My first contact with David Aaron Clark came in late 1990, when he wrote to ask for a copy of my fanzine Sheer Filth; a few months later (April 91 to be exact), he reviewed it in Screw, calling it “one of the rockingest pubs we got from the whole bunch of outlaw editors who responded to our tarnished feelers” – which made me feel pretty good.
A couple of years later, I was publishing Divinity – a once-popular ‘transgressive culture’ journal, when Masquerade Books sent through a couple of novels by that self-same David Aaron Clark for review. The books – The Wet Forever and Sister Radiance – completely transcended the porn genre that Masquerade specialised in – these were dark, disturbing and poetic novels unlike anything else out there. I was seriously impressed. Around the same time, I bought an album by the band False Virgins in a secondhand shop in Glasgow, and there was that man Clark again as a member.
By this time, I was getting the idea that DAC was going to someone that Divinity should be investigating, and when mutual friend Doris Kloster told me that David was also giving kinky, bloody SM performances in New York clubs, it was clear that an interview was necessary. Doris agreed to do it, so I shipped over a handful of fairly generic questions, expecting to get enough back to fill up two or three pages. A short time later, I received two hours worth of recordings – a lengthy, detailed, expansive interview that I knew immediately would be the centrepiece of the next edition. Doris also supplied several shots she’d done of David and his girlfriend, and so both the cover and main feature of Divinity 3.1 were set.
Except Divinity 3.1 never happened. A mix of financial, legal and personal issues saw to that.
I stayed in contact with DAC though, as he moved from New York to San Francisco to Los Angeles. There were more novels – the brilliant Juliette and Into the Black – graphic novels, and a couple of experimental SM videos, before David found himself in the LA adult film industry, working through jobs with the notorious John T. Bone and the even more notorious Rob Black before creating his own very unique movies – movies that, like his novels, mixed sexual deviancy with a dark atmosphere, highly personal moments and some genuine beauty.
In 2000, I finally made it out to LA, and DAC was kind enough to offer me a place to stay for the duration of my trip. More than just giving me somewhere to crash though, David went out of his way to make my visit a memorable one – fixing up meetings with his industry chums, taking me to meet the good, the bad and the ugly of the business, and generally giving me a taste of LA life – be that visits to strip clubs, looking for our work in the Hustler store or just checking out video stores while we debated the merits of Millennium and Dr Who. I also got the experience of watching his films with live audio commentary – something that should have been recorded and added to the DVDs.
I never made it back to LA – the ‘noughties’ weren’t the best time of my life and expensive flights were a no-no. But I stayed in contact with David – sometimes regularly, sometimes with a gap of a year or so between chats. His sense of humour and world-weary cynicism always made me smile, even when we were sharing stories about shifty publishers, dodgy distributors and general lowlifes that prevented us from achieving the things we planned. DAC had great affection for the industry and many of the people in it, but was also only too aware of the bad aspects of it. Like me, he’d struggled over the years – no wealthy porn mogul he – and so could relate to my latest tales of woe.
In 2009, we’d talked about another LA trip – doing it all again ten years on. Our last conversation over Facebook was to discuss whether he could send his latest film, Pure, without causing any customs issues. He was proud of the film – justifiably so by all accounts – and it had been nominated for several AVN awards.
Sadly, David died on November 28th 2009 of a pulmonary embolism. The news of his death was a massive shock, and I still can’t quite believe it. There is a gap in my life – and in the worlds of literature, performance art and filmmaking – that shouldn’t be there.
Here is the interview, previously unpublished, with the photographs by Doris Kloster. Settle in for a long read…
So, David… we want to get some background info on you. Who are you, where do you come from, and how did you end up where you are now?
Hmm… I was born in a manger in the near East… no… I’m originally a country boy from southern new Jersey. I grew up a Catholic… half a bad boy, half a kiss ass. I always had good grades, but the teachers hated me ‘cos I smarted off to them. Everybody thought I was going to be some kind of writer or journalist, and they all thought ‘oh, you’re gonna be at the New York Times if you get your act together’. Close.. same city at least! In fact, when I went to college and majored in journalism, everybody thought I was obnoxiously upwardly-mobile… but I’ve proved myself to be otherwise, I think. I played in rock ‘n’ roll bands growing up, took lots of drugs, ran around in those wonderful pre-AIDS days. The timing was kinda wrong though, ‘cos I had just a couple of years, then all of a sudden it’s like ‘right, you can’t do that anymore’. But I just had a typically bone-headed, mindless New Jersey upbringing. My parents sort of left me to my own devices, as long as the police weren’t calling too often.
What kind of trouble did you get in?
Oh, just the usual, getting brought home from the school dance stewed to the gills. I vomited in the back of a police car once…
My parents, being the upstanding citizens that they were, the next morning kicked me out of bed and made me go to the police station with a bucket to clean out the car – which luckily had already been cleaned out, and they were very disappointed about that They actually said to the officer “don’t you have any other cars you need cleaning?”… so my love for authority was established early on. I went to a Catholic high school for part of my schooling….
Ah-Ha! Explains a lot.
Yeah…my parents are split; one’s Catholic, one’s a Lutheran.
The Catholic’s your Mom?
No, actually my father. My mother’s grandfather was a Lutheran minister. But they were actually kind of mellow about religion. I was more interested in it than they were, in fact. In 8th grade, when the hip young priest would be trying to get me to take the church more seriously, they were actually worried when I started coming home with all these books. As we’ve found out nowadays what priests are really up to with young boys, that’s probably why.
Did they molest you?
No, no… he was this kinda cute black guy, too, so I might’ve been vulnerable there (laughs). Anyway… so I got through that brainless New Jersey childhood… everybody was into Springsteen and I was into the New York Dolls, so there were lots of conflicts there… when I finally got to college I thought I had to get serious with my life. I studied journalism, I cut my hair… that was the only four years of my life that I had short hair… started wearing sweaters and ties, that sort of thing… and winning a bunch of minor journalism awards. Everybody thought I was very promising. And I thought journalism was really wonderful, I thought it was a real calling. But of course, it only seems that way. I discovered that journalism really, basically, sucks. What it is is a bunch of people who are not all that well trained, yet they parade around like they’re doctors or lawyers, somehow beyond reproach and that there’s some sort of magic sword of truth that they wield. I discovered how ridiculous that was fairly quickly, particularly at the daily newspapers where my stories were constantly changed to reflect the financial interests of the owners. I was also getting the first wave of PC in my face. I was working a one newspaper where I was doing a major story every day, yet when the time came to put somebody on the official full time staff, where they had all the benefits, they gave it to a young black woman who’d been there half the time I had. At that point, I realised I didn’t want to play that kind of game. So I ended up at the Dow Jones News Service, zombieing out behind a computer, processing financial news. It was very brainless work, so on my lunch hours, I would go over and use the Macintosh, which was the Friendly Computer, and I started doing fanzines, & working more seriously on my writing.
I still thought the way out was a band. I was stupid, I was from New Jersey, what can I say? So I kept playing in bands for a few years. I finally got one band together called The False Virgins that went pretty well. We were very… ‘inspired’ by Sonic Youth. We actually managed to get a record deal, and Lee Renaldo was kind enough to produce our first album. Unfortunately, it was with a disreputable little label that did nothing to promote it. We still slogged on to another one, and by that time we’d picked up a new singer, a girl by the name of Jean Leslie, who I fell very much in love with, and we ended up living together. We did one album together. it was a very chaotic, messy affair. She’d never been in a recording studio before, so it was crazy. But it turned out very well, everybody was very excited about it. Unfortunately, right after it came out, she committed suicide. So that effectively destroyed my taste for, if not playing music, certainly playing the music game. So that made me start paying a lot more attention to my writing. I’d been writing constantly, but I never really thought about novels. The first one, The Wet Forever, was actually begun when she was still alive, and finishing it was very much an act of therapy. The characters in it took on a lot more resonance for me. The main character had a passing resemblance to her originally, but it suddenly became very much her, it became my way of memorialising her. The mind-set I was in at the time explains why both the male and female protagonists end up dying in a fiery car wreck, because that’s what I wanted to happen. I couldn’t see beyond that at the time. As I say, I wrote it basically for therapy, but then Michael Perkins, the book reviewer for Screw saw it. His own wife had died very suddenly when he was young, so he reached out to be a friend, & ended up reading the manuscript and taking it to a publisher, who ended up publishing it.
