In Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange—How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos, entertainment journalist and Variety editor Robert Hofler looks at the period from 1968 to 1973, when a loose-knit community of artists pushed boundaries and challenged taboos.
If you had to pick any one taboo-breaking work from that era as the most important or influential, what would it be?
My book begins with Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s Chelsea Girls, so I’m going to stick with that one. Sexplosion is about pop culture, that is, mainstream culture. Certainly in the underground you had artists like Allen Ginsberg, with “Howl,” and Kenneth Anger, with Scorpio Rising, doing really cutting-edge work. But I was more interested in writing about the resistance artists encountered when they tried to work in the mainstream. That’s where the real drama occurred.
And if you had to pick a personal favorite, what would it be?
I remember seeing the first runs of Midnight Cowboy and Klute almost back to back in St. Paul, Minn., where I was doing my undergraduate work. I thought at the time, “It’s so decadent. I just can’t wait for the day when I can live in New York City.” I was very attracted to the filth depicted in those two movies.
Is there anything you wanted to include in Sexplosion, but couldn’t?
There’s probably less about rock ’n’ roll in the book than I’d like. I included Jim Morrison’s arrest for indecent exposure in Dade County, [Fla.], because that was a public performance, and it tied into what was going on with the Living Theatre, as well as the stage productions of Che! and Oh! Calcutta! in New York City. But I didn’t include Led Zeppelin’s “shark episode” in Seattle, because it was a sex act (real or imagined) that took place in private, even though it was widely reported on. Rock’s influence often had to do with the lifestyle of the performers; the rock lyrics, quite often, were actually tame in comparison to what was being said in movies like Carnal Knowledge, plays like The Boys in the Band, and in novels like Portnoy’s Complaint. In the end, I just kind of tipped my hat to the rockers with references to Morrison, Lou Reed, and Mick Jagger.
Is there anything that truly surprised you when you put this book together?
Near the end I write that this has been a “male tale.” Again, women were working in the avant-garde, like Ellen Stewart with LaMama, but the commercial world that I profile was essentially closed to women. I didn’t realize how closed it was until I finished the book. It was one of the reasons I decided to end Sexplosion in 1973, with the publication of Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden and Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. This is the beginning of a new era, I thought. Somebody else can write that story.