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Philip Jose Farmer's
A Genre in the Sere and Yellow Leaf
By Fender Tucker
LOVE SONG was the first book I ever read in the literary genre, Hi-Class Lit-Porn. Never heard of that genre? Maybe thatís because I made up the name decades ago and I may be the only person who uses that nomenclature. But I think youíll agree ó once Iím done with my humble introduction for this book ó that itís a legitimate and intriguing genre of books, albeit one which is dying and in abject need of a transfusion.
Hi-Class Lit-Porn. Writings of an explicit sexual nature by an author who is known and revered for his other writing. Itís a relatively small field and, oddly, is mainly populated by science-fiction writers. Some writers were known almost exclusively for their Hi-Class Lit-Porn, writers such as the Marquis de Sade, Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs and James Joyce, and they do belong in the H-C L-P Hall of Fame but oftentimes itís only their blue passages that are readable. 20th Century authors such as John Updike, Philip Roth, Nicholson Baker and Norman Mailer have purpled a lot of prose in their books but the sex was always a major part of their style. Itís sort of an unwritten law that an authorís H-C L-P should be a departure from his standard writing. For this reason most modern best-selling writers are not in the genre because all of their books have their ďbedroom scenesĒ.
Others who donít make the grade are Ed Wood and the thousands of pornographers with pennames like Dick Steel and Hugh G. Rection. They are appreciated by masturbators the world over but while they grudgingly qualify for the ďLit-PornĒ moniker, they simply donít measure up to ďHi-ClassĒ.
What we who revel in Hi-Class Lit-Porn are looking for are authors like Philip Josť Farmer, Barry N. Malzberg, Robert Silverberg, J. G. Ballard, Bill Pronzini and Samuel R. Delaney. Authors, who, for whatever reason, decided to take a sabbatical from their usual fare and dip a toe or two into the waters of wanton lust. What is coincidental is that most of them did it in the late í60s and early í70s. Could the golden age of LSD and marijuana have had something to do with it? I, for one, would like to think so.
LOVE SONG is the holy grail of Hi-Class Lit-Porn. Itís extremely hard to find and is the most readable of the genre. Barry Malzbergís SCREEN and THE ORACLE OF THE THOUSAND HANDS, and Samuel R. Delaneyís THE TIDES OF LUST are equally rare ó and Bill Pronziniís never-revealed porn books are probably even harder than all to find because, as far as I know, the porn he wrote while learning his literary chops on the isle of Majorca have never been listed anywhere ó but Iíve never heard of anyone lusting for a copy of those books as completists have for LOVE SONG. Dennis McMillan published 500 hardcover copies in the early í80s, but other than that, the only copies ever published are the original ones by Brandon House of North Hollywood in 1970. Since the edition had a bland green cover and resembled the ubiquitous Travellerís Companion Series, it was overlooked by Farmer fans of the time, and probably not that much appreciated by the hardcore stroke fiends who would have found its honesty and intelligence offputting.
In the early í70s I found my copy of the Brandon House LOVE SONG in a XXX theater in Las Cruces NM that had a swap shelf of used paperbacks. I had recently become a Philip Josť Farmer fan by being blown away by NIGHT OF LIGHT. When I saw the name, Philip Josť Farmer, on the front of the innocuous-looking book I was astounded. ďWhatís a book by PJF doing on this shelf oí porn?Ē You can imagine my joy and astonishment when I read it and found it to be the best-written , most honest book about oralism Iíd ever read. In those days, you may remember, fellatio and cunnilingus were forbidden pleasures beyond ordinary sex. Nowadays, thanks to Kenneth Starr, every teen-ager in America knows that oral sex isnít really sex.
So now you hold in your hands ó or if you prefer, hand ó the best Hi-Class Lit-Porn book ever written. In my opinion, itís even better than Farmerís other masterpieces, A FEAST UNKNOWN and the EXORCISM books, THE IMAGE OF THE BEAST and BLOWN. The first-person protagonist reveals himself completely, and while heís not in the intellectual class of Nabokovís Humbert Humbert, heís much easier to identify with. In fact, the hero Jack Weston does just about everything I would have done under the same circumstances. For discriminating male readers itís very refreshing to follow a man who doesnít do ridiculously dangerous sexual things, each more perverse than the last, just because the traditional literary style of porn dictates it.
