By Kendra Holliday | October 31, 2011
Here’s the thing: I wanted to interview Robert Rosen, author of Beaver Street, so the publisher sent me a copy of his book. I meant to skim it and schedule an interview, but I ended up getting hooked and had to read the whole thing, which delayed this interview. Rosen worked in the porn industry for 16 years, and has managed to make it sound even more interesting than I imagined. Reading his book was like having an animated conversation about sex, business and politics. This is Part 1 of a three part interview that will run all week.
Beaver Street is currently available via Headpress, Amazon UK, and will be available at Amazon US next March. In the meantime, those of you in St. Louis can check the book out at Shameless Grounds Human Sexuality library!
What’s up with the cover? Did you get to pick it? It’s so patriotic vampire trampy.
We had a lot of trouble coming up with a proper image for the cover. What we finally used—it was Headpress editor David Kerekes’s idea—is based on one of the High Society phone-sex ads, which you can see on the first page of the photo section. I think it works well. The subtitle of the book is “A History of Modern Pornography,” and modern pornography, the fusion of erotica and computers, began at High Society, in 1983, with phone sex.
You dedicate Beaver Street to your father, saying he would have enjoyed the book – most people are really weirded out with parents or children knowing about their sex lives – what kind of relationship did you have with your dad?
In the last 25 years of his life — he passed away in 2005 — my father and I had an OK relationship. We had friendly, though hardly frank or profound, conversations. I didn’t talk to him about my sex life or get into anything too personal. Still, this was a far better state of affairs than the way things were when I was living at home and my relationship with my parents was more like open warfare.
My father and I were very different people. Politically, he was ultra-conservative, a law-and-order Republican. At one point, when I was about 15, he was threatening to send me to a military academy to “straighten” me out, and he went absolutely berserk when I grew my hair long and became a hippie. He would have loved to see me go to West Point and was thrilled when I got the job as speechwriter for the Secretary of the Air Force and was working in the Pentagon.
But despite all this, he was always cool with pornography and had no problem with me working in the biz. He loved getting free mags. He loved reading books, too, which is why I think he would have enjoyed Beaver Street. For the most part, he was into spy novels and stuff like that, and when I was having trouble getting published, he was always saying, “Why don’t you write a spy novel? You’ll make a lot of money.” He lived long enough to see Nowhere Man published, and he was delighted with the book’s success.
Though my mother would have preferred that I didn’t work in pornography, she was just happy to see me with a full-time job that paid decently and had good benefits. She read Beaver Street, by the way, and said, “It’s well written.” She was also impressed with the research that went into it.
Chapter One of your book introduces us to a bestiality scene, which sets the tone. EVERY page of your book features an – ahem – interesting concept, things most people never even think about. How much of a surreal perverted mindfuck was that?
Well, as I said in Beaver Street, “As an unavoidable side effect of working in pornography, I’d… became unmoored from all sense of conventional sexual mores… [and] ceased to think rationally about sex itself.” So, yes, I did get used to living a crazy lifestyle, which is one of the reasons that I decided to do my “journalistic experiment” and get in front of a camera and find out what it was like to be a porn star. At the time I did this, it just seemed normal, and it never occurred to me that other people might think otherwise.
And I definitely did come up for air. Again, as I describe in the book, right around the time of the Meese Commission and Traci Lords scandal I was getting burnt out on cranking porn nonstop and ran away for two weeks into the mountains of Oregon and Idaho to forget about what I did for a living. But then I came home and dove right back into the thick of it.
There’s the scene that comes towards the end of the book that describes my state of mind as I began to edit D-Cup:
I knew I was in trouble the day I asked Izzy Singer’s girlfriend, a reliable freelancer who’d done a credible job with some of the more nauseating digest-book letters, to write, for the first issue, a 2,500-word essay titled ‘Why I like to Fuck Sleazy Black Chicks with Enormous Jugs.’ It wasn’t so much that I told her, “Make sure he comes all over her tits and not in her pussy.” What frightened me was how ordinary the words sounded coming out of my mouth, as if it were just another day at the office—which it was. I should have known right then that the only honorable solution was to get the fuck out of the porn business while I still remembered how to converse like a human being.
Did you get to the point where nothing shocked you?
There were times I’ve wondered if anything having to do with sex could shock me anymore. About two months ago, I found out the answer was yes. The character in the book I call Izzy Singer self-published (under the pseudonym Irv O. Neil) on Amazon Kindle a short story titled “Learning to Be Cruel.”
I’d published a lot of Izzy/Irv’s stories when I was editing the magazines, but because of censorship regulations, I’d never seen one like this.
The story shocked me because it seemed so autobiographical—the way the character looked, his age, what he did for a living. And Izzy/Irv was so clearly writing from the heart. I’ve know him since 1984, but I’d never suspected that he might enjoy having beautiful young Asian women humiliate and degrade him in the manner he so graphically and realistically described in the story.
However, he told me that the story isn’t autobiographical, so maybe he doesn’t really get off on being made to eat like a dog in a restaurant, masturbate in a public restroom, scrub toilets naked, and kiss a woman’s feet in the middle of Broadway. But when I was reading the story I kept seeing Izzy/Irv doing all these things. And it was shocking that he was even capable of going there so enthusiastically in his imagination.