Nonfiction: Willful Hedonism
Mike Edison, I Have Fun Everywhere I Go (Faber and Faber, 2008)
Mike Edison opens his new memoir with a money shot of himself as publisher and editor of High Times magazine, ready to fire the next person who suggests putting Bob Marley on the cover, again. Anti-establishment even at the preternaturally unrestrained High Times, Edison put Ozzy Osbourne on the cover. The dark prince’s image, crooning into a skull-full of weed like a half-mad Hamlet, brought the magazine into a new era of record sales. It’s that flavor of confidence and nonchalance that leaves the reader laughing with incredulous glee through two decades of the willful hedonism that defines Mike Edison’s pro-wrestling, pornography, pot, and punk-rock career as writer, editor, and musician.
I Have Fun Everywhere I Go is a blazing hot epic of the absurd. The author embodies the dadaism of Frank Zappa, the encyclopedic pop culture powers of Chuck Klosterman, and the goofball temerity of a pro-wrestler (Edison’s most influential favorite is the original Sheik from Detroit, who threw balls of fire at his opponents. Edison joyfully applies this philosophy on stage and at the office). The editorial chops of the author shine, polished as they were in the nether regions of publishing, writing for Wrestling’s Main Event, Screw, Penthouse and Hustler. In his early days, before he dropped out of Columbia (but after he had dropped out of film school at NYU), Mike Edison got straight A’s using the same formula he applied to writing one pornographic novel a week: “detailed outlines and lots of whiskey.”
Edison’s insight transforms the mundane to the sublime, revealing insider secrets and bringing the reader in on all the jokes. Take for example his battles against the old editorial guard of High Times, who, comfortably numb in the quicksand of their beanbag chairs, speciously equated the hassling of potheads to the oppression of the Jews. Edison retorts, “The fuzz should lay off the potheads, who as a group are about as threatening as a playful summer breeze, but comparing scofflaw stoners to Holocaust victims was revolting and did little to gain sympathy for the cause.”
Although rife with all the in-your-face sarcasm and attitude you’d expect from a guy who performed with GG Allin and Reagan Youth, the story reveals a professional and a gentleman. His success is due, no doubt, to his dedicated study of the publishing industry’s every detail: from the ancient art of paste-up, to banging dutifully on Smith Coronas (hangover or no), to the necessary evil of advertising, to the defense of the First Amendment. Lauding Larry Flynt and shaking his head at other publishers’ lack of vision, Edison writes, “The simple act of putting out a porn mag is a political act.” No matter how gonzo the journalism or how hardcore the band, Edison respected deadlines and never missed a show (once playing guitar with a metal “replacement pinky” after a failed cartwheel to impress a girl — he didn’t get the girl but the crowd loved his improvisation). Edison writes sincerely about the people and issues closest to him, giving his memoir far more dimension than a mere trippy cartoon.
The writing is unrelentingly smart and funny: “even his hair looked alphabetized.” Edison plays with the reflective opportunities of memoir in a similarly cheeky way. “I felt bad about the whole thing for almost an hour,” he writes about an onstage brawl with a diva member of his early band Sharky’s Machine. The chapters have a delicious ache to them, not just because Edison’s life is so enviably fabulous, but because he experienced the grittier, cooler, more dangerous cities like New York, New Orleans, and Las Vegas before they were sterilized. The vicarious thrill is real, and probably more enjoyable for the average reader (this one included) than they themselves “living large as a low-budget bon vivant.” By the story’s close, the reader can take “the Edison Cure” and a deep breath. In Mike Edison’s I Have Fun Everywhere I Go, even the index is funny (there are no less than four topics requiring the pointer “see marijuana”) and the notes on typography are good for a couple more laughs, just in case you still can’t put it down.