Here in the Barnes and Noble at Augusta Mall, I usually pick the same little table near the back of the Starbucks. They’re lined up pretty deep at the coffee bar because it’s 100 goddamn degrees outside and everybody is ordering their woo-woo coffee drinks on ice. So I have to wait. I set up shop on my favorite little table and go over to the story anthologies section to scan the shelves while my laptop warms up. They have this book I’ve been snacking on, “Alison’s Wonderland” edited by (natch) Allison Wonderland. I wonder if that’s her real name.
I scan through the contents page of Allison’s Wonderland to see who’s on the bill. I don’t know anybody. It’s not my Scene. The Allison’s Wonderland book represents a certain kind of erotica, sort of the equivalent of Top Forty radio. It’s commercial erotica, sexy, descriptive, slickly produced but not too challenging. But it does have a really cool cover. When I scan through it I recall a discouraging observation in Han Li Thorn’s “Conflicting Desires: Notes on The Craft of Writing Erotic Stories” where he lets us in on the fact bookstore chains order erotic books based entirely on cover appeal with no interest in literary content or the authors sales record. Shucks. So that’s one end of the erotica rainbow, but what I’ve discovered is there is this other end. The literary end. It represents a Scene, different from the slick commercial Penthouse, Alison Wonderland “He Fucked Her Ass Good” Scene, or the Ellora’s Cave and Whisky Creek erotic romance Scene. These different groups represent different places to inhabit on the spectrum of naughty reading, just as back in the Rock Era (now they have a historic name for it) of the ‘60s, rock had different Scenes in different parts of the country. There was the British Invasion scene. The East Coast Scene. The Chicago Blues scene. The Southern Rock Scene and the San Francisco Scene. What I observe as I get to know this genre a little better is that erotic writing very definitely falls into distinct schools or “Scenes”. People in these Scenes know each other.
Now by habit when I pick up a book of erotic stories the first place I go is the contents page, not to scan the titles but the authors. I want to see if there’s anyone there I know. I want to check out - The Scene. Lisabet is the one I see the most often, she’s been at this for many, many years and she knows the job. After her I often see Kathleen Bradeen’s name go by, then Jean Roberta and D L King who seems to write vampire stories and lesbian stories, and occasionally Remittance Girl, though she doesn’t often submit her stuff to publishers for philosophical reasons. I love to see their names. Like the guy in Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, I want to accost somebody and shout “I know these people!” I feel like we’re part of a literary Scene, like the expatriates in Paris in the 1920s. That’s worth explaining.
These days my kid and I have been re-discovering Jefferson Airplane and I’ve begun to understand more about what a Scene is. When I was a high schooler in 1970 I took a girl to see the Grateful Dead at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. That was probably one of the last shows they did with their revered keyboard player Pig Pen before he kicked the bucket from alcohol poisoning. I didn’t know anything about the Dead, up till then I’d thought they were a biker gang, but I liked the girl and she liked the Dead, which is how these things work. At the time I didn’t think they were that great. They seemed stiff and uncomfortable. Kind of lost. The Grateful Dead weren’t at their best in a small Shakespearean playhouse where the audience of strangers sat quietly lamb-like in plush seats being fans. The Dead and the Airplane were elements of a much larger Scene, and to really hear what they were capable of, you had to see them in their natural habitat in San Francisco at the Family Dog or Winterland. Guitar cases scattered on the stage. Beer bottles parked on top of stacked amplifiers, smoldering cigarettes tucked inside tuning pegs, high as a hard boiled weasel on god-knows-what, surrounded on all sides by a circled crowd of familiar people who had known them as friends for years– people who were not particularly their fans, people who were not especially there to see them. These people dancing and boogying along – they were part of the Scene. If the Airplane was playing at the Family Dog tonight, well, that was just a plus. But the band didn’t matter, they were just the entertainment. Being there, being part of the Scene was what mattered. It was a life style. On YouTube when you see the Airplane and the Dead and even Santana, all together on the same stage at the Family Dog, that’s a very different experience than seeing the Dead at the dignified little Guthrie. Because when you’re on the Scene, you’re among family.
On the anthology shelf next to Alison’s Wonderland, is the Mammoth Book of New Erotica VOL 7. I’m in VOL 8 with “An Early Winter Train”, but Barnes and Noble never has it on the shelf. I cruise through the contents of 7 and they’re there – my people. My Scene. My band buddies. My blog mates. Rose B Thorny, Mike Kimera, Maxim Jakubowski; they’re all there. They were all my guests here at OGG, the literary equivalent of a jam session. Ashley Lister is there. Lisabet is there. M. Christian. Robert Buckley. All veterans of the ERWA (Erotica Readers and Writers Association) Scene, the erotica equivalent of ‘60s San Francisco. Next to it is Best of the Best of Women’s erotica VOL 2. ERWA veteran Kathleen Bradeen is in there. Its Winterland. It’s the Fillmore. It’s a Night at The Family Dog and Jack Casady/Ashley is shaking the dance floor with his thundering Guild Starfire bass. Grace Slick/Lisabet is yelling at the top of her Helluva Voice and burning the place down. Its Jorma Kaukonen/Bradeen and Carlos Santana/Charlotte-Michelle dueling Fender Stratocasters like a knife fight, and Jerry Garcia/Sanchez-Garcia watching and strumming the rhythm, waiting his turn to jump in while three Mexicans go ape-shit, sweat flying off their arms, slapping their conga drums as if they’re fighting off bees.
When I see these names in erotica anthologies I feel like I’m part of this ongoing Scene, not a big part but a substantial part. I’m there. In the Jam. On the Stage. These writers in the Mammoth and Coming Together books, they know me, some of them know my stuff. My sound. I’m so proud of that. I come from a background of no formal education, never having been around writers or academics in my life. A long strange life on the road. Knowing these writers and being known by them is a thrill and an inspiration for me. Ever and always. Love live The Scene.