But we not only read what Jack does, we get to know what he thinks about what heís doing ó or wants to do. Are the thoughts Jackís, or are they Farmerís? LOVE SONG was written in 1969 or 1970 when he was 51 years old. Philip K. Dick has warned us never to assume that all writing is autobiographical. In fact, he may have said that no writing is autobiographical. Iím inclined to believe that the miracle of PJFís writing LOVE SONG (and AN EXORCISM and A FEAST UNKNOWN) is more a function of the cultural zeitgeist of the í60s than an indication of what was going on in his life. Again, the renaissance of drugs, particularly the psychedelics, is perhaps responsible. Letís face it, there has never been, in the history of mankind, a more serendipitous synchronicity of pharmacology and marketing than the drug explosion of the í60s. Baudelaire and Rimbaud may have been able to get their hands on some pretty good shit back in the 19th century but the story was never emblazoned on the covers of magazines and TV for the hoi polloi to see.
But it matters little why Philip Josť Farmer wrote LOVE SONG. Itís enough that he did and that we can read it and pass on its wisdom to future generations. There are forces against us, and itís not just generic prudery. Part of the problem is ourselves. We may have jaded ourselves beyond repair.
A few years ago I was on my way to a convention in Chicago and I decided to stop by a XXX-supermart alongside the interstate in Missouri or some other tedious state. I hadnít been to a XXX store since the invention of the videocassette player and I was curious to see if there were any LOVE SONG-like classics still around. The store was huge, with aisles of garish picture magazines, videotapes and DVDs extending as far as the eye could see. Flesh, in all of its varieties, assaulted the senses like a taco fart in a diving bell.
I looked for books and didnít see any, so I asked the bored-looking counter-girl behind a thicket of dildos where they were and she pointed to a distant corner of the building. There I found a bin, yes, a bin of books. Maybe three feet on a side, it was filled higgledy-piggledy with cheap paperbacks, all of which had cheap, photographic covers. No painted or drawn artwork on these! If you were lucky enough to spot a book that interested you, you might have to dig through the pile of books to get to it. To me, it looked as if no one had done any digging for weeks.
One book caught my eye. Its cover was a photograph of a guy with a foot in his mouth, all the way to the instep. Not his foot, I donít think; someone elseís. I bought it for $3.95 and tried to read it that night. I waded through about ten pages, tripping on five or six typos per page, and finding that it was totally lacking in imagination, threw it away. It was the crappy kind of porn that only Clarence Thomas could appreciate. And it was all that was available between Shreveport Louisiana and Chicago Illinois in the year of our lord Jesus Christ, 2001.
Iím speaking literary porn, of course. For the visually-minded onanist, I guess we truly are living in a golden age.
But is the time for eroticism formed by the juxtaposition of 26 horny little letters past? It is if we let it. The modern pornographers can make much more money with pictures, especially moving ones. We canít depend on them to keep masterpieces like LOVE SONG alive.
But perhaps Iím getting off the track. We donít read LOVE SONG for its blood-pumping qualities. Itís a kick to the cerebrum, not to the groin. Itís Hi-Class LIT-Porn and what makes it great is the LIT. One hundred years from now if people want to know what Americans thought about sex in the 20th Century, they can read Freud, Kinsey, Hite or Starr and come away with a vague picture of clumsy backseat and bedroom fumblings, but the lucky futurians who have a copy of LOVE SONG will be able to live in the mind of a real, honest-to-Gawd 20th Century human being who stumbles upon a mother-daughter sex team that will live through the ages . . . if we donít let it die.
Ramble House is proud to do its small part to keep this important genre from a flaccid demise. This edition is a love song to every author whoís enraged his agent by dropping the 500-page opus that Doubleday was panting for and writing whatís really on his mind. Itís a very special love song to the best Hi-Class Lit-Porn writer there ever was: Philip Josť Farmer.
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