Visions of Redlight
Links to a.d.sullivan & info on Susan Walsh
The most ironic element in the Sue Walsh as writer story is how little
originality Sue possessed. Everything word she wrote, every idea she
ever had, every element of every plot she ever invented came from some
place else. Whether she knew it or not, Sue took up a suggestion laid
out by the poet T.S. Eliot who claimed good poets borrow, great poets
In college, half her school work was done by men she made love to, men
she promised to make love to, or women she manipulated into feeling
sorry for her. Even as late as 1995, she manipulated Glenn Kenny into
helping her with her a paper on Marquis De Sade (for her graduate work
at NYU). But Glenn needed no manipulation. At WPC, he scribbled off
minor masterpieces as easily as he might a grocery list and became the
secret source of many desperate undergraduates.
In shaping her stories for Screw Magazine, Sue needed no grand
inspiration for the early work, skimming the surface of the dark world
she had already come to know so well. Sex was sex and she had
participated in almost every aspect of it, and later, would map out the
range of her own experience inside the pages of the book "Redlight." Yet
long before Sue had hooked up dark world she had already come to know so
well. Sex was sex and she had participated in almost every aspect of it,
and later, wo
Yet as pervasive a product as sex is in our society, Sue needed more
that Screw Magazine to make her mark in the world, and constantly
searched for angles and people she could use to edge herself higher in
the hierarchy of the publishing world. In college, this required little
effort since many of us hung around the same place and she merely had to
pick and choose who she wanted to use next.
In the real world, with Sue approaching the ripe old age of 30, this
process was more difficult. In 1989, Sue met Rob Hardin. She most likely
had little idea of how she would use his talents, only that he was
well-published and well-connected with the art world. In 1990, when she
moved to Nutley, she discovered that the publisher of the local
newspaper also operated a large cable TV franchise, and this intrigued
her as well. In 1991, when she began to date Mutant, he still had a
fairly success magazine. While all during this period and for many years
during college, Sue wrote for Screw, it wasn't until she met Al
Goldstein in 1992 , the magazine's publisher, that her fortune seemed
guaranteed, and her direction set -- though did not really have a clear
idea of how far she could string out her sexual experience, or how she
might shape her knowledge into a career.
For all Sue's cleverness in disguising them, sex and violence dominated
her creative endeavors for as long as I'd known her. Even in the early
works I saw at school, Sue played with the images of a helpless being
struggling nobly against the rages of a dark world. Every poem, every
fiction, every aspect of her writing except straight news was a
fatalistic allegory that shaped her as the helpless victim of
circumstance, driving by some fury she did not understand, with her
fighting against the eventual rape of strangers.
Like many writers with far less talent than Sue, she lacked the
imagination to step beyond herself, to create fiction or non-fiction
that did not have the sex industry at its center. Those few pieces which
did excel, generally came from other people, people who willingly or
unwittingly gave her the root.
"I never even thought of using Susan's words or ideas--though she used
mine," Hardin told me shortly after Sue's vanishing in 1996. " Twice,
later in our relationship, she screwed me out of co-authorship: for a
paper on the prosody (a term which she knew nothing about) of Melville,
and for the only Screw article that ever got her noticed (by anyone
other than Goldstein). I remembered those incidents; I never
collaborated with her on anything again. Besides, the collaborations
were bad. My ideas and her anger -- that combination proved as flawed
her poetry, and for the same reason: the tone was overamped and
"If you're going to condemn someone, I used to tell her, you'd better be
awake. You'd better know exactly who this person is and why they deserve
your hatred. (Later, of course, Susan found reasons to condemn me as
well.) Toward the end of our relationship, she routinely told me how
jealous she had been of my work, of my IQ (which is not that amazing)
and of my friends. She told me that she hated me but was drawn to me;
and she used to call me saying, `Please put me out of my misery!' That
was why I broke up with her a few times; at one point, I sent her to a
rehab clinic to get free of me. I felt guilty the entire time, too,
because I was trying to be nice to her, to care for her, but the sad
truth was that I didn't love her, which was the only thing she wanted.
