Monty Pentagram Recommends “We Did Porn”

We-did-porn-zak-smith-ponanteZak Smith is an artist who a decade ago found himself a porn performer, getting into the business via a date with Joanna Angel [note: I originally wrote “via a Win A Date with Joanna Angel promotion” but was corrected by the author]. As a man who’d released a coffeetable art book based on Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” (Pynchon’s other tendril in the porn world in addition to his niece, Tristan Taormino), Smith’s presence in Porn Valley loaned a little credit to this world, as he certainly didn’t fit the profile of the millennial porn personality. In 2009 Smith wrote “We Did Porn,” a densely-worded, witty, and personality-rich snapshot of the things he saw while working with the likes of first-decade altporn figures like Eon McKai and Benny Profane.

The astute reader will recognize dozens of disguised porn personalities in Smith’s memoir, like Gary Slynt and someone named Monty Pentagram. Smith himself adopted the nom de porn Zak Sabbath, and his partner in crime throughout his adult career was the fragile firecracker Mandy Morbid.

Upon the book’s release, I asked Smith who the fuck he thought he was writing about porn without Neil Strauss to help him.

“The thing I worry about most, regarding porn-insider reaction is: Who the fuck am I to be writing this?” Smith told me. “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.”

I reread “We Did Porn” recently and liked it even more than I had the first time, probably because — less than a decade later — it has the poignancy of a historical novel from an era we didn’t pay too much attention to at the time because we were too busy living it and trying to figure out how to make a living by writing about porn. (That’s the royal we, because I gave up trying to make a living that way and instead married a princess.) In this way it reminded me of “Microserfs” Douglas Coupland’s very informative and bittersweet parallel narrative of early Microsoft.

While there’s plenty of porn set ridiculousness in Smith’s book, it’s the understanding of the outside world that makes it a particularly worthwhile read. Smith brings his insight from a life spent elsewhere.

“Between Alice’s apartment and Hollywood Boulevard there’s the spare-changing territory of a homeless girl with long, dirty-blonde hair who I keep thinking is like a totally-failed version of Alice—She wears a sweatshirt advertising (Bad Religion’s) Suffer. I keep giving her tens and twenties thinking if she’s heard Suffer and still can’t handle LA she must be in very serious trouble. She also makes me think of an early Bad Religion song aboUt trying to cross the street in LA—”Frogger.”

While the market for tattooed and mohawked porn dudes was a dream a few people had and never really existed, Porn Valley’s altporn era was exciting in that a lot of people thought they were doing something really important, and some fascinating films came out of it. (Also some horrible, testicle-reincorporating films.) But “We Did Porn” is a lovely, brainy memoir that rewards a thoughtful reader with just as much perspective on the George W. Bush administration, punk rock, and art as it does porn.

Buy “We Did Porn.”

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Being there—”We Did Porn”; I am the world’s greatest porn director
See also: Zak Smith

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