And is it available in England at all?
He claims it is. I remember he told me it was going to come out in September of ’93, so I had a big party for it, and it didn’t actually show up in stores until December. That was actually the first party where I did a really serious performance, a real blood-letting…
That was at Paddle?
Right. I’d done some of the S&M performances before that, and they were fun, but that was the first really serious one. I think it was also the first one with Joanne, and that was the one where she carved a cross in my chest. I did a little reading, and then she came up in her schoolgirl outfit, led me over to the cross, chained me up and before the crowd knew what was happening, she pulled out a surgeon’s scalpel and did a foot and a half by two foot, very deep cross on my chest. We had played around in our private lives with some cuttings, but nothing this serious of course, and we were trying to come up with a strategy for it, ‘cos she was afraid to do a cutting this big. I said ‘deep and fast!’.
And that’s what she did!
That’s what she did. She listened perfectly. It was amazing, in terms of where it took my head. I rose up somewhere into the cosmos. But she did it so fast that the pain was so instantaneous, and the revelations that came next were amazing. The crowd was very amazed, ‘cos they had no idea, I had never done any blood performance before. I think what broke the mood was when one of your colleagues, who will remain nameless, came running up with his copy of the book and pressed it against my chest so that he could have a personalised edition!
No way! Who? That’s pretty extreme. So that was the first…
That was the first blood performance, yeah. It was so poorly planned that we panicked afterwards, because we hadn’t thought to get band-aids. So Joanne went tearing out, looking at midnight for a place with band-aids, while I was sitting patiently bleeding, waiting for her.
Did you lose a lot of blood?
Er… They had to clean up a lot, yeah. But it was a great experience, and obviously it made me hungry for more.
Do you think the blood performances are a reaction against Safe Sex… or at least the idea that sex shouldn’t be “safe”?
I think they’re a reaction against safety, period. I don’t think (deep sigh) anything should be safe. I think we need a certain amount or order in our lives to function on a daily basis, but if things didn’t get shaken up regularly in my life, I would have to go out and shake them up. I think that’s true for all of us. I would jump off a bridge before I would go on Prozac, ‘cos I don’t want a smooth, uninterrupted existence, I want…
All the bumps…
Yeah. I want the happiness and I want the pain, because pain is it’s own reward, if not at the time, then afterwards.
It inspires you creatively as well, probably. If you don’t have the highs or the lows…
Yeah. We’ve seen the literature of Prozac and it’s boring. The literature of complacency does not interest me.
So tell us more about your performances. After the first one, you went on to become a key figure in this performance art.
It’s funny, because the way it all started, I never thought of myself as a performance artist.
It makes such perfect sense though, from your music background, the writing…
I know, but it’s not something that I thought out. I came to new York, and there’s this whole hip, cool reading scene in the East Village. I tried to involve myself in it, and I found that it was very insular and hard to break into… and I also found it much over-rated. Lots of bad writers who couldn’t perform, the occasional good writer who couldn’t perform. The readings are very boring. It’s usually like thirty people waiting for the other person to get down so they can go up. That really turned me off, but as I started to get published more, people started to ask me to read. I was a little better at them than most people because I’d had the band experience, so I didn’t shuffle my feet and stare at the floor, but I still thought it was kinda pointless. So then the bright idea hit me: ‘why don’t I involve my girlfriend in this?’, and that’s when I got into the early goofy, sexy performances. Then, when I got into something more serious with Joanne, the performances had to get more serious too. Basically, the performances are a total outgrowth of my private life. I’m trying to compact it down and make sense of it somehow for myself, and about how I feel about the way my life’s going, society, you know…It’s fascinating how terrified people are at the sight of blood, because it really isn’t anything. When I was younger, I didn’t particularly care to see blood either, but once you realise how easy it is to spill a little, it’s not the end of the world. The only thing you have left then are societal taboos, fear of opening the self to the world around you, of course, the fear of virus now. I think with all the phobias that people are prey to, it’s important to show them it doesn’t have to be that way. My blood performances have, each one of them, been about transcendence, they’ve never been about degradation.
Their relation to S&M is usually, I feel, more philosophical that literal. We might be dressed up in leather or something, but that’s how we normally dress anyway. I’m really trying to make a human statement. If that’s not vague enough, I don’t know what is. But I see so little humanity around us, especially here in New York, it’s got to fall to someone to remind everybody every once in a while that we’re all human, we all bleed, and that there’s another level beyond that, which we can reach through the blood or, symbolically then, suffering. Just dealing with life head on and accepting every insult, every slash… (laughs)… no pun intended… and finding a way of incorporating it into an advance forward, into a path to enlightenment.
Do you think of it as cathartic as well?
For me it is. I don’t know about the audience, but for me it’s absolutely cathartic. Joanne has told me there were moments in our two bloodiest performances when she was scared ‘cos she saw my eyes roll back in my head, and she thought I was going out, but I wasn’t at all, I felt more awake than I’d ever felt. I mean that literally. At those moments, there’s an awareness of yourself, of every cell in your body, of every emotion coursing through you. You feel each of them. It’s like standing above yourself and seeing a physician’s desk reference of your body and soul laid out for you to contemplate. It’s a radical way to get there, but it’s the only way I’ve found so far.
Also, the scars are more body art.
Yeah, the scars are fun. That’s another thing that people just have to get beyond. Hopefully, tattooing and piercing is doing that to an extent, but people should be proud of scars. Scars are proof that you’ve lived. That you’ve been through things. The only creature that doesn’t have scars is a baby.
Even they have some scars. I scratched myself when I was a baby because I had long nails when I was born, and I had these two little mutilations. So even some babies have scars.
True. And it’s only cute to be a baby for six months or so.
I wanted to ask you about piercing. Are you pierced in other than the obvious places where we can see them? Did piercing evolve after the tattooing ? Where does it fit in?
Well, the piercing started when I got into S&M. The only permanent piercings I have are nipples and ears. I haven’t gotten around to the other stuff yet. I haven’t decided I needed it. I’ve been play pierced just about everywhere you can think of, and of course, the one performance, the Two Hundred Needles performance, proved that I’m not afraid of having anything pierced.
Didn’t you have your whole eyebrows pierced?
Yeah, we’ve done that a couple of times, for different things. The Two Hundred Needles performance was funny because that was a very cathartic evening altogether. That happened at the Black And Blue Ball, a big S&M party that happened to take place at the same women’s residence hotel where my girlfriend Jean had committed suicide. By the time I found out that’s where it was scheduled, it was too late for me to back out of the performance. I also felt that if I didn’t confront it, then I would never confront it, so I went ahead and did the performance. It was called 13th Exorcism and involved me cutting open my arms and writing Jean’s name in blood on a pane of glass that I then broke.
Because she jumped out the window?
Yeah, that was basically recalling the memory of when I walked into her room with the police and there was this gaping broken window leading out into the blackness, and there were these huge streaks of her blood that were so thick that they’d coagulated on the window pane. She had cut herself before she jumped out. Basically, it was trying to repeat the experience, and make everybody in the room live through it with me. I think the thing that upset me the most about her death was that it went so unnoticed. There wasn’t even a little thing in the paper like ‘woman jumps to death’ or whatever. I was very bitter for a little while about that. I promised myself that I would do something for her, but then the months passed, I got involved in other relationships, then when this thing came up, it seemed like it had been handed to me as the chance to do something. So that’s what I did. It went over to a resounding silence. I don’t think a lot of people understood it, but the ones who did, I was proud that they did. Joe Coleman came up to me afterwards and was very supportive, and that meant a lot. Then, after that, as a kind of celebration, we did the Two Hundred Needles, which had come about when I’d seen in a lesbian S&M magazine this big photo feature about some young woman who had taken fifty needles, and they were making a really big deal about it. Being a tad on the obnoxious side, I said “fifty needles in some little girl? I could do two hundred, easy.” Well, it wasn’t easy…
Even when the endorphins kicked in..?
