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Flatbush Flashback

Funny as a Heart Attack

I usually have no idea what I'm going to say when I sit down to write this blog, and I tend to go with whatever pops into my head, which is why on any given week my subjects can range from girlfags to egg creams to Adolph Eichmann to Deep Throat. It's as much a creative exercise to get my brain in gear as it is a promotional exercise to keep your wandering attention focused on my books. Occasionally, though, something pops up in the news that demands I write about it, and that's what happened today.

Even people who've never watched a porn movie know the name Ron Jeremy. That's because Ronnie, as his friends call him, has transcended pornography. In Beaver Street, I describe him in the mid-1980s as somebody "who inhabited a twilight zone somewhere between bad joke and major celebrity." There was always something amusing about seeing this paunchy, well-hung schlump, known as "The Hedgehog" because of the bristly hair that covered his rolls of body fat, walk onto the screen.

But 20 years later, it was Jeremy who had the last laugh. He’d become, I wrote, “almost as recognizable as a face on Mount Rushmore.” Because, in addition to appearing in more than 2,000 porn flicks and a number of mainstream movies, he’d starred in a reality TV show, The Surreal Life; he was the subject of a documentary, Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy; and he’d written a best-selling memoir, Ron Jeremy: The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz. The list goes on.

The news about Ron Jeremy (his real name is Ron Hyatt), which has been running everywhere from ABC to AVN, is not funny. Yesterday, Jeremy, 59, underwent two emergency operations at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles for a life-threatening heart aneurysm. The latest reports say that the surgery went well, and that Jeremy is recovering but unconscious.

I can only wish him a speedy recovery. Read More 
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Our Bin Laden

Adolf Eichmann, the Bin Laden of an older generation.
I'm not going to get into a discussion here of Zero Dark Thirty, which I saw the other night. Suffice it to say, it held my attention and it's a film worth seeing. But it did put me in the mind of something that happened a half century ago, and that I'm currently writing about in Bobby in Naziland, a novel that might be described as a fictional work of historical nonfiction.

If you were born at a certain time, of a certain religion, and grew up in a place where an ungodly number of your neighbors were Auschwitz survivors, then you were aware of an ongoing manhunt for a certain war criminal. And the story of this manhunt was as galvanizing as the story told in Zero Dark Thirty. The difference between Adolf Eichmann and Osama bin Laden was that Eichmann, who organized "The Final Solution," was on the run for 15 years and was responsible for the deaths of six million people. I describe him in my book as "the swastika-spangled Gestapo monster lurking under my bed."

Bobby in Naziland is as much about how memory works and the accuracy of memory as it is about what the narrator remembers. And if there was one thing I remembered chapter and verse, it was the story of Eichmann’s final days, from his capture to his execution: kidnapped off the streets of Buenos Aires… brought back to Israel to stand trial… the man in the glass booth… “I was only following orders”… hung… cremated… ashes scattered.

But as I was writing this story, I realized there was something missing: How, exactly, did the Mossad find Eichmann?

That’s when I discovered that this information wasn’t made public until 2001: A blind refugee who did time in Dachau before the war and then fled to Argentina was the man who found Eichmann out. His name is Lothar Hermann, and he did such a good job of concealing his Jewish identity that his daughter Sylvia, unaware that she was Jewish, began dating Eichmann’s son Klaus, who used his real name. Young Eichmann would come to the Hermann house, brag about his father being a high-ranking Gestapo officer, and tell the Hermanns that the only mistake the Nazis made was not exterminating all the Jews. Lothar Hermann wrote a letter to the German authorities who, in turn, tipped off Israel. The Mossad took it from there, and four years after Hermann made his shocking discovery, the Israeli agents pulled off their famous kidnapping and took all the credit, too.

At least that’s the story in a nutshell. I’m still waiting to see the movie. Read More 
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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. Read More 
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It's Time to Play "The Next Big Thing"

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.

And here are the five authors I’m tagging: Irv O. Neil, Eric Danville, David Comfort, Joe Diamond, and Antony HitchinRead More 
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Happy Anniversaries

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. Read More 

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It's Complicated

In an earlier post, Throat, I'd written about Eric Danville reading from his book The Complete Linda Lovelace. The event was a celebration of Deep Throat's 40th anniversary and the reissue of the book. I'd said that the upcoming film, Lovelace, starring Amanda Seyfried, was based on the book.

I'd like to issue a correction. As Danville reported on his blog yesterday, the just released Lovelace is not based on The Complete Linda Lovelace, though it was originally supposed to be based on the book. As for what happened and what the film is based on, well, it's complicated, and Danville explains it at some length in his own post.

