Monday, December 3, 2018

Paying Attention or Not

As of this month, Playboy magazine is celebrating its 65th anniversary.

From that first issue with Marilyn Monroe on the cover through decades of iconic sex symbols and insignificant tarts, the "Magazine for Men" has managed to weather everything from abandoning full frontal nudes and then returning to them to its first transgender Playmate. And still, it persists.

If you want the truth, I was a dedicated reader of Playboy for years.

Look, as a female, I was never into airbrushed pictures of 20-year old twinkies in their birthday suits. But my Dad always had a subscription when I was young and after the initial titillation of naked girls in a magazine I could access wore off, I grasped the broader appeal.

Playboy showcased some damn fine writing, both current and past. All those cliched jokes about "I read it for the articles?" This non-airbrushed woman really did. Not going to lie, I could ignore the nudes for the sake of a good read.

I was that woman who would gift my boyfriends with subscriptions to ensure I had access to the writing. No, really. Before we called it that, that was a win/win.

So you can imagine my complete delight recently when, while having a record-listening party at Holmes' house, I spotted a copy of the March 1980 Playboy - all 264 pages of it! - on his bar.

I knew from conversation that he had an extensive collection of back issues, but I also knew they were buried in a basement room along with scores of vintage comic books, copies of Mad magazine and god knows what else.

Flipping through, I was bowled over by the width and breadth of what was considered Playboy-worthy circa 1980. In fact, it was too much to take in all at once, much less while vintage albums were playing, so I asked to check it out of the basement library, with a cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die promise to return it intact.

What constituted Playboy 38 years ago? Popular culture, for one thing. The cover features Bo Derek in a fringed leather bikini and touts, "Bo Derek, the "10" girl in a sensational nude pictorial." What struck me about her body was not its sexiness, but the sheer athleticism of it.

Inside, the '80s announced themselves with tableaux such as a Ronrico Rum ad with a slender but not ripped guy in a black Speedo on a sailboat, his girlfriend on tiptoe while he masterfully adjusts the sail while kissing her.

Tucked into "Playboy After Dark" was a small feature called "Checking In," which amounted to a brief interview with 29-year old Tom Waites. Asked what he thinks he'll be like as an old man, Waites responds, "I'll probably be your real irritable son of a bitch."

What 29-year old musician could we interview now and still care about in 2050? Far too few, I'd wager.

I'm gratified to read a review of the newest Eagles album, "The Long Run," which Playboy describes as "like a press release from the ontology department of the California Institute for the Mellow" with cuts that describe "that vapid kind of angst, that vague existential discomfort southern Californians are prone to contract. Bimbo starlets, power-crazed moguls, urban cowboys all dressed up with nowhere to go -- haven't we had enough of all that already?"

If the reviewer thinks the world had had enough of that peaceful, easy crap in 1980, imagine how some of us feel now, after 38 additional years of listening to them whine.

Always one of the strengths of Playboy was its extended interview (devoted readers like me salivated over the generous page counts assigned to its interviewers) and if any one subject sealed my devotion to the format, it was the 1976 interview with Jimmy Carter. And not particularly for the "lust in my heart" thread, but the fact that a man running for President saw the value in sitting down for Playboy magazine.

This was truly a new world order.

But this issue's interview was with quarterback Terry Bradshaw, described as wearing white elephant skin boots with the number twelve on them (made out of the bellies of a lot of little lizards), a nod to his jersey number, or maybe just his over-sized ego.

The intro says Bradshaw "makes about a quarter of a million dollars a year for throwing a football very straight and very hard." That $250,000 seemed outlandish in 1980 seems downright quaint now.

Throughout the magazine, I spot ads for all the brands my audiophile guy friends worshiped in 1980: Audiovox, Sony Audio, AR, Pioneer and Bose. The only ads more plentiful are for cigarettes and booze, both of which seemed to require a mustache.

As for the obligatory nude spreads, some are laughable, such as "Welcome Back, Haller," showing the only female "sweathog" from "Welcome Back, Kotter" reminiscing how her erect nipples drove the show's censors crazy. Poor little thing, they made her wear a padded bra to cover them.

Others give me pause. Henriette, the southern centerfold, admits that her ambition is to be a yoga teacher, her favorite drink is ice cold lemonade and her fave authors are Ray Bradbury and John G. Neihardt.

In case you aren't as well read as a 26-year old in 1980, Neihardt was Nebraska's Poet Laureate for 52 years and his masterpiece is considered to be "Black Elk Speaks," told in the voice of a Lakota medicine man.

