Surely, one of the great tragedies of the last four decades is the demise of dramatic radio. Before television arrived to poison and dull the soul of this great nation, radio presented a thinking person's medium, a theatre of the imagination.

It was the beauty of simple words and sound effects flowing through a speaker, messages that allowed each person to create his or her own visual imagery. But now, in a world filled with brainless amusements like CD-ROM and IMAX screens, where can one turn for a bit of honest, stimulating entertainment?

The worthy artisans at Penthouse magazine have now provided the answer in the form of Penthouse Forum Live, Volumes One and Two.

That's right. The only sex magazine to achieve that difficult level of class and smut, somewhere between Playboy and Hustler, is offering dramatic readings of "the greatest letters from the pages of Forum." Of course, Forum has long been a favorite of men and women alike (hey, ladies--it's a couples thing!), allowing "real" people to astound and titillate others with "real" tales of their personal sexual high jinks.

And beyond mere entertainment, let us not forget the now-commonplace terminology that Forum has introduced into the vernacular: "helmeted bohemian love dart," "sopping love tunnel," and, of course, "veiny, nine-inch chorizo." Perhaps more than just a slice of Americana, someday these letters from simple citizens will be categorized properly as true folk art.

In the two volumes, you will encounter a host of jes' plain folk: an aerobics instructor, an air-conditioning repairman, a flight attendant, college students, an ice cream man--people like you or me.

Thrill as the husky-voiced lass with a thick German accent reveals that "about once a month I get a craving to go through the whole humiliation routine" in Volume One's "Spank Me." Let your imagination soar as a zealous Ron Howard sound-alike gushes about an on-the-job encounter in "The Ice Cream Man Cometh": "She pulled one of my chest hairs and said, 'I wanna ring your bell.'" Or, if your tastes run to the exotic (it's 1994--can't we finally just relax?), dare yourself to indulge in the shocking story of two men and a foxy amputee in "A Leg Man, NOT!"

Kicks just keep getting harder to find in this fast-paced age, but Penthouse takes us to a sublime state of entertainment, a place that arrives in a plain, brown wrapper, and the setting could not be more intimate: your very own brain.

@body:Do You Believe in Magic? If you know anything about Penn and Teller, you probably know them as the big, loud guy and the silent, little guy who wear gray suits and once dumped a hatful of live cockroaches on David Letterman's desk. Well, what more do you need to know? Maybe just this: There is nothing like a Penn and Teller show, which--and I write from experience--is a statement more true than trite. They'll be here on Sunday, May 15, at Gammage Auditorium, taking the stage at 8 p.m. But now, here they are, by phone from a hotel in L.A. Screed: You're in show business, you know how things work behind the scenes. Who writes the letters to Penthouse?

Penn: I don't know. But I actually wrote a letter to Penthouse Forum. It was one of my life's goals. And I wrote a cover letter that said, "I know you have a team of writers who write those things, my name is Penn Jillette with Penn and Teller, I had this great sex experience" . . . I got a letter back, very offended, that said, "We do not have staff writers who do those letters, they are real letters, but we did like yours." They sent me a couple tee shirts that said "My Letter Got Printed in Penthouse," but I don't read Penthouse so I never saw it. Penthouse and Playboy are not my style.

S: What is?
Penn: If I'm going to read smut, I'm going to read Screw or something real.
S: What music are you listening to these days?

Penn: I just got a promo of NRBQ doing "Spampinato" live, and it's great. It's music to make Satan dance with delight. I like the new Elvis Costello, and Gavin Bryers' "Jesus' Blood Hasn't Failed Me Yet," that'll kill you. It's like 45 seconds of a bum singing this unknown hymn, and this guy Bryers looped it so it's an hour long and added symphony arrangements and a chorus and Tom Waits.

S: It seems you guys and David Copperfield are in some sort of pissing match; he called you the Beavis and Butt-head of magic in TV Guide. Penn: I had nothing to do with it. I don't know, Copperfield's gotten really weird in the past year, he just doesn't seem to have a clue. It's almost like he thinks there's something real [the feud between the magicians] going on. I'm just bowing out. . . . It'll be a cold day in hell the day I bristle being compared to Mike Judge [creator of Beavis and Butt-head].

S: Did the death of Richard Nixon affect you?
Penn: I was kind of a Nixon fan. I grew up getting all my political information from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, but when I finally read R.N., that big biography, I realized it's really nice to have a smart president.

Especially now, when we have a president who is not smart. Rhodes scholar? From a state the size of my dick. They take two people from every state; if you're from New York or California, it means something. If you're a Rhodes scholar from Arkansas, it means three people applied and two of them got it. I'm not saying people from Arkansas are stupid, it's strictly numbers.

