By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Photo by Gregory Bojorquez
Here are some words that describe a few details from a Tom of Finland drawing: horse-hung, bubble butt, pencil-eraser nipples. Suffice it to say that the late artist Touko Laaksonen, Tom of Finland to the world, knew what he liked: hypermasculine gay men. Yet the Tom of Finland Foundation — created in Laaksonen’s honor to protect and promote erotic art — is open to erotic-art lovers of all sexual persuasions. Last year, the foundation gave its Lifetime Achievement Award to hypermasculine heterosexual man Hugh Hefner. And this year?
A black Bentley with “HUSTLR” license plates pulls up to the entryway of the old-school French restaurant Les Frères Taix in Echo Park. The door opens and out rolls Mr. Larry Flynt in his gold-plated wheelchair with red-velvet armrests, accompanied by his hunky bodyguard and wife, Liz.
The awards banquet honoring Flynt — along with Cultural Icon Award winner Rob Halford (former lead singer of Judas Priest) and Swiss artist H.R. Giger, the newest inductee into the Erotic Artist Hall of Fame — is the big-deal event of the seventh annual Tom of Finland Foundation Erotic Art Weekend, and an international array of artists of every sex, as well as a group of men hot enough to have stepped out of a Tom drawing, have come to celebrate. The dress code teeters between floral and kink. A crowd of leather daddies, grizzly bears, corseted mistresses, dungeons-and-dragons masters and half-naked horn-pigs parade though the lobby on their way to Taix’s Champagne Room. The only difference between this and a sexual-underground event is the number of dinner jackets worn over leather gear.
The banquet room fills, and I find myself seated directly next to the soft-spoken Mr. Flynt, who is looking sharp and slimmed down in a houndstooth jacket. “What do you think of erotic art?” he asks, then supplies his own answer. “Most of it’s crap, but every once in a while you see a piece, and it really stands out. You know it’s really something.”
Wine, salad and soup are served, and the noise level rises. Flynt finishes his chicken marsala, and his bodyguard rushes across the room with a toothpick.
“What was all that mess with the shit-painting business in the Brooklyn Museum about?” Flynt asks at one point. I tell him that the “Sensation” show was received very differently in London. “The problem,” he says sternly, “is that we’re living in a God culture.”
He passes on dessert, but sneaks one bite of sorbet before going to the microphone. The room goes wild with clapping, and everyone rises to their feet. “This standing ovation is going to my head,” he says, then moves on to his message: “The right to be left alone, that’s all that artists want. I’m concerned that our civil liberties and our rights have been placed in jeopardy with this conservative Supreme Court.” Flynt knows he has the room, and becomes more alive and passionate as he continues. “Apathy is the biggest enemy democracy has. Speak up. Push the envelope. Push the envelope every day that you get up.”
The statesman of subversion has to leave early, but he takes time for a photo session after his acceptance speech. “Take a picture of me with Larry!” say more than a few of his fans. An adult-film producer introduces himself, and Flynt tells him, “We’re all fighting the same battle.”
The night is still young when Flynt makes his exit — there are still artist awards to bestow. Porn actor and metal-head Joe Romero presents the Cultural Icon Award to “The King of Heavy Metal, Rob Halford!” Halford comes up to the stand and says in his droll English accent, “Actually, I’m the queen of heavy metal.” Then he gives the audience an overview of the evolution of Judas Priest’s look, admitting that in an early appearance on a BBC show, he wore one of his sister’s Barbra Streisand–style dresses. Fortunately for the success of the band, he was then inspired by Tom of Finland über-butch biker images. He closes with his own simple advice: “Keep it controversial.”
Dissent: Take That, Cokie
In 1968, while speaking at an Unbirthday Party for Lyndon Johnson held during the Democratic convention in Chicago, I revealed to the audience the true story of a reporter who had once interviewed LBJ. After the formal question-and-answer session, the president, referring to the Vietnam War, told him, “What the communists are really saying is ‘Fuck you, Lyndon Johnson,’ and nobody says, ‘Fuck you, Lyndon Johnson’ and gets away with it.” I paused. “Well,” I continued, “when I count three, we’re all gonna say it — and we’re gonna get away with it! Are you ready? One . . . two . . . three . . . ” And, from the Yippies and Mobilization Against the War and the Clean for Genes, it came at me like an audio tidal wave, thousands of voices shouting in unison, “FUCK YOU, LYNDON JOHNSON!!!” —a mass catharsis reverberating from the rafters.
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