriate to help yourselves to a few more of the remaining 499,800 words and give your readers a more accurate picture? For example, you could have quoted—as I did in the first chapter of the paperback edition of Nowhere Man—from the passage that describes my state of mind the night Lennon was murdered, words about shedding tears in front of the Dakota and thanking John for touching my life. Or you could have quoted the part in which Seaman tells me, two days later, that he’s quitting his job at the end of the week to begin writing a book: “‘It’s what John wants,’ he said. ‘He knew he was going to die and he poured his heart out to me. He knew I was working on a book.’”

I suppose it’s possible that you excerpted only 200 words because you didn’t want to infringe my copyright any more than necessary to tell the version of the story that Ono had dictated to you through her spokesman, Elliot Mintz. But couldn’t you have avoided any additional infringement by using more than 22 words from my two-hour conversation with Sheff—the only direct quote that you allowed me in the story because those were the only 22 words that fit your story line?

Or couldn’t you have simply described my diaries? Nowhere in the article did you mention that the portion of my diaries from which you took most of your quotes was typed on teletype paper—hundreds of attached sheets, like a Kerouacian scroll. But apparently any images of serious literary endeavor were to be avoided at all costs. That would have interfered with the real conspiracy—the one you, Ono, and the Manhattan district attorney had cooked up.

I trust you remember what happened the day the article was published: First I was fired from my job at High Society magazine, where I was an editor. They didn’t want a “criminal” on the premises. Then the DA’s office told me I’d be arrested on criminal conspiracy charges if I didn’t sign a document forfeiting my First Amendment rights to tell the story of John Lennon’s diaries. Ono, as I’m sure you know, had by this time given my diaries to the DA—to use as “evidence” against me.

The DA, however, didn’t know that I’d managed to retain a top-notch criminal attorney, willing to defend me pro bono. His name was David Lewis and, as crazy as this must sound to you, he believed that the Constitution applied equally to everybody.

So, there I was, sitting in Lewis’s office, listening to him talk to an assistant DA, Steven Gutstein, on the speakerphone about my diaries, which had apparently provided Gutstein with hours of reading pleasure: His opening parry was a series of one-liners about how often I masturbated—a preview, I presume, of the evidence he was planning to present to the jury. Then Gutstein started talking about the “charges” against me, and I can still recall Lewis’s exact words: “You’re in gross violation of my client’s constitutional rights.”

And you know what? That was the end of it. Lewis called the DA’s bluff and it was shocking how fast he folded. I didn’t sign the document and nobody arrested me. In fact I never heard from the DA again. The case was a total fabrication that would never have stood up to scrutiny in open court. The whole thing was dependent on my not having competent legal counsel. What were you telling people at editorial meetings? “Rosen’s going to be arrested the day the article comes out. What’s he going to do, sue us?”

Not a bad idea, actually. But, as I understand it, your story elevated me to limited-purpose-public-figure status, meaning that if I’d wanted to sue the powerful Playboy corporation, I’d have had to prove that you not only libeled me, but that you did so knowingly and maliciously. Which, of course, you did. But proving it in a court of law was not really feasible on a pro-bono budget.

And it also appeared that the story wasn’t exactly having its intended effect. My friends and neighbors, for example, saw it for the textbook hatchet job that it was. Everybody in my building was wondering why Playboy was going to such extraordinary lengths to destroy the unassuming guy on the fifth floor. That story made me the talk of Washington Heights—a real International Man of Mystery.

And then there was the job offer. I assume you knew, or knew of, Chip Goodman. He was Martin Goodman’s son, and Martin Goodman, as I’m sure you know, is credited with inventing the modern men’s mag, or men’s adventure mags, as they were called at the time. You must have heard the story about how Hugh Hefner wanted to call Playboy “Stag Party,” but Martin Goodman was already publishing Stag magazine, so Hefner couldn’t use the title.

I can’t say that Chip hired me as managing editor of Stag because of the Playboy article. But Chip was no fan of Yoko Ono’s, and he did say that he’d read the article. Our conversation, in fact, left me with the distinct impression that the article was a contributing factor in his hiring decision—the cherry on top of my considerable editorial experience. And yes, I know, Playboy’s a much classier porn rag than Stag could ever dream of being, but at least Stag didn’t pretend to have journalistic integrity. We were an honest stroke book. And it was a pretty good gig for 16 years.

But you weren’t finished with me yet, were you? You had to go ahead and run that letter to the editor—the one suggesting that reading a man’s diaries was a crime as heinous as murder. Do you think John Lennon would have agreed with that analysis? Or maybe you think such notions only apply when “little people” read the diaries of the wealthy and powerful, not when members of the media elite read and publish without authorization the diaries of little people. Yes, that must be it—the Playboy Philosophy in the Age of Ronald Reagan.

