TRACI LORDS: THE OTHER SIDE OF AN X-RATED STAR

July 9, 2009 – 4:06 am

It was early 1995 and X-rated star Traci Lords had just released a brand new rave album. Anyway, it’s always fun to shoot the breeze with someone who has something to say about the porn industry. Gerrie Lim gets it all down… and that’s only half the tape. The rest, as they say, are all X-rated. This article was published in BigO #110 (February 1995).

Blondes supposedly have more fun, and Traci Lords could certainly write the book. Arguably, no other pop culture icon today has courted as much fame and notoriety in so swift a fashion and, consequently, has been bequeathed with as transcendent an aura. And if her grasp exceeds her reach, it’s because it cuts across pop subcultures - numerous forays into film and television and, of more recent note, music.

Come this Valentine’s Day (1995), the first Traci Lords album, entitled 1000 Fires, hits the stores. The music is cyber-industrial progressive electronic, of the techno-dance/rave-trance variety; the album, on Radioactive, was recorded in London and features 10 tracks and a sterling set of producers/co-writers, including Ben Watkins (KLF/Juno Reactor), Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie (Thompson Twins) and Mike Edwards (Jesus Jones).

The first single, Control (with remixes by the Overlords, Juno Reactor and Third Floor), offers in its lyrical wordplay a sinuous invitation into that nether realm: “Let me kiss it and make it better/After tonight you will forget her,” Lords raps against a hard guitar backdrop. “I will control your soul.”

Control looms large as a bittersweet metaphor in Lords’ life. Born Nora Kuzma (Traci is a childhood girlfriend; Lords is from her TV hero, Hawaii Five-0’s Jack Lord) on May 7, 1968 in Steubenville, Ohio, she moved to Redondo Beach, California at age 12 and, in an already overdocumented haze of psychodrama, began a rapid career in Los Angeles as a porn actress which ended dramatically in 1987 when it was revealed that Lords was underaged - by US law, below 18 - in the nearly 100 porn films she’d starred in between 1983 and 1986.

In a flurry of prosecution-fearing panic that rocked the X-rated film industry, video store owners pulled all her tapes off their shelves (except one made shortly after Lords had turned 18, ironically entitled Traci I Love You, also found in an edited form salaciously entitled A Taste Of Traci; both are rare yet remain in circulation today). Lords herself ended up in a hospital, suicidally strung-out on drugs.

Much has been made of her survival since then (”Porn-free, and life is worth living,” a Details magazine headline smugly quipped in 1992) as Lords crossed-over into the “legitimate” film industry with a series of roles, most notably in cult movies like Not Of This Earth, Serial Mom and Cry-Baby (the latter two being John Waters films; Lords also married Waters’ nephew, whom she’d met on the set of Cry-Baby) as well as numerous television parts including guest roles in Roseanne, Married With Children, Wiseguy, Tales From The Crypt, and, of late, five episodes of Melrose Place.

Lords’ music career really began in 1993, when she sang on the Manic Street Preachers’ song Little Baby Nothing, topically about a young girl’s lifelong abuse by men. Apropos, since she’s publicly attributed her porn career to the trauma of having had a sexually-abusive father, and on 1000 Fires she daringly ups the ante with a spoken-word number, Father’s Field, a stream-of-consciousness narrative about how she’d been raped at age 11.

Elsewhere on the album, images of pulsating lust and emotional larceny prevail, and the erotic techno throb that permeates the album amply denotes Lords’ own post-porn agenda, as rave clubbers will soon discover - Lords has a series of deejaying gigs lined up throughout 1995 and a possible band tour to follow.

In person, she’s disarmingly charming, as I discovered when I spent the better part of an afternoon in late December 1994 chatting with her in a private suite at her manager’s office on the Sunset Strip. Perky and pretty at 5 feet 7 inches, she wears her long blonde hair in an unruffled ’70s cut, suggesting a casually unguarded air.

But ask her a provocative question and her green eyes will fixate upon the questioner’s with a serious, steely gaze that doesn’t flinch and exudes no glibness. Still, when she’s piqued into laughter, it’s an unbridled peal you’ll hear. Traci Lords is a blonde who does have more fun - but only because, as her own song implies, she’d learnt to exercise control.

