The Latest

Oct 7, 2013

Richard Pacheco’s Porn Memoir “Hindsight” available now

Howie Gordon, also known as Richard Pacheco to his fans and his faithful, has published a memoir of his time in the porn industry, a long time in the making. I know Pacheco, having admired his work as an actor - perhaps the best porn actor of all time? He’s up there in my estimation, along with John Leslie - when I was just beginning to watch pornos. 

I was lucky enough to meet Richard about a year ago, after having communicated with him for a while online about the book he’d been crafting for more than a decade. Together, we did a reading/porn lecture at Carol Queen’s Center for Sex and Culture, and I was pleased to present some of his greatest thespian-oriented hits in video form. 

It thrills me no end to be able to say that “Hindsight” as a book accurately reflects the kind of gentleman that Pacheco is - it’s a thoughtful, playful, hilarious, and sweet journey through the heyday of the Golden Age of Porn, and beyond. Richard’s able to tackle the intricacies of creating and sustaining a loving relationship, and I have to say I found this aspect of his book as riveting and as educative as his descriptions of, for example, making porn love with Nina Hartley

In short, read this book penned by a Pittsburgh Jew- class clown- class president - turned - porn star; buy it; share it with your friends. Porn lovers and life lovers alike shall rejoice.  

Oct 4, 2013

Come out to the Make Out Room, October 17th for Litquake, SF

johns cover16David crotch car 427carol queensambenjamin5litquake

Litquake: The Make-Out Room October 17, 3225 22nd 7 PM

Ex-teen rent boy David Henry Sterry will ride herd over this cavalcade of seamy, steamy stories, with an all-star lineup of the finest burlesque dancers and sex-working writers money can buy; PhDs and high school dropouts, soccer moms and hot dommes, $5,000-a-night call girls and $10 crack hos, penthouse escorts and hard-working rent boys.

In the exchange of sex for money a window opens into the soul
Come take a peek

Bert Avila’s work has been featured in This Bridge We Call Home, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys and Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks. She lives in the Bay Area and is a well-respected linguist.

Sam Benjamin attended Brown University where he deciphered post-modern theory, drew comic books, and made videos, eventually becoming a pornographer. Sam has an MFA in writing from Cal Arts, and is author of the memoir American Gangbang: A Love Story.

Sherril Jaffe is author of The Unexamined Wife, Expiration Date, and You Are Not Alone and Other Stories, winner of the Spokane Award. She received the Josephine Miles and PEN awards and a MacDowell Fellowship.

Lilycat often traps people into telling their life stories on FCC Free Radio. Her stories have appeared in Chemical Lust, Whipped, More 5 Minute Erotica, Surprise, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys, and elsewhere.

R.J. Martin, Jr.’s work has appeared in anthologies, magazines, and books. He served as director of development at SAGE. He was presented with a Certificate of Honor from the City of San Francisco. He has a master’s degree from San Francisco State University.

Chris Moore was born and raised by a television and drug-abusive wolves masquerading as parents. His work has appeared in crude and obscure zines and on bathroom stalls. He can be found in San Francisco.

Carol Queen is co-founder of the Center for Sex and Culture. Her books include Exhibitionism for the Shy and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture. Her novel The Leather Daddy and the Femme won a Firecracker Award. sexandculture.org

Dylan Ryan is a porn star, writer, performance artist, social worker, body-working yoga teacher, and bacon lover. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, The Huffington Post, and on CNN.

David Henry Sterry is author of 16 books and editor of the groundbreaking anthology Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys. His work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, The Huffington Post, The London Times, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. davidhenrysterry.com

Kitty Stryker co-founded Consent Culture and helps produce the live sex show “Cum & Glitter.” See her at SXSW or Regents College discussing the intersection of sex and technology or therapeutic prodomming.

About David Sterry

David Henry Sterry is the author of 15 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, book editor, activist, and book doctor. His first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller, and has been translated into 10 languages. “As laconic as Dashiell Hammett, as viscerally hallucinogenic as Hunter S Thompson. Sex, violence, drugs, love, hate, and great writing, what more could you ask for?” – The Irish Times.
Jun 4, 2013 / 1 note

JOHNS, MARKS, TRICKS AND CHICKENHAWKS: THE RUMPUS INTERVIEW WITH SAM BENJAMIN

The second of four interviews by David Henry Sterry with some of the contributing writers from his current anthology, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks: Professionals and Clients Writing About Each Other

Click here to read “Admit You’ve Paid For It: The Savage Honesty of David Henry Sterry,” in which Rumpus sex columnist Antonia Crane flips the script and interviews Sterry.

