When Sex Was Dirty
When Sex Was Dirty carries on the tales of debauchery begun in Tales of Times Square. This doesn't tell you much unless you've read that book ~ which I have not. So let me try this again. When Sex Was Dirty is a collection of stories about the dirty world of New York City in the late 70's and early 80's. It may not be glamorous, but it is fascinating...
When folks talk about the Time Square clean-up by Mayor Giuliani, they normally praise him for removing all vileness that was 1980's New York. No, not the Wall Street and it's related greed, that's still in vogue. Giuliani cleaned up another sin: smut.
Gone are the erotic all-night movie houses, hookers, stores selling cheap tourist merchandise, sex shoppes, porn starlets, grindhouse cinemas, adult talent agents, dirty publications and their staff, peep shows, and pimps. This is the world author Josh Alan Friedman writes of. And he ought to know; he lived and worked there.
A former writer and editor at Screw magazine, Josh takes you back in time to the people, places and culture that made up the era. Reading Josh's tales of this city, you feel the loss of those businesses, those people, those times.
Pre-AIDS, this was a world of not only bizarre persons and events, but lost souls. I don't mean the stereotypical renderings of little lost lambs being taken to the sordid soul slaughter of the sex trade in the big city. I refer instead to insights into legends like Al Goldstein. Wait a minute ~ there really isn't anyone like Al Goldstein. (And do you know who he is? What he's done? If not, post, and I'll be sure to school you!) But I digress. The lost souls were not all illy white victims of smut; many were the willing purveyors of porn, smut publications and other businesses which sold sex. Whether they sold sex directly or indirectly, they all were honest about it. Unlike today's hidden agenda where sex is used but not discussed, sex in the 80's was honest. Graphic, crude, rude, lusty, fun, strange, dirty, and a business, yes, but honest just the same. Sex was a business and a pasttime. It may have left you alone and feeling dirty in the morning, but it didn't lie about itself, so most of the blame falls to you, right?
Perhaps this reviewer is too enamored with the business side of sex; too familiar with strippers, escorts, porn makers, and sex publishers; too conversant with the supposed degenerates which consume their wares; but this book is the swan-song of an era that many would prefer to forget. Unlike an ode, it doesn't glamorize the period. (It's hard to make the story of stripper Maria Krupa, who died of a heroin overdose, pretty. It's not, and the author doesn't. It's haunting and honest.) But then it doesn't demonize it either.
This book is unlike most of what is written about those days from our post-AIDS-conservative-white-wash-world where most folks look back on the 80's with mockery and scorn, telling us that all the ills were deserved, and that the death of this era is best served cold ~ like the vengeance of God it's supposed to have been. If in looking back at the sleaze of the 80's, we view participants as sacrificial lambs, we do so because we've been taught to place them on the altar and draw the knife ourselves. It's most easily done when we forget they are in fact human beings. And that is what Josh shows us in this book, the humanity. (Strange, crude & lewd humanity, but are you going to pretend any period in the timeline of humans has been free of that?) And he places that humanity within the context of its time. Vivid vignettes, sharp character studies; delicious reading.
You could argue that my love of this book is due to my sense of perverted nostalgia ~ or just plain perversion on my part. But it's history. A history not yet done justice in my mind. And it's refreshing to read the dirt on the times without turning the people into one-dimensional characters from religious rhetoric used to perpetuate political agendas. These are tales and memoirs from real people ~ including the author himself.
The author is no detached visitor to this world, no anthropologist trying to explain the behaviors, for he is one of the characters of this place. And so he's included in the tales, including his loss of virginity to a hooker. One of my favorite reads is 'The Man Who Loved Slut Dancing'. Here the author and his friend discuss all the chicks in TV they've wacked off to. Completely fascinating to be privy to such male sex talk ~ and about Mary Tyler Moore and Miss Jane (of Romper Room ) yet!
As for the book itself, the reading or writing of it, it has few flaws. A) Most of this book is a collection of articles previously published in magazines ~ but as I had not read them, this ruined nothing for me (and fans will find it easier to have them all in one place). B) There's an annoying 'stylistic choice' of starting sentences with not only numbers in digit form (very odd in a world with 42nd street is called Forty-Deuce), but done so with no spacing after the period ~ making you think you're suddenly reading price points in change. For that, I'd hang the editor; Josh is off the hook. C) It's not long enough. I want more. To ease this, there is: one, there is the ability to purchase Tales of Times Square, and two, my upcoming interview with Josh.
Get your copy and get ready.
Title: When Sex Was Dirty
Author: Josh Alan Friedman
Review by Gracie.