Suffice it to say, lawyers were involved, producers were involved, demands were made, and most telling of all, the late Linda Lovelace’s “confidant and advisor” Catharine A. MacKinnon was involved. MacKinnon, as I explain in Beaver Street, is a radical feminist lawyer best known for her association with anti-porn activist Andrea Dworkin, who’s best remembered for dedicating her life to outlawing pornography and for equating sexual intercourse with rape. In 1980, Lovelace (her real name is Linda Marchiano) denounced Deep Throat and became an anti-porn crusader.

This should give you some idea of what Lovelace is about. So, if you want to see what sounds like, according to critics, an OK movie set in the world of XXX, then see Lovelace. But if you want accurate history, then read a book. May I suggest The Complete Linda Lovelace by Eric Danville. Read More 
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There's Something About Brooklyn

I'm not going to say that New York is the only city on the planet where the following encounter could have taken place. But because it's a city swarming with talent, where the streets are always teeming with people (unlike, say, L.A.), it's a city built for chance meetings.

This is what happened to me about a month ago: I was on Houston Street, waiting for the light to change, when this black dude comes up to me and starts telling me about his CD. Stuff like that happens here all the time. The downtown streets are full of musicians hawking their work, and for the most part, I pay no attention to them. I told the fellow that my wife writes about music and consequently, there are more CDs flooding into our apartment than we can possibly listen to.

But the guy had an intriguing vibe, just the right blend of friendly and aggressive, and I found myself telling him that I was a writer, that I’d written books about John Lennon and pornography, and that I was originally from Brooklyn, Flatbush to be exact.

He was from Brooklyn, too, he said, not far from Flatbush. “That’s where all the best poets are from… Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “there’s something about Brooklyn.”

He gave me a copy of his CD, Sav Killz: Bangers & B-Sides. I told him I’d listen to it. So, I listened to it. And here’s the surprising part: It’s really good. The guy—I think his name is Jamal Rockwell—is a poet.

The above video, Look What I Become, is my favorite cut on the album. If I’m understanding the lyrics correctly, it’s about a crack dealer whose soul is saved by hip-hop. Check it out, brother. Read More 
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How to Kill a Book

I feel for Randall Sullivan, author of Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson (Grove Press). What's happening to him could have happened to me--had my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, been published now rather than 13 years ago, before the age of social media and before Amazon completely took over the book biz.

In yet another demonstration that the mega-conglomerate is a company out of control, a company that feels no need to treat fairly or responsibly the authors whose books they sell, a company that feels no need to answer to anybody about anything, they have allowed Michael Jackson fans to destroy sales of Sullivan's book with a barrage of anonymous negative reviews.

According to an article published on the front page of The New York Times yesterday, “Swarming a Book Online,” Jackson fans have used Twitter and Facebook to solicit scores of one-star takedowns of Untouchable; to have numerous positive reviews deleted; and even to have Amazon briefly remove the book from their site by falsely claiming that copies were “defective.”

Untouchable, like Nowhere Man, is a largely sympathetic portrait of its subject that also includes certain negative assessments. In particular, information about Jackson’s plastic surgery and his two marriages enraged his fans. According to Sullivan, many of the one-star reviews were factually false and clearly written by people who hadn’t read the book—as I can attest is also the case with most of Nowhere Man’s one-star reviews.

Amazon, however, doesn’t consider this a problem, saying that the reviews don’t violate their ever-shifting guidelines. Amazon has also said that it’s unnecessary for a reviewer to “experience” a product before reviewing it.

In the past, the Times has written about authors paying reviewers to flood Amazon with five-star reviews, and of authors anonymously trashing competing books.

There’s no question that Amazon’s review system is broken, possibly beyond repair, and that it’s relatively easy to game the system. Nor is there a question that it’s almost impossible to police phony reviews on a site like Amazon. But the real injustice here is Amazon’s refusal to work with authors and publishers to solve any kind of problem or to make any effort to adequately explain why they do what they do.

Fortunately, Amazon is sensitive to negative publicity, and the fact that the Times put this story on the front page is a good thing. Read More 
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I Wanted to Be Kerouac

Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) in On the Road. Courtesy IFC Films.
We saw On the Road last night, the faithful adaptation of Jack Kerouac's blockbusting 1957 novel/memoir. The film, starring Sam Riley as Sal Paradise/Kerouac and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady was flawed, no question about it. Neither Riley nor Hedlund seemed to have what it takes to fully embody these two mythical characters who are credited with having launched the Beat Generation. But their acting was good enough, and I enjoyed the movie, mostly because it communicated a realistic sense of place and time--America in the late 1940s--and of Kerouac's struggle to become a writer.