***

I am so stealing Sam Benjamin’s pet name: ‘The Ivy League Pornographer.” Sam attended Brown University. Shortly upon graduating, he found a home in the LA porn industry. His memoir “American Gangbang: A Love Story” was released in 2011. “Sex, Drugs, Ratt and Roll,” co-authored with Stephen Pearcy of the glam metal band Ratt, comes out in May. When he gives readings, he usually has bizarre 70’s porn music playing in the background on an ancient ghetto blaster. He is also unapologetically adorable.

***

The Rumpus: How did you get started in the sex business?

Sam Benjamin: I’d love to say I got started shooting porn as a total lark but in fact, I was deadly serious about it. It was probably the most intentional thing I’d ever done. At 22 years old, I imagined I’d make revolutionary sex films: spectacular, feminist, clever, ornate, Brechtian fuck flicks. Porn with a heart, basically. I fell far short of my goal, of course, but for a time there I really believed.

Rumpus: Best experiences being a sex worker?

Benjamin: Getting to push the boundaries of my self-conception.

Rumpus: Some things you learned about the sex industry?

Benjamin: I learned how to mix up a convincing fake-cum mixture that looks good on camera. Equal parts 30 SPF suntan lotion and pina colada mix. Bam.

Rumpus: Did you tell your friends and family you were a sex worker?

Benjamin: I told my folks that I was shooting porn, yes. I used to tell girls in bars, too, not only because once entrenched in the sex industry, I fell victim to a sort of snow-blindness, wherein I believed that my dirty lifestyle had a kind of validity and richness that your average 9-to-5′er would find deliciously interesting, but because I was philosophically opposed to lying. I alienated the hell out of people for a couple of years there with my potent blend of narcissism, over-sharing, and reverse snobbery. It’s like I was a character on Girls. Ahead of my time, I suppose.

Rumpus: Other jobs?

Benjamin: Transition from porn to respectable work was the absolute worst. I was used to making a grand a week, working negligible hours. My first job back was working in the customer care department at Wells Fargo in Portland, Oregon, answering handwritten letters from irate customers. Not that many people write letters to banks anymore. Most call. Turned out most of my new “pen pals” were incarcerated. Earning slave wages myself, trapped in a life I didn’t understand, I felt a certain kinship.

Rumpus: Do you think sex work should be illegal?

Benjamin: My sex work was actually always legal. Confusingly legal, in fact. Many of the actresses I shot escorted on the side, and they had to approach that side of their professional life with some discretion. Porn, on the other hand, kosher in the eyes of the LAPD by dint of having a running camera on the premises, allowed for all the salacious chest-thumping and idiotic, out-loud braggadoccio the world could bear. It made zero sense.

Rumpus: Did you ever have a crush on a client?

Benjamin: I had a crush on several of the porn actresses I shot, but none more than Belladonna. It wasn’t even that she was remarkably pretty—which of course she was. Bella had a wonderful, kind personality and possessed the sort of charisma that actually allowed me to believe that the stuff I was engaged in making might be worthwhile; might be valuable.

Rumpus: Would you recommend the sex business as a way to make money?

Benjamin: The adult film industry was a great way to make money in my heyday, which was 2000-2005. You had to be a complete, desperate drooling fool to avoid making at least a middle-class income for yourself. But the bottom’s since dropped out, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend this path to any graduating college seniors, unless they could approach it from an extremely inventive and resourceful marketing angle.

Rumpus: Good things about working in the sex industry?

Benjamin: The best thing about working in the sex industry was that it made me—a child of Hebrew School carpools and shinguarded soccer teams—feel unique and somewhat daring, even if that sense of “authenticity” proved increasingly difficult to hold onto as the years progressed.

The worst part was that the sex I managed to cadge was usually disappointingly bad. It was the raison d’etre, ya know? That was probably the main reason I had gotten into directing porn, if you want to get right down to it, and, to my surprise, it was horrid, cold, weird, unsympathetic sludgy coupling. I’ve had far, far better sex since I left the sex industry. That was my big lesson.

Rumpus: Are you still in the business?

Benjamin: I left porn about eight years ago. I still live in LA, and I’m tied to the adult film industry by a few friends, but that’s about it. I simply don’t have the heart for it. Porn was always stronger than me, and it still is.