Why is the album called 1000 Fires, aside from the fact that it’s a line from a song on the album?

Because I think that fire is something that’s really representative of the record. It’s really, really peaceful and you’re drawn to it. But if you get too close, it can torch you and kill you. But if you just get close enough, it’s warm and it’s soothing, it’s mesmerising and it’s peaceful. It can give you everything or destroy you, depending on how smart you are.

Why did you choose to make a record? And why do it at this particular time in your life?

Basically, I made the record the way it is because this is the kind of music that I’m into. And I had to go all the way to England to actually work with the people that I wanted to work with. It all started, really, in London when I was there about four years ago.

Where you went to a rave that changed your life.

Well, it wasn’t even a rave, it was more like a warehouse. They have a lot of warehouse parties there, and I was hanging out and I was modeling, and I didn’t know the city, didn’t know a lot of people. I just stumbled upon it and didn’t really know what it was.

And I didn’t know anything about the music or where it had come from. I didn’t even know what it was, I really didn’t. All I knew was that I got on the dance floor and it was the only kind of dance music that just made me totally insane, just made me lose myself completely. I was so taken away by it that I thought, ‘This is really amazing!”

I had always dabbled in music as a hobby. If anything, it was a hobby that sort of went out of control. (laughs) In the ’80s when I was in high school, I was really into the late punk rock and heavy metal and AC/DC, I was into all those kinds of things. And that hasn’t really left me. It just went someplace else.

And I think my music is really influenced by that, and also by the techno influence on it, though I wouldn’t call my record techno. It’s not techno, not in its pure form. I would say that it’s progressive electronic music. It’s uncharted territory, I think, in a way, because it’s always been a real underground thing - so underground, in a way, that it doesn’t have a face.

There are people who feel that the ambient/techno subculture should stay a subculture, and that with your record there is the possibility of this music now crossing over into the mainstream. Rave began in the warehouses of industrial areas of Chicago and Manchester and wherever else, and that whole romance of it is partly why people like it.

That’s what I like about it too, but unfortunately I think it also is a disservice to the music. There are so many people that have no idea about it. Maybe that’s what makes it cool, but maybe that’s also what makes it bite off its own nose to spite its face. I’m not trying to take techno to the masses. I didn’t make a record that would deliberately be radio-friendly. It was never even a thought.

I just went and made the record that I wanted to make. I’m actually really shocked that they even care, that they’re even listening to it, that they’re even open to it. I mean, if I wanted to go into music and just make a big splash and make a lot of money, I would’ve gone and done a little pop record and tried to be a little dance diva.

Wasn’t there a record deal that you had, at Capitol Records a few years ago, that didn’t quite work out?

Yeah, there was a development deal at one point, and I dabbled in it. This was when I first started getting into doing music, and they wanted to market me in the way that would make the most money. They wanted to make me the new Samantha Fox. And I never wanted that. That wasn’t what it was about for me. I pretty much had a sense of myself, and I knew that I would be an imposter.

But regardless of what splash your album will make -

(smiles) Or not make.

Well, one of the more intriguing things about you is that a lot of people know about you even if they’ve never seen your films, or your previous films in the porn industry. You’ve been co-opted into the mainstream. People outside the sex industry know who you are. They go, “Yes, Traci Lords, I saw her in Serial Mom.”

Yeah, the John Waters association. You’re talking about the curiosity that goes with me. I think that that is something that I can’t control. I really can’t. It would be like making a record and saying, “Okay, I’m going to make this record for a group of people.”

One of the articles I read recently really disturbed me. Somebody wrote, “She made this record for a gay audience.” And I thought that that was so absurd, because if gay people like my record, then I should be so lucky - I would be so happy if they did - but to say that I’d go into a studio and be so condescending as to say, “I think this is what gay people would like, and this is how I’m going to market it,” that is just ridiculous.

I didn’t make my record for anybody. I made it for myself. As far as what people are going to perceive me as and what they’re going to read into, I can’t control that. I can just go and be true to myself, do what I do with my music. And whoever buys it, they buy it. And if they don’t, they don’t.

