Skip to main content

Bob Guccione Has Died

As a Catholic feminist it might raise some eyebrows to say the following, but, like St Augustine, I was not always thus; there were days of stolen pears, so to speak, in my youth.  So, let me briefly say, that, apart from my father, and my Uncle Jack, and perhaps Oscar Wilde, Pierre Trudeau and Alistair MacLean, I can think of no man more influential to me before the age of 14 than Bob Guccione (not even Hugh Hefner).  It was - no longer I imagine - a boyhood rite of passage in Canada, in the 1970s and 1980s, to steal and swap copies of one's Dad's Penthouse magazines, and, frankly, to enjoy them.

Guccione's aesthetic had a great impact on my teen imaginary - he had wanted to be an artist, and had a strange overlush taste, and photographed his nudes both provocatively, but, in the early days, with a respect that placed the solitary women in picturesque settings - the Penthouse sublime involving pearls, and nylons, and peacock feathers, and wrought iron beds, and big pillows.  It was, of course, pornography - which has its faults that needn't be discussed here (that's a longer conversation and one worth having).  For, despite and because of what it was (I knew it when I saw it) I was drawn to Guccione's vision of a decadent world of voluptuous available women.  Guccione's magazine became increasingly shocking, trying to compete with Hustler's outright misogyny, and some of its experiments with iconography and iconoclastic imagery (Nazi lesbians, for instance) were taboos too far.  Guccione's own life was tragi-comic.

He had many kids and wives, and lived, at one point, in the biggest house in Manhattan, a multimillionaire and (in America at least) a household, notorious, name.  Penthouse was synonymous with middle-class evil - it penetrated our lives excitingly but we knew it was wrong.  The Internet killed that, as did some other business dealings, and Guccione died a failed artist, basically penniless, of a dreadful cancer - but, it should be added, at almost 80 years of age.  He was, if not an artist, a key public bohemian of his age - an aesthete of questionable taste, but an aesthete nonetheless.  I briefly worked for his company, GMI, some thirteen years ago, and though in his offices once in New York, didn't meet him.  Apparently he kept to himself.  The limousines, the swings, the antebellum outfits, the bad puns - "any pet in a storm" - the infamous Letters - Penthouse was the Stones to Playboy's Beatles.


Popular posts from this blog

Review of the new Simple Minds album - Walk Between Worlds

Taste is a matter of opinion - or so goes one opinion. Aesthetics, a branch of pistols at dawn, is unlikely to become unruffled and resolved any time soon, and meantime it is possible to argue, in this post-post-modern age, an age of voter rage, that political opinion trumps taste anyway. We like what we say is art. And what we say is art is what likes us.

Simple Minds - the Scottish band founded around 1977 with the pale faces and beautiful cheekbones, and perfect indie hair cuts - comes from a time before that - from a Glasgow of poverty and working-class socialism, and religiosity, in a pre-Internet time when the heights of modernity were signalled by Kraftwerk, large synthesisers, and dancing like Bowie at 3 am in a Berlin club.

To say that early Simple Minds was mannered is like accusing Joyce of being experimental. Doh. The band sought to merge the icy innovations of German music with British and American pioneers of glam and proto-punk, like Iggy Pop; their heroes were contrived,…


Wheeler Light for 'Life Jacket'.

The runner-up is: Daniel Duffy - 'President Returns To New York For Brief First Visit'

Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Life Jacket

summer camp shirtsI couldn’t fit in then
are half my size nowI wanted to wear
smaller and smallerarticles of clothing
I shrunk to the sizethat disappeared

of an afterthoughtin a sinking ship body
too buoyant to sinktoo waterlogged for land
I becamea dot of sand


With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.