May 27, 2013

Hippie Porn: Or, What Could Have Been

May 17, 2013

Admit You’ve Paid for It: The Savage Honesty of David Henry Sterry

This interview appears in The Rumpus, and centers around my friend David Henry Sterry. You can read all about him and his many exploits below, but I’ll just mention that David has been more supportive to me than likely any other writer I’ve ever met. David’s one of those people who always has time for another writer and is honestly looking out to share tips for success, happiness and (relative) wealth. Recently, he and I performed together in a reading at Booksmith, and afterwards, he gave me a pep talk in a nearby, red-lit bar in the Haight, while drinking a pineapple juice and soda. Who even gives pep talks anymore, much less with a damn pineapple spritzer in hand? Well, this man. This wacky man. Congrats, brother - so happy to see you succeeding. 

DHS self-portrait with car

ADMIT YOU’VE PAID FOR IT: THE SAVAGE HONESTY OF DAVID HENRY STERRY

BY 

May 16th, 2013

David Henry Sterry laughs a lot. He is generous. He is kind. He’s an activist who’s written sixteen books. He used to be a prostitute. He prefers talking on the phone rather than e-mailing or texting. He reworked my query letter while driving his kids to the circus, with their singsong giggling in the background as he compared my memoir to The Wizard of Oz and gave me advice. We have never met.

Sterry’s memoir, Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, sold for six figures one lucky afternoon in 2000 and became an international best seller that was translated into ten languages. Not only is Chicken a heart-punching story about seventeen-year-old Sterry getting sucked into the sex industry while attending a fancy, private high school, it is also about a homeless kid in Hollywood with acting aspirations and negligent parents, digging food out of a trash can to eat. It’s a story that kicks with loneliness, vulnerability, humor, and terror.Chicken doesn’t read like a confession, but sings its redemptive heartbeat.

I expected Sterry to be brittle after reading his stories, but he is everything but. While discussing the publishing industry, words like “Zen” and “karma” came up. “After Chickenhappened,” Sterry said, “I swore I would help anyone who asked.” Another rare, beautiful thing about Sterry is that decades after he left the sex industry, he remains dedicated to the stories of sex workers. His first anthology, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex, was featured on the front cover of the Sunday edition of the New York Times Book Review, and his follow-up to that book,Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks: Professionals and Their Clients Writing About Each Other, contains stories by people who have bought and sold sex (including one by me, “The Man I Gave A Handjob in West Hollywood Will Surely Blow His Brains Out Before I See Him Again,” which was snatched up from my blog by Stephen Elliott in 2010 and appeared in a different form on The Rumpus at that time).

In addition to being a writer, Sterry is a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor. He also authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his ex-agent and current wife, and his novella, Confessions of a Sex Maniac, was a finalist for the Henry Miller Award. He has written books about working at Chippendales Male Strip Club, the teenaged brain, how to throw a great pajama party if you’re a tween girl, a patricidal mama’s boy, and World Cup soccer.

Sterry and I talked on the phone about the deep cultural roots of shame associated with the sex industry and how freeing it can be to bleed out the truth about our lives as buyers and sellers of sex. We discussed the possibility of being loved and the necessity of giving voice to our secrets, even when the probability of being reviled is high—especially because it is so.

 ***

The Rumpus: Your first anthology, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks: Professionals and Their Clients Writing About Each Other, a collection of essays by sex workers and clients, is a follow up anthology to Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex (now in its fifth printing). How did you procure so many essays from clients and sex workers?

David Henry Sterry: When we did Hos and Hookers, it came out of two different avenues I was pursuing. First, I was doing a workshop in [San Francisco] centered on sex workers who had been arrested. Many were former drug addicts and street people. Every Tuesday for two years, we did this workshop. At the same time, I was being introduced into the sex worker artist/activist world because of my book Chicken. I did a one-man show in SF and Annie Sprinkle was in the audience. I was floored she came. Then I toured with the Sex Workers Art Show, where I meet this huge community of people. Hos are good networkers—you have to be. Very generous people in that world.

johns marks coverThe two worlds had similarities: educated organizers, artists, and hard workers. And others were high school dropouts. The stories they told were very different. There is a great chasm—the abolitionists and the decriminalizationist. They hate each other. There are five-dollar blowjob-givers and five-thousand-dollar-a-night courtesans who get flown to Dubai in one book. I wanted to create that book. Once we put that book out, it blew up. So, I started a reading series called Sex Worker Literati, every month in NYC. I met a whole other crop of writers. People contacted me bummed that they weren’t included in the first book. So, people came to me after I put the word out and I thought, Wouldn’t it be great to have a book of people who sold sex with people who bought sex together in one book?

