Interview: Mike Edison, Author
With a resume that would make many blush, Mike Edison has seen it all. He has performed in bands such as Sharky’s Machine, the Raunch Hands, and the Edison Rocket Train. He opened for the Ramones and played CBGB, He recorded and performed with the notorious GG Allin. He even commissioned luthier Joe Naylor of Reverend Guitars to build the ChroniCaster, an instrument that doubled as a bong. But his career hasn’t just been in music.
Edison reached the lofty position atop the masthead at Wrestling’s Main Event by dispatching his boss with a punishing Heart punch in the ring. He later went on to write for index, Hustler and Penthouse, among others. He penned dozens of porn novels, often churning out one a week, and served as the publisher of High Times and the editor-in-chief of Screw.
Edison’s 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 was recently published by Faber and Faber, Inc. He spoke with us about architectural hairstyles, writing that mimics music, and breaking into the magazine biz.
Oh yeah, this ain’t for the faint of heart or for those with sensitive corporate filters on your web browsers.
Slushpile: 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 recounts your years in punk bands and on magazine mastheads. But there’s no clear beginning and end to that time period, unlike many current memoirs that cover a specific year in a foreign country or whatever. What made you think that now is a good time to write this book
Edison: Well, first of all, I Have Fun… isn’t a comprehensive history of punk rock or the sleazy side of the magazine industry, it’s my personal history riding those trains. Of course therein also lies a pop-culture history of porn mags, and 60s and 70s counterculture, and my high-minded thoughts on pro-wrestling and Reagan-era greed and the space program, and a great big adult-sized dose of drug adventurism… so, why now? Because I found my voice. After twenty years writing about sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, and living it in a way that most people find just frankly unbelievable, I felt was writing at the top of my game, and it was time to take the message to the people.
Slushpile: I’ve pitched books about publishing and editors frequently responded, “That’s too much of a niche market.” And I’ve pitched books about heavy metal and editors said, “Those bands don’t have a big enough fan base anymore.” Yet, your book deals intimately with the magazine world and punk music—hardly Hannah Montana and American Idol territory of huge audiences. Where you at all afraid of being considered too niche, and therefore not getting a publisher?
Edison: If you have the right heavy-metal book, pitch me — among other things, I’m an acquiring editor for Backbeat books these days. People eat that shit up. I posit as evidence the global success of about half-a-dozen redundant Motley Crue books.
Slushpile: Your early writing gigs were about punk, and professional wrestling, and then you got a job writing porn novels. But what led you to writing in the first place? As a child or young adult, did you have dreams of being a writer?
Edison: At some point, becoming a relief pitcher for the New York Yankees was not going to be a career choice; ditto ice-hockey player or astronaut… what probably made me realize I could be a writer was reading Rock Scene magazine when I was a kid. It was something about Led Zeppelin, and the story began “Robert Plant stood backstage, his huge penis bulging in his pants.” Even at age thirteen it was laughable. Reading that I knew instantly I could do the job. And maybe I’d get to hang out with Aerosmith.
Slushpile: Working on those porn novels trained you to churn out a novel in a week. Did this race to write teach you anything that you applied to your more “literary” pursuits?
Edison: Yes: put your fucking head down and write. Stop bullshitting, stop doting on the cat, turn off the fucking TV, put the bong away, and write.
Slushpile: What was your favorite title of one of those porn books?
Edison: They were all pretty wonderful: Busting Susan’s Cherry, My Nellie Husband, Black Dicks for Debbie… every one a jewel!
Slushpile: Besides your own bands, what musicians would you recommend as a soundtrack to this book?
Edison: Probably the bands that run through the pages: Sonic Youth, the Ramones, Blues Explosion, Reagan Youth, the Dictators, Black Sabbath… and some avant jazz for the more absurd passages. Sun Ra, Coltrane, Charles Mingus with Eric Dolphy.
Slushpile: Who are your favorite authors and why?
Edison: Reading Raymond Chandler’s books are like listening to great rock’n’roll records. David Foster Wallace is just terribly smart and funny and has set the bar ridiculously high. I’m in awe of certain comic book writers — people are ga-ga for Robert Crumb’s artwork, but goddam, that mutherfucker just writes a ton.
Slushpile: You’re a musician and a writer, so hopefully you can shed some light on a question I often ask… if an author is writing about a particular genre of music, should the writing mimic or express characteristics of the music? Should the writing try to have the rhythm, cadences, and overall feel of the music? Or should the author just do their own thing regardless of the genre he’s covering?