Now I ask you, 25 years after the fact: Do you believe that the story has any journalistic merit whatsoever? I.e.: Is it something more than a press release Ono might have written herself if she hadn’t had you and the Sheffs to do it for her? I hope she at least thanked you for a job well done. And what did you hope to get out of it other than the grim satisfaction of currying favor with a rich and powerful woman? Was the article designed to do anything more than repress the story that Lennon told in his diaries and that I told in Nowhere Man? Is there something I’m missing here?

I will offer you a bit of friendly advice: Next time you try to whack somebody, make sure they’re dead before you walk away.

So, Barry, I do hope you’re enjoying your Mexican retirement. It’s a wonderful country you’ve chosen to live in—such warm and gracious people, in my experience. But I must admit, I am wondering if you ever read Proceso, the Mexican newsweekly, though I’d guess the answer is no. It’s not exactly a magazine for “gringo retirees”, is it? The Proceso editors and writers are into speaking truth to power, a concept that doesn’t appear to sit well with you at all. And they did give Nowhere Man the most amazing coverage when it was published there. As you probably noticed, they were hardly the only ones—even Playboy’s Mexican edition gave the book a good review. Jesus, with all those articles and the stuff on TV, you must have thought you were in Bizarro World and that I’d written Harry Potter or something. Too bad I didn’t know 25 years ago how receptive the Mexican media would be to Nowhere Man. I wouldn’t have bothered you with my query letter.

Anyway, that’s my side of the story.

Maybe we’ll talk again someday, perhaps the next time I’m in Mexico on a book tour.

Sincerely,
Robert Rosen

A Question of Conspiracy

August 13, 2014

Tags: John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Proceso, Roberto Ponce, Octavio Cavalli, Bendito Lennon, Yoko Ono, conspiracy theories, Mark David Chapman, Hollywood Scandals, Playboy

Last December, Roberto Ponce, an editor at the Mexico City newsweekly Proceso, sent me four questions about the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding John Lennon's murder. A comprehensive Spanish-language Lennon biography, Bendito Lennon, by Octavio Cavalli, had recently been published and the book gave credence to one of the theories. My answers to Ponce's questions ran as a column, titled "Sólo creo en una conspiración: la de Yoko Ono en mi contra" (I just believe in one conspiracy: Yoko Ono's against me), in a special Lennon section in their December 8, 2013 issue.

My blog posting yesterday, "Imagine Yoko Watching," about an upcoming Lennon episode of
Hollywood Scandals that I’ll be appearing in provoked a flurry of questions on Facebook about the conspiracy theories.

Here are Ponce's questions and my answers in the original English.


1) Octavio Cavalli, author of the biography Bendito Lennon, told me that one of his important sources of information about John Lennon’s murder is an article by Salvador Astucia, “José Joaquín Sanjeanis Perdomo: John Lennon’s true assassin?” In another one of his articles, Astucia has accused you, Mr. Robert Rosen, of being involved in the killing of John Lennon. What can you say about this?

I’m aware that Octavio Cavalli has thoroughly researched every aspect of John Lennon’s murder and for a variety of reasons doesn’t believe that Mark Chapman was the lone gunman. Among the issues Cavalli raises is the presence at the murder scene of Dakota doorman José Joaquín Sanjeanis Perdomo, a Cuban exile and former CIA agent, according to “Salvador Astucia,” which is the pseudonym of a Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorist. Astucia says, among other things too numerous to recount here, that I’m the Zionist-funded CIA spymaster who gave the order to kill Lennon, after which, in order to disgrace his memory (as well as the entire antiwar movement), the CIA then paid me to write Nowhere Man. He also says that I, along with another Jew, Edward Teller, the “Father of the H-bomb,” and Ronald Reagan, felt that Lennon had to die (and his memory besmirched) so America could go forward with its “Star Wars” missile-defense initiative.

The mere fact that Astucia is still alive is proof enough that his theories are absurd. Because if anything he said were true, a real spymaster would have silenced him 10 years ago, when he started posting this stuff online.

I don’t know if Astucia says these things because he believes them, or to provoke and to get attention. My inclination is to dismiss outright everything he or any other Holocaust denier says about anything. That Cavalli was able to find one shred of truth in Astucia’s insane ravings is a tribute to Cavalli’s tenaciousness, and his abilities as a researcher.

Though I must give Astucia full credit for my inclusion as number two, alongside J. D. Salinger and Stephen King, on a list titled “Top Three Conspiracy Theories Revolving Around the Death of John Lennon.”