The endorphins would kick in, then they’d wear off and it’d really hurt for a while, then they’d kick in again, back and forth, back And forth. There were, I think, four women working on me. Joanne was the head of the surgical team – in fact, a lot of people said it looked like open heart surgery to them… kinda felt like it too, sometimes. Joanne’s an expert piercer but she became so obsessed with the canvas she was creating of my flesh that there were certain points where I had to smartly call her back to reality, because she was starting to take out needles and re-insert them because they weren’t in quite right. But despite all this we came up with this celtic cross made out of about two hundred and nineteen needles that actually hurt a lot more coming out, because the skin starts to close up around them.
How many hours did the whole performance last?
I think five hours. We took the needles out at home.
So you left the club…
I left the club with the needles. It’s a good thing I didn’t have to go through any metal detectors anywhere. I can’t imagine explaining that one to the authorities. But it was great, we had incredible sex afterwards. That was a notable performance.
Let’s describe some of the other ones.
We did the Smutfest at the Boudoir in Exile.
That was a great performance!
That was funny because that was a performance that was really off-handed; we really didn’t want to do it because we didn’t know what kind of situation we were walking into, and one of the things about doing something like a blood-letting is you really have to control everything around you. You have to know what the stage is gonna look like, how close the bathrooms are, how close the audience is, if there’s going to be air to breathe or if they’re gonna be packed right up against you, all those kind of things. So since we had no idea, we thought “do we really want to do this?”, but finally said “oh, what the heck…”. We were still discussing what we were going to do in the cab and walking up to the club, as a matter of fact. But I’d brought along a tape of music and a thing I wanted to read, and Joanne had brought along her scalpels – she was dressed like a goddess, of course. I looked at the crowd and (sighs)… on the one hand they were very enthusiastic and I appreciated that, but on the other hand, they were very much of a SoHo art crowd. It seemed very much as if they were on holiday to see the freaks as I watched their reactions to other performers. I wasn’t amused, and I wasn’t amused by the hostess’ introduction of me as an alcoholic, middle-aged Screw editor white guy, or something like that…
Who was that again?
Jennifer Blowdryer. But I took it in stride. So we got up there and I think it was probably the closest to a rock performance that we did, in terms that we had the driving Thrill Kill Kult and Nine Inch Nails music going on, and Joanne was practically naked between all her rubber and knots. Of course the crowd loved that, they all pulled out their little instamatics to get their pictures. But we ignored ’em and ploughed onwards. They really loved the beginning where we did a light S&M kinda thing and she gave me a golden shower; I could hear their little tears and thrilled little exclamations as they realised that indeed, this really beautiful girl was pissing in this guy’s mouth. What they didn’t know, however, was that it was going to be an interactive performance (laughs). Knowing as I do that Joanne is HIV negative, I had no problem at all stepping to the side of the stage and launching a massive stream of pee right into the middle of the SoHo crowd.
That was gorgeous! I loved that. The screams…
A lot of them ate it up. You just can’t win, you know. So after that, I read my little poem, and they paid attention! I got their attention. After that, Joanne did some serious stigmata on me that very much upset the crowd as well. And that was our little performance.
They were in shock, total shock…
I felt that they got the point.
That went over big. It looked so gorgeous. Did anyone get that on video?
There’s a crappy video, unfortunately.
It looked so good with all the lights coming down and this spray…
Oh, they missed the pee, because the cameraman was on Joanne’s crotch.
It felt so good, it really felt good. I guess it wasn’t responsible performance art.
Oh, I think it was. What about your other big performance piece which actually ended up in the New York Post? Maybe you don’t want to talk about that one. You were saying that your life and art combine in performance…
Oh yes, I guess the irony is inescapable isn’t it. Well, in-between that there was the Verbal Abuse piece for the Jackie 60 crowd, for the launch of the New Religions issue of their magazine. Basically, we assembled a Mass, I being a good Catholic boy wrote my own Mass. We brought in a supporting cast for this one. A couple of local dominatrixes who were friends of ours. We did a lot of preparation, actually. We went out and bought all the robes and chalices… I found out that it’s quite a racket. You can take a bedsheet, sew it shut and call it a cassock, and suddenly it’s worth $100. We were stunned to find this out. The people at the religious supply store were still reticent, despite our good green money. We had to go in twice, and the first time there was this old lady who didn’t even want to show us her catalogues. We went in again and there was a younger guy there, and he said “oh you guys are in a play or something, huh?”, and we said “or something” (laughs). He sold us everything. That performance consisted of my having my eyebrows pierced, and we did a processional to the stage with one dominatrix, Carrie, dressed as a priest, except she had a huge rubber strap-on sticking out of her pants. Joanne and another dominatrix, Leda, were dressed as altar girls. What happened was, while I was doing the Mass, the priest molested the altar girls, fucked one of them…
They were trying to get it in there. There wasn’t enough lubrication… they were trying to get it in Leda and it just wasn’t quite going (laughs). The priest gave me stigmata on my hands, which were bled into a chalice, then each of the altar girls gave the blood of Christ, which in this case was their pee, then we did a Mass and we served communion with the unsanctified host. If we could’ve gotten sanctified, we would’ve! I’m told somebody fainted during that one, actually. But that was a lot of fun, too.
That one sound like full theatrics. They keep expanding into bigger performances. Broadway is next!
I guess the biggest performance was the one which ended up getting the most attention. Joanne and I have a very (pause) ‘lively’ relationship. We’re both very mercurial (sighs). She’s Latin and easy to anger and I’m German and very stoic, but then when I finally get pissed off it spews everywhere. We were trying to have the classic free thinking, open relationship thing, which if you can do it is great, but some people just can’t do it, or certain people can’t do it with each other, and we were finding that we were both just getting really jealous and upset about things that either we thought the other was doing or we were doing. This finally ended up with me making a big declaration that I was through with the relationship and in an emotional moment, Joanne… she was very drunk, and took a kitchen knife to me.
When you say took a kitchen knife to you… let’s just clarify what that means!
Well, I… (laughs)… I woke up one morning after we had had a huge fight and she was sitting on top of me with a kitchen knife. We got into a little struggle and I ended up in the emergency room, getting about twenty stitches.
Are those them? They’re still there…
Yeah, they’re there for a long time. They’re nice, I like these scars.
They are, I love this one right here. I was admiring that earlier.
I’m actually proud of the scars Joanne gave me. It probably would’ve gone unremarked as probably just another domestic squabble, except that I happen to live in a building where there’s a New York Post editor down the hallway. It was noisy enough because it was six in the morning that the doorman came up to see what was going on. He saw me covered in blood, and very upset and angry, and the cops were called. I was hauled off to the hospital and Joanne was hauled off to jail for a few hours until I could get down and tell them I wasn’t going to be pressing charges… which was interesting, because this was not too long after the O.J. thing, and I had these female cops who were begging me to press charges, saying domestic violence is a very important issue, blah blah blah, and I was saying “I understand you’re doing your job and I sympathise, and yes, domestic violence is a very important issue, but this is not to be handled in that arena.”
So it wasn’t a performance piece (laughs)?
It wasn’t a performance piece. I mean, we’ve examined it since then in terms of wondering if, when you get so casual with cutting and blood-letting, it might make something like this easier, and my answer to that is: it might. My only justification would be that I already said that I prefer to live dangerously. Also, Joanne is young and I can be very ornery… basically, it was one of those spectacular little incidents that end up on page ten of the New York Post. They got a picture that Joanne had taken of herself from Screw, in leather, that they stole out of the newspaper, and one of their photographers ambushed me outside the emergency room and got me just starting to give him the finger… I wish my hand had been all the way up so they couldn’t have used it. The early edition was almost half a page, and the headline said something like ‘porn editor cut by kinky cutie’ and it referred to my luxury Chelsea apartment, which is a studio… as you know, it’s a nice apartment, but it’s hardly…
I wouldn’t say it made us sound more interesting than we are, but they glamorised the whole thing. My only regret looking back on it all is that they didn’t publish the names of my books!
