Traci Lords, Traci Lords Underneath It All (Harper Collins)

traci-lords-underneath-it-allNot surprisingly, the period of her life that gained her the most repute is the period Traci Lords would most like people to forget. In a short three years, from age 15 to 18, Traci lived a lifetime in pornography. In her newly published autobiography, Traci Lords Underneath it All, Lords is unafraid of discussing the subject. In fact, her frank tone disarms the reader who expects chaste preachifying or dismissive vagaries.

Lords’s tone is perhaps the winningest feature of the book. Her descriptive but quick words set a pace early on that she has no trouble maintaining. To say it reads like a novel downplays its achievement — Lords’s direct realism is the sort of writing many novelists aspire to.

Lords’s story, if you don’t know it (and you definitely don’t know all of it), is a cautionary tale which begins in small-town Ohio with an abused girl, Nora Kuzma. When Nora’s mother moves the children to California and yet another abusive man, Nora’s rebellion takes a dangerous and seedy turn.

At 15, under the watchful eye of one of her mother’s former boyfriends, Nora obtains a fake ID and finds a job as a nude model. When the modelling gigs dry up, the girl adopts the stage name Traci Lords and descends into a world of hardcore pornography, drug abuse and nihilism.

Only weeks after her 18th birthday, the FBI raids her house in the middle of the night. It is a climax that only Hollywood could imagine.

The crux of Lords story is summed up by the lawyer who defends her: “My God, what a beautiful young girl — those assholes.” Traci Lords is beautiful. Talk about a mountain of a Catch-22. Were she not so beautiful, she never would have become such a star in porn and attracted the attention she did; yet she never would have been able to refocus that attention onto the seedy, exploitative world of pornography. By age 18, her beauty had already been the making and unmaking of her.

And while others have coasted to success on far fewer good looks, post-porn Traci — in a fact she doesn’t really acknowledge — had to set out to succeed on everything but her good looks.

And succeed she has. Ultimately, Lords’s story is a heroic one. The fact that she crawled out of pornography, physical abuse, drug abuse, and infamy to attain success in film, television and music is mind-boggling. The fact that she did it virtually alone is staggering. Never does Lords turn her tale into one of “_____ made me do it.” Even in the presence of overwhelming exculpatory evidence, there is no moment when she gives a defense of “I got into porn because my daddy never loved me.” Her eventual future success is a direct result of Lords seizing control — no matter how haphazardly — of her past and present.

The only short-coming of Lords’s book is that — perhaps with an eye towards neutrality, perhaps towards therapy — she never lays down the facts of the clean-up of her porn career. Once her legal troubles are turned over to her lawyer, the months fly by rather quickly in her narrative. Suddenly, she’s starting her film and television career. Surely, in those days, time did seem to fly by rather quickly. Her tone preserves this sensation but the curious reader is bound to wonder just what happened with the FBI, the porn czars, and the trials.

She mentions several times that people “don’t know what I stand for” but she never clearly outlines what that is. Her involvement with Children of the Night — as clear an endorsement of her feelings as anything — she mentions only once in the text of the book. Her epilogue criticizes the porn industry but in uncertain terms. She says, “I find the junk mail insulting, the box covers inappropriate (in a public place), and the women who claim porn is liberating, irresponsible.” This subject could fill its own book, not just a paragraph in the final chapter. But, as mentioned, perhaps Lords has a legitimate motive for not dwelling on the details.

Her focus on the positive aspects of her life does not distract but reinforces the heroic element to her story. Lords is more than the mere survivor she claims to be; she is a victor and her story is engrossing.