As far as having a mass appeal, that to me is a bizarre concept because in the last six years in Hollywood, with me trying to be accepted as a “legitimate, credible artist,” it’s been so impossible. I’ve been lucky enough to work with people like John Waters. While he’s “mainstream,” he certainly isn’t. I see myself that way, too. I’ve got more of a quirkier thing about me. I’m more off-centre than I am centre, but I’m certainly somewhere in there.

But you’re now in five episodes of Melrose Place. That’s pretty much within the mainstream of pop culture now.

It is, absolutely, but it’s prime time cult TV. The key word is “cult TV.” If I was ever going to do a TV show, or with anything in my career, I’ve always been into things that are just more offbeat, you know, like working with John Waters instead of working with Disney. If I’m going to do TV, then it’s going to be something that’s a bit more twisted. I said I would do Melrose Place because I’m a huge fan of the show and I play a really twisted person on it.

A waitress who’s a Scientologist.

Yeah, well, at the beginning I’m a person who wears a lot of masks. I come across as being somebody who’s very, very grounded and have my own strong beliefs in life and what life should be. And then, as it starts to unravel, you see that I’m actually obsessed with my beliefs and the people who don’t go along with what I think are in a lot of danger around me. So, once again, I’m on a well-liked show but at the same time I’m not playing some guy’s girlfriend. There’s something more to it.

I get the sense from listening to your record that you’re not doing it just to amuse yourself. In your song, Fly, you “watch a thousand fires burning in the ring” and there are all these thoughts of fear, and closing your eyes -

And then jumping in.

I don’t think you’d write a song like that if you were simply doing this as a vanity project.

It’s not. I’ve got a lot of stuff inside of me. It’s not about creating a career for me. It’s about exorcising my demons. I think that’s why I do what I do. I think that’s why I’m into music and I’m into film and I’m into writing and I’m into what I’m into. For me, it’s about having a lot of different experiences, in some cases a lot of pain and a lot of different things and I relate them through my art. And it makes me somehow feel whole.

I saw you a few years ago on a late night talk show, in which you were being interviewed by Whoopi Goldberg.

I remember that.

You strike me as being more grounded now, more than you appeared then.

I think so. I think then I was really afraid. I think then I was still trying to prove something. Like, “I’m not what you think I am.” “I’m more than that.” “You don’t know me.” I was still pissed-off and angry. Now, I’m angry about things but I care and yet I don’t care. I’m not looking for approval - I think that’s the difference.

Is that how the song Father’s Field (in which Lords documents her experience of having been raped when she was 11) came about? To me, there’s a raw nakedness in that lyric, like Tori Amos doing Me And A Gun but with a techno feel.

Yeah, I thought about that. Part of it came out of a journal that I wrote when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and that’s really how it happened. It was the first time I had ever actually talked about that (being raped) and it was done in the studio in one take, just me talking into a microphone.

There’s one point where I say: “It’s all my fault, it’s all my fault.” I had always felt like that. If you listen to the song, when it starts off it’s really sexy. And that’s because it was. It was really sexy. It was really sexy and beautiful and it was about that whole “Oh my God, this feels really good, this is great,” it’s about something feeling really good and then going someplace else. And that’s what I think is interesting about it. And that was what was really bizarre about the experience, that it became something else.

In a way, it must be gratifying for your ego, since there will be people who will feel that you had a lot of courage to write a song like this.

I don’t really think so. I think it was selfish. I think it was really a matter of wanting to go there and having the opportunity to do it. Not many people have the opportunity to do that. Tori Amos did.

There will also be people who will say that it explains a lot about the feelings that you have about your porn career.

Absolutely. I’ve had people say, “You don’t ever make reference to porn on your entire record.” And they’re so ****ing blind if they think that! (laughs) It’s all over my record. It’s part of me.

But it’s subtle.

Because it’s subtle in my life. It was a tiny, tiny part of my life, and that’s who I am. People have made it this huge label, this huge definition of what they think I am. But those are the key words: What they think I am.

There’s a lot of techno music that is very erotic, I think, simply by the very nature of the genre. How do you feel about the sexual element in techno music?

