Jump to: Skinterview | Related Links

Josh Alan Friedman has spent a lifetime chronicling the most fascinating, foul, and horrifically hilarious bottom-feeders in show business.

With his brother, superhumanly talented illustrator Drew Friedman, Josh redefined comic strips throughout the 1980s in which Abbot & Costello intermingled with 1950s science-fiction monsters and the bizarre world of transvestite filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr. throbbed to glorious, black-and-white life. The Friedman Brothers' often simultaneously breathtaking and side-splitting work is available in the collections Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead and Warts and All.

On his own, Josh produced Tales of Times Square, a landmark triumph of crackpot anthropology that compiled features he penned as an editor of Screw magazine at the height of the public sex industry's explosion, along with original profiles and musings on the epicenter of New York City sleaze. It is nothing less than a masterpiece.

In 1987 Friedman relocated to Dallas, Texas, where he is best known as a songwriter and blues guitarist. The 2004 book When Sex Was Dirty (Feral House) combined vintage reports from Josh's 42nd Street past with several chapters on wild moments of his music career.

He was also the subject of a feature-length documentary, Blacks and Jews: Josh Alan Friedman - A Life Obsessed with Negroes.

Tales of Times Square contains a life-changing story on a bet between Screw publisher Al Goldstein and the owner of swing club Plato's Retreat, in which the latter was challenged to visibly orgasm a dozen times in the course of twenty-four hours. He made it all the way to fifteen. It was just one defeat for Goldstein in a lifetime strewn with them.

I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life is Al's autobiography, as written by Josh Alan Friedman. In recent years, the self-proclaimed "fat, Jew pornographer" lost the magazine he founded, became homeless, and has been divorced for a fifth time. Friedman chronicles the fall and further fall of this one-of-a-kind New Yorker with wit and genuine emotion.

What a mensch.

Hey, Josh!
Mike, how are ya?

Wow! There's no mistaking that accent
I know. I've lived in Texas for nineteen years now and, every year, my New York accent gets stronger somehow.

Well, you know, you take the boy out of New York . . .
Yeah. And I really love New York now because, when I go there now, I get to leave.

I've been out of Brooklyn for three years, and I'm not at the point yet where I can enjoy going back to New York, even for a day or two.
When I do go back to New York, I love taking a drive out to Brooklyn and just riding around, feeling the ghosts. Same with the South Bronx, up by Yankee Stadium. They haunt me. Harlem haunts me, too.

And I love Times Square as it is today. I love taking my six-year-old daughter there. She doesn't mourn the loss of Show World!

I'm with you on that. As much as I loved Times Square in the '70s and the '80s, its time had passed. All I ask of that area is that it be spectacular.
Yes! And Times Square today is just that! It's electrifying, it's dizzying, it's worth traveling from all over the world to see. The peepshows were great, but they aggravate bad behavior. What Giuliani pulled off was a miracle.

Again, I couldn't agree with you more. All these hipsters and bogus pretenders piss and moan about what Giuliani did to sanitize Times Square, but they don't know. They weren't there! In the late '80s and early '90s, Times Square was empty! Under Dinkins, 42nd Street was boarded up store-fronts. Giuliani brought the area back to life! He didn't shut down the sex industry there--it was home video, crack, and AIDS, in that order.
Absolutely. Giuliani pulled off the impossible. When I lived in New York in the '80s, I really thought the city was going to collapse into science-fiction chaos, like, Escape from Hell or whatever.

It was brilliant to arrest those subway jumpers. They'd catch a guy for jumping a turnstile--which is illegal, after all--and he'd turn out to be a killer, or a violent mugger. Brilliant! And now women can walk freely around the city. Families can go out at night and visit all the different things that New York has to offer.

That never fails to impress me.
The last time I was in New York, it was a little rougher, a little dirtier than during the Giuliani years, but it's still safer than Dallas. New York will return to its old, rough ways, though. Manhattan will go back to being what it was twenty years ago. These things are cyclical.

