Memoirs are the trickiest type of biography. There are reasons why many have co-writers (whether acknowledged or absent in pseudo-spectral form), because the gift of self-objectivity is more rare than precious stones or dignity at a Branson stage show. Fun, insightful and intriguing at best and cringe worthy and self indulgent at worst, a truly great memoir is something to be cherished. To nail down such a thing, the writer in question has gotta have heart, they gotta have guts and at least a modicum of humor to keep nasty things like engorged ego or selective memory at bay. (Two wolves that have feasted on many a memoir.)
Out of those woods emerged a work that nails all of the literary emotional senses. Vision, touch, heart, humor and hearth are all set to stun in Howie Gordon's 2013 one-two-five punch of a book, Hindsight: True Love & Mischief in the Golden Age of Porn. Anyone picking this up looking for oodles of sleazy cheap thrills and white stains will be disappointed. Initially. Instead of the obvious, Hindsight is the book version of getting to have the most intensely wonderful (and wonderfully intense) conversation with a new old friend. One who will make you laugh out loud, tell you something that makes you pause and ultimately, give you the gift of realizing what an insane, occasionally bittersweet but ultimately beautiful tapestry life truly is. There is enough here to appease both the cineastes of the Golden Age of Adult Film and lovers of a well crafted memoir.
Howie was kind enough to answer a few questions and without further ado, here is the man!
You have been keeping a journal for several decades now. What was your initial drive to start recording your day-to-day thoughts, feelings and experiences?
Volume 1 began on August 4, 1965. I was about to enter my senior year of high school after attending a Summer program in journalism at Northwestern University. Professor Ben Baldwin said simply, “A writer writes.”
He recommended writing every day to develop discipline and
to learn the trade. I began keeping a journal.
Today, I am about halfway through Volume 153. In the beginning, I wrote everything longhand. Over the years, pictures and drawings were added to the process. Nowadays, most passages are written on the computer, printed out, cut out, and then taped into the journal. Fifty-one years later, here is a copy of my last journal entry from yesterday:
One of the most standout things about your book is your absolutely uncanny ability to look outside of yourself. (A trait most have a hard time attaining, writer or not!) When you started to piece together Hindsight, was it easier or harder to channel your own self-objectivity?
The inner dialog is often like managing a club meeting of different voices. Reminds me of the 17 Cartoon programs I used to see on Saturday mornings at the movie theater in the 1950’s. Often you would see the angel on one shoulder fighting with the devil on the other for control of a cartoon character’s soul.
There were any number of issues in HINDSIGHT where I found myself of two (or more) minds about a particular subject, like “am I a fan of pornography?”, for instance. There was often a lot of “Yes, but . . . “ going on with all the voices inside of my head. They all wanted to have their say.
Sometimes, readers like my wife or my kids, would point out that I seemed to be arguing for both sides of a particular issue. My response when this was pointed out was often to become irritated . . . or to be glib with a response like quoting from Walt Whitman: “Contradict? Do I contradict myself? Well, I am large and contain multitudes.”
But the real reward in facing these conflicts was that I had
to dig down deeper to discover where I really was on a lot of those things -- after all of the voices had been given their due.
Not every vote comes out 100-0. It’s those 51-49 struggles that can really give you a lot of grief.
So, what I think you are calling “looking from outside of myself,” I would say is more like being aware of a lot of what’s going on “inside of myself.” And if there’s an “easier or harder” involved, it’s “easier” when I discover my own inconsistencies or unresolved issues and “harder” when somebody else tries to point them out to me.
I regard writing as a solo act. When you work in film, it is an enormously collaborative medium. I get it. You bang heads a lot in making decisions while working. You don’t always get your way unless you’re signing the checks . . . and even then . . . there is still the potential for epic struggle. In writing, I am fiercely protective of my words . . . often when, as my mother would say, “I am cutting off my own nose to spite my face.” Good editing is a gift from the gods, but there’s a lot of counterfeit running around out there with promises of glory. Buyer beware.
Did you ever imagine releasing a memoir of this impressive scope ten, twenty or thirty years ago?
Well, yeah! I also imagined playing linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, hitting a home run in the bottom of the 9th to win the World Series for the Pirates, dying at The Alamo with Davy Crockett, having Julie Andrews for my mother, and getting invited to join The Beatles.
In truth, if Hindsight can be said to have an “impressive scope” (Thank-you!), it can be directly attributed to tenacity and the passage of time.
The first book by anybody connected to porn always seems to portray the author as “a reluctant porn star” or “the different porn star.” Bowing to the enormous negative stereotypes that accompany the industry (many of which are very well-earned by the way), the author concedes that “YES, THEY ARE BAD, BUT I’M NOT! I’M GOOD!” And the whole book tends to repeat this theme and not much else.
There’s a mountain of sexual guilt to overcome while all the time the mainstream reviewers and audiences are trying to affix the scarlet letter to your breast.
I had the benefit of aging 30 years from the first finished manuscript to the finally published one, which granted me the depth of seasoning and perspective. I had more than a generation to consider and reconsider the issues. Being removed from the business. Making a marriage work. Raising children. Re-engaging with mainstream culture. All these factors and more served to write and rewrite HINDSIGHT several times over.
If there is anything you would want to impart to yourself as a kid from who you are now, what would it be and why?
* Study Latin. You’ll better understand the English language, will be a better writer, and it will help a lot doing crossword puzzles.
* Read Nature, Man & Woman by Alan Watts and Wilhelm Reich’s Function of the Orgasm earlier in life. You could have a lot more fun in high school.
Something that is so perfect is how forward thinking you were and are regarding women and feminism in general. You're absolutely the living antonym of the macho-male-stud stereotype that has often plagued men in the adult film world. (And unfairly so.) Do you feel like you are naturally more intuitive about women or is this an awareness that manifested itself over time?
I don’t have a simple pre-fab answer for you here. I’m just gonna go improv and see what comes up.
One thing I’m fairly certain of is that this is not a single factor causation we’re talking about. A lot of different factors from my family characters, to my body type, to cultural norms . . . all played a part in developing my relationship with women.
Round about puberty time . . . maybe even a bit earlier . . . I seem to have gravitated more to girls than boys to be my friends. The guys were for sports. The guys were for competition. You had to be hard, so to speak, with the guys. Weakness was frowned upon. Sure, I wanted to have a best friend that I could go to war with, but I never seemed to find one like that. With the guys, I just didn’t want them to make fun of me. I just wanted to be on the team, be a part of the group.
With the girls, I was looking for something more. I did seem to have a lot of romance in me and was dreaming about a special girlfriend as early as kindergarten. I found girls were a lot easier to be with. But oi, the girls just wanted me to be their friend, never their boyfriend.
You know what it was like? There was a popular TV show in the ‘50’s called THE ADVENTURES OF WILD BILL HICKOK. It starred the dashing Guy Madison as Wild Bill and the fat and funny Andy Devine as his sidekick, “Jingles.” The girls wanted Wild Bill. I was Jingles.
“Can’t you see I’m on a losing streak?
I can’t get no S A T I S F A C T I O N
NO-NO-NO . . . “
- The Rolling Stones
I’m not sure what “satisfaction” would have looked like in elementary school, but I wasn’t getting much. I tried being the macho man on the football field, but I wasn’t anywhere near tough enough to really make that work.
So . . . so what? We’re growing a boy with a lot of empathy
that’s what. The diet of rejection is so pervasive that he’s taught
not to even try. Wow, this is depressing.
So, fast forward about 200 years later when everything gets all topsy-turvy and the womenypeople are finally looking at me because I’ve done about 500,000 sit-ups and at least a million push-ups and turned myself into a Don Juan de Casanova . . .and I’m watching porn movies where the men are all like “Bend over, bitch,” and squirting their come into the women’s faces . . . yech.
