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Shock me shock me shock me with that deviant behavior: Why Roxana Shirazi’s The Last Living Slut is more boring than balls-out.

 

The cover of the book The Last Living Slut

 

In the many years that I've been editing book reviews, I've never been pitched so hard on a title as I was for Roxana Shirazi's The Last Living Slut: Born In Iran, Bred Backstage. The book's PR trumpeted that it "is sure to be one of the most-talked-about and controversial books of the year…the rock and roll version of The Satanic Verses." Weekly e-mails and phone calls alerted me to the "unapologetic, feminist book" and its "passionate, heartfelt tale of jilted love," urged me to interview the author, and—with that Rushdie reference—suggested that Shirazi's tale of cock-rock conquest could easily be grounds for a fatwa.

 After actually reading it, though, I'm thinking that if The Last Living Slut does turn out to be one of the most talked-about books of the year, it'll be mainly because those publicists can't stop fulminating about how controversial it is.

Here's the gist of the book: Shirazi grows up in the midst of Iran's Islamic Revolution, the child of a political-activist mother and an all but absent father. She recognizes her own precocious sexuality as a shameful secret, and never speaks of the childhood sexual exploitation and abuse she experiences at the hands of older neighbors and family friends. Cut to Shirazi's early twenties, when she discovers sex and rock music almost simultaneously, and embarks on a quest to "fulfill my hunger for a free-spirited life" via backstage and often semipublic nooky with a passel of fellow groupies and rock dudes. The latter are either washed-up American hair farmers (Velvet Revolver, L.A. Guns), or upstart British metal bands (Towers of London, Kid Ego), and she has a lot of explicit fun with them. (Golden showers! Double penetration! A lot of girl-on-girl performance for the guys!) Aaaand then she falls in love with one of the hair farmers (Dizzy Reed of late-period Guns N' Roses, if anyone cares) and he's a total douchenozzle and forces her to have an abortion and everything all goes to shit. But then there's a redemption arc and the book closes with Shirazi flying back to Iran to visit, thinking about how beautiful the country is and how much she loves her family and Persian banquets,  but also letting slip that—oops!—under her "black Islamic garb," she's not wearing panties. Controversial!

The prose is choppy, and full of contradictions: In one sentence, Shirazi writes of her first trip to see Velvet Revolver," I was there for the music, not to get laid," but then ends the chapter bemoaning the fact that she didn't get laid, despite servicing several crew members in an effort to get access to the group. She regularly refers to other groupies as "fat," and "whores," and not in a positive way. Likewise, despite the introductory disquisition on her embrace of the word "slut" at the beginning of the book, she deploys the word pretty judgmentally when sizing up groupies that she felt were less-than-deserving of bands' attention. And for every delirious scene of wild, insatiable sex, there's one that reads as disturbingly coercive. ("He had unzipped his pants. I didn't want to do this, but I wanted to be polite.")

The thing is, I love a good groupie story. I'll go on record with the fact that Pamela Des Barres's I'm With the Band might be my favorite book ever, and I've devoured pretty much every other book in an admittedly not-very-big groupie-lit canon. (Karine Steffans's Confessions of a Video Vixen, Bebe Buell's Rebel Heart, Catherine James's Dandelion,  Morgana Welch's Hollywood Diaries, as well as Des Barres's follow-up books and Margaret Moser's musings on backstage life in the Austin Chronicle.) So I'm not morally or ideologically opposed to Shirazi's subject matter, though I'll submit that I would have been a lot more interested if she had tossed her panties to people who weren't in crap bands like Papa Roach.

No, the main issue I have with The Last Living Slut is how craven its packaging and marketing has been. Whatever the shortcomings of the book, Shirazi comes across in interviews as charming, intelligent, and, yes, feminist, speaking of her life with the nuance and analysis that's missing in too much of Slut's narrative. In an interview with Details, for instance, Shirazi balked at the assumption that a woman who enjoys sex without apology must have suffered a sexual trauma in childhood (or what's known around here as The Dr. Drew Fallacy).

