Billy Interview - Originally published by Billy of Silly Naked zine
Unfortunately I missed out on Probe when it was alive and kicking. Although I'd heard of it, I never actually read it until recently. I gotta say, it was one of the coolest zines I've ever seen! You've said in other interviews that you "aren't really into porn." What made you want to print nude photos?
The best reason was that it gave me a reason to take the photos. I wasn’t smart enough to figure that out until issue #5. I used to suggest that girls find a real photographer or a friend to do the photos which was dumb. The turning point for me was Liz from issue #4. She wanted me to take the photos of her but I refused! I felt intimidated because she was hot and I didn’t actually know her that well. I thought if I showed up with my $20 camera she would realize that I was a fraud. She had a friend of hers take some fantastic photos, but they kept it safe. I kicked myself later and after that I took all of the photos myself. Eventually I learned that I didn’t even need a good excuse to do it. It was just an exciting thing to do for no really good reason.
Before issue #8 I took photos of a 23 year old girl I worked with at a pizza place. She didn’t want her photos to be published because of the future career she wanted, but she thought about it and told me it was still something she wanted to do. Afterwards, in my car, driving her back to the pizza place, she yelled, “Oh my God! You just saw me completely naked! My boyfriend has never even seen me naked!” She thanked me as if I was the one who did her the favor. I liked the fact that she just wanted to do it. There wasn’t any seduction involved. We never exchanged phone numbers. She didn’t even want to see the photos afterwards, but she also did a shower video for me about a week after that. I’m not a porn guy and I never go to strip clubs either. I know there are good people who love porn, but I have a problem with it. I dislike the prevalence of shame. I realize some people, guys and girls, get off on the shame and the badness of it – and more power to them, rebel against your Catholic upbringing or whatever it is - but I don’t feel the shame and it’s not something I like to see.
That’s the reason I sent you an email wishing you luck when you first started sillynaked. I liked the bright home page. I just appreciated the attitude behind it. I wasn’t introduced to naked women through porn. In Junior High I used to sleep over at a friend’s house and his high school age sister would leave the bathroom door open in the morning. She knew I was on the couch watching her, pretending to be asleep. It seemed like she was naked for about a half an hour, but it was probably closer to 10 or 12 minutes. One time she came out of her room to talk to me in her sheer underwear and covered her breasts with her hands, as if that made her decent, as if it was not big deal to either of us. A few other times she casually let her robe fall open. I never said anything about it or implied that I knew what she was doing. I was just appreciative and didn’t question it. However, now that I know more about women I think that she was probably doing it half subconsciously. I have vivid memories of seeing her naked nine different times over a two year period, but I doubt she has a detailed memory about any of it.
I used to think that women were just looking for plausible deniability when it came to sex and nudity. I thought it was like a game that both parties were in on. Today I think that most women don’t know exactly what they want or why they are doing it. They just want something to happen. My first girlfriend had very strict parents and for religious reasons we did not have sex. However, we would do other things. One time, as cover for her parents, one of my friends picked her up from school on some other pretense and brought her to my house, his friend had also come along. They were sitting in the living room while my girlfriend and I fooled around in my bedroom. After about 5 minutes, I put a blindfold on her. I then came out and told the two guys they needed to move to the back room. I lead her around the house completely naked with the blindfold on. I had her crawl on tables and stand on chairs. She was intense, at times trembling with excitement and afterwards she was bouncing off the walls and in a crazily happy mood. I realized that she didn’t know for sure if my friends had actually moved to the back room or if it was a ruse for my friends to see her naked. She didn’t want to know. That was the rush. Luckily, she liked those guys. If she thought either of them were the least bit creepy she would have at least made sure the door was closed. However, she was excited that they might be watching her. At the same time, if I had told her they could see her she would have screamed and ran back to my room.
I have many stories about women getting naked. I like them much better than stories about actual sex. However, they are kind of like good French movies where they just go along very nicely and then end without a big climax, not everybody enjoys them as much as I do.
