Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A SCREWed Life

Growing up in New York, SCREW magazine publisher Al Goldstein came to represent pornography, vulgarity and New York City itself. I recently finished reading his book ‘I, Goldstein, My SCREWed Life’ and I highly recommend it.

Goldstein presented himself as a stereotypical New Yorker. He was loud, boisterous and crude. He was an overweight, cigar-smoking slob who was infamous for launching tirades against airlines, health clubs, ex-wives and former employees, among others. He was feted by Howard Stern and fellated by Seka. His TV show, “Midnight Blue,” spurred millions of copycats and helped pave the way for porn’s permanent place on cable television.

One of the things I remember about him best from those days was his sterling defense of pornography. “Sex is a positive, happy thing,” I remember him saying. “What’s wrong with looking at pictures of vaginas in my newspaper?” Beyond the obvious First Amendment argument, Goldstein’s argument in favor of consuming porn was the best one. Sex is a natural thing, so why be ashamed of it? If it weren’t for people having sex, none of us would be here*. When I was a shy ten-year-old kid who loved tits, Goldstein was a hero. He was “sex positive” long before the term was invented. He was among the first to recognize and rail against the unholy marriage of radical feminists and evangelical Christians in their quest to use the law to suppress free speech in the name of protecting women from dirty movies and magazines.

Anyone who has looked at pornographic materials in the last 40 years (which is anyone who isn’t blind or living in a horribly repressive society) owes a debt of gratitude to Al Goldstein. One of the reasons we can enjoy the abundant pornography we take for granted today is because Goldstein, SCREW co-editor Jim Buckley and others (like the more famous Larry Flynt) fought for our rights years ago, often at great financial and personal cost. Goldstein and Buckley faced up to six years in jail for publishing a newspaper (yes, this happened in America).

And for all of Goldstein’s vulgarity, please note that the pornography and vision of sex he presented to America was a more real and vastly superior brand compared with what is popular today. I’ll take the realistic-looking women from the pages of SCREW over the silicone and botox filled automatons of today.

Goldstein was no angel, and he makes no effort to hide his many vices and excesses in his memoir. He even quotes from a book written by a former staffer that depicts him as a giant mouth whose personality is overtaken by a tremendous appetite.

Ten years ago, when I saw Penn & Teller at the Beacon Theater, I thought I was the shit because I had a slightly better seat than Al Goldstein. He was one row behind me. He was dressed in shorts, hiking boots, and a red, white and blue sequined jacket. Of course, I went home alone and he was with a hot girl who was maybe a third his age. Six years later, Goldstein had been personally bankrupted by lawsuits and criminal charges of harassment. He was destitute and in poor health.

A few years ago, I made a flyer to advertise a show that my band was playing and the flyer featured a photo of Goldstein giving the world the middle finger. I emailed him a copy of the flyer and he said it was wonderful. That’s one of the best endorsements our band has ever had.

Last I heard, Goldstein was living in an apartment in Far Rockaway. If his doctors let him eat it, I’d like to treat him to a delicious pastrami sandwich at Katz’s.

*I understand that today there is a small minority of people who were conceived by in-vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood and lesbians with turkey basters (I have considered trying to make a career out of being an inexpensive sperm donor for lesbians). These people’s lives are just as valuable as anyone’s, but I refuse to live in a world where the majority of people were not created through good, old-fashioned fucking.

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