Hard-Core Fun 

Sex-o-Rama 2: Classic Adult Film Music

(Oglio)

Porn to Rock

(Callner Music)

By Joshua Green

Even before Hollywood bestowed upon Burt Reynolds an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a good-hearted pornographer in Boogie Nights, porn was well on its way to mainstream acceptance. The movie--and the movie's success--merely confirmed its status as a staple of popular culture. Porn stars market sunglasses and clothing, have billboards on Sunset Boulevard, and host autograph sessions at Tower Records for the legions of fans who've made smut a pillar of E-commerce. Porn Star-brand clothing, which isn't marketed by porn stars, nonetheless had instant cachet; Pamela and Tommy's taped tryst has sold some 200,000 copies; and Larry Flynt has become both a movie hero and a moral arbiter.

As porn's gone aboveground, so has the distinctive music associated with it--that grinding, vaguely psychedelic mix of plucked bass lines, wah-wah guitar, and cheesy Moog. Four years ago Motel Records scored an underground hit with Vampyros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party, a selection of original music from the "horrotica" films of German director Jess Franco, including Mrs. Hyde and She Kills in Ecstasy. And an independent release called Sex-o-Rama, also from 1995, sold 10,000 copies almost exclusively by word of mouth. A collection of faithful covers of themes from American 70s flicks like Debbie Does Dallas, Behind the Green Door, and Deep Throat, it was advertised in small print ads in the back of Spin. But a spokesperson for the label, Oglio, attributed the impressive sales to the disc's popularity among morning shock jocks, who were drawn in by the photo of porn starlet Jenna Jameson on the cover. In 1997 Jameson made her "legitimate" movie debut in Howard Stern's Private Parts.

Jameson's also on the cover of the recent Sex-o-Rama 2: Classic Adult Film Music, which features the same jovially pseudonymous musicians (including Haywood Jablomi, Ben Dover, and Oliver Klozov) playing music "inspired by" the music they covered on the first one. Their own compositions, titled "Blow Me Down," "Stiffed," "Big Top," and the like, usually begin with slow, bottom-heavy funk, gradually build momentum, climax, then wind back down, punctuated by sirens and other low-budget sonic flourishes. They're not exceptional tunes, but they're so true to form that they become strangely artistic.

Porn to Rock, another recent release, takes a more original approach: it's a collection of 13 songs written and performed by porn stars, including such adult-film notables as Hyapatia Lee (Hy Heeled Drifter), Chloe Nichole (Anal Anarchy), Suzi Suzuki (Fortune Cookie Nookie), and Ginger Lynn Allen (Jailhouse Girls). The label, Callner Music, makes a plucky stab at credibility by emphasizing that contributing starlet Midori (Sabrina the Booty Queen) is the younger sister of 80s diva Jody Watley and that former porn star Candye Kane has released four albums on Sire with her band, the Swingin' Armadillos. (She's garnered some good reviews for them too, though her ability to "play piano with [her] 44G boobs" probably can't be discounted as a factor in her appeal.)

For the most part, the common criticisms of porn movies--lousy production, second-rate talent, unintentionally goofy performances--also apply to Porn to Rock. Many of the artists have taken to heart the adage "write what you know," so there's a good deal of stripping and lap dancing, not to mention Nina Whett's more direct "Drink Beer and Fuck." Cookie-cutter synthesizer tunes like Lee's "Strike Back" and Suzuki's "Calypso Shower" are laughably inept, and Vinnie Spit and Mistress Jacqueline's "Asshole Man" is just awful: "Well I can't stop thinkin' about her rectum / All puckered up and brown," Spit growls tunelessly over swingin' piano, bass, and horns. "I can't stop thinkin' about her rectum / Look out mama I'm comin' down."

But just as I was about to recycle the disc as a doggie Frisbee, Johnny Toxic floored me with "Happy," a clever, self-aware, and viciously funny geek-rock masterpiece (think They Might Be Giants if they might be funny). And Midori showed some of that apparently genetic flash on the would-be club anthem "5, 10, 15, 20." Overall Porn to Rock is a lot like a decent porn movie: a raunchy, ridiculous, spontaneously funny entertainment experience that you wouldn't necessarily want anyone to catch you enjoying.

But despite the proliferation of such harmless soft-core fun, its appeal is still widely misunderstood, and not just by Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. A September 7 story about the mainstreaming of porn in Time magazine--which, admittedly, has never been a particularly accurate subcultural barometer--argued that "the current trend is without the self-aware camp of the [1970s] one." That's nonsense. It's keen self-awareness, on the part of both the consumer and the artists, that makes projects like Porn to Rock and Sex-o-Rama 2 work. The current porn boom, like its swing and lounge counterparts, is all about camp, which in turn is about fun. And hey, what's porn music if not "swing" in another sense of the word?

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Vinnie Spit and Mistress Jacqueline/ Midori uncredited photos, album covers.

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