The way the naked girls happened was unintentional. The first issue was in 1991. I was just getting involved with punk rock and zines. I had worked many late nights on the written content. There was a girl I met while in college who used to write me entertaining letters so I asked her to write something for my zine. Instead she mailed me naked photos of her and two of her friends from a photography class. Granted, the only reason she did that is because she already knew that I loved naked women. I featured her photos prominently in the first issue and the naked girl theme just went on from there. The girls that posed for The Probe were friends, girlfriends, and sometimes roommates of mine. They were just people I knew from regular life.
Most of the nude photos are of women, but there are a lot of dudes in there as well. How did you decide whose photos to publish?
Except for the funny ones, the naked dudes may have been a mistake on my part. I wanted to be inclusive. I wanted to show how enlightened and open minded I was. Ultimately, I think it was a good thing for the zine to include the dudes, but it wasn’t a labor of love the way the women photos were to me.
Photos of naked women were still somewhat rare to come across in the early 90s, an actual photograph of a naked woman was special. They had to be developed at a photo place. They weren’t instant digital images that could be posted to the internet and finding real ones was always awesome. The first few issues I kept thinking that I lucked out by meeting or knowing these rare girls that were okay with doing naked photos. It was a big deal for me to get that roll of film. I didn’t realize at first how common, actually how normal it was for girls to do naked photos until I started asking them myself.
Women’s sexuality is one of my favorite topics, but I often end up being annoyed anytime I bring it up, especially in the politically correct Bay Area where pointing out that men and women are different is akin to being sexist.
My theory is that many women have something very similar to an auto-sensory meridian response when they are being observed naked. Of course, not ALL women enjoy getting naked. Not ALL women do it for the same reasons. However, once they take the plunge and do it, many women love it and often get addicted to it. Often, they will find reasons to do it on their own. 23 years ago I knew a girl with a very visible backyard pool who swam naked early every morning. “I don’t think the neighbors are up that early anyway” which was obviously not true. However, it is rarely even that overt. The attitude is never “check me out!” It’s usually more subtle such as leaving a door or curtains open, but staying naked for a long time. Other times I’ve asked about similar situations the answers are vague, such as. “It’s not a big deal.” “It doesn’t bother me if they want to look, that’s on them.” “I don’t even really think about it.” “I just figure no one in this neighborhood knows me from Jane anyway.” There is a limit but some women use it almost like a drug. There is a buzz and a long term high that they get from doing it. They have to be careful about it. Some guys confuse a woman taking off her clothes as seduction, which it often is not. There has to be some other explanation to keep the nudity comfortable and fun.
It’s not the same thing as the guy who spends a lot of time in the gym who takes off his shirt at every opportunity. It’s still about being sexually attractive, but the situation has to feel right. There are a lot of unwritten rules. It’s also different from the girl who wears a small bikini or a short skirt. In fact, I noticed that the women who have the most fun being naked are often uncomfortable in revealing clothes.
Of course, sometimes it is purely for seduction, but that is usually obvious. Whenever it is for seduction the reaction is usually. “Hey, I’m naked over here and you are obviously turned on so put your camera down dumbass!”
Another thing that helped me understand this phenomena happened after Viagra was invented. The pharmaceutical industry spent hundreds of millions of dollars studying the sexual inclinations of women. Women are more sexually complicated than men and it’s not just cultural. The drug companies wanted to cash in and market a female version of Viagra. I read two articles about some of the studies that have been done and also a book called What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire. It was not a great book, way too much time spent in the lab, but there were a few conclusions that made a lot of sense to me. The most interesting to me is that women get a large shot of serotonin to their brain when they feel sexually relevant. Guys rarely do, they may get sexually aroused, but they don’t get the hit of serotonin the way women do (gay or straight didn’t matter, the same disparity was found). In fact, women are less likely to be sexually aroused in sexual situations (such as being naked with an attractive man or women), but 7 times more likely to get a rush of serotonin. Furthermore, women were just as likely to get a strong rush of serotonin from an anonymous or unseen stranger than from a familiar lover. This makes complete sense to me from what I’ve seen. It helps explain why it was never difficult to find girls who liked the idea of posing naked.
How have society's views on sex changed since the 90s? Do you think something like Probe would be more accepted now, or less?
