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Flatbush Flashback

That Was the Week that Was

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 Man interview 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.

I'll follow my inclination. See you next week! Read More 
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NSFW

Thanks to LA Weekly, I've learned a new acronym: NSFW. It means "Not Safe For Work." That's how the paper has labeled their extraordinary Beaver Street pictorial, "10 Sexy Photos From the History of Pornography."

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. Read More 
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Folks Like Shu

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.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Read More 
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Blogs vs. Books

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. Read More 
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Personal Faves: Volume III

A final look back at some of my favorite posts, selected at random, from The Daily Beaver on its third anniversary. Then, on new blogging frontiers.

Godfather of Grunge Meets Godmother of Punk (June 7, 2012)
A report from the BEA.

Bernie on Beaver Street (June 19, 2012)
This is what happens when a celebrity vigilante shows up at a book launch party.

My Book Promotion Philosophy (Sept. 6, 2012)
Why I’ll talk to anyone who wants to talk to me about my books.

Distinguishing Characteristics (Sept. 11, 2012)
A guest post from Mary Lyn Maiscott on the anniversary of 9/11.

Google Is God (Oct. 18, 2012)
What do you do when you don’t like the way a powerful monopoly is treating you? Nothing you can do. Read More 

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Personal Faves: Volume II

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.

The Real Life of a Beaver Street Character (July 15, 2011)
Izzy Singer steps out of Beaver Street to publish a shocking pornographic e-book.

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.

Tomorrow, Volume III Read More 

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Greatest Hits: Volume II

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.

5. The Great Porno Debate: Ron Jeremy vs. Gail Dines (Aug. 17, 2011)
Let's just say that my opinion has evolved since I wrote this piece.

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. Read More 

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Greatest Hits: Volume I

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.

10. New York Calling to the Riot Zone (Aug. 11, 2011)
A meditation on the London riots from the comfort of my New York living room.

9. The Tea Party Congressman and the Porn King (Feb. 14, 2012)
An investigative report detailing Swank publisher Lou Perretta’s campaign contributions to ultra-conservative congressman Scott Garrett.

8. Fat Sex (Sept. 28, 2011)
An essay on some of the problems I had editing magazines like Plump & Pink and Buf.

7. The Unfinished Life of John Lennon (Jan. 3, 2011)
A piece I wrote for the Mexican newsweekly Proceso, on the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, in its original English.

6. Memoirs of a Pornographer (May 13, 2011)
Editor Jamie Maclean’s rave review of Beaver Street for the British sex journal Erotic Review.

Tomorrow, Volume II Read More 
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The Sayings of Chairman Bob

"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?

To be continued… Read More 
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The Sayings of Chairwoman Dines

"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

The above quote, along with a link to my blog post, Gail Dines's Symbiotic XXX Embrace, appeared the other day in the Facebook group Stop Porn Culture. It resulted in a little online dustup.

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? Read More 
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AVN Reviews Beaver Street… and they like it!

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.

I’d urge you all to read AVN’s review of Beaver Street. It made my day. Read More 

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Work

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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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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War

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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Opera on Beaver Street


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. Read More 
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The Dirty Part


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 YoutubeRead More 
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I'm Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. Paul

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. Read More 
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Madame Olenska


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.)

You can also listen to her songs on the Louie Free Radio Show: Brainfood from the Heartland, streamed live on the Internet from 8 A.M. to noon, Eastern Time, Monday-Friday. All her songs are available for download on CD BabyRead More 
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A Blast from the Past


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!” Read More 

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A Gallery of Banned Books Week Performers

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 RyeRead More 
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The Official Bloomsday on Beaver Street Video: Part 1


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. Read More 
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Is There Work After Porn?

In the Beaver Street Prologue, 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. Read More 
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Next Stop: Naziland


Brooklyn Museum: A collection of photographs and plates from books.

The streets of Naziland.


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 Street Prologue 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. Read More 
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Izzy Singer on the Radio

 

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 hereRead More 

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