Of course, that's if it still physically exists.
True. The idea of Manhattan being destroyed is no longer just in the realm of science-fiction. We may be showing pictures of The Great Lost City New York to our grandchildren saying, "This place was once real. There really once was this greatest city in the entire universe. And now it's gone."

Yes. And speaking of heavy horrors, let's talk about Al Goldstein.

Perfect transition! You are the co-author of the new book I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life from Thunder's Mouth Press.
And I did so at the encouragement of you. My initial reluctance after you said, "Josh, you have to write a book on Goldstein," was that I didn't want to have to spend any time working with him. I didn't want to be around him.

And so how was it being so up-close and personal again?
It was horrible! And in the year it took to write the book, I only spent three hours with him.

Three hours?
Yeah. Goldstein asked me to do this book as a favor. So I split the book advance with Al and former Screw editor Richard Giacoma and an agent. I spent the first part of my advance on taking a trip to New York to interview Al for a week. And he booked MRIs and all kinds of other medical tests. I could only meet with him on the Staten Island Ferry, when he would be leaving Manhattan to go home to his apartment. I'd record our conversations. Giacoma interviewed Al at other times, and that's how we did the book. And then Giacoma effectively disappeared. I don't know where he is.

But the stories, the quips, the one-liners: Those are all Al's.

The only reason I've remained friends with Al for all these years is because I hardly see him.

Have you met with Al since the book was published?
He was down here in Dallas for a week. It was a nightmare. He was flown down by my friend Dawn, who owns The Lodge, which is the biggest gentlemen's club here in Dallas. She put Al up at the Four Seasons, booked him on radio shows, and staged press conferences. She also bought 200 books. Dawn must have spent $50,000 on Goldstein!

I expected him to get the same reception as JFK in Dallas, but he was welcomed.

And how did Al handle it?
With all that was given to him, he only wanted more.

The whole week, I followed Al around, apologizing to everyone in Texas for his behavior.

He was funny on the radio shows. I think his lawyer went through the book and made highlights and then gave Al a Cliff's Notes version so that he wouldn't sound like those NBA players who have so obviously not read their autobiographies.

He'd give out the number of his hotel room on the air. I'm not sure that he read the book. Honestly I'm not even sure if Al can read. Seriously. He has the attention span of a three-year-old.

And he begged to suck pussy. Begged. Every woman he met. He begged to suck her pussy.

Did he get any takers?
No. But he came close. There was one night at The Lodge where Al was talking to these two dancers and he had them hypnotized. They didn't know who he was, of course. He was going on and on about being a lonely old man, and how this trip, for him, was like a gift from the Make-a-Wish foundation. And one of these girls was crossing and uncrossing her legs. He had her hooked! It was a Herculean performance.

But then he mentioned the flab on his midsection that hangs down since his stomach stapling. He talked about having it removed and that was it. He lost the girls. But if he hadn't mentioned that, I really think he would have gotten at least one of them back to his hotel room.

Al also gave a twenty-five-minute speech to the Dallas Press Club. He was great. He was the captain of the debate team at Pace University, and his skills as a public speaker really came through. He had some great one-liners. He's really a great comedian. And very poignant.

The reporters loved it. Like Kinky Friedman, Al is a walking caricature. But there's no human behind it.

He didn't get laid in Dallas, but I think that was the best week he's had in decades.

Is Al married or divorced at this point?
His fifth wife recently left him for a dentist. She's a gorgeous, sweet young woman and the daughter of a Hindu priest. And very smart. Her only character flaw is that she was married to Al Goldstein. You have to wonder: What kind of woman could possibly do that?

At one point, Al was living with her in her parents' house. They have four daughters and, believe it or not, another one was also married to a homeless guy, and he was living in the house with them, too!

Those people were so saintly that Al could only subject them to himself for four months. Then he went out on the street and started sleeping in homeless shelters.

He also got a job at the Second Avenue Deli, where he worked as a greeter. That lasted ten days. He got fired for sleeping there.

