Being there: “We Did Porn”

Zak SmithI haven’t read many porn autobiographies outside of personal websites; not Jenna’s, not Ron Jeremy’s, not Christy Canyon’s.

And this is not because I don’t think each will have something interesting to say, but because I have a feeling that each will be uniformly interesting. Is “started her own company and married an MMA fighter” really that much different from “can suck his own cock”?

So bios from the top tiers of porn stardom, unless they can actually name names, don’t really help as vivid documents of our time, and don’t tell stories I can’t already predict.

But I found Zak Smith’s “We Did Porn” a thrilling read.

Smith, a Yale graduate and artist, won a date wth Joanna Angel in 2005 and found himself (you’ll have to read the book) a staple in the shortlived steveporn phenomenon. With a mohawk, tattoos, and facial piercings Smith, who renamed himself Zak Sabbath, looked unlike any other male performer, and only Rob Rotten and Matt Zane came close.

I met Smith in February of 2006, on the first day of his first shoot in Los Angeles, Benny Profane’s “Barbed Wire Kiss.” I was present for several of the events in the book, which Smith describes in a detail that, if you like this site and its imitators, you’ll apprehend and enjoy. He fills the book with science fiction, pop, and art references (those things are mutually exclusive) and depicts the plight of the modern pornographer against the backdrop of America in the Bush II years.

Smith in his way also doesn’t name names. Instead, he makes pseudonyms on pseudonyms (I am Monty Pentagram, a hat tip to my dealmaking and Satanism), that are themselves clever but unnecessary, in that the time it takes to figure out who “Gary Slynt” is is roughly double the time it takes to remember that all autobiographies are subjective and Mr. Slynt can write his own damn autobiography if Smith got something wrong.

But Smith believes that using “real” porn names would cloud the purpose of the book.

“I feel like the audience would be limited to people who wanted to know about those specific people–like you’re not going to read a Lillian Hellman bio if you don’t want to read about Lillian Hellman–and what I want it to be about is a certain miniculture that exists in Los Angeles in 2009 and which may or may not tell you something about the way the rest of the world works,” he says.

Smith does not court an audience of people who want to make love like a porn star.

“My wanna-be audience is people who like to read good books,” he tells me. “Like actually good
books like ‘Lolita’ or ‘Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas’. I have only slight illusions that it will reach this audience, rather than the sort of collegey Museum-Of-Sex-visiting people who want bloggy alt porn gossip and to have crazy sex vicariously while looking for a dentist to marry.”

I took issue with the idea of steveporn girls wanting to marry dentists. But oddly enough, at Erotica LA I met a lapsed steveporn girl (she’s in the book, too) who told me that she was looking for a nice rich Jewish guy to marry. Go figure. And look at me with the bloggy alt porn gossip.

When I received Smith’s book, I looked at its excellent binding and paper stock and saw that it had been published by a company and not Smith himself. I saw that it was weighty and densely written. I realized I would get calls and e-mails from industry people who were jealous and/or felt Smith, toting all of four years in porn, didn’t deserve to write a memoir. But he did write one, and it’s the best one I’ve read.

“The thing I worry about most, regarding porn-insider reaction is: Who the fuck am I to be writing this?” Smith says. “Pretty much nobody, I know. But I figure though I may know less about porn than, say, Max Hardcore, I know more than George Plimpton or Barbara Ehrenreich ever did when they wrote their books about stuff they wrote about. And way more than most other writers who get flown out to Vegas for a weekend in order to do some 8-page thing for Esquire.”

Smith will be reading from “We Did Porn” at bookstores around the country starting tonight at Book Soup. He sent me the following poem:

2 Book Soup Los Angeles, CA Wednesday July 1 7:00 pm www.booksoup.com
3 Rumpus Room San Francisco, CA Tuesday July 7 TBD therumpus.net/
4 Moe’s Books Berkeley, CA Wednesday July 8 7:30 PM www.moesbooks.com
5 City Lights San Francisco, CA Thursday July 9 7:00 PM www.citylights.com
6 Barnes and Nobles New Haven, CT Monday July 13 6:00 pm yale.bncollege.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/BNCBHomePage?storeId=16556&catalogId=10001&langId=-1
7 Museum of Sex NY Tuesday July 14 7:30 PM http://www.museumofsex.com/
8 McNally Jackson Booksellers NY Wednesday 15-Jul 7:00 PM mcnallyjackson.com/
9 St. Mark’s NY Thursday 16-Jul 7:30 PM www.stmarksbookshop.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp
10 Skylight Books Los Angeles, CA Friday July 31 7:30 pm www.skylightbooks.com
11 Bookslut Chicago, IL Tuesday August 4 7:30 pm http://www.bookslut.com/readings.html
12 Bumbershoot fest Seattle Sept 6

We Did Porn: Memoir and Drawings 1st edition by Smith, Zak (2009) Paperback

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Barbed Wire Confidential; I am the world’s greatest porn director
See also: Zak Smith

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