Edison: If you can write about jazz and catch the rhythm and bop, like Mezz Mezzrow or some of the better beat writers, that’s playing the game at a major league level. But that’s a very unique circumstance. Are you gonna write like a moron when you do that heavy metal book? If I write a story about coal mining, I should write like a miner?? Maybe my story about Kandinsky should look like squiggles on the page? What I try to do is just capture the energy of rock’n’roll. There is definitely meter, and rhythm, and some pyrotechnics always makes the kids scream. Anyway, like Frank Zappa said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
Slushpile: There are quite a few amazingly descriptive (and funny) passages in I Have Fun Everywhere I Go. For example, at one point, you write, “There are few things scarier than a thirty-nine-year-old single Jewish woman cruising a JDate mixer in four-hundred-dollar Manolo Blahniks that are slicing her feet into pastrami, except for maybe the forty-year-old male virgin sulking in the corner to a soundtrack of diluted hip-hop spun by a DJ wearing a tricolored Rasta yarmulke and in desperate need of a bath.” What’s your guidance for when a writer should really pour it on in a passage like this one as opposed to those other sections when the text should be more utilitarian? Every passage can’t be an over-the-top literary explosion so how do you strike an appropriate balance?
Edison: It can’t be all machine guns blaring all the time, or it all starts to sound the same. You can’t throw fast balls for nine innings and expect to get people out, the batter is going to catch up with you. You have to work both sides of the plate, change speeds, throw some tricky breaking stuff. Then when you throw the fast ball it looks like a fucking comet coming at you.
Slushpile: Another great description is that, “He was extraordinarily anal, which was actually a plus on a staff where no one was all that organized. Even his hair looked alphabetized. It was always perfect, as if it were designed by some great architectural firm and combed with a T square.” So if an architect designed this guy’s look, what type of person would you say was responsible for your appearance?
Edison: An abstract expressionist with a taste for mid-century modernism and rockabilly. On a budget.
Slushpile: Your depiction of the dysfunction, territoriality, and egos run amok at High Times makes me wonder how they ever manage to get a magazine in the stores. Is there any hope for them?
Edison: Yeah… I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed.
Slushpile: Based on your lengthy experience in magazines, what’s the best way for a freelancer to break into a publication?
Edison: Suck some dick, kiss ass, blackmail the boss [laughs]… it’s a tough racket. Magazine pages are like Manhattan real estate, there is a very finite source, and people guard it jealously. It’s tough to get inside. It helps to know someone on the co-op board. But I tell you what, it’s great when you find an editor who is more interested in your good work than your pedigree.
Slushpile: What do you wish more new writers knew about the magazine business?
Edison: That it is filled with assholes, egomaniacs, mediocre talents, starfuckers, and poseurs. Working for a magazine is considered a sexy job. It’s too bad, but a lot of people think it’s like an exclusive country club and worry about who they let through the door. It can be something of an old boy’s network. And it’s a tough to be an individual in a business where there is so much pressure from publishers to sell ads, and to sell magazines and hit the rate base. Almost none of the bigger magazines have any claws left, they are afraid to take chances, and so they drive straight down the middle of the road. Mostly I don’t want to be involved in that.
Slushpile: What are you working on now? What’s next for Mike Edison?
Edison: I’d like to write the Shouts and Murmurs page for the New Yorker. I would do it for free as a public service. Someone has got to make it funny again.
Slushpile: What is your single-best, most-important, can’t-live-without writing tip you would offer to aspiring authors?
Get some good walking shoes… no one ever talks about it, but there is a lot of pacing involved in writing a book.
Slushpile: What is your single-best, most-important, can’t-live-without publishing tip you would offer to aspiring authors struggling to break into print?
Edison: Was it Mark Twain or Walt Whitman who said, “To be a writer, write?” That’s it. Put your head down and write. And then revise, revise, revise. Perseverance and industry bring sure reward. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away. Just keep at it. If that fails, I guess get ready to suck some cock. I mean, if you want it that badly… personally, I’d rather kick ass than kiss ass. I think that is a good way to be. I try to get by on my merits, I don’t want to owe anyone anything. But then, I have always started at the top and somehow worked my way down. I am probably not the best role model.
For more information, check out the Edison Rocket Train website.
[Photo by Dave Allocca]