I never understood why that was such a big deal.
Well, Second Avenue Deli was kosher. And there are very specific laws about how that food has to be handled. And one of those laws is not: "Have a fat, Jew pornographer snoring next to the chopped liver!"

Did you ever see him during the homeless phase?
No, but I went out looking for him. A couple of years ago, I was in New York for a party to promote my book When Sex Was Dirty, and this guy I know named Shark called me. Now Shark is a modeling agent, but he's at the absolutely lowest level of modeling agents. And I like that. It's a throwback to the old days.

So Shark says he wants to send me a "date" for the party. Now I'm married and I have a daughter, so I said, "Shark, take it easy!" But then he told me he wanted to send over twenty-five Russian models! He told me, "At the party, you'll be the shepherd, and afterward, you'll be the wolf!"

Ultimately about twelve girls showed up. Six of them stayed for the end of the party. I had heard that Al Goldstein was missing, so I decided to put these girls to work. We went out and canvassed all the homeless shelters in search of Al.

Did you find him?
No, but not for lack of trying. I ended up on Ward's Island. What a scary place. It's where the fire department sets old buses and trains on fire to practice putting them out. There are nineteenth-century mental institutions. It's very Night of the Living Dead.

When I got to the homeless shelter, they weren't allowed to give me any names, but I paid somebody to go inside and walk around yelling, "Are there any fat, Jew pornographers named Al Goldstein in here?"

He wasn't. He was in Brooklyn or Queens.

Those Russian girls were like your Charlie's Angels.
Yeah, and they were gorgeous.

In the very last days of the Times Square peeps, there was an influx of Russian girls and they were just breathtaking--much more beautiful than any Hollywood starlets or celebrities. And the price was the same, three bucks--one dollar to get the window open, two to put your hands wherever you wanted.
I remember it well. And when I think back on it, I say to myself: "I love this, but I don't need this." All it is, really, is sex addiction.

The sickest thing was waiting for the shift changes at the peeps, waiting for the new girls to come--the A-list! It was like Led Zeppelin hitting the stage!

God, it was so depraved. But you know what? It was cheap, it was hot, and it was relatively safe. At the time, of course, I'd also be wracked by guilt.

In retrospect, I think the guilt was a large part of the appeal to me. It was Allan MacDonell who pointed out that the sex industry is a Catholic-Jewish hybrid, and that's like Guilt Central Station.
True. It was scary too. The scariest guys hung out in Peepland. Actually Blackjack was worse. That was a total S. Clay Wilson world of criminality. We're trying to recreate all of that with the Tales of Times Square movie.

Let's talk about that.
Sure! The movie is being made by a guy named Paul Stone. He's in his late thirties and he used to direct TV commercials. He's making the movie in fits and starts, as we get financing. He's a great guy. Loves Times Square.

Is it a documentary?
Well, it's not a mockumentary. We're shooting it as though it's a documentary made twenty-five years ago and just recently discovered. Uncle Lou [a stripper manager who is one of the most colorful characters in the book Tales of Times Square] is playing himself! He looks exactly the same as he did back then!

And will Goldstein be in it?
Yeah. I guess. I hope. Al will be seventy-one in January. He's battling suicidal depression and, since he was homeless, threatening to kill himself. I told him to hang on for a year and wait for the book to come out. It's tough for him, though. He's brave. And he's a hero.

I think about this a lot: Al is a disgrace as a man, but he's also a hero. Can that be? I guess so, because there he is. He's a hero as a symbol, as somebody really, literally, willing to put it all on the line to express himself--he'll go to jail, he'll get beat up, he'll take a bullet.

He's pursued his singular vision quite literally into the gutter.
Al is not a writer or a painter or a musician, but I do consider him an artist. His art is his life.

You wouldn't want to be around him for an hour, but he's done important things.

I'm glad, with the book, that he's getting attention now. That's all he needs. Al just wants to be in the limelight--so he can pull his pants down.

Related Links: