This article originally appeared in the November 1998 issue of SPIN, in somewhat different format.
The Slacker Jesus Rock 'n' Roll Porn King
Tonight, in a tiny rehearsal studio in North Hollywood, porn director Matt Zane is staging the final scene of his latest video. At age 23, the brash, diminuitive Zane, whose wispy goatee and beatific gaze lend him the appearance of a slacker Jesus, is already a seasoned pornographer. In the last two years, he's completed over 60 videos - they've included 29-woman orgies, keg party bondage exhibitions, interracial sex competitions, one-man-nine-women gang-bangs, and pretty much every other manner of carnal hydraulics you could possibly imagine.
But tonight he's staging his own ultimate fantasy…
Out in the hall, on the other side of a closed door, three women in tight mini-dresses, buzzed on pot and Asti Spumante, await their cue. Inside the cramped, airless studio, Zane points his video camera at a tattooed guy in a black tank top sitting behind a drum set. "All right," Zane says. "Action." The drummer and three others, a bass player, a guitarist, and a DJ, start playing; they're members of Zane's own band, Society 1. Zane videotapes them for a minute, and then the women knock on the door and enter. Feigning surprise at the sudden appearance of these high-heeled muses, the band falls into silence. "Guess what?" Lilli Lynn, Zane's real-life girlfriend, announces. "You've just been signed by a record company. We're a gift from your new label."
"I think the first recollection I have of what my father actually did was when I was around ten, and he was typing his second movie at the kitchen table," Zane recalls. "And I said, 'What are you doing? Are you making movies?' And my dad said, 'No, no.' Then my mom would turn her back, and he would motion to the typewriter, like he was saying, 'Yeah, here I am, typing the movies.'"
Located in an industrial neighborhood in Canoga Park, Zane Entertainment is a small, self-contained porn factory. In one air-conditioned room, 800 tape duplicating machines run 24 hours a day, producing 35,000 videotapes a month. In the warehouse, a half-dozen Hispanic workers pull videotapes from ten-foot high bookshelves and box them up for shipment. Deeper into the heart of the building, Matt shares an office with Zane Entertainment's founder, his father Chuck, a bluff, gray-haired, cigar-smoking businessman who got his start in the industry 28 years ago managing an adult bookstore in Rochester, New York. Soon after that, Chuck started producing 8 mm movies and then videos; in the early '90s, he moved to California's San Fernando Valley, the porn capital of the world. While Matt's 21-year-old brother Mark has recently started directing videos too, it's Matt who produces the overwhelming majority of the three to six new titles that Zane Entertainment releases each month.
The office he shares with his father is crowded with mismatched furniture, aging office equipment, and the effluvia of their trade: there are magazine ad proofs and company newsletters announcing the imminent release of titles like "Chocolate Covered Cherry Poppers" and "Citizen Pain" pinned to the walls; a resume lying on a brown Formica-topped conference table trumpets its author's "Drug & Decease Free" status and lists "cum baths" amongst her several "Interests." The no-frills, utilitarian atmosphere of the office reflects the sort of videos Zane Entertainment is known for: low-budget, wham-bam, wham-bam-some-more videos targeted at the hardcore "raincoat crowd." Chuck Zane's first star director was the notorious Max Hardcore; he set the tone for the directors who followed him at the company with raw, excessive, frequently misogynistic videos that were as popular as they were controversial. "When I started directing, Zane was like this hardcore anal, double anal, double penetration company," explains Matt, in a description that doesn't really convey the full extent of Hardcore's sexual malice. But while the latters obsessions ran toward psychopathic amateur proctology and borderline felonious oral assault, Matt's interests tended toward music and fashion.
