05 May 2010

Literary Coroner - Joe reviews punk rock book, porn star autobiography

I go to the library several times a week. Here's some of what I've been reading lately.
During senior year of high school, two books dominated the top of my reading agenda: "Rotten," an autobiography of Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten, and "Last Gang in Town," a 600-page book about the Clash that took me two months to read. There was something about the history of punk rock that really excited me, and it tied in to my natural tendency to remember dates, names and places as I'd done in the history classes I'd earned A-pluses in.
I recently revisited this territory when I read "London's Burning: True Adventures on the Front Lines of Punk, 1976-1977," a 328-page history book of sorts written by Dave Thompson. Thompson claims to have experienced all of this as an impressionable teenager, and his insights lend a unique, ground level perspective to a history that has become dominated by people at the top, like Johnny Rotten and the Clash. For example, it's one thing to hear about members of the Sex Pistols being attacked by people who thought they'd offended the Queen. It's another to read Thompson's breathless accounts of being chased through the streets as a teenager.
One particularly troubling episode comes when Thompson and his girlfriend are being chased by three men, only to see things get worse when some Rastafarian friends step in to help:
"And what was Linton doing? He was waiting for a bus, the huge red bus that was now bearing down toward hum….was almost level….was about to pass. With a grunt as loud as the engine, he hurled his load against it, a six-or-seven-foot gap that the flying body crossed in no time, but which seemed forever as time slowed to a crawl. There was a crash like she'd never heard before, flesh and bone meeting steel and glass, screams from inside the bus."
Perhaps more chillingly, no one believes the two punks that the Rastafarian blacks were helping them, and one policewoman goes so far as to say, "But what do you expect to happen, if you go out dressed like that?"
Another book I read recently was Ron Jeremy's a43-page autobiography, "The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz." Jeremy, an adult film star with more than 4,000 pornographic movies to his credit, has become something of a pop-culture phenomenon. Much of this has to do with his unlikely (i.e. homely) looks, and the fact that he has been so utterly prolific in his career.
The picture Jeremy paints of himself in this book is that of an educated man (he says he has a masters degree in special education that he has never used) who wanted to break into serious acting but found porn instead. I finished this book in two days. Not only is it a quick read, but also it's really quite funny, with Jeremy providing amusing anecdotes of the strange world he works in. Take what happened after he sent in some nude pictures to Playgirl using his real name. The phone calls to his parent's house started soon after.
"Ronnie," my grandmother told me one morning over breakfast. "Some sissy called you last night."
I nearly spat out my eggs. "I'm sorry, what?"
"A sissy boy called and asked if you'd be willing to meet him in a gas station downtown. Does that make any sense to you?"
"I assume it was one of your drama friends. He sounded like a sweet fellow, although he was breathing awfully heavy. I'm guessing he has asthma."
It's hard to write about working in the adult film industry without being graphic, but Jeremy writes ABOUT porn, not porn itself. Still, the proliferation of genital-related material can be overwhelming at times, as can the depersonalization of sex that pornographic films by their very nature inspire. I wouldn't recommend this book for someone who is squeamish about such things.
Say what you want about the industry he chose to work in, but Jeremy's had an interesting life, and met plenty of interesting people along the way. All in all, this was an interesting (albeit "vulgar in a way that makes me glad libraries have auto-checkouts") read.

COMING SOON: My review of "A Plague Upon Humanity: The Secret Genocide of Axis Japan's Germ Warfare Operation."

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