Mike Edison apparently has a soft spot for book reviewers. Or maybe he just doesn’t want us to sweat the job too hard. As for our portion of summary and description, he's already done most of he work for us with his long-assed subtitles. First there was his memoir I Have Fun Everywhere I Go, Savage Tales of Pot, Porn, Punk Rock, Pro Wrestling, Talking Apes, Evil Bosses, Dirty Blues, American Heroes, and The Most Notorious Magazines in the World (whew! I get bushed just typing it!). Now he gives us his latest Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!, Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers, an American Tale of Sex and Wonder (New York, Soft Skull, 2011).
Edison contextualizes this latest tale with an epigram.
“America,” he writes, “always the most audacious of cultures, is also the most repressed.”
For said repression’s release—manual and otherwise—we owe a debt to our pornographers. Or so the premise goes.
From here, as if in anticipation of the collective nose-holding such names still elicit among prudish readers, Edison makes haste to establish Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, Larry Flynt, and Al Goldstein as champions, not only of the beaver shot, but also, more importantly maybe, of free speech. But then you can’t have one without the other. No Free Speech fight, no beaver shot. For few have tested the First Amendment more rigorously than the smut peddler.
After this introduction, Edison then informs us that, of these Four Horsemen of Porn, “I want to tell you their story, and then some.” On this score, Edison delivers the goods. Pick up a copy of Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! and read about Lenny Bruce, Little Annie Fanny, and Helen Gurley Brown, learn how the set of Caligula was even more decadent than the actual film, revel in Larry Flynt’s foul-mouthed antics before the Supreme Court, dig all this and a whole lot more.
As for the story-teller, we've got the right man on the job here. Go ahead, check his resume. Edison once edited Screw, wrote girl-copy for the Crescent Publications family of fine smut rags (Cheri, High Society, Swank, etc.), and claims to have penned dozens of pornographic novels. (What’s that you ask? What’s a ‘pornographic novel’? Well, imagine a dirty book, sold on a dirty newsstand… Er… What’s a newsstand? Aw… forget it.) So Edison possesses more than a little first-hand experience with his subject. Plus he’s pretty fuckin’ funny, and his brash narration, at its best, strikes a balance somewhere between seasoned journalist, borscht-belt comic, and titty-bar emcee.
Elsewhere, however, Edison relies too heavily on that brashness, and his research seems a bit light. Much of the thrill of this sort of story comes from marvelling at the reporter's legwork. And sure, Edison bags many good quotes here, from Flynt, Paul Krassner, the Jr. Gooch, et. Al (Goldstein). Plus D!D!D! comes with a fairly extensive bibliography and footnotes on most pages. Yet Edison often uses the latter less like a tool for documentation than an opportunity for another aside, one where a few hopped-up similes work to convince us to not sweat the sources, Edison's good for it, he'll get us back tomorrow, don't worry about it.
But, in the end, these are minor gripes. After all, this ain’t a PhD dissertation. A sensational subject calls for a similarly sensational narration. The important thing is Edison perceives the big stuff, like the tragedy of fortune, and the prices paid by each of his Four Horsemen.And did I mention that he’s also pretty fuckin’ funny?