In fact, while Zane had worked at his father's Rochester warehouse as a teenager, first as a janitor and then as a tape duplicator, spending ten-hour days in a windowless room watching seven monitors playing seven different porn movies simultaneously, he originally moved to California not to start working at Zane Entertainment but rather to study guitar at the Musician's Institute of Technology in Hollywood. That background has provided him with the primary strategic staple of his porn career so far: by blending porn with rock, he hopes to reach a larger, more mainstream audience, the MTV generation. At a time when rock stars seem perhaps a bit too domesticated and raunch in almost any form serves as an all-purpose revenue enhancer, Zane is pushing pop culture's latest what's-your-peanut-butter-doing-in-my-chocolate combination. "Everybody's always trying to keep rock 'n' roll and sex separate, and it doesn't make any sense to me," he says. "Sex has always been a part of rock 'n' roll, so why deny it?"
Two years ago, when Chuck Zane found himself in need of a new director, Matt abandoned a short-lived career as a massage therapist to begin his current occupation. "I wasn't very happy," Matt says, recalling his days pounding the backs of Beverly Hills millionaires. "'Is this it?' I kept thinking. 'Is this what you do in life?' My dad could see me getting upset. I'd go over to his house, work on his shoulders, hang out and stuff - and he was at a point where he needed a new director, so one day he just asked me, 'Hey, what do you think about trying to direct a film?'"
In 1978, approximately 100 porn movies were filmed. Last year, over 8000 new titles hit the market. And, thus, while two and a half decades of after-market breasts and soundtracks so bad even Beck couldn't rescue them have done little to alter porn's role as the jiggly, pile-driven butt of jokes like Boogie Nights and Orgazmo, it doesn't even matter. Porn is ubiquitous now. It's the academic's increasingly licit mistress, the feminist's bad-boy boyfriend, the bored traveler's cathode hotelmate. And, somewhat surprisingly, it's the latest crush of a certain segment of youth culture - the adrenaline-addicted skaters and snowboarders who've fueled the ascent of hundreds of streetwear manufacturers and dozens of post-metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit. Inhabit their realm, and you'll see porn's influence everywhere: porn star Nici Sterling is featured as an advice columnist in the skate zine Strength; porn stars show up as guests on Korn's KornTV website; porn stars appear in ads for Fresh Jive's streetwear; skateboard manufacturer Birdhouse is even coming out with a limited-edition line of Vivid Girl porn-star skateboards.
And while the adult video industry has traditionally paid little attention to the fact that its customers differ widely in age and non-sexual interests, a new generation of porn directors is hoping to capitalize on youth culture's infatuation with the genre. Cross-dressing performance porn star Johnny Toxic embellishes his videos about horny clowns and gothic graveyard lesbians with poetry readings and punk rock. Robby D. includes scenes of him and his friends surfing in his porn videos and soundtracks from local Long Beach thrash bands. Rob Black, Matt Zane's cousin, mixes the surrealism of David Lynch with the overblown violence of Quentin Tarantino, all on an Ed Wood budget - women use large fish as sex toys, men ejaculate onto platters of cheese 'n' crackers, people smash bottles over each other's heads with cartoonish inconsequence. While porn Energizer bunny Ron Jeremy continues to appear in videos with amazing regularity, this is definitely not your father's hardcore.
More than anyone else, it's Zane who's emerged as the standard-bearer of Gen-XXX porn. While he doesn't necessarily like that label, how else to cast a 23-year-old would-be rockstar who highlights his lank brown hair with streaks of blonde, paints his nails with metallic lavendar polish, and obtains piercing sponsors for his videos?
"MZTV," says Zane, riding his skateboard through the porn-lined aisles of the Zane Entertainment warehouse, then stopping to grab a tape whose box-cover features pictures from a poolside, MTV Grind-like set. "First ever dance porno in history! No one's ever done that before, but I did." Rolling a little further down the aisle, he pulls another tape from the shelf. "This one won an award for the music. I've got techno music in all my movies." The glossy box-covers may all look the same to the uninitiated, but Zane knows exactly which is which. "You ever seen the Doors movie?" he asks, not waiting for answer as he pulls another tape from the shelf. "I reenacted the Doors scene in the desert, but instead of them leaving when they really start to trip, they start to trip more and then they gang-bang girls!"
