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Blacks and Jews

In the summer of 1981, Screw magazine Senior Editor Josh Alan Friedman noticed a beautiful blonde out his art director's 11th-floor window in lower Manhattan. He yelled to her for her phone number and she yelled it back just before her roommates at the Markle Evangeline Hall (a dormitory for young Southern women going to school in New York) shut her mouth.

Josh dialed and advised his future wife Peggy Bennett, "Don't ever give out your phone number to strangers in this city."

"Well, just who are y'all?"

"We're Screw," he said. "And thank God you gave your number to us. If you'd been across from Time-Life, you would have really fallen in with some perverts."

Son of novelist (A Mother's Kisses) and screenwriter (Stir Crazy) Bruce Jay Friedman, Josh grew up in Glen Cove.

Normally surrounded by movie stars and writers, Josh and his younger brother Drew were the only white kids from 1962-66 at the otherwise all-black South School.

"I had a powerful civil rights conscience," says Bruce in the new documentary about Josh's life -- Blacks and Jews -- named after the title cut of the blues guitarist' s third album. "I kept pretending that there were two-or-three other semi-white kids."

In a telling scene, Josh says to his mother Ginger, "I seem to recall that the first time Drew got beat up there, you said to dad, 'Get my kid the hell out of that shvartze school.' All of a sudden you weren't a liberal."

Ginger blanches. "Of course. Once we saw that your lives were in danger..."

In his unfinished autobiographical novel Black Cracker, Josh describes his nearly-fatal lynching at age eight by the friends and family of his classmates Jeffrey and Bobo:

"But I'm one of you, I'm a nigger, too." My words came out muffled with my face in the dirt.
"That's right, choke, go ahaid and choke!" came another voice from the pack. I saw someone's old-lady shoe kick me in the head.
"We want chu' to hate us!" came another voice.
A bucktoothed lady with a lisp added, "Thaths right, thucka, an we wanna kill yo' momma and yo' poppa and all yo' kind."

"I didn't know I was white until I was ten years old," says Josh in the documentary. "I've been obsessed with negroes ever since. It's a love/hate relationship. I feel like I was both damaged and enriched."

Josh tells me, "I had no awareness of Jewishness when I was a kid. I thought 'Jew' was just a dirty word you call someone. I thought it just meant 'you sonofabitch,' or 'you bastard.'"

Suffering from suicidal depression most of his life, Friedman "was heavily involved in drugs. I was smoking hash every morning in the boys' room. Between the ages of 13 and 16, I was stoned every day. I dropped out of highschool.

"I got busted right before my 16th birthday. In 1971, if you got busted for hash in Nassau County, that was a felony worth seven to fifteen years in prison. I went from having long hair to getting a crewcut for my trial. My parents got me a psychiatrist. I had a great lawyer. I got lucky. I got three years probation. I was scared straight by the police. They busted me three times, even when I was clean. They broke into the house and took me out in handcuffs in front of my mother.

"My depression is now under control due to the wonders of the Prozac generation."

As he chronicles in his book When Sex Was Dirty (Feral House, 2004), Josh went to work at Screw in 1980 after failing to land a writing job on Saturday Night Live. For the next five years, he reported on New York's sexual underworld:

Screw reporters were reimbursed or fronted petty cash for research in the field, like peeps and whorehouses. Screw's comptroller, Philip Eisenberg, was a Soviet-style bureaucrat who kept [publisher Al] Goldstein's tax ledgers neat as a Torah scroll. He was also in charge of expenses. When someone needed petty cash for undercover reviews, Philip counted it out as if he were donating blood. "Nothing more than a handjob," he'd soberly remind you.

Friedman says Jews dominate porn "because they were not allowed into banking and the oil industry."

After publishing his first book in 1986, Tales of Times Square (Feral House), Josh followed Peggy to Dallas, Texas.

"Having an upbeat happy vivacious wife helps to lift me up. I'll get into Heaven on her goodness. Then having [four-year-old daughter] Chloe, I'm totally involved in the world of little girls.

"Since my wife works full-time as a graphic designer, I take Chloe skating and to ballet. At Little Gym, I'll be the only father. There'll be 19 young mothers going around with their children. It's kinda hot!