Well, you should’ve talked to them! You could’ve done a big in-depth cover story interview. Weren’t Entertainment Tonight chasing you?
For a week or two we had all the terrible tabloid TV shows, all the video versions of Fleet Street were on our tails. They were calling me at home, at work. I was just not picking up the phone. They were trying to find Joanne, who was staying with a friend at that point… it was just crazy, it was being thrust into that ugly centre of American attention.
Well, it had all the elements!
Getting that little taste of what we all look at and gape at. The paper didn’t actually really get the full gaudiness of the story, because what happened was, the reporter who grabbed me outside of the emergency room represented herself as hospital staff. She asked me why my girlfriend had done this, and I said because I’d broken up with her because she’s seeing someone else. Then I realised she was a reporter and I wouldn’t have anything else to say to her. But what the newspaper didn’t know is that the someone else was another woman, which makes it all the more decadent and New York, whatever.
They mentioned she went out scantily clad and in high heels. Is that true?
She went out in the highest of styles. She was in a neck-to-ankle dress, but it was a net, see-through… she looked fabulous. She looked very frightening to me and I didn’t want to be near her at that particular moment, but she did look like a million dollars. She’s an extraordinary woman, ‘cos I can say as much as I might be into blood letting and I enjoy S&M in my private and public life, I don’t think there are many women in this world who could do something like that to me and that I would very happily go back to afterwards. In fact, we are back together.
You are? Is the engagement back on?
The engagement is still on.
When is the wedding?
We’re trying to figure out if it will be before or after we get to San Francisco.
You’re not really moving? No way!
You know what the main reason is? I really have to get away from Screw. I’ve been here for five years and while it’s been a wonderful experience and it’s afforded me all kinds of entrance into the sexual underground, it’s turned into a repetitious, deadening job. To break that circle, we need to get out for a year. After our little adventure in tabloid celebrity, when we decided to move, part of it was embarrassment about what people were going to say when they saw us back together.
But we got over that part, and now it’s really become more of a creative thing. I really need to do a couple of novels that I can give my full attention to. As much as I’ve enjoyed the novels that I’ve written up to this point, they’ve been very much written on the fly, in-between editing porn stories and dealing with irate writers on the phone.
It’s amazing that you can even get those out with all the work that you do.
I think so too, frankly. When I start one I don’t know how I’m going to get it done, but then I do. The new one is the one which really made me decide, because I had to write it very quickly, as per my publisher’s demands. The amount of time that he gave me would have been suitable if I hadn’t had the Screw job, but as I did, it was really crazy. I had to write it in about four months. It’s called Juliette 2: Vengeance on the Lord. They let me use the whole title, I was surprised.
And it’s out…
It comes out in May. That’s my third novel. This one moves into – I hesitate to say, but almost Clive Barker territory, except one of the things I always didn’t like about old Clive is that he’s so in the closet. Everybody loves Clive because he fills his work with all this S&M imagery, in private he’s supposed to be very kinky and so forth, but he’ll never cop to it, he’ll never come out in his writing and just do straight SM. So what I’ve tried to do is write that kind of supernatural thriller that deals directly with S&M, deals directly with the scene and the people on the scene in New York. It came about because my publisher, who has lots of crackpot ideas, one day said to me “I read in People Jack Nicholson’s playing the Marquis de Sade next year in a movie, we have to have some de Sade books out by that time.” In his publisher way he went on to say “the trouble with those damn books is they’re too long and full of French philosophy. Our readers don’t want French philosophy. Tell you what – you need some money, I’ll give you a couple of grand, pick whatever de Sade title you like, cut it down, do whatever you want, just gimme a book in four months.” Needing the money, I said “alright.” But what happened of course was rather than doing it simply like that, as soon as I got started I said “I can’t just ghost some terrible, abridged version of de Sade. I have to do something more obnoxious than that. I have to write a sequel.” So I had my choice of books, and I picked Juliette because Juliette is the original dominatrix, in all senses of the word. If you look, she’s really the first one literature to dress up in leather and put on a strap-on. The difference between her, of course, and most modern day dominatrixes, is that she was serious about it. People died, peoples lives were ruined, rather than the polite psycho-drama that really takes up much of the scene today. I thought to myself, what if a creature like this was unleashed in the overly civilised, polite yet kinky world of today’s New York? So through the magic of literature – or whatever – I resurrected her, made her this dark goddess who is intent upon bringing about the apocalypse on New Year’s Eve 1999… on the eve of the millennium. On her way there she manages, or attempts, to corrupt and draw in as many people around her as she can, and a lot of the drama in the book centres around two dominatrixes, one who’s been around and is cynical about things, and the other who is young and blinded by her inhibition. Juliette thinks these two women would be her perfect High Priestesses, so she tries to draw them both in, and of course all sorts of horrid complications ensue. very little of the sex is consensual, even less of it is safe… but it’s just a book, it’s just a book…
It doesn’t reflect any realities that are going on?
I knew you were going to ask that. In fact, great sections of the book are things that have either happened to me or that I’ve witnessed, exaggerated to the point of death. I’ve never seen anybody killed, but I’ve seen some gruesome things. I guess I finish books better in the wake of upset, because The Wet Forever of course was finished when Jean died, the second book Sister Radiance was actually my therapy to get off dope, because I had a dope problem for a while, and this book was written in the wake of Joanne and I’s disagreement. So in that sense I guess it is… there are characters in there who live in Manhattan and spend a lot of time at these dingy little clubs…
They’re going to recognise themselves?
Yeah, and things they’ve seen. To me, that’s a lot of the secret of being a writer. To live an interesting life. If you’re not a good writer, if you don’t have the insight, the skill, you can live a fascinating life and your books are still going to suck. But if you go out and you experience things, of you’re brave enough to take whatever comes flowing at you, I think you can find a lot of truths in there that people want to read about. In fact, I’d toyed with the idea of writing a novel since I was eighteen, and I’d done little stabs at it that were forty or fifty pages long, but I had nothing to write about. I didn’t want to write a Bret Easton Ellis novel, I didn’t want to write a John Updike novel, I didn’t want to write about people crying in their beer or getting into arguments with their bosses at work. That’s not the kind of literature I’m interested in. You can call me very low class, but I was brought up on pulp, on popular literature. At a certain point during school I immersed myself in what’s considered the Western canon, so I’m familiar with it, I appreciate it, but at the same time my lurid sensibilities from a youth full of comic books and horror movies and so forth always comes creeping in. I feel fine with that. I really don’t care if the New York Times ever notices me – as long as I can keep making a living doing this, that’s fine.
So… who’s cool and who suck amongst your literary contemporaries?
Oh my… who’s cool and who sucks? Well… I’m cool buy all my books… no (laughs). Let’s see… I think Alice Joanou, who also writes for RhinocEros is really promising. She works in the short story rather than the novel, but she’s amazing at it. I think she’s the closest we have to a modern Beaudalaire, she’s incredible. In terms of the giants, J.G. Ballard changed my life when I read Crash. To me, that was the first really transgressive book to sink in, and after that I found Bataille… basically, the typical St. Marks bookstore rack, I went through all of them.
And who sucks?
Who sucks…? Jim Thompson’s great, also. I think his entire life is exemplary and should be venerated. He lasted into old age and alcoholism, churning out fabulous books for $500 – $600 a piece and just never stopped, he kept doing it. To me, that’s a real writer. As opposed to… who sucks…? Elizabeth Wurtzel sucks, if anybody in England even knows who she is. Probably not. She’s this half-baked Yale ex-rock critic, slacker generation whiner, basically. We were talking about Prozac, her book Prozac Nation is a perfect example of… but she’s never gonna be heard of again, so she doesn’t count. Who’s rated highly that I don’t think much of? She’s a very nice woman, and I’ve met her and had friendly conversations with her, but I have to say Kathy Acker needs to hang it up. The first time I read a Kathy Acker story I said “my, very interesting”, then the second, third, forth, fifth time I was still trying to figure out what the point is.
