The hole in the story

Posted: Aug 02, 2000 12:00 AM
There was always a peculiar tension between the Clinton defenders who earnestly insisted they believed his denials on one hand, and, on the other, the ones who thought it was totally great that the president was such a horndog. (That the two teams cheerfully labored side-by-side demonstrated how little the truth mattered to either camp.)

Joe Eszterhas' book "American Rhapsody" falls into the latter category, and with some gusto. Indeed, there's nothing really new here; it's just a rhapsodic rendition (appropriate to the title) of how the president uses women as "holes" -- as Eszterhas puts it. The worst the "Clinton haters" (as normal people came to be called) ever said about Clinton is not merely conceded by Eszterhas but ecstatically repeated.

The theme of the Hollywood set's enthusiasm for the horndog is summarized by Jann Wenner, editor of Rolling Stone magazine ("the rock 'n' roll bible"), who reported back to the troops after spending time with Clinton on the campaign trail: "He's one of us."

"Us" was rock 'n' roll and -- as Eszterhas explains: "Rock 'n' roll was ... Otis Redding running down a fire escape as an irate husband shot at him from a window above ... Chuck Berry videotaping himself as he urinated on a hooker ... Little Richard getting a backstage blow job as the curtain went up from the groupie whom Buddy Holly was doing doggy-style at the same time ... the Stones passing that catatonic naked blonde over their heads in 'Cocksucker Blues.'"

Charming. I don't think I needed to know that, but at least now I understand what the feminists are so mad about.

Anyway, the rock 'n' roll president, according to Eszterhas, "was using women's bodies still, the way he and we had callously and selfishly used one another's bodies in the '60s. The point was a pair of lips, a pair of tits, a nice ass. The point was skin, flesh, meat. The point was a hole."

While that's a fine summary of the Clinton legacy, for those of us who have "moved on," this book could not be more tedious. If you thought it was bad enough to live through the Clinton administration when it was happening, re-reading the country's lowest moments in tribute form is not a good mood-enhancer. (In the one new story Eszterhas brings to the table, let me just say, Sharon Stone will not be pleased to discover she is the subject of Hollywood's first piss-and-tell.)

There is, however, one aspect to Eszterhas' paean to the '60s -- an entire generation of Bill Clintons -- that leaves me confused. The single Clinton escapade that apparently troubles Eszterhas is the rape charge. Now admittedly, this is completely foreign territory for someone like me who does not see other humans as mere objects of my own pleasure, but trying to comprehend the sexual revolutionaries' world view, I don't follow the logic on their hang-up with rape.

On Eszterhas' own account, the sexual revolution apotheosized in Bill Clinton consisted of "no small talk, no courting, no foreplay, just 'Do you want to f---?'" Sex was, he writes (in one of the few passages I can quote), "about nothing really, but a little bit of exercise and lots of pleasure."

He names at least eight "young, nubile, attractive" women who worked at Rolling Stone in the early '70s and with whom he had frequent sex -- in the "office or parking lot or back seat or Van Ness Avenue motel." Only in the next paragraph does he remember that "during those years at Rolling Stone I was married ... and so were many of the other editors."

I report even this much of his eagerly recounted sexual exploits for anthropological reasons only. If the natives consider sex nothing more than a handshake, something you do repeatedly with your office mates and people you barely know, if it is the moral and psychic equivalent of having a cup of coffee with someone -- then shouldn't forcing someone to have sex be no more repellent than forcing someone to shake your hand or have a cup of coffee with you?

Eszterhas occasionally feigns consternation at the way his generation treated humans as objects. But he's a bit too vivid on the details for his regrets to be credible as anything more that hypocritical liberal self-righteousness. He's like the guy who goes to confession and begins giving the priest endless recitations of his sexual encounters. Finally the priest says, "Are you confessing or are you bragging?" I'll believe pornography or I'll believe a sermon, but not both in the same book.