Zane has a knack for making such dubious ideas sound at least momentarily compelling; when he really gets going, even the middle-aged Hispanic women boxing up product in the corner of the warehouse pause for a moment to watch him. "House of Flesh II!" he exclaims, grabbing yet another tape from the shelf. "Biggest porno in history! I invited a thousand people, we had piercing booths, live music, bondage exhibitions, a DJ, and a live orgy. I was the first porn director to get clothing sponsors for videos--and for this one I even got piercing sponsors!"
Zane reaches the end of the aisle and selects a final tape. "Backstage Sluts. We interview bands, we ask them about all the sexual shit that happens when they're on the road. We get them to tell us their stories, and then we act those stories out with porn performers." The tape is filled with revealing, if occasionally alarming, segments. Lemmy from Motorhead describes his alleged encounter with Wendy O. Williams. Violent J from the Insane Clown Posse brags about the size of his clownhood while a porn star wiggles approvingly on his lap. The infamous, now-deceased El Duce drunkenly declares his taste in the opposite sex: "I like nasty women. And homeless women."
"The next one, the one I'm doing right now, Backstage Sluts II," exclaims Zane, "is going to be even better!"
A few years ago, Jef Hickey, a long-time roadie and occasional freelance contributor to magazines like Tattoo, decided he wanted a job at a new rock 'n' roll porn magazine called New Rave. "I was touring with Pantera at the time," Hickey recounts. "And I sent New Rave a letter saying I wanted to work for them. Then I sent them a piece of my hotel room, every day of the tour, for sixty days - so that when I got to L.A., I'd have a place to stay. I sent them a part of the sink, I sent them a doorknob, I sent them a curtain. And that's what got me the job."
Soon Hickey had married a porn star, then divorced a porn star, then taken up with another, then another, all while bouncing around from job to job within the industry. Eventually, he landed at Zane, where he's become one of Zane's most valuable assets. "After touring with so many different bands for the last 14 years, I know everybody," he exclaims. "And when they find out what I'm doing, they're all into it."
Zane calls his Backstage Sluts videos "cockumentaries." Capitalizing on Hickey's connections, Zane interviews rock stars about their sex lives, then intersperses those interviews with hardcore sex scenes inspired by the stories the rock stars tell, or by backstage life in general. In essence, it's an extension of a porn genre known as "gonzo," which is a lot like The Real World... with sex. But while the gonzo approach turns the various factors that tend to sabotage narrative-oriented porn - bad lighting, shaky camerawork, sub-sitcom actors - into assets that actually make the finished product seem more "authentic," watching porn performers improvise during non-sexual scenes is usually about as compelling as watching your aunt's home movies.
Backstage Sluts adds an element of celebrity to the genre. Instead of showing porn stars getting drunk in a ski cabin, as a typical gonzo might, the Backstage Sluts series features members of bands like Sugar Ray and Limp Bizkit talking about their sexual adventures. To see the impact celebrity can have on porn, simply consider the sales figures of the ultimate gonzo tape, Pam & Tommy Lee - Hardcore & Uncensored. While a typical porn tape sells anywhere from 3000 to 10,000 copies, Pam and Tommy's x-rated honeymoon video has sold over 200,000.
Of course, the notion that celebrity can help popularize porn is nothing new: the trick is in finding stars who are willing to appear in porn tapes. How many movie and TV stars would actually have sex on camera the way that Snot lead singer Lynn Strait does in Backstage Sluts II? How many would even talk frankly about their sexual lives? With rock stars, however, excessive, testosteronic behavior is crucial to their mythology.
And in the backstage world of hotel rooms, tour buses, and dressing rooms, sex is often the most common currency. "Every crew has their resident pervert," says Hickey, who fulfilled that role with Pantera, Anthrax, and a host of other bands. "And everyone's got camcorders and they document everything."
