I have a pet theory about a microsegment of my generation—those whose junior high years were 1978–80—which holds that in the midst of an already “lost” generation (Generation X), there exists a subset, of which I am a member, that is more lost than the rest, having come of age at the exact moment when two cultural tectonic plates collided, heaved, and ground any hope of an integrated self-image into dust. Our older siblings were ’70s kidsdeseeding schwag weed inside Led Zeppelin II LP sleeves to roll joints for laser rock or sniffing glue on the way to CBGB. Our younger siblings were ably parodied by Bret Easton Ellis in American Psycho—nihilistic achievement addicts fueled by conservatism, cocaine, designer clothes, and designer drugs. My minicohort—postpunk pubescents, you might call us—had little choice but to mash up incongruous elements from both decades, leading to such practices as smoking crack at Grateful Dead shows and blasting Public Enemy in Southampton-bound Beemers. We always assumed that those older and younger than us were happier—more whole—than we could ever be.
Mike Edison falls squarely into the older-sibling category. He is a ’70s guy through and through. A middle-class Jewish kid from a broken New Jersey home, Edison had dropped out of NYU film school and Columbia University and lost any chance of a straight life by the time he was twenty-one. But in late-’70s–early-’80s New York, this was feasible. He could afford to rent in Manhattan by writing porn novels (Mandy’s Shame, Cindy’s Brutal Ordeal, etc.), editing a grappling rag (Wrestling’s Main Event), and touring with his punk band (Sharky’s Machine). Contemporary New Yorkers will groan as Edison boasts of living high on the hog for less than thirty grand per year. Barrels of Jim Beam, bales of pot, and sheets of acid are consumed. His drum thrashing earns him the attention of supermasochist punk hellion GG Allin, whom he befriends and backs at a handful of life-threatening gigs. (GG, whose given name was Jesus Christ Allin, was a very confused man from New Hampshire who used to defecate onstage, bash his own head bloody with the mic, and bait his audience to beat whatever shit remained out of him during or after the show. Needless to say, he’s dead.)
Edison begins freelancing for Al Goldstein’s Screw and lands an editorial job at Drake Publishing (Cheri, High Society, Celebrity Skin, Playgirl), where he develops a Planet of the Apes–inspired taxonomy of the typical magazine staff. While happy as a “chimp,” Edison’s wanderlust leads him to join the Raunch Hands for a couple decadent international tours. He falls in with Spain’s garage-rock underground and its pied pipers, the Pleasure Fuckers (whom he eventually joins), and snorts his way through knolls of crank and blow. Returning to New York in the mid-’90s, Edison lands a job at Soft Drinks & Beer, a self-explanatory trade pub with a sociopathic harpy of a boss, falls in love with a bipolar hipster chick, and eventually trades up to being editor-publisher of hemp bible High Times.
This is where the story becomes squirmily familiar—the ever-encroaching Internet, 9/11, the decline of magazine publishing, the shrinking opportunities for ’70s boys like Mike. New-millennium New York is no place for Acapulco Gold men. While he raises sales during his tenure at High Times, treacherous office politics gets him canned, and he finds himself less employable than when he left college: “1. Sex magazines 2. Beer magazine 3. Pot magazine. That’s not a résumé, that’s a crime scene.” Take it from me, Mike, cyberpunk magazine, art magazine, and book review isn’t any better. In twenty-first-century America’s “culture of narcissism and doom,” sex, beer, and dope still command a healthy market share. Exhibit A: your lurid tales of pot, punk, and porn being published by a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Rock on, dude. You’re no Hunter Thompson, but you’re cooler than Toby Young and more credible than James Frey. You can be my big brother any day.