I don’t think there’s enough. And I think that’s because there aren’t any women in it, really. Very, very few. It’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about. I’m curious about it and it frustrates me.

I think that women are so accepted in techno and rave when they’re on the dance floor and they’re just another body. The minute they try and go behind and DJ or they try and go behind and be an artist, it’s like any other kind of music or film or any other art or any other anything, there’s a snobbery, there’s a boy’s club. And there’s a boy’s club in techno, too.

I think that if there were more women in rave and techno, then there would be more sexuality, more sensuality, because there are men in there and they do bring that to it, to a certain degree, but when a woman does it, it’s a totally different thing. It’s a different energy. It’s not the same as male energy. So it basically, in my opinion, does not exist in techno right now. It just doesn’t. Because it’s a different vibe. Women think about sex and think about lust totally differently than men do. I’m positive of that.

Do you see yourself as being at the forefront of trying to change that?

I would never ever be so presumptuous or think I would be that powerful, nor would I really want to be that powerful. That’s an awfully big ****ing job to attempt. If I could produce some really good music and do something that made other people think, if I can do that then I’ve done my job. I’m not trying to be the poster child for rave. No way.

Still, there’s a lot of empowerment in the music, in terms of the erotic elements. Your song Control is -

Boy. It’s boy. Masculine.

It’s masculine, and there are implications of bondage and possession.

(laughs) Really?!!

Completely. Every cliche of enslavement, dominance and submission, all those things. Did you not write it that way?

(Still laughing) No. Let me tell you. When I wrote it, it had nothing to do with sex. Not at all. Now I laugh because I think it’s so funny. I think it’s so great that it gives people that. If you listen to that song and you see bondage and you see dominance and you see all that stuff, I think, “****, wow! I gave them all that?!! Cool!” (laughs)

But when I wrote it, I was coming from a different place. That song, I totally wrote that about drugs. It’s totally about drugs in every way, shape and form. It is about being controlled. But it’s about being controlled by a substance. It’s hell and heaven, and it’s really coming to terms with those demons. That was my problem for so long, and that’s what it’s about. The way the whole song starts out “You said you’re lonely, you said you’re blue/You lost your lover, let me console you.” It’s all about feeling sorry for yourself and going into someplace and being so hurt that you want to numb it all.

And the line: “Let me kiss it and make it better/After tonight, you will forget her”?

“You will forget her” was always about “Forget your heroin.” It was never about a person. When I wrote it, it didn’t even cross my mind. But then, yeah, sure, later, I thought, “Let me kiss it - and I went, “Oh, ****!” (laughs)

But that’s not where I was coming from. It really wasn’t. Now I see it, it has all these double images. Which I think is brilliant. Maybe, subconsciously, I knew. But when I wrote it, I was coming from such a different place. The line “I will control your soul.” To me, the only thing that ever controlled my soul were drugs.

The first time I heard Control, I thought: “Gee whiz, has she really left her past behind?” There are certain erotic and pornographic implications in the song. “Let me kiss it and make it better,” what else could I think?

I think it’s interesting that you can get that much from it, from those words. It’s not like I’m saying, “I want to stick my tongue up your… (laughs),” you know. (laughs) As far as leaving my past behind, I don’t want to leave my past behind. I’d be stupid to do that. That means I would have learned nothing and I wouldn’t have evolved.

You’ve made remarks in the past, in interviews, that you’ve never rented porn videos, and that you actually have a fear of video stores.

I did. 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, 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.

And it’s all really private. But as far as like wanting to go into a video store and rent a porno movie where there are porn actors that are being paid X amount of dollars to go and pretend that they like getting ****ed, 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 for 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.

Does it bother you that there’s one tape that’s still in circulation?

Yeah, it bothers me. And I’ll tell you why. 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 ****ed, which is the best word, for it financially, emotionally, in every possible way.

Did you not get money for it?

No. I’m supposed to be making money off it. I’m not and I have yet to do anything about that, but that’s a whole other issue. The reason that I hate that tape is because I feel like I was not in a place to make that decision when I made it, and I regret the fact that I made that decision at a point in my life when I was too ****ed-up to know what I was doing. That’s why I regret it.