What is the point?
Well, the point’s formal experimentation, obviously, and call me a Neanderthal, but frankly I don’t think there’s very much room in literature for formal experimentation. It’s not like other art forms. I think literature has to entertain on some level, or it shouldn’t exist. It has to entertain as well as instruct, and to write an unreadable novel… thousands of people do that each year, why should you aspire to that? Also, I’m sure I’m a flea kicking at the mighty here, but I wish somebody would take out a contract on Anne Rice, because I think she’s taking up way too much space on the shelves. I think she wrote three books that were moderately fun reads. If she had never had the success, she would’ve been somebody that you could’ve said “oh, Anne Rice, you should check her out, she’s fun.” But… shuddup already, Anne. Also, the whole bit about her being all upset about Interview with the Vampire, but having no problem at all with what they did with Exit to Eden. Not that Exit to Eden was a worthy book to begin with, but to have it changed into such a smirking, smarmy burlesque of a lifestyle that she claims to be sensitive towards… besides that, I guess of the people I consider to be my contemporaries, there are two horror writers that I think are absolutely brilliant, Michael Blumlein and Kathe Koja. She’s written a book called Skin which is in fact about radical performance art, people who do cuttings and piercings, and being one of those people, I can say she got it absolutely right. And not only had she got it right, but she told a very affecting, great story with it too. Michael Blumlein is a practising physician who writes some very sick books; one’s called The Brain of Rats, I can recommend that. I think there are a couple of splashy people who get too much attention: Poppy Z. Brite is a little go-go dancer from New Orleans, very cute, who went on the convention circuit and fluffed up the hormones of all the old science fiction writers so they all gave her friendly quotes, but she really could use an editor. She’s kind of an Anne Rice junior. She already wrote me one angry letter, just because she’d heard that I said in private that I didn’t think she was that great, so I suppose she’ll really launch an all-out frontal… which can only help my publicity, so go ahead Poppy, thank you.
Dennis Cooper doesn’t exactly suck – in fact, I found him very inspirational. I loved Frisk. He and I met and actually got along very well, we had a light correspondence for a couple of years, but I discovered that it’s funny how people’s sense of humour shuts down the closer it strikes to home. He writes these very transgressive books in which little boys are eviscerated and their assholes are opened a mile wide – it’s all right because it’s for art, but then he reads Screw, and reads some smart remarks I made about River Phoenix’s death, and he sent me this outraged postcard, and after that, totally broke off all connections with me. I found it funny that he would be so upset.
What did you say?
Well, basically, something to the effect that I found little grand tragedy in the case of a pampered second generation hippy pretty boy taking too many drugs and losing it on the sidewalk outside his pal’s club. This was not the stuff of grand tragedy. It was a tawdry little death, and if River hadn’t been a gay icon, there wouldn’t have been this reams and reams of copy about “we’ve lost the James Dean of our time.” I mean, come on. River Phoenix never made a movie that would match up to one of James Dean’s. Whatever respect he deserves, I give him, but it was crazy. I think a lot of the problems at the core of when the transgressive people and the sexual deviants try to deal with the straight people is that they forget that each side is human, and, if not respect, at least try to accept that and understand it. Dennis Cooper should understand that there are people who are going to be totally outraged by what he does, and he should try to maybe understand those people, not let them stand in his way. To dismiss them is the same as him feeling dismissed because I insulted his jerk-off icon who O.D.’d. That was kinda disappointing, to find out everybody wasn’t as hip as they pretend to be.
I’m really promiscuous, I read everything, and I don’t think there’s any crime in sucking. Lots of writers suck. If you can entertain and suck, that’s fine. I think Andrew Vachss is one of the most despicable writers I’ve run into. He’s very right wing and he constantly equates in his books S&M and any form of kinkiness with child molestation and child pornography. His actual style is, from book to book, just like one long book. But it’s one long very readable book. You feel very shitty afterwards, like “how can I have given this nazi my money?”, but during the two or three hours it takes to rip through it, it’s very entertaining.
And where do you read all this stuff?
Bathroom… lots of waterlogged books. I love the bathroom, it’s my favourite room of the house. It’s my favourite place to have sex, my favourite place to read… I can eat there but I prefer not to.
We have to go back to The Wet Forever. It has a very cinematic feel to it. Is movie-making a prime interest?
Erm… well… I muck about with video. I did that S&M video, A Taste of Shame…
Tell us about that.
Basically, my sweetheart was a Mistress and I just wanted to pay a little tribute to her by doing a little S&M video. I was also very irritated with the absolute crap that all the commercial S&M video companies were churning out. Not only was it very safe and unrealistic, but there was no professionalism, and I just felt that we could do it better… and in fact, we did. We did very well with it. I guess we sold nearly one thousand copies. That’s with no advertising, just some good reviews and word of mouth.
Do you have more planned?
I’ve written a couple of scripts and we keep trying to get started. Joanne and I have done a couple of little short things. basically, what I’m working on now is editing together some of our performances into a compilation. I have high hopes for that. In terms of real film, I would love it if someone bought The Wet Forever and turned it into a movie. I think they’d have to soften it up so much that it would be kind of funny, but if they pay me for it, that’s alright. The book’s still there. I love movies. Juliette is dedicated to Joanne, and to Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, who both died in the last year and gave me so much pleasure in my childhood that I felt like family members had died. Preparing to write Juliette, to get that arch-gothic tone, I went out and bought all the Corman/Price/Poe collaborations and watched them all.
So movies do influence you a lot. Tell us some of your favourite films?
Oh, I’m a horror geek. If there’s a Dario Argento film, I have to see it… I’ll go out and get the tenth generation dupe of the laser disc, whatever I have to do. When I was in college, I had a very serious film teacher, who was a former New York Times critic, and he took a shine to me, and so he indoctrinated me into all the Howard Hawks, John Ford… just the total background, so I have an appreciation of everything, but I would say three time out of five when I’m at the video store, I’ll pick up the most lurid piece of garbage I can find. I prefer lurid, well-made garbage, however.
That’s good. At least you have some standards.
Well, I think Dario Argento… this will come as no surprise to the readers of Divinity… Dario Argento was a painter and a poet, there’s no two ways about it. I’m fascinated by people who can take a supposedly debased medium like the horror film and the sex novel, and they can turn it into something more. To me, that creates such energy, because you’re getting the visceral thrill of the Penny Dreadful, and you’re combining it with slightly higher intentions. I mean, it’s easy to make everybody cry if you slaughter six million Jews and film it in black and white. Everybody’s going to call you a genius and everybody’s going to cry. It’s a lot harder if you’re going to do something like we do.
You seem to have you fingers in various pies… anything you haven’t tried yet but want to?
Death… not right away on that! I want a few more orgasms before death. I don’t know (heavy sigh). Six foot tall black men…no! (laughs). I can imagine the fan mail I’ll get now. Joanne would love to see that, actually…
We’ll have to videotape it! All the readers want to see that!
What haven’t I tried? (long pause).
It must be pretty hard to think of anything, right?
I’d love to travel more, because most of my travel is either interior or spiritual or travelling within the realm of my body. When it comes to actually getting up and going to different places, I’m very much a homebody. I wish I could break out of that.
Share a particularly deviant personal anecdote with us. Should be easy!
Well, you can share one or two if you want!
Well… (laughs). I’ve met some amazing women in my life, I must say. Joanne is certainly the most amazing… I would have to say probably the wildest stuff has been with her, which was totally unexpected because when I met her, I didn’t even take her seriously, because she was all of eighteen years old… I thought she was twenty-one, but she was only eighteen… and she was very quiet and reserved, like this pretty little thing, and she was very well-read for her age. If anything, I just looked at her like a nice, smart little girl who was going to do great things someday. Which I think she is, but I had no idea that she had a libido and an imagination to match A thirty-four year old guy who had always felt he hadn’t gotten enough and wanted more. So we were a really good match in that way. I don’t know… I think there was this one time… she went down on me in Times Square once. We were with this friend of mine, this very proper British record executive, and he just pretended it wasn’t happening. he just went ahead of us, like half a block. We both had a good giggle over that. Actually, all three of us did. I don’t know how deviant that is… you could be arrested for it, but it’s not really deviant.