"Going to PTA meetings and pie-baking contests and all these middle class clean wholesome American activities is really sexy to me. And to think I'm allowed in when I saw myself as practically like [author and drug addict] Charles Bukowski, living on the edge, but always getting to come back to a safe clean cocoon."

Several times a year, Josh visits New York with Peggy. They stay at great hotels thanks to her business account. "She's got fashionistas coming up to visit and I've got burned-out porn actors and ex-criminals."

In 2004, Josh returned to Glen Cove for the first time in 35 years and visited the housing projects around his old school. "I found some old men with wine bottles," Josh says in Blacks and Jews. "I took up a conversation with them. It turned out my friend/enemy Bobo had died of narcotics at about the age of 30. My friend Jeffrey died of narcotics about the age of 30. Everybody was dead or in jail. I didn't meet anybody who remembered me."

Blacks and Jews: Josh Alan Friedman: A Life Obsessed With Negroes

I got a DVD of this feature-length documentary by first-time director Kevin Page. The film is on the festival circuit hoping to get picked up for broader distribution.

The film begins with Josh on the modern 42nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan. He says the word "Jews" rhymes with more words than any other word in the dictionary yet it is very rarely used in pop music.

Josh says he started writing for Screw in the summer of 1976. His first published story was headlined "Schtupping A Spic."

Standing on Times Square today, Josh says "it's all Japanese. It's all Disneyfied... It's retailtainment. That's the new pornography of Times Square."

Josh: "I would've been 21. My first publication came out. It was the only time my mother threw me out of the apartment and I went forlornly dejected down to Times Square with a Royal typewriter and a suitcase. I found myself a $5 flophouse [on 47th Street off Eighth Avenue]. I was thinking, this is where I belong. I went out late at night to the newsstand and copped a copy of Screw. And found my story [November 22, 1976 issue] that I had submitted months before. I was on cloud nine. I might've even killed myself if it wasn't for seeing my first published piece in Screw.

"Most people assume that I left New York after [Tales of Times Square] was published because the Mob was after me. The Mob was not after me. They were not very pleased with the book."

Josh's brother Drew does not appear in the film. He doesn't like being interviewed, especially on camera.

Josh: "Our comic books were an attack on celebrity. It's a sickness throughout our culture."

Cartoonist Robert Crumb called Drew Friedman the "Robert Crumb of the '80s.

"Drew and I lived [the race question] in a way that few people have.

"Somebody coined us 'investigative cartoonists.'

"The sensation of laughing and being frightened is my favorite emotion entertainmentwise.

"Every time we had a comic strip, it seemed that a few months SCTV had a similar sketch with the same sort of non-sequitir style we had.

"Everybody thought it was Drew. I always felt like I didn't get any credit. He was the star. I would've liked to have kept doing comic strips.

"Drew had no interest in movies based on our cartoons. He believed in the anti-celebrity message. I would've loved to have done a Friedman Brothers movie but he didn't. That's why we broke up."

Josh's mom Ginger: "I wanted to be a professional artist too but I had children, one after the other after the other. I had done a lot of modeling. When you're constantly pregnant, you can't go out and audition. So I gave it all up. I've written three acting books. I've been teaching acting for quite a while."

Josh was an out-of-control kid. Drew was sedentary.

Josh wears sunglasses in the documentary, even at night. I thought he was a poseur, but he writes: "The sunglasses are prescription, more comfortable than regular glasses, and can't see well without 'em."

Josh: "As far as success goes, the parallel ends right there because he's had best-selling books, hit plays and hit movies. I ain't had that. I've had cult success. When my father was this age [48], he'd already hit the best-seller list and had a hit play and I'm still shlepping along. I think about that sometimes."

Bruce Jay Friedman: "My aspirations were to be a serious writer. I kept a strict separation between the magazines [Men, Man, For Men Only, True Action] and my 'serious work.'

"Our books had the name without the game. 'Nympho' was the word we'd use whenever sales were slow. They weren't terribly sexy but there was a little promise of it. Gradually they got nakeder and nakeder.

"I didn't write any of those stories. I was preserving that time to do something you could argue was better.

"If I had been working at Time/Life, writing Time/Life stories, I doubt seriously whether I could've written fiction. The records show that few people from Time/Life over these many years have ever done the kind of thing that I do, that Mario [Puzo] did, and George Fox did and so many others [who worked for these men's magazines]."