Rumpus: Why do you think it’s so hard for people to admit they have paid for sex? What does this mean culturally? Emotionally? Personally? I think that in the U.S., there is underlying respect towards anyone who hustles because of the materialistic nature of our culture, but also, historically, women mostly occupy the adult industry, so the current of sexism and disrespect also runs deep.

Sterry: I didn’t realize the enormous stigma attached to the statement to say, “Yes, I hire someone to have sex with me.” Easier to get people to admit they are a “whore” than to get people to admit they hired a whore. So I was looking for those stories.

I posted everywhere. I asked my friends. They were liberals, pro-sex artists, and yet none of them would admit it. I thought, Interesting. Here’s a billion dollar industry with no clients. A few gay men would say it publicly. It’s more accepted in the gay male culture for some reason, maybe because it’s so hard to be gay to begin with, they already are used to taking risk rejection in society to some degree. The worst thing you can say in any culture is “your mother is a whore,” but I agree with you that there is a certain respect for the hustler, somewhat begrudging towards someone who can make a living with their wits and their body.

Rumpus: Isn’t it interesting that early feminism embraced sexual freedoms and birth control, but kind of left sex workers out to rot? And what about the archaic shame that johns have? Should more clients speak out about their positive experiences with sex workers? What effect would this have?

Sterry: There were consciousness-raising groups in my parents’ generation and that empowerment has bled into the sex industry. Whereas you never hear yes, I have this empowered beautiful prostitute who made me cry when she gave me a blowjob and has opened my third eye. The shame surprised me. The only people who were heteronormal men who admitted to hiring pros used fake names. I mean, I am in touch with like 10,000 writers! Hardly any men would say they paid for sex and here’s my real name.

Rumpus: Have you ever paid for sex?

Sterry: Many, many, many times. I spent many years binging on sex. I was a problematic hypersexual. A sex addict. I would structure my days around when I could binge. I would work hard all week as a professional actor and screenwriter in LA and NY, and I would be off at five p.m. on Friday and I would line up a series of dates—some free and some paid for.

Rumpus: What kind of client were you as an ex-sex worker?

Sterry: Because I sold sex first in my life as a young man, I always wanted to be extra nice because I had clients who were mean to me. So, I was a competitive client. I wanted to be clear and nice—the nicest client. I didn’t want them to do a job with me if they were uncomfortable. At the same time, there were certain things I wanted to do and wanted done to me and I would tip nicely.

Rumpus: What types of things did you want from a sex worker?

Sterry: I liked to be more in control and dominating and I liked to have hard sex, not to the point of causing pain, but a little bit rough. So, that’s what I was looking for. I hired people from the top end—Beverly Hills, Park Avenue courtesans—to crack addicts in MacArthur Park and the Bronx. I’d get coked up and go on these benders. What’s interesting is that there are thieves on both ends that are masquerading as sex workers. Then there are beautiful, incredible sexual athletes at both ends. I did find that people at the lower end of the food chain tended to be more physically violent, but also more appreciative, as well.

Rumpus: Have you ever fallen in love or had a crush on a sex worker or a client of yours?

Sterry: I met this woman in the East Village. At twenty paces, she was a gorgeous blonde with a great body, and closer, she was beaten by life. She talked like a chainsaw, was so skinny and scarred. She was sweet, so I picked her up and she took me to her squat in Alphabet City. She was a crackhead, so she wanted to buy some crack first. “Yeah,” I said. “Let’s do some crack.” She smoked and mellowed and she was really into the sex.

So, I asked her, “Do you have any friends that want to join us next week?” Then she wrote my phone number on her wall. She put a star next to my name and I felt so good about that. This beautiful, fallen crack angel, writing my name on her wall with a star.

She called me the next day, and said she had some beautiful girl with her and she wanted a woman to make out with. We had this crazy threesome. I ended up painting her walls in her apartment and we became close friends. She kept saying she wanted a job.  She was so nice and so sweet, smart and funny. I hooked her up with a job. All she had to do was walk in the door and she would have a job. I even helped her pick out an outfit. But, she didn’t show up and I didn’t push her after that. I knew she was scared. Then I showed up one day and she was gone.

When I was a rent boy, I also had a big crush on a client who was a tantric sex practitioner. I was so untethered from reality in a certain way, I thought maybe I could just move in with her and be with her and her yoga friends. I wanted to be her son and her lover. I had a kind of love for the crackhead. It was a complicated relationship. I wanted to help her and I wanted to be with her, too.

Rumpus: It’s common for sex workers to leave “the life” and shut the door on their past. You have done the exact opposite. How and why did you end up in the sex industry? How long did you do sex work?