Well, you regular life is considered so deviant, I guess.
One of the things I find interesting about deviancy is that if you find the right person to practice it with, you can do anything. I think that, Joanne and I, our worst experiences have been when we’ve introduced somebody else into it and they haven’t quite clicked. There was once when we had a slave of hers come over and go down on me while she fucked him up the ass, and we thought it was going to be a really great, wild experience… but the guy was kind of a loser. He was just available for the service, but he didn’t really turn her on and he didn’t really turn me on, so I would say that was a failed experience. One of the wildest times was in Juliette, as a matter of fact.
You’ll have to get the book and read it.
I’ll say this, it involves Joanne, I and another girl at an S&M club; we came in and this very atrociously appointed transvestite from a Connecticut suburb came up to us, and we thought that, of course, he was going after the girls, but instead he whispered to them “who’s that man with you? Is he a biker? Will he do things to me?”. And, er… let’s just say that peer pressure resulted in quite a scene that… it’s a good thing we were friends with the management of the club, because I don’t think they would’ve looked the other way for anybody else. At one point I had him over a horse, my hand was up his ass, and I looked over and the two girls were just standing there, very amused. I looked at them like “so my hand’s up his ass, now what?”. Things kinda went on from there. We dumped him because he was obnoxious, and we ended up in the upstairs bathroom which is filthy and was much filthier by the time we left. I’m really sorry to the management of the club and in retrospect if you want me to pay any cleaning costs…contact me care of this magazine, I guess.
You’ll come down with a bucket! Your speciality, right? So… what’s happening to the sex industry in the Nineties? Are we on the verge of a brave new world of eroticism, or staring into an abyss of censorship and cheap garbage?
Both! Absolutely both. Being a porn professional, I get to see more than any human being should have to see in terms of what’s coming out on video, in magazines and so forth. There’s so much garbage, it boggles the mind. I think porn is a six billion dollar industry right now in America, and most of it is absolute lowest common denominator garbage. There’s about three per cent of it that I would say is valuable, either as masturbation tools or something approaching, dare I say, art. To me, there’s two important things I consider when I look at pornography: a) does it turn me on, and b) is it well done? Sometimes if something’s not well done it can still be a huge turn on. The Dirty Debutantes series… this crazy guy named Ed Powers who considers himself a modern day Casanova, goes around and asks girls to sleep with him, and when they say yes, he videotapes it and turns it into the series. He does this Jerry Lewis kind of schtick, he’s a kind of Uber-Nerd. The fascinating thing about him is I know him and he’s exactly like he seems to be on video. He’s a very sweet, harmless guy, which is actually how he manages to rack up such a high number, girls really do feel safe with him. Hs series is nowhere near art, but it’s the best pornography you could imagine, it’s an incredible turn-on, because he leaves in all the drama and the long conversation beforehand, and some of the girls are obviously pleased to be with him, others are like “when do you pay me?”. So it’s a great turn-on, it’s very real. When it comes to arty pornography, I’m again something of a barbarian, because in my reviews one of the things I bemoan is this Dennis Dofis porn, very glossy, slow motion, maybe some MTV style cutting at points, but everybody is much too primped and afraid to get dirty. It’s what the middle class would think of as art, the Andrew Blake sort of thing. I would always prefer a good, energetic jerk-off tape to something pretending to be art. What I find now is, I actually think the fact that Clinton is president is opening things up, because I think that during the Reagan/Bush years, there was such wholesale prosecution, such entrapment going on, that the industry, though it was making all this money, and it makes so much money that companies have paid $5 million fines without blinking, but they don’t like to lose that money, so during those years they very much tended on the safe side. But I think everybody sees a combination of Clinton, who’s a known adulterer, being in office, with the fact that although certainly AIDS hasn’t been solved, for better or worse people can only be good for so long. Whether this is right or wrong, people are starting to have sex again, they’re starting to do whatever they want again, because even if it means their lives, you just can’t turn off your sexuality forever.
It’s good to be safe and it’s good not to take stupid risks, but I think the initial effect that AIDS had on everybody’s sex drive is evaporating, and while there’s still the need to be safe, I think people don’t feel guilty to be horny again. So I think that’s all reflecting in pornography. I think the most amazing commercial porn that’s being done, and my favourite, are these series of tapes from Fantastic Pictures by a director who calls himself John T. Bone. He’s actually an ex-pat Englishman, and they’re just wonderful. They’re full of men sucking each others cocks while they’re getting fucked up the ass by women with strap-ons…there’s this amazing actress, Uma, who in one scene has a girlfriend and a gentleman friend put a funnel in her vagina, pour milk in, then drink the milk out with straws. I mean this is creative stuff! It really is. It’s getting back to the fun craziness. Pornography should be larger than life. I don’t like middle-class pornography where you see tattooed and tit-jobbed porn actors and actresses trying to pretend that they’re like middle class people in order to sell the tapes to middle-class people. Although I realise that’s where the profits may lie sometimes, I think also those middle class people want the fantasy, they want the wildness that they could never do, and for those of us who actually like to be there too, it’s positive reinforcement: we don’t feel so alone when we’re not invited home for the holidays or to dinner anymore (laughs) because they just saw our latest article or series of photos.
Do you have a hard time from your family over what you do?
I have a kind of agreement with my parents that I pay my bills and I’m polite to them, and I send them birthday and Christmas cards, and they feel very happy that they don’t have a son who’s a layabout. We don’t discuss it beyond that. They know it has to do with sex.
They don’t want to know anymore?
It’s not that they don’t want to know, it’s just that they’re really not that interested, in a funny kind of way. I think the point I’ve gotten to now… they’d be quite distressed by the blood performance – they have no idea about them. But they were okay when it was just regular porn. In fact, it was funny when I first came home the first year I worked on Screw. I kept referring to “the paper” to my mother. She finally said “you mean Screw“. That broke the ice…
So they’re fine with it as long as they don’t have to be confronted with it.
Yeah. In my Dad’s case, in fact…
Your dad’s the lawyer?
My Dad’s a lawyer… in fact, the first Screw I ever saw was hidden at the bottom of his sock drawer, and I was nine years old. Being a little conflicted nine year old who had been to religion classes, I was very disturbed, because I opened up this gaudy tabloid and there was a story about a sailor who became a woman, a story about an actress who liked to take dumps into a bucket backstage before she went on off-Broadway. It was written from the perspective of a stagehand who liked to jerk off into the bucket afterwards. I was thinking “I don’t understand this”. I went to my mother and said “there’s a paper in Dad’s sock drawer and it really disturbs me”, and she said “well, don’t look at it then.”
Good answer, Mom!
Yeah! I wish that Jesse Helms and his spiritual brothers the world round would take that same advice.
Exactly. Don’t look at it.
But I did anyway…
Good for you! Here’s my favourite question… what’s an average day in the Screw office like? Feel free to lie if reality is too boring…
Erm… well… let’s see… I guess I’m considered the wild person in the Screw office actually, because our managing editor’s been at it for fifteen years, and he’s a family man. It certainly is an island of lost toys, it’s very strange people who end up being washed ashore at Screw. But somehow, through no desire, I’ve ended up to be the monkey of the cage. I think I’m the only one who has sex in the offices during office hours.
Alone or with partners?
Both! I discovered to my chagrin that there is a little vent between my and the associate editor’s office, and that… erm… several assignations that I thought closing the door had taken care of hadn’t, because about six months later he said to me “you know, you’re really loud when you come” (much laughter), to which I said “your tattoos are ugly”. So we just carried on after that. It’s a little bit like an office and a little bit like an asylum up there…
Is Al running around?
