The sad tale of Traci Lords includes rape at ten, porno work at 15, domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, a decade's worth of trouble with the FBI, a slightly embarrassing (save for her work with John Waters) mainstream acting career, and a totally embarrassing stint in techno. Yet critics of her recently published memoir, Underneath It All, can barely stifle their yawns, declaring her story nothing special by today's standards. True, a bit more on her teen years in porn would've made this a juicier read, but the problem isn't her life story, it's that she feels the need to justify it. Lords answers questions by asking them--"What was wrong with being a girl? Was it really a man's world like my mom said?"--and tries to package her fascinatingly messy life a little too neatly. As she jumps from describing porn as an empowering release from the fury she felt at her negligent parents to claiming youthful victimhood and naivete, it's clear that her depiction of herself as a survivor at peace is just another defense mechanism. But Lords's myopia and contradictions make her seem human, not obtuse; Underneath It All is less a story of a self-destructive individual trapped in self-denial than a case study of how powerful and traumatic formative conditioning can be. Lords will discuss and sign copies of her book (no videos or other "memorabilia" will be signed) on Wednesday, July 23, 7 PM, at Borders Books & Music, 830 N. Michigan, 312-573-0564.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Gregg Gorman.