And I’m sure that he’d be pleased to know that I briefly considered dedicating to him the novel I just finished writing, Bobby in Naziland, about a kid growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and early-60s, alongside Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans who’d fought the Nazis. That dedication would have read: “For ______, my Personal Nazi, who reminded me I was a Jew and taught me anew the meaning of anti-Semitism.”

2) What do you think of the conspiracy theories that accuse the CIA, FBI, various ex-presidents of the U.S., Operation 40, and even the Jewish people of being behind Lennon’s murder?

I don’t completely reject all conspiracy theories. I’ve had 50 years to think about JFK, and the official explanation still strikes me as less than satisfying. But I don’t think Lennon was the victim of a conspiracy. I think Chapman was a lone nut, and I think if Yoko Ono believed that Lennon’s murderer, or an accomplice to the murder was still at large, she’d have conducted a private investigation—for her own safety. She’s done nothing of the sort.

I think most conspiracy theories—Manchurian Candidates, for example—are based on scenarios so complex, they’d be nearly impossible to execute. My understanding of the psychology behind conspiracy theories is that certain people cannot accept the fact that horrendous events, like murder, can be totally random and can happen to anybody. So they need to invent fairy tales, impervious to rational evidence, that give them a sense of control and show that it can’t happen to them. That’s why Astucia is the only so-called “journalist” I’ve ever refused to speak to. Because no matter what I told him, he’d use it as further “proof” that I work for the CIA and that I did order Lennon’s murder.

There is, however, one Lennon-related conspiracy I am aware of: The unsuccessful attempt by Ono, the New York District Attorney’s office, and G. Barry Golson, a former Playboy editor, to have me arrested on criminal conspiracy charges unless I signed a document forfeiting my First Amendment rights to write about Lennon’s diaries. The libelous article that Golson ran in the March 1984 Playboy is the root of all Lennon conspiracy theories about me. He took a comment from my diary (which Ono had given to him), about what I saw as Ono’s skillful exploitation of the Lennon legacy, and depicted that comment, “Dead Lennons=BIG $$$$$,” as my indictment of my own behavior, portraying me as a criminal conspirator drooling over Lennon’s corpse.

3) In your book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon you created an interesting profile of Mark Chapman’s mind. How has your vision of the killer changed since then? Why did he kill John Lennon? Did he commit the crime alone or maybe not?

My vision of Mark Chapman has not changed since I wrote Nowhere Man. I still think he was a mentally unstable and possibly psychotic individual who acted alone and was motivated by envy and a desire to be famous, and believed that by shooting Lennon, whom he considered a hypocrite, he’d literally vanish into the pages of The Catcher in the Rye and become The Catcher in the Rye for his generation. I await definitive proof that this is not the case.

4) After your experience with the Lennon diaries, what ideas would you suggest to the new generation of Latin American students about how they can be more effective in their work and lives?

In 1982, I was an obscure freelance writer who’d uncovered a story that was the equivalent of Rock ’n’ Roll Watergate. That’s why it took me 18 years to publish what I knew about Lennon’s diaries. In the eyes of the mainstream media, in any country, it’s simply unacceptable for an unknown journalist to come out of nowhere and break the story of the decade. Also, what I learned from the diaries went against the myth that Ono remains determined to perpetuate—that in his final years, John Lennon was a content, bread-baking househusband. That’s why she used all the political and media influence at her disposal to try and stop me. So, I’d say to any journalism students that it’s not enough to uncover a great story, especially one that goes against powerful people or institutions (as great stories often do). You must be prepared to fight for years, if not decades, to get your story out to a mass audience. I’d also say that anybody who’s considering investigating conspiracy theories should be aware that you’re walking into a swamp that you may never come out of. Or if you do make it out, you’ll emerge with a bag of half-answers, shadows, suspicions, and more questions than you took in there with you.

The Beaver Correspondence 8

May 28, 2011

Tags: Lou Perretta, Carl Ruderman, Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, exhibitionism

This is my response to the e-mail I posted yesterday.

Professor,

Clearly you’ve been away from the biz too long. The dapper Ruderman sold his print and electronic empire to Lou Perretta just the other week. The biz is collapsing. Everybody’s hurting. Everybody’s getting fired. The only mags of note Perretta doesn’t own are Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. It’s too hard to make money on the Web, at least the kind of money that was being made in the glory days of print. No, the stuff on the Internet isn't a “charity gesture;” it’s exhibitionism. Every exhibitionist who has a video camera and an Internet connection is giving it away. The question nobody can answer is: How do you make $$$ when the competition is giving it away? Isn’t that what I said in the interview? The cable and satellite companies are the only ones making real money in porn now.

As always, appreciate your perspective.

Take care,

Bob

To be continued someday…