How conflicted are you now about your sexual past?

I’m not trying to pretend that I wasn’t a 14-year-old porn star. 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. I think that’s the best thing about me - I have no skeletons. They can call me whatever they want to call me, but they certainly can’t say: “Oh, did you know…?” Everybody knows.

It’s not like I’m some big anti-porn activist. I’m not. 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 could ever put on a ****ing video store shelf. If that’s supposed to be sex at its best, no thanks. I’d rather be celibate.

And as far as my sexuality, and sexuality on the record and everything else, I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of. But at the same time I don’t consider myself a crude person or somebody that’s out to sell sex. I’m not selling sex. At the same time, I’m not trying to hide myself that way either.

If it’s there, if it’s in a song, if it’s in my voice, if it’s in my performances on screen, TV, whatever, then I think that’s great. I think that it’s really sad that people are constantly walking around being repressed and trying to pretend that they don’t have the fantasies and don’t live the lives that they really want to.

But that partly explains the obsession with celebrities in this culture. And you’re very much a celebrity now. Do you have any idea as to just why your fans like you?

I have no idea why anyone likes me. (laughs) I would never, like, stand in line and get an autograph. I would never save an autograph. I don’t understand any of that, I really don’t. I sign autographs, and it makes me feel ridiculous. Totally ridiculous. I mean, I think it’s very flattering but I just find it completely shocking. It’s like, “Why do they want this?” (laughs) I don’t understand it, really. I don’t get that part of it at all.

But now that you’re obligated to do it, do you agonise over it?

No. I think that it’s a compliment. Sometimes it takes you off-guard and you just do it. And if you don’t want to do it, then you don’t do it. You know if something you did is right or if it’s wrong. It’s all about you, you know. I don’t live by what society thinks is right or wrong. All those rules are just bs, I think. I have my own personal rules.

If I think something’s okay and everybody else is going, “I can’t believe you did that,” I don’t care. As long as it’s okay with me and I can go to sleep at night, I’m fine. You’re in your own space… You’re born alone and you die alone. If you’re okay with all that, I think it’s okay. That’s really how I feel about that. The thing that I’ve learnt is that you’re not at the beck and call of the world. They don’t owe you any more than you let them. (smiles) You control it.

Can we presume there are more records to come? Do you see yourself on this path, headed towards your yellow brick road?

Unless I wake up one day totally sane. (laughs) It could happen.

Note: 1,000 Fires is the only music album released by Traci Lords… so far.

  1. 6 Responses to “TRACI LORDS: THE OTHER SIDE OF AN X-RATED STAR”

  2. o cd dela é otimo

    By mariana on Sep 25, 2009

  3. before i die i want to talk to ms. traci lords. she is my one and only female movie STAR. IN ANY TYPE OF MOVIES. I WOULD LOVE TO RECIEVE A PERSONAL PHOTO OF HER AND NOT BY HER WRITERS( HER HAND ONLY). ALLEN HARVEN lll./415-375-2624/ love you Traci (my one and only female LORDS)

    By allen harvenlll on Oct 4, 2010

  4. This CD rocks, one of my all time favorites. Traci showed the world that she has beaucoup music talent, and kudos as well to all her musicians …. who play funky, imaginative riffs, and ROCK !

    By Don Q. on Feb 21, 2015

  5. This CD rocks, one of my all time favorites. Traci showed the world that she has beaucoup music talent, and kudos as well to all her musicians …. who play funky, imaginative riffs, and ROCK ! I see that Rolling Stone did not even mention her new CD. Screw them ….

    By Don Q. on Feb 21, 2015

  6. Such a cool interview! I loved her during the era of 1000 Fires and Melrose Place. Her albums is still the best. No other pornstar could pull that off.

    By Jake on Jun 11, 2015

  7. I picked up 1000 Fires in a used CD shop back in college. It was definitely dark, sensual, moody… something I would put on very late at night when I was feeling a certain way, or when I was with a certain girlfriend. KLF is another favorite of mine and I didn’t know that guy was involved. Thanks for the memories Traci.

    By Greg on Aug 25, 2015

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