Do you want to get stoned?
Huh? I thought this was going to be a serious interview.
I just thought that because you had been the publisher of High Times…
Did you even read my book I Have Fun Everywhere I Go? The whole High Times experience turned into a pretty bad trip. Kind of put me off pot.
But what about the video you made with the legendary Bong Guitar? Isn’t it the “most-watched nonfiction book trailer of all time”? You seem pretty proud of that.
Okay, you got me. Sometimes I like to have it both ways — I’m still very pro-pot, just anti-slacker. I definitely earned my reputation as a bohemian bon vivant, and I enjoy it, but I don’t want it to overshadow my writing. I get a lot of juice from that video and from the High Times stories, and if that’s the entry point for a certain part of the populace into my work and my world, that’s awesome. And then it’s my job to bring them along for the ride. Trust me, it gets a lot smarter as it goes along.
The Bong Guitar video is a lot of fun, but the important thing is that it speaks to a certain freedom that a lot of people would like to have but can’t because they are handcuffed, or somehow limited, in how they can express themselves. I have kind of a “scorched earth” policy, I suppose. Most people couldn’t get away with smoking dope out of an electric guitar on a YouTube video.
Stoner humor is one thing, but what about all the talk about “delicious cocaine” and bags of “mystery pills,” and “the possibilities of professional wrestling and LSD” in I Have Fun Everywhere I Go? And your pro-meth amphetamine Christmas video? It’s very funny but I know some people who are plainly horrified. Do you show your mother these things?
My mother, God bless her, hasn’t read either of my books. She is a nervous Jewish lady and thinks they will upset her, and of course she is right — if they didn’t I just wouldn’t be doing my job, right? Anyway, how is she going to parse “a pro-meth Christmas message”? I don’t think she has ever Googled me or else she would have called me, apoplectic. But what I was saying is that I am lucky that I have found a place of complete freedom in speaking honestly about sex and drugs and a few other things that America genuinely fears, and I think part of the reason my stuff has resonated so well with so many people is that I get to say things that maybe they would like to say, or are already thinking, but because of their jobs or families or the long-shadow of American Puritanism they can’t. Even college students are scared these days. The Christmas video is just taking drug paranoia to its absurd extreme. I live in a nice place — No Fear. I have adventures all the time. I am very fortunate like that.
What about your new book, Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! I have read some reviews that aren’t even actual reviews, more like tirades against pornography where the so-called reviewer just uses your book as a trigger point for their argument. They don’t even talk about the story, or the writing…
…And that really chaps my ass! Rick Perlstein, whose most recent book is Nixonland, one of the best modern American history books I have ever read, told me that my book was great social history, and funny, and I thought, Wow! Praise from Rick meant everything to me — if I got it past a serious cat like that, then it was definitely an “A” paper. But then when the book came out there was a lot of blowback from some legit and otherwise liberal media venues that said, “Oh, we don’t cover things like that. It’s not for us…” They were confusing the putative topic of my book — pornography — with the book itself, as if the book were somehow filthy in and of itself. People are so fucking dumb. They react without knowledge and are motivated by the fear of coming down on the wrong side of the argument. And what is the argument, anyway? It’s 2012, can we all please agree that a picture of a naked lady isn’t going to be the root cause of the collapse of the empire?
Pornography has always been here, and it always will be here. While my book is thoroughly unapologetic about the subject, neither do I ever advocate it and say “smut it good.” It’s good if you want it. Honestly, personally, I find most pornography boring, but hey, whatever gets you through the night, and anything that turns people on in a healthy way is a positive thing. We can argue about what “healthy” is, but anything between two consenting adults is good by me. You know, what Mitt Romney calls “kinky,” I call “Tuesday night.” And that’s fine, too, as far it goes, until he sends the Morality Police after me.
Actually my book isn’t even about pornography so much as it is about freedom of speech, and America’s own self-awareness when it comes to sex, and what we can and cannot handle on the newsstand, and the myriad of forces that play on the cultural zeitgeist, from politicians waging cold wars against communists and homosexuals — which we saw in the 1950s and then again in Ronald Reagan’s 1980s, as if the 60s had never happened — to the rise of mass media, the corporate co-opting of youth and rebellion, war, the Beatles…
Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! is a pop-culture social history in every sense. It focuses on “The Four Horsemen of Pornography” and their magazines – Hugh Hefner and Playboy, Larry Flynt and Hustler, Bob Guccione and Penthouse, and Al Goldstein and Screw, and tells their story as a study in contrasting personalities cast against the landscape of their times, and tries to explain their success and, with the exception of Larry Flynt, who is on top of the world, their eventual demise. It covers sixty years, from Eisenhower to Clinton, and a lot of shit goes down — the Temptations get from “My Girl” to “Ball of Confusion,” Playboy goes from risqué to redundant, Helen Gurley Brown turns Cosmo into a powerful sex-positive force that manages to both delight and revile self-described feminists, and Hefner turns from an urbane sophisticate — the avatar of the male dream — to a doddering old queen padding around his manse like King Tut on Quaaludes.
What’s with you and Hefner? You really bury the hatchet in the old man.
The more I learned about him the more I realized that he is a complete creep and a fraud. His misogyny is palpable — he hates women, he really hates them. His whole worldview is based on his anger for being cuckolded when he was young. You can say that Larry Flynt is a pig, and he would agree with you, but Hefner denies his magazine is even about sex. With the other guys, what you see is what you get, but Hefner is living a lie. He is duplicitous in his intentions. He’s a hypocrite, and that’s what I can’t stand.
Basically you call him a closet case.
I applaud his bi-curious nature. I wish he felt he could be more honest about it.
And you have a new video, “Hugh Hefner Hates Girls”… I saw somewhere on the Internet someone called it “as if beatnik poetry and punk rock had a baby.”
That’s pretty much it. The idea to do storytelling with a band behind me came from Jack Kerouac — honestly I don’t even like his books very much, but I love the records he made of him reading, especially the one with Steve Allen playing piano. I’m really just an old beatnik at heart —I started out with a bongo player and now on some nights I have a full arkestra. In fact what started as promos for I Have Fun Everywhere I Go and Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! now has a life of its own and we’re doing nightclub gigs just because we can – without the premise of it having to be part of a book tour. The repetoire is getting pretty big, too — stories from both books, plus some dirty blues and R&B songs, some free-styling patter… I play theremin and electric organ and slide guitar, and it’s like a filthy outer-space cabaret. X-rated comedy. Lenny Bruce meets Sun Ra. It’s literary mayhem. We have brought the Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! Show and Revue to universities and dive bars, book stores and liquor shoppes. We ended the I Have Fun Tour in a circus tent. A lot of people who would otherwise dig what I am trying to do aren’t used to going to “readings” at bookstores. You’ve got to bring it to the people. Anyway, most readings suck. You know that. The best gigs of the last tour were at Ian’s in Chicago where they named a pizza after me – the Mike Edison Dirty Pie – and at the New York Public Library where I lectured on freedom of speech and censorship. Nevermind the pornography, that was really sexy!
You have guys from Danzig, and Capt. Beefheart’s Band, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and Sonic Youth playing with you. How does that happen?
They’re all a bunch of old beatniks, too. They love it.
So, do you want to get stoned?