And talking with the blog Guttersnipe, she mused on her dual identity:

One of my regrets is, why wasn't I myself with these bands? I used to hide the fact that I was at university. I used to tell them I was a stripper, or worked in a shop. I'd never tell them I was Iranian, I'd say I was Italian. It was so exhausting being two people, I could never merge the two together. I could never be at university and be like, yeah I'm a wild rock chick and I'm going on tour with this band. Then when I was with a band I was a completely dumbed-down version of who I was. Not a bimbo, but I chatted about things I didn't normally chat about. Which was quite sad really. I wish I could've been myself completely.

 You get the sense that this identity crisis was carried over to the writing itself. In the same interview, Shirazi notes, "The way I write is really poetic and the manuscript was quite dense. [The editors] said it won't grip the reader as much. They said you've kind of got to water it down slightly to appeal to the masses. At first I was like No no no I don't want to dumb it down. But we came to a compromise." Personally? I'm guessing the compromise was "less intellect, more female ejaculate." The sheer number of times Shirazi makes reference to her "watermelon tits" suggests that readers of the book should look elsewhere for nuance. And the full-page photos of Shirazi in the book—in one, she poses in a burqa open to reveal bra, panties, and fishnet thigh-highs; in another, she's wearing a hijab and making the universal sign for eating at the Y—seem deliberately included to stoke visual outrage, in case stories of hotel-hall intercourse and getting peed on didn't adequately make the point that the author is a bad, bad girl.An image of Shirazi making an obscene gesture with fingers and tongue

 

  All of this makes a little more sense when you consider the book's provenance: not Iran, not Buckcherry's tour bus, but the offices of Igniter books, the division of HarperCollins that published The Last Living Slut. Igniter is the imprint started by Neil Strauss, a music writer who has some backstage cred of his own (he cowrote Motley Crue's completely out-of-control bio, The Dirt), but who's best known for quitting his job at the New York Times to study the pickup arts with top hat–wearing "PUA" assclown Mystery. Strauss, who during his apprenticeship renamed himself  "Style" ('cause what woman can resist a classy-ass moniker like that?), went on to write The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, and do many intelligent women an inadvertent service by revealing PUA trade secrets like "the neg." These days, while The Game gets made into a romantic comedy, Strauss runs the "Stylelife Academy," an online school where the author (billed as "one of the greatest attraction and seduction experts in the world")  charges unspecified amounts of money to "teach the skills needed to date the most beautiful women in the world."

Given that The Last Living Slut is Igniter's first title, I'm submitting that Strauss's involvement both matters and is the reason it's so problematic. Shirazi's cultural and religious background is the book's selling point—the cover juxtaposes a photo of a solemn teenage Shirazi with the word "slut" in neon heavy-metal type. But Strauss's own background is why the book's marketing hasn't worked to create the media buzz the imprint obviously hoped for. (Newsweek, one of the few mainstream publications to review the book, for its "We Read It so You Don't Have To" web feature background, surmised that other reviewers were staying away not because the book is inflammatory, but because it's just not that good.) Strauss's involvement is also, not shockingly, the reason that the "feminist" angle doesn't work. Let's go back to the press release, which claims that Shirazi "became the rare feminist groupie who was not a victim, but rather who made rock bands her victims." Whether Shirazi was or wasn't a victim isn't black and white—certainly, she doesn't see herself as one, though some, like Feminist Review's Tina Vasquez, disagree. But regardless, casting a scenario in which the usual script of gender victimization is flipped as OMG FEMINISM! is a pretty solid clue that someone's relying heavily on the Big Book of Stereotypes, rather than on actual feminist perspective.

The question of whether or not being standard-issue backstage ass is empowering or not is always up for debate—and I'm more than interested in having that debate in another blog post—but here's something that's not: If your editor/publisher's life's work involves teaching other dudes how to trick women into being attracted to them, said editor/publisher is probably someone who thinks that women need to be tricked into stuff. Someone, you can reasonably assume, who probably doesn't have a ton of respect for women. And if that publisher uses the word "feminist" to describe the book in its press materials, I'm going to assume that not only is it not feminist, but that the term's being used in a crass attempt to sell books—and, ahem, controversy.