Sterry: I only sold sex for nine months, when I was living in a tiny apartment in Hollywood when I was in college at Immaculate Heart College. I was studying with nuns and focused on existentialism. They had no dorms and I had nowhere to stay and no money. So I wandered on Hollywood Boulevard. At that moment, I was on the streets. This guy had a t-shirt on that said “Sexy” and he asked me out to steak dinner. Of course I went. The steak was drugged, and he sexually assaulted me viciously, and I whacked him with my elbow and escaped. I was seventeen.

chicken DHSThere I was at four a.m. on Hollywood Boulevard, where the predators were. I found a dumpster with a container full of fried chicken. A guy watched me and asked me, “Are you hungry? Are you looking for a job?” He was the manager of the chicken place, but also was the procurer of the sex industry in Hollywood at that time. He turned me onto the Hollywood employment agency on Sunset. This place was the most generic office you’ve ever seen in your life. Like, the secretary that worked there was so generic, you forgot her the second you looked at her. The man I met with was like Bob Newhart. The exact opposite of the pimp look—he was like a soft-boiled egg. And his specialty was underaged kids. So, he sent me out on my first job and the manager of the chicken place said if I pissed off the Bob Newhart guy, they would kill me.

The hardest thing about being a male hustler is that there are many things you can fake, but an erection is not one of them. I was very nervous that I would not be able to perform. This woman was very thin and very rich. She was mean. She would lay in a bed like she was in a coma. I was supposed to crawl under the covers and have oral sex with her. She didn’t move a muscle. And then she wanted my eyes closed. She was going to be on top of me. I was very nervous about that part of it. But I managed to do it. I found a mental porn movie. I would get into my personal porn in my head and disappear, and that’s how I was able to perform.

Sunny, my fairy godfather/employment counselor/pimp had me work for a week frying chicken. It’s horrible, miserable, greasy, stink work. After a week he gave me my paycheck. It was so small, it was horrifying. When he offered me real money to have professional sex, only a moron would turn down that money.

Rumpus: Where were your parents at the time? Did they ever read Chicken? What was their reaction to it?

Sterry: My mother had four kids and had just come out as a lesbian. My father had a mental breakdown and could not admit it. My mom was supposed to come live with me in LA but she never showed up. She decided to live in Oregon. I thought I could do all of this myself, which is typical innocent arrogance of a seventeen-year-old. My mother never read my book. My father read my book and didn’t speak to me for five years. He was angry. I never told anyone about my book until I had my deal. So I sent my family a galley of the book thinking they would be proud of me. My father called me, livid. “How dare you?” he said. He was screaming and shouting, completely beside himself.

Rumpus: How did you leave the sex industry?

Sterry: I wanted to stop working. It wasn’t making me happy anymore. The cash was intoxicating, so I couldn’t stop. I was scared. One day my pimp said to me: “I got you this job: it’s not sex, but you show up and smack this guy around and talk dirty to him.” What is sex? If it didn’t involve my genitals it was not sex to me, but it was a sexual exchange. The client was very presumptuous and told me to sit in his lap. He was sucking on my hair. It was revolting. My stomach turned over. I was so angry. All of the anger and rage came out and I beat the shit out of the guy. I thought maybe I killed him.

After that, I could not go back to working for those people. It was like I was a caged animal who lashed out. I hid out and left LA three weeks later. They never found me. I escaped to Oregon to where my mom was living with her lesbian lover. They accepted me back and I went back to school, Reed College for three years, and got my degree.

Rumpus: One thing I have heard a lot from people—from clients to people who are pro-sex and have a liberal view of the sex industry—is that it’s cool to be a stripper or escort as long as you don’t make a “career” out of it. Well, I did make a “career” out of it for twenty-plus years. The great thing about stripping is showing up with an empty gas tank and fifty cents, and leaving with four hundred bucks or more. Why do you think people say that? From where do these comments stem?

Sterry: The underlying assumption is the idea that it’s bad and bad for you. Another assumption is that the end result will not be a positive thing. If you ask a parent about their son or daughter—if they want their kids to be sex workers—they would never say, “Yes, I’d love for my kid to grow up to be a prostitute.” People believe it’s okay to dabble but not to get sucked in too deep. That shame is in our cultural DNA. I have friends who have sold sex, porn stars, strippers, surrogates, and some are very happy making their money doing this and some are looking to get out. The fact is, being a sex worker is a difficult job that is high-risk and high-reward, like my friend who works in the ER. Lots of people would not be able to do that job, or do the job of a firefighter. Not everyone is cut out to run into that building on fire. Sometimes you walk into someone’s life and his or her life is on fire, but you’re built for that job.