Some interviewers have asked me about my influences as a writer, and I usually tell them Hunter Thompson, Henry Miller, and Philip Roth, a "holy trinity" who have profoundly influenced my writing style. But I tend not to mention Kerouac, even though, as readers of Beaver Street know, my nom de porn was Bobby Paradise, a name I chose as a tribute to Kerouac because I saw myself as kind of an X-rated Sal Paradise. Which is to say, the influence Kerouac had upon me was more lifestyle than writing style: When I discovered On the Road in the summer of 1970, I wanted to be Kerouac, and soon embarked on a hitchhiking odyssey that went on for seven years and took me through eastern Canada, Western Europe, all over the USA, and that I employed to get around Brooklyn because it was easier to hitch a ride than it was to wait for a bus or train.

And then there was the scroll, a Kerouacian method I embraced in the heat of transcribing John Lennon’s diaries. Aware that this was going to be a life-changing experience, I wanted to get it all down in my own diaries as I’d never done before. Using an IBM Selectric and a box of teletype paper, I pounded out thousands of words per day for over a year, an endless stream of single-spaced consciousness, some of which a guitarist I was friendly with at the time set to music: Before Lennon seeped into my brain, I wanted to be Kerouac…

Which is why watching On the Road last night set off a nostalgic Kerouacian reverie. We listened to Aztec Two-Step performing The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty, and I dug out my copy of Allen Ginsberg’s (Carlo Marx in the book and film) The Fall of America, and read from the section titled “Eligies for Neal Cassady 1968.” Ginsberg wrote:

Are you reincarnate? Can ya hear me talkin?/If anyone had the strength to hear the invisible,/And drive thru Maya Wall/you had it —

I wanted to be Neal, too, but that was too dangerous.

 Read More 
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My Process

Photo courtesy Drug Enforcement Administration.
Maybe you smoke weed to get high, but for me it's a performance-enhancing drug.

That marijuana can help me with my writing is something that I've been aware of for decades, even before one of my distinguished professors at City College told me that she sometimes smoked a joint before editing her own work. She said it made it easier for her to see the "bullshit," and to cross it out.

To be clear: I don’t write when I’m stoned. Quite the opposite, actually. I start work in the morning, after breakfast, usually around 10 o’clock. And depending upon deadlines (or lack thereof) I keep going well into the afternoon. First I write this blog to get my brain into gear. Then I do whatever freelance work I have. And finally I get to the book I’m working on—Bobby in Naziland at the moment—and devote my remaining creative energies to that. Sometime between 3 and 5 o’clock, I find that I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns, that I can no longer focus on the computer screen. That’s when I stop.

Writing, in other words, is a sober, self-motivating act of discipline that I’ve been going at fulltime since September 1999, when I left my regular job. It’s after I finish writing that I put a pinch of performance-enhancing cannabis into my pipe, smoke it, and then take a very long walk.

It’s the combination of the marijuana and the walking that puts me into a mind-freeing meditative state similar to what some people might achieve through yoga or chanting. When I’m totally into it, I can walk two or three miles without even realizing I’m walking; I can suddenly look around and have no idea where I am or how I got there.

It’s while I’m walking that my mind is turning over the words that I’ve been wrestling with all day. It happens almost every time: the idea that I couldn’t figure out how to express, or the sentence that I’d rewritten ten times but which still wasn’t right, or the chapter title that didn’t quite click… the correct wording magically pops into my head. I pull a pen and a piece of paper out of my pocket, and leaning against the nearest horizontal surface—a car, a mailbox, a newspaper box—I scribble it down as if in a fever state. Then, the next day, when I go back to my book, that’s where I begin, with the notes I’d taken on my walk.

And no, it tends not to happen if I haven’t smoked beforehand.

I don’t suppose Oprah would want me to come on her show and confess to my use of a performance enhancing drug. Read More 
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Climaxing Prose

I spent the better part of the summer dipping into a book called Girlfag, and I wanted to say a few words about it before it got buried in the onslaught of printed matter that accumulates in this house.

Though Girlfag (Beyond Binary Books) is not the kind of book I'd normally read, I met the author, Janet W. Hardy, at the BEA last year. She was (wo)manning the booth of our mutual distributor, SCB, and our books were on display, side-by-side. We got to talking, and Hardy, who's best known for her book The Ethical Slut, explained that girlfags--a term I’d never heard before--are women, like herself, who love, are attracted to, and identify with gay men.