Since Nixon, we've had people running on this "I'm a regular guy" thing. The last thing I want is a person in charge who's a regular guy. I want a person a lot smarter and a lot better than me, let alone a regular guy. I don't want someone who drinks beer, eats Big Macs and listens to Kenny G. Maybe a president who listens to no music would be really good. Maybe a president that works his fuckin' ass off. I want someone who's on the borderline of being mentally ill, someone that has no life whatsoever; it's a hard job.

Clinton has this goofy, "I wanna be Elvis" mentality, as opposed to "I want to run the world." Could you imagine how Thomas Jefferson would bitch-slap Clinton? Oh!

S: How about Kurt Cobain?
Penn: I thought it was ridiculous when these suicide hotline people were coming on saying, "We're having a lot of people like Kurt Cobain calling us." Who else is like Kurt Cobain? Who called them, Eddie Vedder? Who else is grotesquely successful, a heroin addict and married with a young child? How many people are like that, five?

S: If you could have lunch with any evil genius in history, who would it be?
Penn: Funny you should ask that because I was scheduled to have lunch with Nixon. We have a mutual friend [Frank Ginn, co-author of Nixon's biography], and he said of all the people he knew, he thought I would get along tremendously with Nixon. Which is very odd.

Hey--you know about Nixon and rap music, right? About four years ago, there was a small article in the New York Times where they asked Nixon what he was doing, and he said he listened to a lot of rap music. They asked him who he was listening to and he said something like, "I think if I said the names, it would confuse people and they would misunderstand." Which means to me Niggaz With Attitude; who else would it be four years ago? Then he said this, though I'm not quoting exactly: "What I liked best in life was public speaking, and I hear the best of that in rap. I think if they'd had rap when I was a kid, my life would have gone in a different direction." S: Didn't he play piano?

Penn: Yeah, supposedly rather well. There's a weird duet somewhere with him and Liberace I've heard about. It's all very remarkable.

And now, here's Teller. Yes, he really speaks. S: What's the show like these days? Teller: The tour that we're on is called the 37% New Tour; the reason is because there's about 37 percent new material. Truth in advertising. S: Care to pimp any of the tricks? Teller: Well, the finale is real new, and very, very splashy, as we say. It's kind of somewhere between a sleazy Vegas lounge act and a martyrdom. Another thing is something I get to do; it's a vanishing bunny rabbit trick, and a chipper shredder is a central piece of equipment in this trick. That's one of those big grinding machines that turns lawn rubbish into useful mulch.

S: How do you decide who gets to do what?
Teller: There's only two of us, so there doesn't have to be a large set of rules. We're not talking about trying to manage national health care here, we're just two guys putting on a show. And it works out pretty nicely.

S: I asked Penn about the Copperfield brouhaha. Any comment?
Teller: We went to see him once, and he did a wonderful show. We went back afterwards and told him that, then went on with our lives. And that includes being Penn and Teller. It's really weird, we sort of offered our friendship to him, but it's really hard for guys like us to be friends with a guy who wouldn't know a joke if it bit him in his anorexic ass.

S: What with the type of seemingly death-defying tricks you do, is it difficult to get insurance?

Teller: No. We are really wildly safety-conscious. For someone to get even a squashed finger in the setup of a film or trick is unforgivable. During wartime, it's a necessary evil that people get shot. For show biz, no one should get shot.

S: But if something actually did happen, do you have plans for your remains? Teller: We have very specific plans about death. Penn's going to be sold for parts, I'm going to be cremated, and we have a joint grave. It's just a grave marker--actually we're in the process of installing it now--and it will enable people to do a card trick. The grave will be in Forest Lawn in Burbank.

S: That's very show biz.
Teller: Absolutely. Totally, utterly show biz. Turn left at Stan Laurel.
S: Will there be any remnants of either one of you in there?
Teller: I don't think so, who cares about that?

@body:The Blues, Frankly: He started his musical career right here in Phoenix (he attended Phoenix Union High) and now Frank Ace will be hosting his own album-release party on Friday and Saturday, May 13 and 14, at Char's Has the Blues. It's About Time is the CD, and you'll hear that background scratching guitar stuff that made James Brown's sound a big deal. Good stuff. Call 230-0205 for info.

Keepin' On Keepin' On: The remaining members of Zig Zag Black will hold auditions to fill the slot left by the tragic death of guitarist Michael Venell. They'll be held the week of May 15; to schedule a tryout, send a tape and a bio to Zig Zag Black, Primary Records, P.O. Box 34994, Phoenix,


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