In other words, when Zane and him show show up backstage with video cameras and porn stars, it's often just an extension of what's already going on. And perhaps because Zane and Hickey are just a couple of guys, rather than some big official-looking MTV crew, they end up getting the sort of candid footage that managers and publicists often later regret. In Backstage Sluts I, for example, as Zane uses the Insane Clown Posse's tour bus to stage a hardcore sex scene that starts with roadies throwing lunch meat at a naked porn star, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope are so taken with the spectacle of the bologna-covered woman that they jump into the scene and toss off a few slices at the woman themselves.
Retrogressive? "Any real groupie who watches Backstage Sluts would say, 'Wow, those roadies are really being nice to those girls,'" claims Zane. But, of course, that doesn't change the fact that Backstage Sluts rather blatantly suggests that the role of women in rock is limited to that of convenient backstage sex toy. Or that Backstage Sluts I featured only one woman, a member of the band Coal Chamber, who wasn't a porn star. Backstage Sluts II is slightly more equitable on that count; it features interviews with Ruyter Suys and Corey Parks from Nashville Pussy, and Tairrie B. from Tura Satana. But while the latter didn't even talk about groupies or her sex life in her interview, she nonetheless expressed misgivings about appearing in the video because of its overall message. "I'd rather be someone who girls can relate to," she says. "Someone who says, 'You're allowed to be onstage, you're allowed to be in the mosh pit, you don't have to be the girlfriend or the groupie.'"
"You know what I'd love to see in Backstage Sluts?" Zane counters. "I'd love to see Courtney Love spanking some guy. If there's more women who want to be on tape and tell their stories, more power to them. I don't want to just exploit women, I want to exploit men too. You gotta understand, a backstage slut's a backstage slut. I'd love it if Courtney Love called me up and said, 'Hey man, I've got a great story for you, I'd actually like to be in the movie and make guys lick my feet while I spank them with a flogger.' I'd go, 'Courtney, let's do it!'"
Should that unlikely event come to pass, it will have to wait for the next video. Backstage Sluts II is finished; it features a line-up that would make any concert promoter drool: Korn's Jonathon Davis provides the tape's introduction; Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray talks about underage groupies and their moms; Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, wearing orange-tinted aviator shades and a black, curly-haired wig, closely inspects the various erogenous zones of porn star Tangerine; Ruyter Suys and Corey Parks enthusiastically make out with each other while talking about fisting one of their fans.
All told, the tape includes interviews with the members of nine bands, footage of Snot and Nashville Pussy in concert, a music video for a punk band called The Nobodies, and four hardcore sex scenes, including the one with Snot's Lynn Strait. In terms of production values, it's closer to public access than 120 Minutes or Biorhythm, but in many ways it's the natural extension of MTV: after all those years of softcore click-teasing, rock is finally delivering the money shot. At a time when rock is welcome in board rooms and Christian revival meetings and pretty much every other place that once shunned it, Backstage Sluts celebrates rock's most sordid, unsavory aspects - trashing hotel rooms, maliciously taking advantage of groupies, and generally behaving like drunken, moronic, out-of-control fourteen-year-old delinquents. It's nothing new, of course. Rock history is rife with tales of groupie exploits and groupie exploitation. But no one's ever shown it so vividly, or commercialized it so brazenly. Watching Backstage Sluts, the inevitable question is - why didn't somebody think of it sooner?
Tonight, onstage at a West Hollywood nightclub called the Coconut Teaszer, Zane and his band are performing. Between each song of their relatively brief set, Lilli Lynn and two other women move toward the front of the stage and toss dozens of porn videos, t-shirts, and copies of the band's demo tape to the crowd. After the show ends, as his bandmates pack up their gear, Zane steps torward the edge of the stage and places his hand on Lynn's shoulder. "This is my girlfriend," he announces, his voice filled with seductive bluster. "But even though she's my girlfriend, that doesn't mean we don't fuck other girls. So if you want us to fuck you, meet us back at the bathroom."
