RIP Al Goldstein
In June of 2000 I went to see Penn & Teller on stage at the Beacon Theater in New York. Being a big Penn & Teller fan, I bought tickets as soon as I could and got a really good seat for the show. When I was there, I was impressed that I was one row in front of Al Goldstein, editor of SCREW magazine and one of the people in my mind who embodied New York City better than anyone else.
Goldstein was dressed in cutoff jean shorts, hiking boots, and a red, white and blue sequined jacket. He had gorgeous woman on his arm that looked to be a 20-year-old porn star.
Years later I made a flier for the punk band I play in that featured Al with his middle finger extended, which was how he was often photographed. I emailed him a copy of the flier and he emailed me back saying it was wonderful. That made my day.
Goldstein was one of New York City’s great public personalities, one of the outspoken people who come to represent New York and its spirit. Much in the same way Ed Koch came to represent New York among the celebrated and in polite society, Al Goldstein represented the city’s gritty edge and its always sarcastic and sometimes obscene sense of humor. He was an overweight, cigar-chomping loudmouth who ranted against New York’s many annoyances as vehemently as he skewered the Philistines from both the left and the right. At the same time he never lost his sense of humor about himself.
We recently lost Al Goldstein. He died on Dec. 19 in a hospital and probably not under a pile of naked women like he would have preferred.
Growing up in New York, I would often see Goldstein on talk shows and news segments when he was often called upon to defend pornography. When I moved back to New York I was happy I could see his show Midnight Blue on cable access television. Al Goldstein was a ubiquitous advocate of enjoying sex for its own sake and being unashamed of it. He was overbearing and bombastic, but his case just made plain sense and went like this: Wanting to have sex is a very natural thing that has kept the human race going for millions of years, why be ashamed of it or think it is bad? I’m a man, why shouldn’t I enjoy looking at pictures of naked women? Pictures of vaginas in my magazine aren’t bad because vaginas aren’t bad. Fuck you if you don’t like it.
Do you enjoy looking at tits in magazines or on the Internet? Thank Al Goldstein. He had been fighting for the right to publish his magazine before it was cool. Those days are mostly behind us in America. Except for rare cases that continue to be egregious and terrifying for free speech, porn is everywhere now and the government can’t stop it. But our access to porn today is because of the efforts made by Goldstein decades ago, often at great personal risk. It’s hard to believe in these days of celebrated promiscuity that people could actually be threatened with jail for publishing naked pictures in magazines. Goldstein was one of the first to do battle for those freedoms and he did it years before more celebrated personalities like Larry Flynt.
Lawsuits and bad business decisions left him homeless and destitute. Penn Jillette, recognizing the debt Americans owe to Goldstein, often helped him financially. Later in life he did express regret for some of his excesses. He was estranged from some of his family. He admitted to his faults and realized his mistakes, but never wavered from the blunt personality that made him essential.
Al Goldstein embodied New York City not because he published pornography, but because he fought for his right to do it and lived a life that was bold and unapologetic.