With all the new and improved--and just plain new--men's magazines glutting the newsstands, has anyone noticed what we've noticed? They're not your dad's men's magazines.
More specifically, they're not Bob Guccione Jr.'s dad's men's magazine, otherwise insouciantly referred to as Penthouse. Hey, you know what we're talking about.
No, we do not mean that men aren't interested in sex anymore. But Guccione le fils has seen the future and it is sexy, not sexual. More on that later.
We are deconstructing parents, publications and personal lives over dueling salads at the Hotel Bel-Air, where the concrete jungle escapee is just lovin' all the trees and sun and air. Well, the trees and sun, anyway, and especially the hotel staff's famous policy of hear-no-celebrities, see-no-celebrities.
"They're so discreet that one time I was staying here on a business trip, I didn't realize John Mellencamp was staying in the hotel room opposite me," the New York-based Guccione says between Chinese chicken salad chomps.
"Everybody knew we were friends, and everybody knew he had turned me on to the hotel, but they wouldn't say anything. He called my office and left the number, and it was the hotel."
Guccione has taken a womb at the Bel-Air because he's shilling for his new magazine, Gear. The founding and former editor of the music monthly Spin is following in Dad's footsteps by launching a men's magazine, but the younger Guccione is walking down another path.
Gear's chicks wear clothes. In a manner of speaking, of course.
"Twenty years ago, when my father was breaking all these barriers of what was printed, what was talked about, certainly what was seen, that was a different time.
"Today it's not revelatory. There's not a single heterosexual man in the world who hasn't seen an awful lot of pictures of naked women, and probably in his own life a lot of naked people in his bedroom. It's no longer a barrier that needs to be broken. So the only thing that remains eternally fascinating about sex is the unknown, the mystery."
The mystery of cover chick and TV's "La Femme Nikita" star Peta Wilson climbing a tree in black leather boots. The allure of Wilson photographed posing coyly against a wall in a sheer mesh dress and cowboy hat. The mystique of the Australian blond smoking on the john.
There's something else in Gear's premier issue you won't see in Penthouse--an interview with Guccione Sr.'s long-standing rival Hugh Hefner. The Gearhead Guccione, who's a practicing Catholic, gets Hef to riff on life after death and the possibility that critics who say Playboy and Penthouse exploit women might be right.
Guccione Jr. doesn't know what his dad thinks of the piece because they've been estranged for more than a decade, ever since Guccione Sr. pulled his money out of Spin. He doesn't want to comment on their silence other than to say, "It's sad, and I've tried to reconcile it, and he's not willing right now." Still, we wondered whether he thought his father might be miffed by the interview with his chief competitor.
"I was very careful in the piece never to put [Guccione Sr.] down. I wouldn't interview Larry Flynt. That he would take as an affront because Larry Flynt and he really are mortal enemies. There's a real hatred there. Larry Flynt was so offensive in the way he portrayed my father in [Hustler] magazine and the way he portrayed my father's ex-wife. He's really a pig. But Hefner has never been ad hominem offensive to my father."
Of course, Gear includes more than cute chicks and their chroniclers. (We wouldn't dream of suggesting that all men care about is sex.) Gear also covers fashion, pop culture and sports as well as social and political issues, such as the debut edition's searing piece by novelist William T. Vollmann on the effects of economic sanctions on the Iraqi populace.
Music will be part of the package, but only part. Guccione got off the rock 'n' roll train when he sold Spin a year ago to Vibe Ventures for a nifty $43 million.
"I just got tired of doing the same thing with minimum new thrill back, and I was itching to do other things. I did smartly recognize that I wasn't in touch with the music as much as I had to be to make the magazine vital. I was too old. I'm 42 now. I was 40 at the time I was selling the magazine."
So your midlife crisis was acknowledging that you were in midlife?
"Exactly. I averted a crisis by copping a plea and accepting it."
Not so fast. Guccione is still entangled in a notorious lawsuit that produced blaring headlines branding Spin a sexually hostile work environment. He's fighting findings that he favored women he was interested in with job perks and promotions. A decision on his appeal in a New York federal court could come any day, but Guccione appears undaunted, despite dropping $1.5 million in legal fees.