My first exposure to the joys of fellatio were, typically, in print form—via a late-’60s totem called The Sensuous Woman, by a woman so mysterious that she went only by the first initial “J.”
It would have to have been about 1976 when I first encountered this mind-blowing Baedeker. My pal Eric had somehow secured a copy of this licentious wonder, though I’m pretty sure he boosted it from his folks. They probably did it all the time.
We were about thirteen, and I was at the vanguard of my personal age d’or autoérotique. Eric and I also shared our first homosexual experience—in the form of a Captain Fantastic–era Elton John poster that Eric had picked up at Spencer Gifts. We loved E.J., but there was something about him, wrapped up in rhinestone and furs, that we just couldn’t put our fingers on.
The Sensual Woman, however, was someone we understood right away. I learned so much from “J.” For instance, you should “bring your own grapes to an orgy.” Who knew?
Her descriptions of blow job techniques were particularly piquant. Thirty-five years later, I can still vividly recall her Coleridge-like descriptions of the Butterfly Flick, the Silken Swirl, and the Hoover. Like all fourteen-year-olds, I had heard rumors of this sort of behavior, but The Sensual Woman cemented it: Sex was going to be great.
One of the nice things about this book was that it had no pictures, which was intellectually very liberating, and immediately differentiated it from its near-contemporary, The Joy of Sex, which, as anyone who has seen one of the early editions can tell you, featured a couple of filthy hippies getting it on in a marathon of awkwardly contrived illustrations, being to The Kama Sutra kind of what the roller derby is to the Bolshoi Ballet. My parents had a copy of that workbook, and when I finally got around to stealing it, it did nothing if not deflate my imagination. I am certain that it did nothing for theirs, either.
But back to cocksucking. Aside from its obvious delights—be you homo, hetero, male, or female—to coin a phrase, it is a mouthful. You can ask Lenny Bruce.
Or you could have, in 1961, when he was arrested for dropping the ten-letter C-bomb during a gig at the Jazz Café in San Francisco.
It was a good night, by all accounts. He twirled lots of his best bits, including “Jewish & Goyish” (“Dig—I’m Jewish. Count Basie’s Jewish. Ray Charles is Jewish. Eddie Cantor’s goyish . . . If you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish. It doesn’t matter even if you’re Catholic; if you live in New York, you’re Jewish . . . . Negroes are all Jews . . . Underwear is definitely goyish. Balls are goyish. Titties are Jewish . . .”) and “To Is a Preposition, Come Is a Verb”—the direct antecedent to George Carlin’s “You can prick your finger, but you can’t finger your prick” routine. In fact, Carlin owes most of his fancy wordplay to Lenny. Seven dirty words? Hmph! Lenny spit out nine, and in alphabetical order! Ass, balls, cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, piss, shit, tits—years before Carlin made his bones with 77 percent of the same shtick.
A big part of Lenny’s game was to perpetrate the language until it collapsed on itself, until words became just . . . words.
“By the way, are there any niggers here tonight?” he began one routine. All he got for that gambit was crickets. You could hear the air.
So he said it again, and then, after another uncomfortable, career-killing silence, asked the crowd, almost apologetically if they thought he was “that desperate for shock value?” And then Lenny lit ’em up: “I see one nigger couple back there, and between those two niggers sit three kikes . . . ” Big laugh. Apparently there were some kikes in the audience. Now he had ’em on his side. “Thank god for the kikes! Two spics, one mick, two dykes, and one spunky funky honkey . . . six guineas, seven wops . . . ” He rattled on like a hophead auctioneer, and no one seemed to mind that making a distinction between “guineas” and “wops” made little or no sense at all. Lenny was in a groove. “Any more boogies? See more sheenies?” He did the final accounting: “Six greaseballs, six dykes, eight kikes, and four niggers . . . ” And one big motherfucking round of applause.
“It’s no joke, he totally changed the face of comedy,” says [Paul] Krassner, [Lenny’s friend and editor]. “When other people were doing Chinese-waiter jokes, Lenny was talking about teacher’s salaries. When other people were making jokes about their mothers-in-law, he was talking about abortion rights.”
