From the moment Mike Edison wandered into Los Angeles’ Stray Cat Cafe with his entourage, including Counterpoint/ Soft Skull Press publisher Charlie Winton posing as his chauffeuring Samoan lawyer, for the occasion of a very Jewcy interview before a lively reading of his newest Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! across the street at The Last Bookstore, the vibe of the evening was a largely liberated one. And not in the scary Big Lebowski nihilist we-believe-in-nothing sense, but somehow still bound by something sacred, despite the passing around of a vulgar vintage canned Penthouse puzzle and even more filthy discourse. Yes, while he just about manages to use every word soapboxed by Carlin in the index alone, Edison engages in something wholesome and good in his chronicles: preserving freedoms.
Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! reads like the lovechild of Screw Magazine and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. In this highly researched yet devourable volume, Mike Edison, founding publisher of High Times and editor-in-chief of Goldstein’s Screw (a cornerstone of uncensored, smart free speech with an actual informed opinion–pro-sex, yes, but also anti-war), provides a historian’s perspective that is that of the insider at the top, but also more importantly that of the active citizen who has done his part in testing, exposing, and now chronicling the limits of freedoms so that they (and we) could continue enjoying them today. Dirty! pops four notorious gentlemen–Hefner, Goldstein, Flynt and Guccione–into a time machine so that they could be reread in their appropriate contexts, rather than through the traditional skewing lens of a moralizing public applying an emotionally-charged value system. And the outcome is not entirely reverent.
Starting with a crash course in the history of US sexuality, Edison hits up the most interesting gamechangers in the perceptions of sex through the country’s short history. It’s a match between the Comstock-humping prudes and the libertarians fought outside the ring (that Edison is familiar with in his dabblings with Kaufmanesque wrestling) and in the centerfolds, courthouses, cities, and suburbs of the country.
The book is riddled with citations of court cases. Another American tradition after porn is the popular punishment of its purveyors and fans, citizens on the prowl for the perfect quench to a primitive thirst sans measurable harm to others, reactionary persecution that is an offense against constitutionally protected individual pursuits of happiness. In addition to the freedom of religion, Dirty! reminds that it is important to defend the part of the first amendment that also protects freedoms from religion so that the peaceful minority can do what it does without the restraints of a system to which it does not subscribe even tacitly. Through this volume, a contextualized discourse that goes beyond good and evil is made possible equally for those who agree and disagree with the achievements of fellow American playboys and hustlers.
Dirty! deeply profiles the drives behind smut kings and what dents they made in the economics, politics, and morality of the country over the decades between the 50s and the information age. Their victories (like Goldstein’s relatively modest win against Pillsbury for cartoons in Screw portraying indecent acts among baked goods with yeast infections) and failures (Guccione’s Gore Vidal-screenwritten, Roger Ebert-walked-out-on Caligula) are scrutinized unapologetically (with his sex-drugs-rock-and-roll-allegiant biases exposed gonzo-style at every peephole) side-by-side with other iconic champions of freedom off the printing press like Jewcy-favorite Lenny Bruce. One of the shiniest gems in the book is the primary document that acts as the final chapter, an interview with Chip Maloney, a smutty relic of a pretty much extinct breed of journalism. A man with “so much shit inside his head, he should clean his ears with Pepto-Bismol,” Maloney’s is a day-in-the-life account from the perspective of Goldstein’s favorite ghostwriter, pairing well with Edison’s first book, his autobiography I Have Fun Wherever I Go.
Man-haters may be silenced in noticing that a prevalent persuasion in the book is Edison’s staunch feminism, manifesting most vividly in his disdainful view of Hugh Hefner, Playboy extraordinaire who helped send the modern material girl to the shallow end of the pool. It is a passion felt most during the Dirty! “reading” in his inspired beat “Hugh Hefner Hates Girls,” (accompanied by the Space Liberation Micro-Arkestra, featuring Danzig veteran Howie Pyro on zero-gravity fuzz guitar, Beatnik No. 9 on bongos, and Edison on electric space piano and theremin). Throughout the progression of Hefner’s trajectory, Edison deduces the king-pimp’s deep-seated anxieties stemming from early miserable romantic relations that reveal some major roots of idealogies supporting the possession of women in modern pop culture.
I don’t care who he had to screw to get here, Edison’s is noble work done not because he hates women, but because he loves people and their freedoms. As was deduced at the Stray Cat, he is the gentleman pornographer. An established “fucking mensch,” these two words describe the state that every self-respecting human being wishes to embody, from the holy rabbi to the common scumbag.