Rumpus: I am built for that job. I run through the fire of people’s lives all the time. Sometimes I forget to carry a hose.

Sterry: Important to remember your hose. It’s not for everyone, but for some people, it’s the best part-time job in the world if you are cut out for it. Meaning, you are emotionally and physically equipped to handle it.

Rumpus: Do you ever miss it? Would you ever go back to it? Have your views changed about the sex industry over the years?

Sterry: I was made an offer and I talked about it with my partner, and we discussed it and I decided to not do it. But, I seriously considered it. I never carried any shame about doing sex and getting money for it. The only immoral thing about the sex industry is when there is the lack of choice. That’s slavery. My main ideas about the industry have not changed. I feel sorry for those who try to shame sex workers. I feel bad for them for being an unenlightened, uninformed person.

Rumpus: I am currently heartbroken. Men I have dated seem to love my independence and sexiness, but eventually, they wind up using the fact that I have done sex work as a weapon against me, to hurt me or push me away. Is it a mistake to tell men I date about my history? Will I ever be loved and accepted? Male opinion, please.

DHS LothianSterry: I never told anyone about myself for twenty years. But all of my secrets ate at me from the inside. Eventually, it consumed me. From the outside, I looked great: I had sold screenplays, I had a red sports car and all the trappings. And I was dying inside. I was married to this beautiful woman who was not very capable of giving love. I hated acting. I was a cog in a machine. My thought process was, Oh, you’re not happy? Buy a bigger TV.

I was a dancing monkey and I hated it. My addictions got bigger and my binges more intense. I found this beautiful woman in Harlem who asked me for a date. She took me to this crack house in Harlem, and her hands were big and her Adam’s apple, huge. In that dump, one crackhead hit me with a pipe and stole my money. Luckily, I come from a long line of hardheaded coalminers. They [the crackheads] all looked funny to me and I started laughing. Soon, we were all laughing. I just walked out.

That was my bottom. I vowed that I was going to tell my true story if anyone asked me and I was never going to hide again. Soon after, I went on a date with this literary agent, who liked a book I wrote, but then I told her my real story that became Chicken: Portrait of a Young Man for Rent.  I thought it would make people run from me, but that night, this woman—who was a well-educated, Jewish woman—thought it was so interesting. She told me, “This is the book you should write.” And, I did.

I believe that you telling your story will lead to someone giving you unconditional support and love. Antonia, you will find love.

***

Photograph of David Henry Sterry © 2004 by Lothian Photography.

May 13, 2013

The Hair Metal Diaries

 I enjoyed this Atlantic Monthly feature centered around “Sex, Drugs, Ratt and Roll.”

The Hair-Metal Diaries

In a new memoir, the lead singer of Ratt remembers what may be the most forgettable cultural phenomenon of the modern era.  
image
David Wilson

 

If the success of a fashion can be judged by the suddenness of its demise—by the speed with which, having so fierily consumed the moment, it shrinks and crinkles into obsolescence and they-did-what?—then hair metal was truly the craze of all crazes. For the bulk of the ’80s, this snarling, preening, reactionary super-pop, with its huge headachy drum sound and party-time choruses, ruled: it was the pulse of the stadium, the pulse of the mall. Screaming its faddishness to the skies, it drove the kids wild, cashed in frenziedly, and then—poof!—it was gone, really gone, leaving only a few brittle bouffants blowing like tumbleweeds and a mocking refrain on the air: Don’t need nothin’ / But a good time …

Who were the hair metallers? They were wearers of eyeliner and blasters of hair spray (Aqua Net, Stiff Stuff). They pouted. Some were frilly, some were spiky, some looked like members of five different bands at once. They proclaimed themselves creatures of the night, creatures of appetite. Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Poison, Dokken, Cinderella, Faster Pussycat, Winger, Warrant, Whazzle (okay, I made up Whazzle). And perhaps the most exuberantly whorish of the lot, Ratt.