I see an article in one of Bruce's magazines entitled "A Gentleman's Guide To Girl Pinching." It was by the late A. C. Spectorsky.

Ginger Friedman: "We were very social. We were out at Elaine's every night. It was terrible. I should've been a better mother. I just wanted to go out and have fun. So did Bruce. He wrote every night. We saw every Broadway show. We saw every off-Broadway show. Every movie. Parties."

Bruce: "I don't think anybody in the history of Hollywood had more fun than I had. Every time I got out there I felt like I was turned loose in an adult candy store."

Josh's parents say they would've preferred him to write for The New Yorker rather than Screw. "I suppose I should've been upset, but I really wasn't," says Bruce.

Adam Parfrey writes in his superb 2003 book It's A Man's World:

Speaking to the several extant writers and editors of the men's adventure magazine genre, I was surprised by how little they were aware that their publications put across themes that might be interpreted as being racist, misogynist, imperialist, or any other postmodern academic construct today.

"That was the way things were," said Bruce Jay Friedman, editor of several Man's Management Publications. "We didn't think twice about it."

Most scribes laboring for Martin Goodman's Magazine Management firm and other repositories of adventure magazines spoke of feeling like well-compensated slaves of a very particular style ["man triumphant] that was not their own.

This was not the style with which editor Bruce Jay Friedman felt most comfortable, and when editing publications for Martin Goodman he unsuccessfully tried to talk him out of running advertisements for trusses, an ad signalling the magazine's target audience: blue-collar yahoos. It would be years before he could raise his head at industry cocktail parties, when his acclaimed examples of "black humor fiction" were seen as appropriate material for a hipper, more monied crowd.

Josh turns to his mother: "You didn't want me to name my album 'Blacks and Jews.'"

Ginger: "I was afraid for you. I was afraid somebody would come after you.

"I had a relationship for several years with a wonderful black man who the boys loved."

There's a ridiculous video of Josh wearing his sunglasses, a yarmulke and a prayer shawl playing his guitar and singing his song Blacks and Jews at Temple Shearith Israel before 8-12th graders.

Josh: "I had no awareness of Jewishness when I was a kid. My father was bar mitzvahed and grew up in a whole different era when anti-Semitism was prominent in America. I thought 'Jew' was just a dirty word you call someone. I thought it just meant 'you sonofabitch,' or 'you bastard.' I had no Jewish consciousness other than the showbusiness consciousness."

Bruce: "In the 1950s, there weren't any people with Jewish names who had careers as writers. You changed your name. Irwin Shaw wasn't Irwin Shaw. There were a few. Henry Roth. A lot of them wrote that early book and went out to Hollywood."

Josh talks about the story he wrote in highschool -- "Black Cracker" -- about his experience as the only white kid at an all-black school in Glen Cove, Long Island. "To this day I haven't gotten a solid answer from my parents about what I was doing there."

Ginger: "You caused a lot of trouble in that school, not them. You were a bad boy. I didn't want to send you there. Dad and I fought about that. He said, I thought you were a liberal. I said, yes, I am, but I don't want my kids to go to that school..."

Bruce: "I was lax about it and irresponsible. It was probably a bitch. It was an era when men took care of the big picture... and women took care of the small stuff like where you send your kids to school."

Josh: "I didn't know I was white until I was ten years old.

"Drew went to the school for two years."

Bruce shakes his head. "I didn't realize that."

Josh: "I've been obsessed with negroes ever since."

Bruce: "I had a powerful civil rights conscience. I kept pretending that there were two-or-three other semi-white kids... There was something morally wrong with switching on that basis."

Josh: "I seem to recall that the first time Drew got beat up there, dad said, 'Get my kid the hell out of that shvartze school.' All of a sudden you weren't a liberal."

Ginger: "Of course. Once we saw that your lives were in danger..."

Josh eventually published the story Black Cracker in Penthouse in 1978. A young black female editor quit in protest.

At the end of the documentary, Josh returns to Glen Cove and finds out that the most memorable blacks he went to school with were dead from narcotics.

At the end of the film, Josh reads from his unpublished unfinished novel Black Cracker. He may turn it into a memoir a la Angela's Ashes.

When Sex Was Dirty

I called author Josh Alan Friedman, 48, Sunday, January 30, 2005 to talk about his new book.

Josh: "I've had other [articles and books] I've tried to publish and they won't even look at it unless it is on sex. That, they'll look at it. I hate the whole process of trying to sell a book. I have a music book that I think is much better. It's a collection of music pieces I've done for many years.

"Then I had this novel called Black Cracker. I think it is going to be a big hardcover in the next year or two. I've been working on it all my life. It's my own childhood story.

"Some of it is related in this new movie called Blacks and Jews, which is a documentary about my life by Dallas filmmaker Kevin Page. He showed me that I have a life story. We all do. I learned a lot about myself. I opened up the archives. He made a story out of my life, like an insect under the microscope. Not the least of it was a half hour of Times Square footage.

"Then there's a half hour on my brother Drew, 45, and I. We were the most feared cartoonists in New York (from the late '70s to 1987).

"My father Bruce Jay [Friedman], 74, speaks a lot about how Drew and I came to become whatever we are [cult figures].

"The last part of the film is about the colored schools. Drew and I were the only white kids in an all-black school [from 1962-66, grade one through four]. Thus the title Black Cracker. The end of the film is trying to find out why I was sent there.

"Not that there are any complaints. I wouldn't have it any other way. But it was the Civil Rights era, when things were at their craziest.

"I lived in an upper-middle-class neighborhood [Glen Cove] with a successful father, a writer, surrounded by movie stars and writers, and yet I went to a poor ghetto school, the only one of its kind in Long Island.

"They did teach me to read and say the alphabet.

"The film is playing film festivals this year until we hope it goes into general release or cable television. It's named after the title cut of my third album."

In 1987, Josh followed the love of his life, Peggy Bennett, to Dallas, Texas. "I put my guitar career into full-blast once I got down here. I've had four albums out. I've toured the South West many times. I played for Kinky Friedman many times. He's no relation.

"I have a four-year-old daughter. Once Chloe was born, I stopped traveling.

"I wrote about 25 features (music pieces) for the Dallas Observer."

Luke: "Was that the right decision [to put music first]?"

Josh: "Yes. Music has always come first for me. It's 51% guitar and 49% writing. I didn't plan on being a writer. As I became fascinated with Times Square, I stopped playing. But I always felt a great sadness that I had let the guitar slip out of my hands in New York.

"I did not come to Texas to play music but I quickly became booked all around.

"I'm having a helluva time with this book When Sex Was Dirty. No bookstores are carrying it. Part of the Feral House curse. At least here in Dallas, stores prefer not to have that title looking at people. It was supposed to be hardcover. You take it for granted that they are not going to allow typos in there."

Luke: "Has your time writing on the sex industry come back to haunt you?"

Josh: "It hasn't hurt me because I'm not trying to get in somewhere. I wrote a piece for Texas Monthly, which is conservative. I'm not seeking work at places that might look down at me for my past. I'm proud of everything that I did that is sex-related. I always felt forced into that ghetto of mens magazines. I couldn't publish anywhere else.

"It would be nice to be a New Yorker writer or to have a monthly column in Esquire in the 1980s. You mention the immorality that coincides with the typos. To write about immorality does not mean you are immoral. You are uncovering something. The world of Jeff Goodman is a two-sided sword. Here's this guy attempting to 'exploit' thousands of women. Yet he goes to bed alone every night and has to bomb himself out with codeine pills. Lots of the women he's chasing after have lots of guys chasing after them too and can have their pick of the litter. Who's the victim and who's the shark? Who's got the power? The rich guys chasing after the models or the models who can fling them off like so much flotsam and jetsam?

"Jeff Goodman is the worst example of a men's magazine slave driver, getting women naked [and trying to sleep with them]. Yet he's getting the raw end of the deal. He's the one who suffers the most.

"Jeff has a really good thing going now. He's remodeled his face. He's got lots of asian girlfriends."

Luke: "He's been married for two years."

Josh: "Yep. He's married to one plus he's still... It was a bad stretch for him. His whole youth was a bad stretch."

Luke: "He denies that he's in mail fraud. He says he's a copywriter."

Josh: "Well, then he's a copywriter. We're not trying to bust him on whatever he's doing. Sure, he's a copywriter now."

Luke: "He denies he's ever been sued for an underage [issue]."

Josh: "Well, I'm sure he's right about that too. We can't lay out everyone's dirty laundry completely. That's why we changed names here [to Sammy Grubman]. What are we going to do? Get him arrested? Open up an old lawsuit? I stick by whatever he says."

I laugh.

Josh: "We're talking about a short story here where things are changed. It's based on someone but we change all kinds of details like that."

Luke: "Do you suffer from professional jealousy?"

Josh: "In music, but not in writing."

Luke: "Who most influenced your writing style?"

Josh: "Terry Southern and Bruce Jay Friedman and Nelson Algren.

"I'm not in my father's category, by any means. Not by a hundredth. But I suppose that some tradition continues with me and my brother Drew."

Drew and Josh haven't collaborated in 15 years. "I don't talk to him much. A couple of times a year. Sometimes people will call me for his number. For months I didn't have his phone number. I had some angry art directors who assumed I was eight-balling them."

Luke: "Why would your dad be in an obituary of Mario Puzo?"

Josh: "They were best friends. My dad hired him at Magazine Management in 1959. They worked together for about nine years there."

Luke: "Have you always been a happy person?"

Josh: "No. I've suffered from major depression most of my life. Suicidal depression. I've battled it. I wanted to be happy and I was almost happy. I had both a fantastic and a terrible childhood. I realized years later, now that there's a name for it and that there are medications for it, that the terrible part of my childhood resulted from fighting against depression. Not even knowing what it was. Just this overwhelming sadness for no particular reason, which we now know is bio-chemical.

"When I was a young teenager, I was heavily involved in drugs. I was smoking hash every morning in the boys' room at school and tripping and going through the whole whatever-there-is-to-take-I-took it with the crowd I hung with. Between the ages of 13 and 16, I was stoned every day. I dropped out of highschool.

"I got busted right before my 16th birthday. In 1971, if you got busted for hash in Nassau County, that was a felony worth 7-15 years in prison. I went from having longhair to getting a crewcut for my trial. My parents got me a psychiatrist. I had a great lawyer. I got lucky. I got three years probation. I was scared straight by the police. They busted me three times, even when I was clean. They broke into the house and took me out in handcuffs in front of my mother.

"My depression is now under control due to the wonders of the Prozac generation. It's like getting your life back."

Luke: "Did medication have any effect on you writing?"

Josh: "No. It doesn't make you happy. It keeps you up to C-level. It prevents you from drowning."

Peggy and Josh have been together 23 years. "I like to credit the years for time served. We officially got married in 1989."

Luke: "How has being a husband and a father affected you?"

Josh: "I love it. Being a husband has been a grounding thing. Having an upbeat happy vivacious wife helps to lift me up. I'll get into Heaven on her goodness. She's so good down to the core. Then having Chloe... I'm totally involved in the world of little girls. I know about Madam Alexander Dolls and Barbies and 150 children's books and nursery rhyme songs that I sing at her nursery school. The world of little girls is fascinating. I know it sounds devious to say that coming from an ex-pornographer but as we know people who are pornographers with adults have no [sexual] interest in children.

"Since my wife works fulltime (graphic designer), I take Chloe skating and to ballet. I'm the only guy when we have daytime get-togethers. I do carpool at the nursery school. At little gym, I'll be the only father. There'll be 19 young mothers going around with their children. It's kinda hot! I'm that much older than the mothers.

"Going to PTA meetings and pie-baking contests and all these middle class clean wholesome American activities is really sexy to me. And to think I'm allowed in when I saw myself as practically like [author and drug addict] Charles Bukowski, living on the edge, but always getting to come back to a safe clean cocoon. We have a beautiful house.

"For a number of years in Dallas, I still went out late at night and hung out with pimps and hookers and drug addicts. But I got to come home to a nice world while they stay living in the dope house. I wonder if I'm slumming? I'm not slumming. I live in both worlds.

"We go to New York four or five times a year. We stay at great hotels under my wife's business account. I feel like we are Nick and Nora Charles. The Thin Man series. ["Comedy-mystery featuring Nick and Nora Charles: a former detective and his rich, playful wife.']

"She's got fashionistas coming up to visit and I've got Uncle Lou coming up. Burned-out porn actors and ex-criminals. We mix and match well."

Luke: "How do you like being Jewish?"