Episodic and diary-like, Girlfag is a poetically rendered memoir, and Hardy is at her uninhibited best, or at least her most entertaining, when she’s writing about sex. Tossing around words like “cunt” and phrases like “mass of pussy hair,” her prose climaxes in such amusing passages as:

While cocksucking is not on my top-ten list of ways to while away the time—well, let’s face it, not even on the top-100 list—a cock is discernibly an appendage and not a giblet, and it is possible to suck a cock without getting pubic hair up your nose. I suffer, it seems, from cunniclaustrophobia.

So, yes, Girlfag is also erotica of sorts, but at its heart is the story of a courageous woman’s search for an unconventional identity. Read More 
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The Making of an Underground Classic, 2013

This wouldn't be the first time I've pointed out that most books have the shelf life of yogurt, and anytime people are still talking about a book that's been out for nearly 13 years, it's nothing short of miraculous. Well, that, happily, is the case with my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, which at this stage of the game appears to have established itself as an underground classic.

The latest review appeared today on Bryan Schuessler’s site, Shu-Izmz. Schuessler, as regular readers of this blog will recall, is a fan of porn, death metal, gore, and true crime who writes from the perspective of regular guy whose mind is in the gutter. So taken was he with Beaver Street, he felt compelled to read Nowhere Man, too.

And, yes, Schuessler enjoyed the book, despite the fact that he’s not a fan of the Beatles or Lennon. This, of course, is what’s kept Nowhere Man alive all these years—it takes people by surprise, transcending the genre of rock ’n’ roll bio.

Here’s a blub from the review: “The manuscript is so personal that one would think John Lennon himself was telling Rosen exactly what to write.”

I urge you all to read his entire critique. And then get your own copy of Nowhere Man. See for yourself why it’s an underground classic. Hell, you don’t even have to buy it. You can get it at the library. Someday, somebody might even make it available as an e-book. Read More 
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There have always been alternatives for people who'd rather cut off their thumbs than download a book on Amazon Kindle. The best known are the Barnes & Noble Nook and various Apple devices, which allow you to buy e-books directly from the Apple store. There's also a company called Kobo, which offers both a variety of e-readers and a wide selection of books.

But Kobo, as I’ve just learned, allows you to do something that no other company does: buy a competitively priced e-book, which you can read on any device, from your local independent bookstore.

Just go to Kobo’s list of participating stores, click on one near you, and download the book. I can’t think of a better way to get your hands on the e-book edition of Beaver Street (or any other e-book) while supporting a local brick-and-mortar business. Read More 
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What I Found in My "Other" Box

I learned this weekend that Facebook has a spam folder where messages go sent by people who aren't your Facebook friends. It's called the "Other" box, and apparently I'm not the only one who was unaware that it existed. It's questionable if even Mark Zuckerberg knew about the box before news broke that for a hundred bucks you could send him a message that wouldn't go into his spam folder.

But this isn't a post about Facebook's stupidity. It's a post about what I found in my Other box, most of which wasn't spam. The messages, dating back to early 2010, were from all kinds of people who wanted to get in touch with me about my writing. One of them played a major role in my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man.

Let me say right off that I’m not one hundred percent certain that the message is legitimate—that it’s from the person whose name is attached to it rather than an imposter. But after looking at his Facebook page—yes, even he appears to have one—I’m inclined to believe that it is legitimate. His minimalist status updates—“April 8, 2011: Time is dragging on lately… December 10, 2010: Franks and Beans tonight”—and one friend, Human Rights Watch, do not strike me as satire. Please look at the page and decide for yourself. (And yes, some prisoners do have Internet access.)

The prisoner in question is Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon and who was in Attica Correctional Facility in New York State until last year, when he was transferred to Wende Correctional Facility, also in New York. His message, sent on October 20, 2010, says the following:

Hello Robert
’read your book. I liked it very much.
Happy Halloween,
Mark C

Though I’m always delighted to hear from people who like my books, this one creeped me out for obvious reasons. And I imagined how strange it must have been for Chapman—assuming it is Chapman—to have read a book that partially takes place inside his head.

I responded to the message and asked if it was really him. Then I sent an e-mail to my publisher at Headpress: “Do you think we can get him to blurb Beaver Street too?”

It’s probably necessary to say here that the e-mail was intended as a joke. Because I’ve often found that when things like this happen, the only thing you can do is laugh about them—as I’m still chuckling today about the existence of Facebook’s Other box and what I found in it. Read More 
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Prisoner of Porn

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. Read More 
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The Trials of Traci Lords

Traci Lords

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. Read More 

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The Art of the Interview

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. Read More 
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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. Read More 
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Daddy Porn

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. Read More 
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Lennon Style

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? Read More 
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