Ratt front man Stephen Pearcy’s memoir, Sex, Drugs, Ratt & Roll, published this month (and co-written by Sam Ben­jamin), takes us back—back to the itchy follicles of hair metal in the early 1980s, when penniless rockers tottered up and down L.A.’s Sunset Strip, snorting, vomiting, papering lampposts with their band’s flyers, and mooching off inexplicably generous “chicks.” Deep down, we must assume, they partied so hard to numb the pain of their own post­modernity: in the cells of their bodies, these musicians were copyists and cliché-mongers, reverently ripping off Aerosmith, AC/DC, Van Halen, the New York Dolls, Duran Duran (cosmetically), and each other. Certain of metal’s trappings (long hair, loud guitars, a kind of spurious defiance) had been appropriated, but this was not heavy metal, because it was not heavy: no doom, no drag. The riffs were flimsy and chick-friendly—or at least not chick-repellent—­and metal’s drama of cosmic exile was ditched in favor of a desperate, slurping hedonism. “Under the sheets you will find me / I know that nothing’s for free.” That’s Stephen Pearcy in 1985, on Ratt’s double-platinum-selling second album, Invasion of Your Privacy. Compare James Hetfield, the previous year, on Metallica’s Ride the Lightning: “Emptiness is filling me / To the point of agony.” The chug-chug downstrokes of Hetfield’s Flying V were like a stammer in the brain stem; hair metal’s guitars, by contrast, were a mere outer-ear sizzle.

But they made some good music, the hair metallers, when they were on their game. Ratt was well named: compact and verminous in its song­writing, with Pearcy’s nasty voice projecting an exultant thinness of spirit. “You’re a / Human tar-get! / In myyy eyyyyes!” Something in the choruses pointed forward, to the wasteland harmonies of Alice in Chains. The band’s behavior, on the other hand, was strictly retro. Under their fripperies and loucheries and Marie Antoinette do’s, the hair metallers were the usual rabble of knicker-obsessed rock pigs, and the bands of the Los Angeles scene, as Chuck Kloster­man notes in his peerless hair-metal secret history, Fargo Rock City, were “particularly pedantic” in their pursuit of sex.

Not that they had to chase it very far. Teenyboppers, vixens, backstage Bettys, super-groupies: there was never a shortage. Again and again, one marvels at the strength of the female imagination, capable of investing these ghastly young men (Pearcy at one point refuses to allow an on-the-bus blow job to interrupt the game of Pong he is playing with his drummer, Bobby Blotzer) with such potent desirability, of building a palace of Eros amid the shriveled sandwiches and folding metal chairs of the stadium “hospitality area.” Rita Rae Roxx’s Once Upon a Rock Star: Backstage Passes in the Heavy Metal Eighties, is instructive in this respect, a groupie’s-­eye view of the scene: “Finally, I turned eighteen. On July 31, I was so excited that Quiet Riot was in town. I was on a quest to bang [bassist] Rudy Sarzo … When the rest of the band found out I had some coke, I became very popular.” Pearcy himself makes an appearance, beautifully captured by Roxx in a moment of sheer narcissistic rock-star reverie. “Stephen posed with me in front of a full-length mirror: me naked and him behind me, cupping my breast … ‘This would be an awesome album cover,’ he said.”

MTV, newly born, gorged itself on hair-metal videos: on women writhing in Mad Max metalscapes or across the hoods of cars, and on Poison’s nubile singer Bret Michaels shaking his ass. The nation rolled over. “It ain’t a crime to be good to yourself!” shrieked Kiss—­primordial proto–hair metallers catching the wave—in “Lick It Up.” But it couldn’t last: dim prickles of fore­boding were already reaching the almost-­insensate bands. “When we got onstage to perform the mating anthems of Reagan’s America,” writes Pearcy, “puffing our feathers out like peacocks, raising V‑shaped guitars to the sky, choking on a toxic cloud of stage fog, even we kind of knew the door was closing.” Everyone was dutifully writing power ballads—blustery, maudlin, crude grabs at the female fan base. Mötley Crüe released the stomping “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and one could detect a note of resignation, or deflation, in the descending melody line of the chorus. The Sunset Strip was overstuffed, excessively hair-metallic: Pearcy reports going to a club where “a weird aura of doom spiked the air along with the Aqua Net.”

And then, around 1988, the craze began to die, done in simultaneously by the more vicious hard-rock variant of Guns N’ Roses and the first moans and rumblings of grunge from Seattle. Tempos slumped—a depressive counterreaction—­and the rageful whine of Axl Rose tortured the upper air. The hair metal­lers plummeted into bankruptcy, addiction, blow-job burnout. Poison drummer Rikki Rockett, interviewed 20 or so years later for Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen’s documentary series, Metal Evolution, was philosophical: “There was a different generation coming in, and they were going, you know, ‘I can’t get with this … I don’t feel like “Nothin’ but a Good Time,” I just don’t.’ I can’t blame them for that! I’m not mad at anybody for that, you know what I mean?”

