When erotica was the printed word, and the language of “smut ” had a different aesthetic…
Art Chantry (email@example.com)
Dirty books. With bent pages. Stains. Yellowed. Icky.
The underground world of the dirty book market seems to have gone away, finally nailed into it’s coffin by the internet. It’s sort of hard to believe now, but there used to be a big market for “pornography” that was actually composed of printed words!!! It wasn’t called “erotica” and it wasn’t sold to women. It was what you’d call classic american SMUT, available to “adult” men in specialty bookstores (or mail ordered thru the back pages of your favorite men’s magazines, if you’re shy.)
Of you ever get a chance to read one of these old beater books, please do. For one thing, they ain’t dirty! The funniest thing in the world is how the ideas of “pornography’ (and BOY!, i use that word loosely) change over time. This stuff is the tamest reading in town. The writing you can find in the New Yorker is naughtier. The period author’s idea of a ‘dirty’ word is “pink.” or “underwear”. It’s downright silly. When it gets to the big hot “sexy” scene, well, they invariably cut to two folks smoking in bed the next morning. Make me laugh!
It seems the what our parents (or even parent’s parents) thought was too naughty for us kids is tamer than an average ‘family-viewing’ tv show today. I have the hardest time imagining that people were actually prosecuted for selling this stuff. The stories themselves were written by loser hack writers down on their luck (and usually with “a monkey on their back”) who would agree to do the writing for peanuts under indescribably uncomfortable conditions. They were paid by the hour(!) and often had goons from the ‘industry’ hanging around to make sure they didn’t cheat on the time cards and to push them along to get it done faster. They would start typing and crank it out and get their cash and leave.
They were mostly written in Las Vegas (where the ‘industry’ was based for decades). Then the books were printed and re-printed and re-printed under different publishing labels and different titles and authors. It pays for the collector to become familiar with the stories, because that way you can figure out how many times you’ve read the same story under different covers. Ah, but those COVERS!!
Again, the covers were created largely by anonymous hacks drawing in seclusion to make a quick buck. Even if they were actual professional “good” artists, they’d still crank them out lickety-split (no pun intended) and they’d look really really bad. It made them sell better. Incompetence just plain looks obscene – it’s an industry “brand!”
It seems the
covers are for the ‘fetish’ stuff. When i say fetish, I mean anything that isn’t standard (just for procreation) sexuality. That includes an incredibly wide range of activities that are considered “normal” by today’s living breathing human beings. Remember, in the 1950′s even LIKING sex was considered obscene. so, it gets very weird very fast when you start to research “fetish” ideas from back in the day.
The covers by these books were largely created by actually obsessed practitioners of the particular fetish dealt with in the book. So, the images would be lovingly rendered with a great deal of attention to the details of the activity (and almost none to the human figure. Man, these guys could not draw faces!). The results are, let’s say, intriguing.
But, never mind all that filthy dirty talk. I’m here to talk about the BACKS of these dirty books. The front covers are the usual predictable ‘racy’ imagery – damsels being dominated, damsels flirting, damsels dominating, etc. etc. etc. standard fare, always. ho-hum.
But, flip the books over and you get something completely different! This is the part of the design where the ‘designer’ or artist’ takes the moment to express themselves. It’s a chance to prove they aren’t schmucks and actually know something about real art stuff like constructivism or abstract expressionism or minimalism. They even take the time to experiment with graphic design (if you can imagine such a thing). These back covers are pretty wonderful.
Isn’t nice that even on smut packaging, you can find people still trying to make “art”?
Art Chantry:there was also a big category of music material that was all sold “under the table”. the ‘dirty record’ thing was all white label, brown paper bag material of “off-color’ and “bawdy” nature that was often recorded by some of the biggest names in the music biz, but all sold anonymously by word-of-mouth. you literally had to ask for it at certain record stores and the seller would pull it out from behind the counter in a plain blank label and sleeve. so NAUGHTY!!!!
a lot of it has been compiled by obsessive collectors and it’s a hoot to listen to. of course, it’s all so tame (even “cute”) by our standards today that i doubt that a generation or two raised on lady gaga or the butthole surfers would bat an eyelash.
and then there are those records that were recorded to break record contracts and the like. ever heard “cocksucker blues” by the rolling stones?… oh, and did you know that “lola” by the kinks was actually CENSORED by american radio? no joke. in britain, there was a different, uncensored version.
but the rub is, they word that was censored from the british version was “coca-cola”. in america it was changed to “cherry cola”. we have different laws about commercialism and that took precedent over the “naughty” stuff. go figger.