There are few things as disappointing as a repentant ex-porn star.
Given the opportunity to reflect on a life in the adult movie business,
one should smile and make no apologies rather than lash out with anger
and regret. The biggest contrast to Traci Lords’ new memoir is the film
Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy. That film features a gleeful,
charming porn star with no illusions about his life or work, but also
no self-pity and sense of shame. One ends up liking Jeremy because he
is so completely himself. Lords, on the other hand, can find only
disgust with her former life, believing the porn business to be
emotionally crippling and dangerously exploitive. As she says near the
end of her story, “I believe hard-core porn is desensitizing to the
viewer and that it objectifies its performers.” Notice the inclusion of
“hard-core” to her criticism. She must add this loaded term lest she be
labeled a hypocrite for continuing to make money from displaying her
physical charms. I guess for her it is perfectly acceptable to make
money and secure fame by defining one’s self as a set of tits, so long
as those tits aren’t covered with jizz. Her self-righteous stance, at
this stage of the game, comes of as silly given that the book itself is
loaded with half-naked pictures of Traci and dozens of come-hither
glances. She’s still selling sex and she still hopes we’re buying.


It is this reality that leads me to believe that more than an
opportunity to “heal,” this memoir is yet another slick business move.
If any theme resonates from the book it is a driven careerism; an
unending push to secure public exposure. That Lords has kept her porn
name as her legal identity is a bit odd given her alleged desire to
erase the painful past. Born Nora Kuzma in Steubenville, Ohio, Lords
lived the stereotypical life of any woman who ends up chugging cock for
a living. Her mother was irresponsible, her father was distant and
eventually left the family (not before beating Traci’s mother within an
inch of her life), she was raped at age ten, and to top it off, was
molested by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. I do not dispute Traci’s
story, but it is the stuff of melodrama and as such isn’t the most
compelling read. Nothing about Traci’s rough childhood surprised me and
given what she went through, a life other than that of porn star would
have been unbelievable. Traci’s mother finally moved the clan to
California, where Traci ended up in the adult film world after
answering an ad for a “model.” Lords was an instant success, securing
numerous jobs in skin mags and eventually landing the coup of coups —
the centerfold gig in the same Penthouse issue as Miss America Vanessa

Eventually, of course, Traci started work as a porn star. I was
amused (and surprised) to learn that she first had sex on camera with
the boyish Tom Byron, who should be familiar to anyone who jerked off
in the 1980s. Still, Lords claims that she banged Tom while being
unaware that the cameras were rolling, which is of course a lie, and
nothing more than her way of avoiding responsibility for her start in
porn. Lords doesn’t name-drop that much in terms of her porn life,
although she mentions Ron Jeremy (“a fleshy hairball”) and Christy
Canyon (“sweet little pussy”). Lords is quite candid about “the life,”
what with the heavy cocaine use and rampant alcoholism. I have no doubt
that Lords was stoned most of the time she was being filmed, but at
this point in her life, such memories strike me as flimsy excuses for
her acts. I would have rather she own up to her past, say that she has
moved on perhaps, but that porn was not as bad as people think. Hell,
she could even admit that she enjoyed it! For every AIDS victim like
John Holmes or messy suicide like Savannah, there are dozens of
hard-working professionals in the business who simply love sex. Lords
doesn’t seem to understand that her porn life is the sole reason why
anyone currently cares about her and that she should thank the business
for helping her have nice cars and lavish homes. Don’t bite the hand
that fed you, sweetheart.

And Traci might fancy herself an “artist,” but having a desire,
no matter how strong, does not make it so. Yes, she has gone legitimate
in that loads no longer coat her face, but B-movies and cheesy alien
shows are hardly Shakespeare in the park. She is still a novelty like
Elvira or Ed Wood — a pop culture curiosity who has no real talent,
but someone we’d still like to watch now and again. And now that Lords
has become a recording artist in addition to her acting, well, is that
not all too typical of American life? Musician, actress, author, poet;
why not politics or brain surgery? I have a deep resentment of those
who believe they can have it all and “be” something merely because they
have the will. Lords continues to trade on her sexuality and this book
is nothing more than a desperate attempt to keep the fires of publicity
burning. Lords is very sexy to be sure, but such appeal fades with
every statement she makes about the “pain” of her upbringing. She might
appear at book signings, on Larry King, or even NBC’s Dateline, but she
will never be mainstream. For all those who have seen her take it from
behind, it is a nightmare more hideous than the techno-pop she now
performs. She might work with John Waters and Francis Ford Coppola (who
produced one of her shows), but she will always be that 15-year-old,
wide-eyed innocent who knew her way around a nutsack.

Still, despite the overall tone of regret, the book will
interest anyone who wants to relive the 1980s. From references to
Poison and Guns N Roses, to the Meese Commission (who eventually raided
Traci’s home after watching her for two years) and unhinged hedonism,
the ride is a fun, if familiar, one. Lords is certainly not the
greatest writer (the prose is matter-of-fact and earnest, but lacking
any real style), but she does an adequate job of getting her points
across. Given that everyone who has ever appeared on camera or recorded
an album has seen fit to tell their life story, Lords’ contribution is
no better or worse than the others. Underneath It All follows
the tried-and-true formula of the Hollywood celebrity (rise, fall,
redemption), but it isn’t boring. It’s a quick and easy read that won’t
win any prizes, but will serve as a well-earned break between your more
ambitious summer reads. So yes, Traci has been abandoned, abused,
humiliated, betrayed, screwed over, and after it all, is “lucky to be
alive” and at bottom, “a survivor.” Whatever. Just show me your tits
one last time.

About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52