Josh: "I never considered being Jewish until the Pete LeSand character used to shame me for not going to JDL (Jewish Defense League) meetings and warning me that the second Holocaust was right around the corner unless I got out there and raised my fists. For a moment there, without knowing anything about my own Jewish background religionwise, I'm more showbiz Jewish, I went to some JDL meetings and thought this is how I am going to be introduced to the Jewish religion and become an active member. I've got to go out and protect graveyards at Halloween and beat up Puerto Ricans.

"Then I figured, nah, it's just not for me. I suppose I'm glad they're there. I remained friends with a few of those guys.

"Pete LeSand was in the JDL.

"I was not bar mitzvahed."

Luke: "Have you suffered anti-Semitism?"

Josh: "No. Certainly not in Texas. They caught a couple of skinheads in Dallas defacing a synagogue and they were given ten years [in prison]. The skinheads put bullet holes in the synagogues and swastikas over everything. They just won't tolerate it in Texas.

"I have one Jewish friend in Texas -- Bernie the Mohel (circumsizer). Dallas is only a one-mohel-town as Bernie found out as he became the second mohel. He didn't get enough gigs so he went into the container business. He's a big blues fan and he comes to all my gigs. He's Orthodox. I saw a Tyson fight at his home. There were twelve rabbis and me sitting around eating Hebrew National hotdogs. It was interesting to get the rabbinical take on Tyson.

"One night at the Winedale, there was something you could call anti-Semitism. One drunk cowboy stood up and said, this is what I think of the Jews. 'Every one of them should have their throats cut. F--- the Jews.'

"It happened to be a night when Bernie the Mohel was there. He happens to be an ex-member of the Israeli Defense Force and is a superb fighter.

"After I played my song, 'Blacks and Jews,' the guy stood up and screamed, 'Kill the Jews.' Bernie looked at me and I looked at him and we both froze. We decided to give the guy one more chance.

"The cowboy's friends immediately picked him up by each elbow and hustled him right out of there. They said to him, 'You just can't say things like that.'

"Bernie and I let out a sigh. That was the only incident that could be considered anti-Semitic that I've encountered in 17 years in Texas."

Luke: "Did your parents give you a hard time about marrying someone who is not Jewish?"

Josh: "Not at all. They just loved her.

"The first month [in Dallas] I had a nervous breakdown. After that, it was great.

"I didn't want to come down here at all. I had to come. Peggy moved first. She stopped taking my calls. I bottomed out. I didn't have any money. Whatever it took, by any means necessary, I moved to Dallas."

Blacks and Jews Documentary Director Kevin Page

Kevin plays the character John Wilkins in Friday Night Lights. He's Micajah Autry in The Alamo.

Three years ago, he decided on Josh Alan Friedman as the documentary subject for his first feature-length film.

I call Kevin Monday morning, March 7, 2005.

Luke: "Is it ok if I call you Kevin?"

Kevin: "If you don't, I'll kick your ass. That's how we do it down in Texas."

Luke: "How did you come to select Josh to make your first movie about?"

Kevin: "We were shooting a pilot for a reality TV series on singer-songwriters at an open-mic night in Dallas. Through a series of misadventures, Josh showed up. We were huddled over our cameras trying to film people playing guitar and suddenly the most bombastic single acoustic guitar thing we'd ever seen took place. We looked up and thought, who the hell is that?

"We interviewed him for the background of this television pilot. After the interview was over, I looked up on the wall and there was what appeared to be an original R. Crumb frame. I said, ohmig-d, where did you get the R. Crumb?

"He said, that's not R. Crumb. That's the Friedman brothers.

"It started from there. We got intrigued with Josh's multi-faceted cultish career. We got hooked."

Luke: "How did you come to make your first film?"

Kevin: "I've been a film and television actor for about 25-years. This wasn't our first film. It's the first thing we've put out in the festivals.

"We put together a production company about four years ago. On a whim. It got way out of control. Now we have three producers on staff. We're in the process of four different films. Much of the material we work on now has to do with highly complex scientific issues that we're trying to bring to the general public.

"Josh was a great workout in taking a complex story and trying to articulate that in a way a broad audience could appreciate. We've taken that skill set and extended it into trans-personal psychology, the Dallas gay-lesbian-bisexual-transsexual prom for highschool kids. We have a series of interviews with psychologists who study spirituality scientifically."

Luke: "What were the principle obstacles you faced in doing this documentary on Josh and how well do you think you overcame them?"