Of the music, what survives? A couple of wiry Ratt riffs (“Lay It Down,” maybe, and “Round and Round”) buried deep in the metal-fan psyche. Woozy hookup memories, or even heartaches, triggered by Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” But most of it has simply been expunged from cultural remembrance. Lacking the super-hooks of pop and the soul impact of heavy metal, hair metal was inherently forgettable—perhaps the most forgettable music ever. Its noisiness proclaimed its forgettability. What’s remarkable, looking back, is that its season of domination was so prolonged; nowadays the whole phenomenon would be picked clean in 18 months.

And the players? Ratt’s Robbin Crosby and Warrant’s Jani Lane are both dead, felled by their excesses. (The latter had a moment of late-career glory when, speaking of Warrant’s biggest and crassest hit, “Cherry Pie,” he told an interviewer “I could shoot myself in the fuckin’ head for writing that song.”) Other hair metallers are churning around the country on reunion tours, or popping up on reality TV. They have become, in the most honorable showbiz sense, troupers. Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil was recently seen on PBS’s flying-geek docuseries The Aviators, going for his private pilot’s license (“I’m surprised there’s so much mathematics involved”). A follow-up reality show, Vince Neil Escapes, is in the works. We can salute them all, these formerly young men, for their brief visual affront to conventional masculinity, their short-wave commercial instincts, and their outrageously American spirit of carpe diem. Their art was flashy and disposable—­and it has been disposed of.


James Parker critiques a classic music video of the genre: Ratt’s 1985 hit “Lay It Down.”

THE MANY MOODS OF HAIR METAL

Windblown: “Madalaine,” by Winger. With a muscular arrangement offset by medieval waft, this one took hair metal on a pale Romantic detour. All of your glory was left like an angry child / … But you can’t see you’re still running wild / Oh, Madalaine!

Bawdy: “Shake Me,” by Cinderella. If you’re going to rip off AC/DC, do it right. Do it like Cinderella. With huge, gappy chords and bathroom-stall lyrics, “Shake Me” was almost as good as “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

Bubblegum: “Nothin’ but a Good Time,” by Poison. This is the hair-metal earworm—completely inane, impossible to resist. The lyrics are deliriously blue-collar, the melody is like aspartame.

Christian: “To Hell With the Devil,” by Stryper. Arrayed in their yellow-and-black stripes like the bumblebees of God, the abstemious members of Stryper were actually—in their concern with ultimate things—the closest hair came to heavy. The band’s music, unfortunately, was terrible.

Damaged: “Metal Health (Bang Your Head),” by Quiet Riot. Got no brains / I’m insane, grumbles Kevin DuBrow, while his band clomps about pseudo-heavily. Teacher says that I’m one big pain. A naked play for the always-angry metal hordes—and it worked!

May 12, 2013

Stephen Pearcy signs at Book Soup

On Saturday, I went down to Book Soup to support my co-author Stephen Pearcy upon the publication of his book, “Sex, Drugs, Ratt and Roll.” 

Stephen was doing a signing, and as usual looked dapper as hell. That man plays the part of a rock star with flair and verve. I was proud of him and continue to be so as he tours the nation in support of the book. 

Apr 29, 2013

First review for “Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks”

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From Publisher’s Weekly:

"This collection of personal essays by sex workers and their clients vacillates    wildly from hilarious to depressing but never strays from being utterly captivating. Among the more amusing stories are a client with a “sweater fetish”, a woman who paid for her family’s Christmas presents by stepping on a man’s testicles in a pornographic film, and the dominatrix who got fired because she could not remove a client’s tooth. The phone sex operator asked to do cartoon animal voices for a caller is also not to be missed. Candid essays cover everything from the anonymous “captain of industry” with an appreciation for transsexual prostitutes, to the human misery of a pimp who turned out his own girlfriend. Some pieces are more meditative: Fiona Helmsey recalls meeting a kind client at a bachelor party who later died on 9/11, while Dr. Annie Sprinkle discusses her 40 years in the sex industry and her wish for “a more compassionate sex-positive society” in which “prostitutes and johns would be government-subsidized”. Though obviously not for the faint of heart, this book contains some courageous, raw, and intelligent writing that breaks taboos and smashes misconceptions. (Apr.)"

Check out “Johns, Marks, Tricks, and Chickenhawks” http://amzn.to/Yg0Lp8

Apr 12, 2013

Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks

I’m pleased to announce I’m a contributor to the new sex work anthology “Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks,” edited by David Henry Sterry, and in stores and on Amazon this week. 

With contributions by Dr. Carol Queen, Melissa Febos (Whip Smart), Madison Young, and many more. 

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