Al’s rarely around. It’s been in the same awful 14th Street building since the late Sixties. There’s a women’s gym in the building, there’s trade schools where they teach people on welfare how to be nurse’s aides and cashiers and private detectives… so it’s quite a crew going up and down in the elevators, and when the door opens at Screw, they all cackle and say “oh, you make the movies in there” or whatever stupid thing… you just smile and go in. But it’s the best job I’ve ever had. It’s the only job where I’ve been able to pretty much take whatever drugs I choose to, and have whatever sex that I choose to, and still get the job done and not get in trouble. As long as you’re semi-discreet about it, as long as you don’t do it in the managing editor’s office… although I have don it after-hours, and there are several stains on his carpet that I smirk at every time I see them – I left them there deliberately, like a cat marking its spot. or a dog, in my case… definitely a dog.
You’re the notorious one, absolutely!
There’s not much goes on between people because it’s just not a good idea if you have to see somebody every day to drag them off to the stockroom… but it’s a strange position. It’s a weekly newspaper, and it exists thanks to prostitution… hooker ads are what pay the bills, what pays my salary. Does that make me a fifth generation pimp? I don’t know. What’s interesting is the first twenty-four pages of the paper are editorial content and it’s pretty much whatever we want it to be. It’s very much affected by our publisher’s infantile sense of rage and bitterness at the world around him… that he can’t get screwed without paying for it because he’s too fat and obnoxious… that he’s too uncouth so he can’t get entrance to the social circles he wishes. So a lot of our satire’s pointed towards silly subjects because of that. But he’s also an ardent First Amendment supporter, very serious about freedom of speech – to the point where he lets us say almost anything we want about him in print. One of the things that’s kept me sane at Screw is that in my weekly column, it’s kinda been acknowledged that I’m the most surgical when it comes to pricking Al. I’m the only one that he’s actually made any remarks to about what’s been written, in terms of “ha ha, very funny, maybe you’d like a job somewhere else”, but he never does anything about it.
What’s going to happen when you leave? Who are they getting?
They don’t know. It’s a very strange job and it’s hard to fill. When we had to fill the other editorial position that opened up it took months, and we got in dozens of resumes, but most of them had no clue off the top of their head, because you have to be totally uninhibited about sex, you have to have a wicked sense of humour and you have to be a competent journalist… and that’s a very strange combination. There are lots of career pornographers, but they are notorious for not being urbane or up on the issues of the day. One of the things I had to do for the job was read four newspapers a day.
To keep up on everything…
So are you going to work for them when you’re out on the West Coast?
As a reviewer. If Ihave to watch a porn tape, suddenly it’s the last thing I want to do. I’d rather clean out the cat box than put on the porn tape. I guess that’s just human nature illustrated. One of the interesting parts of the job is I’ve had to handle the Naked City column, which basically reviews and rates all sorts of establishments in town, from topless bars to S&M parlours to cross-dressing academies… the one thing we shy away from are regular straight houses, for two reasons: legal complications, because it’s not good for them for us to say up front that they’re selling sex, and just that there are so many of them. But everything else is fair game. And we give it a rating system, the cocks… one half to four cocks. I can’t count the number of times the owner of some club has come up to me and said, “so four cock place, huh?” (much laughter). I’ve had people try to bribe me, and I know that the last person in my position in fact had quite a lucrative little side business going that way… but whatever remnant of what I’d been taught as a journalist meant that I just couldn’t do it, it wasn’t worth the trouble.
That’s very admirable.
It is a funny situation because it’s given me a kind of entrance into the background, the backstage of the New York sex industry that few people have. Lots of women who would regard most guys as potential johns or whatever, I can talk to on a more professional level, although of course I do run into a lot of them trying to hit on me in terms of getting coverage in the paper. When I first started, I think I was a little more impressed by it, but then I got really tired of it. In fact, when I met Joanne, she was working as a dominatrix in places that I’d reviewed, and one of the totally refreshing things about her was that she had absolutely no professional interest in me whatsoever. We share all the same deviant tastes, but she doesn’t have that kind of ruthless careerist thing that would lead Mistresses to come up to me in the middle of clubs and tell me that they are the person I’ve been waiting to meet all my life…
You’d really get that?
Yeah, but it’s not flattering, because it’s so transparent. I guess if you’re one of the rank and file that goes and pays $100 a week to get beaten by them, it must seem wonderful. But, believe it or not, I’ve always been very relationship oriented. I like all the thrills and the fun stuff that goes on around it, and all the possibilities, but I always like a good, solid relationship at the core of my life, you know, to keep that little sane point in there. Somebody who you can conspire against the world with, basically. One of the things that makes me angry is the way the mainstream media approaches sex workers. I have a lot of them call me up asking for references for their talk shows, for people they can put on, and most of them I don’t accommodate because it’s just very insulting. If you believe the media, every prostitute was molested by her father, and every stripper has no brain, and of course there are people like that because every cliche has some grain of truth, but I’d say that overall, the women I’ve met in the sex business have been very entertaining to be with… and I don’t mean that on any kind of a carnal level. Once a woman enters the sex business and makes her peace with the fact that she’s in it, she manages to side-step so much of the bullshit politics that we invest our daily lives with. She doesn’t have to pretend that she’s “never done this before”, she doesn’t have to pretend that “oh, I don’t know what that is”. They’re very down to earth. You have your flighty people of course, and for those people I think the sex business can be dangerous. You’re playing with a very volatile thing – I’m not going to make it out to be all sweetness and light. When you’re dealing with your sexuality and other peoples sexuality, you’re dealing with one of the basic human issues, so there can be a lot more to lose. But you could say that about being a doctor, or being anything that really strikes at the core. I just think it’s the Judeo-Christian outdated morality that really casts such a pall on the whole thing. I’ve dated prostitutes, I’ve dated strippers, a porn actress here and there, dominatrixes… they all present different sets of problems in terms of jealousies and what you have to deal with, but all in all, I would say that my relationships with them have been more rewarding and enlightening, and they’ve been more extraordinary people than any of the nice college girls that I used to date. Or the Catholic schoolgirls, before they got to this point.
Are a lot of porn actresses Catholic school girls?
Yeah, there’s a lot of Catholic porn actresses, there’s a lot of Jewish dominatrixes… it’s funny, but it’s true. Jewish girls make excellent dominatrixes. They’re not necessarily the ones you’d want for your girlfriend, but they’re really good at bitching at you (laughter) and making you feel guilty.
Well, each according to their abilities…
I think that’s great, the idea of some pampered middle class girl making her way through the world by dominating men, by piercing them with needles, fucking them up the ass and making them take her on trips across the world – to me that’s a much better fate for a woman like that than to end up the wife of some boring rich accountant who doesn’t know anything besides the inside of her home and the inside of Macey’s. I think they’re really being the most interesting and complete person they can.
What kind of reaction have you had to your work from the mainstream critics? Erotic writers don’t seem to be taken very seriously…
I have an interesting problem in terms of recognition for some of the stuff I do. I’m obviously too far out for a lot of the mainstream. In the underground I sometimes suffer a certain kind of backlash because I’m a white, nominally heterosexual male. There are certain programs I don’t get invited to be on. It’s funny, there’s prejudice on all sides and I’ve definitely run into it. What really sorts the people out though are the people who it doesn’t mean anything to. Julie Tolentino manages Ron Athey and runs The Clit Club, ands she and I get along wonderfully because she realises that it’s where your heart is, not what genitalia you prefer to hang yourself off of. There’s always been a joke going around the Jackie 60 crowd that I’m their pet White Male Hetero – which is fine with me, because that crowd is really the most fabulous crowd I’ve ever come across in terms of a club. Jackie 60 and Chi Chi Valenti are really responsible, more than any other place or person, for nurturing these public performances. Chi Chi was the one who encouraged me when I was disgusted with the East Village reading scene to start reading at her club. It’s an amazing place – it’s full of club kids, it’s full of Eurotrash, it’s full of drag queens, but when somebody comes on to read at that place, they get total silence, total attention – much more so than in some supposed literary bar downtown. It’s both artist-friendly and it’s fun. To put those two things together is almost impossible. She’s educating an entire generation of New Yorkers to be something other than idiots. I’m grateful we have her.
I was definitely frozen out by that whole literary establishment. I’ve never been asked to submit to The Year’s Best Erotica and the High Risk anthologies.
Why do you think that is?