Kevin: "Gosh, there weren't many obstacles other than that we had no idea where we were going when we set out on the path. We had to find our way through the story of the film.

"Having been a writer for many years, I look at documentary filmmaking like writing with video.

"It took a lot longer than you would hope and it always costs a lot more than you would hope. Other than that, we have a film that we are reasonably pleased with and we have a few skills as a result."

Luke: "How come you didn't interview more people about Josh?"

Kevin: "I felt like the story was about the arc of Josh's artistic career. We interviewed several people (including Kinky Friedman) but we ended up deciding the story was the affect of early experiences on the artist's story."

Luke: "Why did you make the final act going back to his childhood?"

Kevin: "We felt like that was the answer to the question of what Josh is. It was a gutsy choice. It's a non-traditional structure for a documentary film. If the thesis was that Josh had been influenced by his childhood, both as the son of a famous figure, and the racial element, to be revealed as the answer to who the hell is this guy."

Luke: Why did you have long excerpts of Josh reading from his experience at the black school?

Kevin: "The idea of the reading toward the end of the film was not only to reveal the background to the question of -- who is Josh? -- in some ways it was a tip of the hat to Spalding Gray. It was a concept I had from earlier projects on how to integrate the words of writers into a viable film.

"It was a bit experimental to have your documentary subject do a 17-minute reading. We'll either be noted for it or slammed.

"The hook of calling it Blacks and Jews and using that thesis came to us after about a year-and-a-half on the project."

Kevin worked on the film for about two-and-a-half years. "That was not intentional. It never is. On the other hand, I think the film the could use it. If we had come out earlier, the film would've been less interesting."

Luke: "What was the context for Josh saying at the beginning, am I some kind of insect that you guys are going to look at under a microscope?"

Kevin: "Josh has a way of starting video sessions with controversial statements. That was just one of them. It was meant, I assume, as a smart-ass aside.

"It was in our second interview and I think it was the first thing he said when the cameras were rolling."

Luke: "How did Josh like it as you started showing him various cuts?"

Kevin: "He liked it. Wouldn't you like it if you were a performer and somebody made a feature-length film about your life? He had some excellent creative feedback. We would not have made the film if we had not had complete cooperation and access to Josh's life.

"We've only had a couple of test screenings. We haven't premiered the film yet."

Luke: "Did you wince before you came out with the subtitle: 'A life obsessed with negroes.'"

Kevin: "We liked it a lot. We had some high-end advertising people help us with our graphics. They had been writing some marketing copy for the one-sheet and that was one of the loglines they came up with. This was before we had landed on the 'Blacks and Jews' concept.

"We thought it was an interesting and attention-grabbing subtitle. Josh says that repeatedly. It's a component of his personality. We thought it got to the heart of the truth of it."

Luke: "I would suspect that 'negroes' is not a word you would use in your daily life."

I don't use it.

Kevin: "Not me. No. As a filmmaker, it is one of the thematic hearts of the film. That's one of Josh's areas of journalistic study. The film is about Josh. It's not about me.

"I don't think there's anything offensive in the film."

Luke: "Did you work on this so long that you grew up hate Josh?"

Kevin: "Yes. But we still get along. It is trying to spend two years watching someone else on video."

Luke: "Why has Josh not been more successful?"

Kevin: "It's the way of the world. To my mind, he has been quite successful as a cult figure."

Al Goldstein In Razor Magazine

7/10/05

Josh Alan Friedman writes: "As an appetizer for the book we may write, there's a feature in the July/Aug. Razor magazine. About Al Goldstein's year homeless on the streets of New York."

Razor: Sounds like the restaurant guys were most supportive.

Goldstein: Yes, but the porno people were not. Practically the whole business turned their back on me.

Razor: Is there a four-star shelter?

Goldstein: The Bowery Mission is one of the best homeless shelters. You know who tried to get me in it? Cal Thomas, the religious conservative columnist. He came to visit me with a priest, Tom Maharis. They got me into the Bowery, but then I got the apartment. From the left wing nobody did s---, but here's a right-wing priest who came through. I gave up my Star of David, I'm wearing a Catholic Cross.

Razor: Did you consider getting religion on the street?

Goldstein: Naw, I felt like if there's a God, he's shoving it up my existential ass.

July 9, 2010