Who are the people in your inner circle?
Well, a lot of them are people you wouldn’t necessarily know. Bill Cosby, of course. And I’m seeing a lot of friends from days past again — Jack Nicholson. Then there are a lot of people that I didn’t know before who are coming to the parties, like Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz. You name’em.
You’re socializing with a lot of young musicians now, like Courtney Love and Dave Grohl. Have your musical tastes changed along with your guest list?
The music that I care about is rooted in my youth. So I care more about jazz and the various permutations of jazz, although Brande went to see the Stones last night. There was a point in time, in the early Seventies, when the Rolling Stones were on tour and stayed with me for the better part of a week in Chicago, at the mansion. And Mick was here about a year ago.
How do you feel when you go to newsstands now and see Playboy surrounded by much more explicit sex magazines?
Over the years, particularly in the Seventies and Eighties, that was a major problem for us. The popularity of imitators like Penthouse and Hustler confused the very nature of what we were trying to do. So we became, in many minds, the high end of a genre of skin magazines. All that has changed, Now Penthouse and Hustler and the rest are becoming hard-core, and the men’s field of magazines is all doing variations on Playboy. Everything from Maxim to GQ to Details to Esquire are doing Playboy. I just received the new Sports Illustrated, and the bathing suits are getting skimpier and skimpier — almost disappearing.
Are career opportunities for centerfolds different now than they used to be?
Yes, dramatically, I think the taboos have disappeared. It’s taken a long time. It really began with Marilyn Monroe. Not because of her nude calendar photos, but because of the way she responded to it, saying, “I had nothing on except the radio.” That attitude and the way the public responded to it, during a very repressive time in the Fifties, was the beginning of the legitimate connection between celebrity and nudity. Now, any time I go out, there’s a continual flow of women coming up to me who want to be Playmates. And, of course, you’ve got Pamela Anderson with that video out, and all the controversy surrounding Clinton and his sex life. I mean, the only people that are hysterical and upset about it are the congressmen.
I know you’re not a fan of his, but what do you think of what Larry Flynt’s been doing by exposing the Republicans’ hypocrisy?
Well, you know that Flynt is not exactly one of the guys that I admire. But I think that what he has done was a very smart promotional notion. And it does reflect the hypocrisy of it all.
You always find hypocrisy in government. That’s the nature of the game, because there’s hypocrisy in our American attitude toward sex. It’s the conflict between Puritanism and the shame and guilt related to sex, on one hand, and the fact that we love sex. That kind of hypocrisy used to live in the shadows, but when Jay Leno starts making explicit jokes about sexuality, it is very difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.
How many of our ambitions do you think are motivated by sexual drive?
How many people have said that they got into music because they wanted to meet girls? One of the things that is fascinating to me is that with all the taboos and controversy surrounding sex, the reality is that sex is probably the major motivating factor on this planet.
What do you think has become of the sexual revolution you helped start?
There was a point in the early Eighties when they were announcing the end of that revolution. And then of course, the arrival of AIDS and the politicization of the disease. On many levels now, it’s like coming out of the tunnel.
What would you do if your photo editor came up to you and said he had just found out that the woman you were planning to shoot as your next centerfold was HIV-positive?
I don’t know. Rebecca Armstrong was a centerfold and is HIV-positive — and may have been at the time she was a centerfold. I’m not sure. She thinks she acquired it in her teens. But I don’t I know about that question. I’m not sure.
What about plastic surgery? Do you think it’s gone too far?
I think it’s like medicine, Anything that makes you feel better about yourself is perfectly appropriate. Why should one be required to stay in a box that was handed to them by either nature or by their parents or peers? Why not create yourself? Why not be the person you want to be? What about you?
Have you reinvented yourself again?
To some extent. But what I am doing is revisiting the guy I was before. And with a vengeance.