In San Francisco, a cop, a fucking beat cop, was assigned by his self-righteous sergeant to arbitrate First Amendment rights in a town famous for pirates and pansies. He told Lenny, “That word you said . . . you can’t say that in a public place. It’s against the law to say it, and do it.” It was, the cop told Lenny disgustedly, “a favorite homosexual practice.” Lenny, always the humanist, was equally disgusted—disgusted that the cop’s wife didn’t suck the cop’s dick. Never mind going to jail for telling a dirty joke—that was criminal.
The obscenity trial that followed, like all cases of the kind, was farcical:
Mr. Wollenberg (Lenny’s lawyer): Can you give us the exact words, or what your recollection of those words was?
Arresting officer: During the chant he used the words “I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m coming . . . ”
Mr. Wollenberg: And then was anything else said by the defendant?
Arresting officer: Then later he said, “Don’t come in me, don’t come in me . . . ”
Mr. Wollenberg: You are quite familiar with the term “cocksucker,” are you not?
Arresting officer: I have heard it used, yes.
Mr. Wollenberg: As a matter of fact, it was used in the police station on the night Lenny Bruce was booked there, was it not?
Agatha Christie, Colonel Mustard, and Inspector Clouseau, with the bungling help of the Keystone Kops and the cast of Police Academy III, could not have provided a sillier scenario.
One thing about obscenity trials that makes them different from other criminal trials is that their premise is to determine whether a crime has actually been committed, as opposed to, say, a murder trial, where you presumably have a body that has been done grievous harm, and now the job is to figure out whodunit.
But with an obscenity case, you have the alleged culprit—and the gig is to figure out if what he did is actually a crime—which is not necessarily the kind of power you want to put in the hands of twelve more or less randomly selected citizens of varying degrees of piety, literacy, and humor. If the Supreme Court of the United States of America has had zero luck defining obscenity (viz. Justice Stewart “I know it when I see it” Potter), is it really such a hot idea to put the power to swing the axe limiting free expression into the hands of punters pretty much picked off the line at the DMV?
The First Amendment is a tricky beast. Not all speech is protected. For instance, libel and slander are not protected. But there are legal definitions for both. Also, as is well known, for obvious reasons, you can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater, but you can shout “bitch,” “faggot,” and “nigger,” and many popular entertainers in fact make their living that way. (Hopefully they know the debt they owe Lenny.)
“Hate speech” is generally protected, but “fighting words” may not be. You can advocate the destruction of slopes, spades, ragheads, rednecks, hymies, and half-breeds, and march down Main Street with a bedsheet over your head, preaching six-hundred-thread-count Egyptian-cotton purity, but if we were in a bar and you were to call me a cheap kike bastard to my face and I took a poke at your nose with my fist, you don’t get to claim “freedom of speech,” even though technically you may have been correct.
Political speech is generally regarded as the “highest form” of protected speech, and the best example is probably flag burning, which the Supreme Court has very specifically ruled as being covered by the aegis of the First Amendment. And yet every few election cycles there is always some ill-educated rube who wants to run for office on the platform of adding a constitutional amendment banning it, and a fair amount of yahoos line up behind it in the name of “freedom.”
Obscenity is not protected speech, but pornography is. I have heard it said that pornography is the legal version of obscenity, which is cute but not entirely accurate. Certainly, most of the art and literature that has been deemed obscene over the years is of a sexual nature, but no one would conflate what Lenny was spouting with pornography as such.
The working definition of obscenity, set in 1957 by the Supreme Court’s decision in Roth v. United States, was “whether to the average person applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,” which was the court’s way of saying, “Hey, you guys figure it out for yourselves, and quite bugging us every time someone gets their knickers in a twist.”
But the race was fixed. Never mind that San Francisco was the cocksucking capital of the western world, or that down the street and around the corner from where Lenny was performing, there was a run of strip clubs as degenerate as any in the contiguous forty-eight, run by the descendants of the buccaneers who ran the Barbary Coast. In a world that was willfully ignorant or blissfully dishonest about its own vices, “community standards” meant very little.
Excerpt from Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!: Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers — An American Tale of Sex and Wonder, by Mike Edison. Published by Soft Skull Press. Copyright 2011 by Mike Edison. Reprinted with Permission.