But what impressed me most was the sheer talent on display throughout.

Here's a new Shel Silverstein poem "Uncle Don, Who Read Us the Sunday Funnies on the Radio." Further back, there's a two-page comic drawing by Silverstein called "And He Has Never Been Heard From Since" that involves a tiny, hatted, naked man who seems to be crawling into a woman's nether region, only reaching back out to grab his hat.

To be clear, that's four pages, two different features, devoted to Silverstein's work. Astounding.

Over here is an entire page called "The Cockeyed Muse- a little treasury of comic verse, some intended, some not" and inconceivable in anything but a literary journal today. Along with two in-house illustrations and a fair amount of white space are pieces by - wait for it - Emily Dickinson and John Keats, among others.

Yes, in Playboy.

Leroy Neiman's Sketchbook shows extraordinary renderings of Charles Mingus, done in Chicago in the late '50s, in NYC clubs in the late '60s and early '70s and finally, confined to a wheelchair during the Newport Jazz festival in 1978, essentially telling the story of one artist documenting another.

And, of course, Playboy was always staying current on the political scene with pieces like "The Canny Conservatism of John Connally" about the then-presidential candidate who'd been governor of Texas and in the car with JFK in Dallas that fateful day in 1963. Who even recalled he was in the running for the White House?

Culled from the Ayatollah Khomeini's writings (while in exile in Paris) about proper behavior for Shi'ite Muslims, "Rules to Live By" covers everything from how to urinate and defecate to relations between humans and animals. After decreeing that, "A woman can not have any sort of sexual relations with an animal; that is reserved for men alone," he further clarifies with acceptable species: dogs, cats, pigeons, donkeys and lambs.


Since you may not have access to this particular issue of Playboy, allow me to also share with you that he's firm on one thing. After having sexual relations with a lamb, it's a mortal sin to eat its flesh.

Sex or chops, you have to choose.

Another fascinating piece, "Who'd Profit from Legal Marijuana?" breaks down just whose grass would be greener if it were made legal, a topic still being worked through today. Witness:

"It's only a matter of time before Uncle Sam will want to cut himself in on a booming business that seems destined for greater growth. And forgetting for a moment the alleged moral and psychological ramifications of legalized marijuana,  a Federal scheme that would generate considerable tax revenue, impose rigid controls and take the paranoia out of pot seem to make solid social and economic sense."

"Tomorrow's News Today" offers up some  predictions from the director of the Central Premonition Registry, including one that predicts, "The next president will be shot in 1981."  You read it first in Playboy, folks. The question is whether or not Reagan did.

And at the back of the book is "Grapevine," the ragtag two page-spread of inappropriate black and white photographs, assembled as reward for those who make it to page 258.

Here's Tim Curry posing, arms outstretched, astride a huge stone eagle and Andrew Young practically sticking his thumb up his nose, but it's a photograph of Iggy Pop, penis in hand at a Detroit show, coming 93 pages after Keats that best sums up the state of the union as Playboy saw it in March 1980.

Back then, a magazine that could swing from Derek to Dickinson was entertainment for all, not just men. The shame was that the parts I so looked forward to - literary, cartoons, interviews - moved to the back burner as articles about foot fetishes, the value of the quickie and viral sensations began to fill its pages.

Wherever he was, Shel Silverstein was softly weeping at the changes.

So while my interest waned long ago, enough people are apparently still reading (or gawking at) it to justify Playboy making it to their 65th anniversary, even if you can be damn sure there's no more white space.

Forgive me if I sound like a real irritable son of a bitch. Fact is, 38 more years of the Eagles would do it to anybody.

Enough already.


  1. What a fascinating and entertaining blog. II enjoyed reading it and can picture you pouring over Playboy. Hahahaha, I have read many articles in Playboy in the past and found it had something for everyone. Sadly, the level of literary contributions to this type of genre was phased out as you said. The dumbing down of men/women? It’s such a shame.

  2. Keats and Dickinson, can you imagine?

  3. Now I have a dilemma...I eat lamb.

  4. Thank you for making me laugh out loud while alone.

    And yes, you do have a problem...

  5. Shel Silverstein's house was destroyed last year by hurricane Irma. Interestingly is was the only house on the island that was totaled. It's currently being rebuilt. I have occasion to walk by the construction site on my evening walks. He is much revered in literary circles down here.
    P.S. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!! And my best to you and Mr. Wright. (I love the moniker)