After this improbable invitation to the roomful of strangers, he issues an even more improbable one: "We're having a party at my house after the show. There's gonna be porn stars, all the booze you can drink, and it's gonna go on all night! So be sure to get directions. And if you're not coming to the party, remember to get on our mailing list." An hour later, fifty or sixty clubgoers have taken Zane up on his invitation. While the gathering is tamer than some of Zane's house parties, a sense of sordid glamor colors the proceedings nonetheless. In the living room, Orgy's bass player is talking about his band's upcoming album and tour. In the kitchen, two porn stars who haven't seen each other in awhile engage in a friendly, good-to-see-you-again dry hump. A stocky gangsta in a Kangol hat doles out hits of ecstasy to anyone who wants one; spandex-clad club kids mix with metal dudes and goths and hopeful porn-starfuckers. It's a veritable Noah's ark of L.A. nightlife.
"I take people from A to Z, to show them all aspects of everything I do," says Zane, explaining the rationale behind gatherings like this one."In all honesty, I truly believe I live like 95% of the male society wants to live." And, ultimately, he believes, his lifestyle is his most valuable asset. In the same way that Hugh Hefner sold a phantom vision of urbane '50s era bachelorhood to middle-class suburban husbands, Zane's selling a similary idealized, ironically reactionary vision of late '90s sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll, a realm wherein punks, riot grrls, and politically correct alt.rockers have never ventured and Rock Stars rule. And like Hefner, he's adding new items to his product line all the time. For example, he just finished filming Sexual Society, a "home movie" video about his own band's backstage exploits. "We've got a scene in our movie where a girl comes to our hotel room and wants our autographs, and we tell her that she has to disrobe," Zane says. "And then we open up her ass and we try to play quarters in her ass! It's crazy! Other bands are gonna have to rent our tapes to figure out how they should live on the road. It's gonna be a fucking blueprint, man, a guide!"
While Zane's first year in the porn industry was a difficult one - "He's a piece of shit, he sucks, he's talentless, suck, suck, suck, suck" is how Zane summarizes the industry's response to him - his fortunes are improving. Recently, Zane Entertainment landed a deal with Playboy to provide it with 6 - 12 videos a year for its various cable channels. According to his dad, Chuck, "He's saving the company. He's shooting twice as much as we were getting done before for the same amount of money."
In addition, Zane has also created his own independent label, Inzane Records. He's already signed two bands, and plans to release six albums in 1999. "Fuck all those other people who won't let us in to their little cliques and societies," he says. "You've got to create what you have, because you realize in life that some people just never get what they want like other people get it…"
It was supposed to be a day of triumph, a day of celebration. MTV was coming to interview Zane - Tabitha Soren, in the flesh! - and Zane was expecting a casual, friendly interview, a chance to talk about his videos and his band and his record label and his plan to merge the worlds of rock and porn even further. But Soren had a different interview in mind; she started right in with the hardball questions. Did he feel responsible for Brooke Ashley, a young porn actress who had recently tested positive for AIDS? Did he feel that he exploited women? Had he ever forced a girl into a sexual act?
And making it all much, much worse was the fact that Zane's own girlfriend Lilli had herself tested positive for AIDS on that very day.
"They're asking me questions at the same time I think my girlfriend might have HIV," Zane says. "And she's sitting over there in the corner crying her eyes out, especially when Tabitha asks, 'What about the girl who showed up positive today?' And I'm, like, that's my girlfriend, you can't show that. She can still be negative. I don't want this to be on TV."
Over the next two weeks, Lilli took seven additional tests, all of which turned out negative. Zane also tested negative. It appears that the first test was a false positive, that she doesn't have HIV. But the experience has left Zane wary. "I'm getting bigger and better in the porn business, and there's more people around me who are smiling and saying they like me," he says. "But when something like this happens, people perceive it like you get one of your legs broken. All the fucking hyenas start to come out. They all want to eat you and devour you alive. Because Lilli came back positive and I came back negative, and people were saying, 'Matt Zane gave it to her.' Well, how is that? When something like this happens, you realize how much you're loved or how much you're hated…
"But at least I finally made it on MTV," the aspiring rock star says almost plaintively, apparently undaunted by this brush with mortality. "I just wish it was under better circumstances. Tabitha Soren sure was a fox, though. I really don't think that she was wearing any panties…"
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