I could be a bad boy and say because I’m not interested in sucking William Burroughs’ dick. I think that the human tendency is to end up with people that are like yourself, and some people can’t look beyond that. Actually when I say the second High Risk anthology, I didn’t feel bad about not being in it. I get very nervous when I see whole publishing lines devoted to ‘cutting edge’ books. When everybody goes to see the latest performance artist just because she or he’s wilder than the last one. That’s just as brainless as sitting at home, eating potato chips and watching the soaps. You really have to look for the content in work. Not to sound smug about it, but I think doing it the way I’m doing it, and Alice Joanou and certain other writers are doing it… I think there’s a lot more danger in putting yourself out for the marketplace to decide. We write our books and they come out on our cheap porn publishing company. That’s where Henry Miller started, where William Burroughs started. William Burroughs’ first novel was not received with shouts of joy, and he didn’t have the New York Times book review profile as the latest Bad Boy. When you take that attitude, you end up with the ultimate obscenity, Bret Easton Ellis. Trying to market outrageousness is really the death of outrageousness, and I think that these people are really doing a disservice to both the discourse and to the readers by taking it all down to the lowest common denominator of “this is shocking.” Shock loses all value. I was never a John Waters fan. There just wasn’t enough content there for me.
Do you ever feel like pursuing other musical possibilities?
I’m tempted a lot. I pick up the guitar a lot… my tastes have very much degenerated. I was into Sonic Youth and John Cage and all this experimental guitar stuff – I used to retune my guitars to my own tunings, set up three different guitars and do all kinds of stuff at the same time – and now I really like to listen to Danzig. So that’s where my tastes have gone to, and I guess that’s what I would end up playing if I played again. I don’t know if the world needs a chubby, balding Danzig (laughs).
Anything else in life you’d like to change? Or add before we wind up?
Erm… let’s see… I wish I was thinner. That would be the only thing I would do over. I would go back to my childhood and tell my granddad “don’t give me those Hostess Cupcakes, they’re going to take their toll someday.” In a strange way, I think it is reflected in my writing – obviously, I identify with the outsider. Whether it’s the sex worker or the or the two-bit hood. I think having been a chubby little boy, and nearly morbidly obese at one point in my adult life, you really become removed from society in a very practical way. You don’t fit in a lot of the chairs, people look at you angrily when you take up too much space on the subway it can be very hard to get dates…
It hasn’t been a problem for you though.
Well, I think that has more to do with the relationship thing. I’m not like the skinny rock’n’roll boy who can go down to the East Village and come back with three girls at the end of the night. I actually have to have a discussion with them. On the one hand I think it’s allowed me to appreciate and understand women better, but on the other hand, I’ve become much more reflective. At times I get pushed out of the game without my wanting to be, so I will just observe from the sidelines, and that’s what really informs a lot of my writing. I think that happens with anybody. You try to turn what might be considered a negative into a positive. But that’s the only thing I would change.
1997 update – interview by David Flint.
At the end of our last interview, you were about to move to San Francisco, get married… basically settle down and be a good boy.
Er.. yeah, that didn’t happen. January 95 I came down, and it’s been down hill ever since (laughs).
You’d just written Juliette…
Yeah. That came and went, and then I did Into the Black, published by Titan Books, which was the sequel to Juliette.
Again, very cinematic books. But no-one could film those images in an erotic movie.
No. The mainstream could. They’d have no problems at all. I thought Into the Black would have made a good animé. I am definitely a child of the movies. One of my main pleasures here is that downtown L.A. has two grand old theatres, where they always show double bills. They’re subtitled in Spanish, but… it’s the only pleasure I find. Sometimes they’ll have a guy playing the organ in the interval – it takes me back to my childhood. There used to be a third one, but its lease expired and it was taken over by a church. The last show they did was Bride of Chucky. It was a real shame – there’s always more than enough churches, but never enough movie houses.
After writing about adult movies for so long, you’ve now taken the logical step of moving into production.
I tried to ignore it for as long as possible, but it was probably inevitable that porno would turn from a casual interest into an informal way of making a living. It took me quite a long time – for a long time I said I’d never live in California, then I said I’d never live in L.A. …but I was living in San Francisco, still working at The Spectator (S.F.’s underground sex newspaper), and finding it a horrid dead end. The grass looked greener on the video side of the fence – which it always had, but I’d resisted in the past. I’d made a couple of things for the fun of it, but the idea of actually approaching it as a business seemed the most horrible thing in the world – which it is! I started off trying to put together a fetish company in San Francisco called Power Exchange Video, where I was partners with a sex club up there called Power Exchange, and I made my first professional shows for them – the first Asianatrix, the first Queen of Pain and Salome 2000. Making the videos went extremely well, but when it came to setting out the corporate structure and the marketing, there was no money and nobody to do the work except me.
Always the way…
Yeah. I had arguments with my partners about things they were doing, like incorporating the company without including my name.
So you upped and moved to L.A.
Yes. After bouncing out of New York into San Francisco, I figured well, from Purgatory to Hell Proper! Convinced by John Bowen (better known to all you degenerates as John T. Bone), I beat a hasty retreat down here. It finally all came together and just a few weeks after I got down here, I realised that the situation with his video was not not as lucrative and creatively interesting as he had presented it. I’d not be knowing where my next months rent was coming from quite often…
Which is never good.
Yeah. It was funny, because the whole time I was there, he had this obsessive hatred for Rob Black. He took it personally that a lot of talent that passed through his doors ended up working for Black. I realised that the worst thing I could ever do would be go work for Rob Black – so of course, that’s what ended up happening. I felt an odd sense of personal betrayal from him, which was kind of funny, because he’s a supreme con-man.
I got the impression that he’s been losing friends rapidly of late.
I think so, because he’s gotten to the desperation point on money. He’s definitely like every other video producer in this city, constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul, but now it’s pretty much that he’s robbing Peter and Paul.
I was surprised that you were actually shooting under the John T. Bone name…
Well, he announced to me that that would be happening when I came in. He said “I’m going to exploit you, take credit for your work, blah blah blah”.
So his boasts about degrading the talent extend to his treatment of those people behind the camera.
Oh yeah, very much the same sort of manipulation of their situations, whether it’s through economic or psychological means.
I always figured that was just his public image.
No. Overall, he’s a fairly honest man in that he does present what he’s about. It’s just when it comes down to crimes in particular that you might throw up to him, he always has some other version of the actual charge. But he’ll describe himself as a fraud and a manipulative bastard. He does it in that bluff way, where it’s ‘ha ha, I’m joking’. Actually, he was not too bad to me, but I saw him be horrible to so many people around me. I think he did have some odd fondness for me, because he was much kinder to me than he was to the people I was working with. For instance, I had an incredible production designer from San Francisco that I worked with on the fetish shows. We were having a wonderful working relationship, and I brought her down here to work on Queen of Pain – the one I did with Bowen. He bounced a cheque on her and didn’t make good on it for about eight weeks. She realised that it wasn’t me personally doing this, but her attitude was “David, this is exactly what I thought all these people down here were about”…
I guess that’s going to make you feel bad, even though it’s out of your control.
It makes me feel bad on a personal level, and also, he was taking away my tools, my collaborators.
So when did you move to Extreme Associates?
The beginning of October… and almost immediately started shooting my first feature for them, Asianatrix – which is different from the one I did in San Francisco. They share a couple of cast members and some of the same ideas.
It’s a different take on the same story?
Well, the idea of the Asianatrix, that’s one of my little hobbies of the last couple of years. I mean, what does a so-called artist do but spend his time finding little ways to compress their obsessions into a certain subject or personal icon? The idea of a beautiful supernatural asian woman is something that caught hold of me.
I think we can all relate to that.
The more sophisticated of us (laughs). In Southern California, they don’t get it. Well, some do, but a lot don’t. I mean, my boss said “oh, you wanna make a movie with a bunch of goonas in it?”. I don’t think anyone else has ever used that – I think it’s his very own made-up derogatory term. That’s Rob for you. I’m hardly P.C. myself, but he sometimes makes me wince – and he loves it when he does.