There I was, sitting with the lovely Traci Lords in a private room in her manager’s office on the Sunset Strip. It was late December 1994, and I was then a music journalist based in Los Angeles, interviewing her for a piece about her newly released album 1000 Fires. She was then making another mainstream transition after her foray into movies with John Waters, this time in the throbbing, thumping dance/trance electronic music world.

She knew that I already knew, of course, about how she had become famous overnight in 1986 when video store owners across America frantically withdrew her movies off their shelves after it had been revealed that she had been underage, in the 100-plus films she had performed in since 1983. “I’m not trying to pretend that I wasn’t a 14-year-old porn star,” she told me. “I’m not denying it. I’m not hiding it. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not particularly proud of it all the time. I have really conflicting emotions with it. But it’s not like something that I’m trying to push away in a closet. They can call me whatever they want to call me, but they certainly can’t say, ‘Oh, did you know — ?’ Everybody knows!”

In that very instant, having thus given new meaning to the phrase carnal knowledge, Traci came across to me as strikingly attractive. She seemed, in person, almost shy and self-effacing yet she could also be unexpectedly direct. “It’s not like I’m some big anti-porn activist,” she added. “I’m not for censorship. I don’t think porn is disgusting. I simply think it’s boring. I can think and do and feel things that are much kinkier than any fool can ever put on a fucking video store shelf. If that’s sex at its best, no thanks. I’d rather be celibate.”

One adult movie of hers was still in circulation – Traci, I Love You (also available in an abridged, much less interesting version called A Taste of Traci) — and legally so, because she had turned 18 when it was made, so did that bother her?  “Yeah, it bothers me, and I’ll tell you why,” she replied. “It’s because I feel like I’m extremely exploited by it. I’m just talking from a personal experience, about the way that it’s been handled and the people that distributed it, and the way that I had been constantly fucked – which is the best word for it—financially, emotionally, in every possible way. I was not in a place to make that decision when I made it and I regret the fact that I made that at a point in my life when I was too fucked up to know what I was doing.” (She later divulged the details in Underneath It All, her excellent 2003 autobiography.)

People still rented movies back then, and I had read that she harbored an irrational fear of video stores. “I did,” she agreed. “I still don’t rent porn movies, but that’s personal. That’s not trying to leave my past behind. That’s just how I feel about it. I don’t think that porno movies are sexy. I think, because I’ve been there and I’ve seen it and I know what it is, I have no desire to rent porn. If anything, I’m a total voyeur and, sexually, I’m completely uninhibited. But as far as wanting to go to a video store and rent a porno movie where there are porn actors that are paid X amount of dollars to pretend that they like getting fucked, I don’t find that stimulating. I find it completely and utterly boring.

“And, as far as being afraid of video stores, wouldn’t you be afraid of video stores if you walked in and everybody in there went, ‘Oh my God, oh my God!’ and chased you down the aisle?!! It’s about more than porn. It’s about having Not of This Earth and Cry-Baby and Serial Mom and all my other movies in there. It’s not about witnessing my own face on a box cover, which doesn’t happen anyway because they’re all off the market except one. It’s not about that. It’s about my own head trip, of my own discomfort in my own skin, with fame. I have a hard time with that part of it.”

To me, that was a cautionary note to all aspiring adult film thespians. Porn is forever – you can never really leave the industry, because your hot scenes will always be seen somewhere, somehow, by someone. Dealing with your own head trip and resolving conflicting emotions then assume hugely important proportions, and she addressed this on the album in her song “Father’s Field,” about how she was raped when she was 11 years old. Did she think, I asked, that the rape exerted significant impact on her career?

“Absolutely,” she said, without hesitation. “I’ve had people say, ‘You don’t ever make reference to porn on your entire record.’ And they’re so fucking blind if they think that! It’s all over my record. It’s part of me.” Her raw honesty took me aback. It was the first time I had ever met a former rape victim, let alone a former jailbait porn star. She was openly acknowledging everything to me and had me mesmerized. It was an epiphany.  I could view sexually exhibitionistic women with more than carnal arousal. I saw them as human and fragile and worthy of compassion.

It would be five more years before I made my debut as the “Cinema Blue” columnist in Penthouse Variations magazine, which lasted till 2002. Nearly two decades have now passed. yet I remain convinced that my own career might well have turned out differently had I never met Traci Lords. She certainly got there before Jenna Jameson and Jill Kelly and Nina Hartley and all the other iconic women did. You can never forget the first time, as they say, and she was the one who led the way.

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