It’s all about the internet now. In the mid nineties my roommate’s shy 13 year old brother stole some naked photos of my girlfriend from my room. When I figured out what happened she laughed about it. She thought it was cute and didn’t want him to feel embarrassed. If that happened today, she would only be horrified that they would wind up on the internet. The positive thing is that nudity is still personal. Even though a 13 year old in 2014 has already seen everything on the internet, it is different when the girl is someone you know and the same kid today would still want those photos. Sadly, the Probe would be less accepted today. At the time it was something unique and special. I spent $10,000 to get the last issue printed and all of the photos were in black and white. Today, my friends would say “Why did you do that? You could have put that on the internet for free!”
One of the most fascinating segments you printed was the "girl reviews," and then later your cohort Kris wrote her "boy reviews," in which you would review sexual encounters, and sexual partners. Looking back on that now, how do you feel about the printing of those stories?
I do regret one story I wrote that was a little too personal. She was someone I lost contact with and I think I just figured she would never see it. Her review was very positive, but I mentioned something about a medical condition that I shouldn’t have and I don’t know why I did that. I felt like an asshole about it later. It’s one of those thoughts that occasionally haunts me at 3 in the morning. However, most of the girls I wrote about I talked to before the story was published. There were 3 or 4 girls I slept with that later joked “don’t write about this in The Probe!” but I think when the story is good most women don’t mind. No one was upset with me as far as I know. The first girl that I ever had anal sex with swears that she didn’t give me permission to write about it. She actually did, but she was either drunk and didn’t remember or she misunderstood me at the time. Either way, she was only a little bit upset about it. This was before the internet so no one was too worried their parents would see it.
Talk about Kris a little bit, and the role she played in publishing the magazine.
I met her through the band Hickey. I was extremely attracted to her and wanted her to be around as much as possible, but nothing at all ever happened between us. However, she was a big part of the two issues I did while living in San Francisco. She lived at my office/living space while I was away for three months at my trucking job, at first just doing Probe Records mail order while I was away. The guy that I paid to do the mail before her had failed. It was great to come back and see that she had organized everything and also added a personal touch when answering the mail. (This was before social media was on the internet). I didn’t know it then but I caught mono while I was living in SF. At the time I couldn’t figure out why I had no energy to write or do anything else. I asked Kris for help and she eventually started writing. When I moved back to the suburbs Kris came out a couple of times but that was the end of her involvement. I haven’t seen or talked to her since Matty Luv’s funeral 12 years ago. She moved to Seattle.
Although there is a lot of sexual content in Probe, to me it seems to be presented as a personal zine. You tell stories about your personal life, whether it's going to a show or having sex with a girl. Was it tough for you to be so open and honest in such a widespread public fashion?
No. It never was. I didn’t understand what the big deal was.
Honestly, for the sake of this interview I just looked over issue #5 for the first time in many years I can’t believe how straight forward and honest I was, more so than I remembered. I saw three or four things I wish I didn’t write and that was only in a few pages. I used to be a good writer too.
How has being married affected your urge to write or share stories like that?
I don’t know if it is because I’m married, but I can’t write like that anymore. I have trouble composing an email without reading it two or three times. On the other hand, I would still write honestly about my wife, but she won’t allow it now that we have kids and there is Google. She doesn’t even want our last name mentioned in this interview. Marriage and family is more interesting and life completing than I realized it would be. I don’t have any regrets in life, but in the prime of my life, for about twelve years, I spent a full 30 hours a week going to shows and partying most nights. I had a lot of energy and enthusiasm to see bands, meet girls and make friends. Many of the nights that I didn’t go out I drank coffee and stayed up until sunrise writing. I think back on that now and I realize I was nuts. I thought my social life was important and that I was doing something meaningful, but it was my own vanity. Some people are true artists and they need to create, but a lot of The Probe was just my desire to promote myself and what I liked. I also wanted to find people that liked me, mostly women. Actually, in a nutshell, the entire thing was one long, expensive, and time consuming personal add.
Final shout-outs, plugs, etc?
I will continue to write stuff at brewznewz.com
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org