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Comments

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omfg

I canNOT stop laughing! I've heard some pretty terrible things about this book but somewhere between the Papa Roach reference and realizing The Game dude was behind this, I had to read the entire thing aloud to my partner... when I wasn't unable to speak from laughing so hard. Yowza, that was fun.

Brilliant review

Just have to give props for such a witty, well-written, well-thought-out review. This is a perfect example of why I love Bitch.

Ditto that.

Hear hear!

LOL! I loved your tone in

LOL! I loved your tone in this article. As much as I laughed at this book I'm sick to death of feminism used as a tool...

Same Here!!!!

Same Here!!!!

will certainly be skipping this one

Thanks for the warning, Andi! It sounds like, in addition to co-opting "feminism" for controversy and reinforcing stereotypes about women, the book reinforces stereotypes about Islam and Iran given that this would be just another sexed up groupie book were it not for Western shallow expectations of Shirazi's cultural and religious backgrounds.

Dead on review.

I read the book, and completely agree with your assessment of both author and editor/publisher.

I am a former groupie myself, and I must say that in my experience there is very little sisterhood and/or feminist action and thought going on in that world. So I really had high hopes when I heard about this educated woman writing this unflinching memoir. My immediate thought was, "Where was she during MY backstage years?"

What a disappointment the reality turned out to be! All the book revealed to me was an insecure girl with precious little self awareness, looking for love in all the wrong places and compromising herself on a regular basis for the sake of this nonexistent love. I hate even saying that, because it really saddens me how women judge one another on the basis of sexual behavior (or any basis, really), whether they are groupies or not. The fact that she was willing to work with someone like Strauss on a "feminist diatribe" makes me feel the same cycle of sadness, guilt, and regret all over again...

This makes me so sad and disgusted

Roxana Shirazi is nothing but a sad, lonely,star fucker who tries to use her education to make herself look like she is a feminist when all she does is belittle the word. Feminists' have self respect and love themselves enough to sleep with real men with whom they have real connections. she is nothing but an aging groupie and should probably try her hand at real life and real grown up relationships.

^ So true. I do not

^ So true. I do not understand how she calls herself a feminist. She is cheapening the word every time she uses it. A feminist does not degrade herself, have sex with roadies and crew members just so she could go backstage and have sex with people higher on the social scale, a feminist does not let men urinate on her and demean her, a feminist does not brag about having sex with married men...etc. There is nothing liberating about what she is doing. Then she uses the age old lame ass excuse "but if men did what I'm doing then they'd be called a stud or a player, not a slut". Men (unless they are gay male prostitutes) do not let ppl urinate all over them and basically allow themselves to be treated like a dog. Ms. Shirazi needs to see a licensed professional to understand more about why she is acting the way she is. I think that due to the sexual abuse of her youth she feels that all she is good for is getting f*ck*d. Trying to capitalize on a career in sex puts her on the same rank as a prostitute imho.

Roxana Shirazi has NEVER

Roxana Shirazi has NEVER called herself a feminist. Obviously you haven't bothered to do your research. She has actually said that calling one self a feminist is putting yourself n a category and not letting identity be a fluid and postmodern concept. And watersports?? Erm..how the fuck is being turned on by specific sexual activities a negative????? Everyone has a sexual turn on. Some people like being tied p and spanked, some people like taboo role play. so fucking what?? How on earth in participating in consensual sexual activity whether it is water sports or BDSM degrading? Get a grip on life dear. Saying that for women to be sexually deviant, there has had to have been some trauma in life is the most misogynistic and backward thing I have heard. Do you also write that about well known womanizers like Russell Brand or Warren Beatty? You don't have the balls to see humans as the complex creatures that they are but see them as a cliché. how sad for you.