I’m just SO GRATEFUL that a woman is finally willing to touch me and love me . . . that vengeance is really the last thing on my mind. I had the button stuck on Thanksgiving for a long time! It
would be years before I could explore my inner asshole . . . and by then, I had daughters . . . which really goes a long way to civilizing the beast.
You have such an ease and warmth with your writing. Did you ever foresee it becoming such a force for you in a public and professional sort of way?
I’m not sure that it has. I’m not exactly on the New York Times Bestseller list. At this point, success would be if I could get Hindsight used in the classrooms of the sex educators. I think it would have a lot of positive value in discussions of male sexuality. And that’s something I could hang my hat on. I could be very proud of that.
With your work in the classic era of adult film, you got to not only act for some of the most talented artists in the business, (with Anthony Spinelli and Bob Chinn being two prime examples), but also play characters ranging from innocent, bordering on childlike to hayseed villains. Was there ever a type of role you wanted to play but never had the chance to? Were there any directors or actors/actresses you wanted to work with and never got to?
Sure. Under the right circumstances, acting could be a lot of fun. I don’t have any specific parts or characters that I longed to play that have eluded me. And yes, there are some delicious women that I never got to play, lay with, but that’s a glass half-full, half-empty proposition when I consider all the magnificent creatures with whom I did share that intimate privilege.
What would be the optimal thought or feeling that you would hope for any reader of Hindsight to walk away with?
What inspires you the most creatively? (A particular song, written passage, a glimpse of nature, etc)
- Cole Porter
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows, anything goes
Good authors too who once knew better words
Now only use four letter words writing prose, anything goes
The world has gone mad today and good's bad today
And black's white today and day's night today
When most guys today that women prize today
Are just silly gigolos
So though I'm not a great romancer
I know that you're bound to answer
When I propose, anything goes . . .
You have a really fascinating and charming sense of whimsy, as evidenced by your massive collection of an assortment of old dolls and action figures, that have all been slightly altered to be anatomically correct. When did you start this practice and how did it spiral into this colorful wee figure carnival?
It began when we used to draw on the cave walls in Southern France about 15,000 years ago. And it still goes on today!
Do you ever miss acting? Is it something you would want to return to? (Either non-adult or adult.)
YES, I MISS ACTING. I MISS SAM WESTON. I MISS JOHN LESLIE. I MISS JESSIE ST. JAMES AND SHARON KANE AND KELLY NICHOLS AND ALL OF US FROM BACK THEN. I MISS WHAT WE HAD AND I MISS MY YOUTH. FUCKIN’ A. SURE. AND YOU BETCHA! I’D DO ACTING AGAIN. STRAIGHT OR OTHERWISE, BUT I’M 68 NOW AND I LIKE WHAT I GOT GOING ON HERE, TOO! I DON’T WANT TO FUCK THIS UP . . .
. . . OF COURSE, THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT.
YOU GOT A SCRIPT THAT HAS A PART FOR A GUY LIKE ME IN IT? CALL ME UP! IT’LL HAVE TO BE A HUMDINGER!
Any chances of more public writing in the future?
YES. I just started working on . . .
I think it’s gonna be fiction.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given or read?
Fred Dryer was an All-Pro football player for the LA RAMS who also starred in his own TV series called HUNTER.
The story goes that he was once called upon in an appearance before a group of Cub Scouts to offer up some life advice. Dryer is reported to have said, “NEVER LOOK UP A DEAD MAN’S ASS.”
Lawrence James was the headmaster at Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley. When one of my kids asked him to offer some life advice, he said, “DON’T TRY TO SOLVE MATTERS OF THE HEART OVER THE TELEPHONE.”
A Gordon Family Rule:
“DON’T THINK ABOUT YOUR LIFE WHEN YOU’RE SICK!”
Mad thanks to Howie for taking the time out for this interview and more mad thanks to “The Ghost of Richard Pacheco,” as well. You can purchase your very own signed copy of Hindsight via Howie's Official Website. (And we highly encourage you to do so, if you have not already!) You can also purchase it via Amazon or Bear Manor Media. For more information on Howie, please check out this excellent interview with him over at the always stellar Rialto Report.