So when I fell in love with her later, it shocked us both. I loved her
with painfully open eyes."
Sue's work for Screw Magazine caught the eye of Village Voice columnist,
James Ridgeway, whose collaboration with other writers had helped many
of them find serious careers in the news industry, and helped establish
reputation for Ridgeway as a man of letters. Ridgeway, in some ways, is
to journalism what later James Michner is to literature, with a volume
of publishing credits earned on the backs of interns like Sue.
And she had just the kind of story that peeked Ridgeway's curiosity,
especially at a time when the former Soviet Union was in collapse, and
rumors of the Russian Mafia filtered down into the daily lives of even
the most out of touch. The street was full of tales about the Russian
Mafia and the sex industry, and for a large part of it was true. The old
Costa Nostra had lost most of its edge since the 1950s, giving way to
Chinese gancollapse, and rumors of the Russian Mafia filtered down into
the daily lives of even the most out of touch. The street was full of
tales about the Russian Mafia and the sex indust
Although Italians suffered greatly from the stereotype of the mobster,
the traditional Mafia networks rose less out of the old world, than out
of the street gangs that plagued New York City since the 1830s, when
gangs of Italians, Germans, Irish and other European ethnics clashed in
battles nearly as legendary as those fought in the civil war, making
ruins of places such as Five Points and the Bowery long before the news
media gave them a name. These gangs were tied to local politics, and
local neighborhoods, and often ran the sex trade in their district, just
as they ran local theater, sometimes connecting the two into what would
later emerge as burlesque.
While many blame Prohibition for giving the mob the boost it needed to
become organized, many elements of the Mafia had been codified by the
turn of the century, evolving out new needs of old street gangs for
improving their operations. Prohibition simply gave these new networks
another product to sell, side by side with sex and gambling. And later,
when alcohol became legal again, drugs took its place.
Sue was not wrong in highlighting the change of power ongoing in the sex
industry. Indeed, many of the strip clubs throughout North Jersey began
to feel the pinch of the new emerging organization, who signed
"contracts" to bring in girls, and fill the request with ethnics from
newly liberated Eastern Europe, girls enticed to come to America with
the same old streets of gold routine from a century earlier, only to
find themselves on strip stages and cheap hotels, earning their money
via a far older profession.
Sue's research for her Village Voice collaboration would take her deep
into the risky world of these Russian dancers, have her questioning club
managers at a time when the Russian Mafia was exerting its most
influence to dominate these clubs. The perceived threat of Russian
retribution for her questioning would replace the traditional Mafia in
her personal mythology as easily as the Russian Mafia did in the actual
world. She went to Brighton Beach, and would later claim she had stirred
up trouble among the mobsters, thus remanufacturing the central myth of
her life as the victim oquestioning
In her story for the Village Voice, Sue spoke with dancers, managers,
customers, even Russian agents, from "Brighton Beach to desolate
stretches of Route 1, or into the suburban wasteland around Newark." In
language that echoed work I had read in Sue's fiction over a decade
earlier, Sue manufactured a world where agents ripped off dancers,
charging them for each day's booking, and when they went freelance,
their agents pressured club owners not to hire them.
I'm not sure how much sympathy a man making $70 a day breaking his back
unloading trucks can have for a dancer complaining about her
$1,000-a-week earnings. But Sue managed to shape such dancers into
objects of pity, with Ridgeway and the Village Voice going along for the
Sue managed to find nearly illiterate patrons, painting them with
contempt, and shaped hapless New Jersey club owners as the victims of a
sham, men who described the Russian dancers as cold women who wouldn't
flash, giving the bars a dreary atmosphere.
In many respects, Sue's Russian Dancer story foreshadowed the largely
pointless "Redlight" that would follow, a shallow glimpse inside an
industry that thrives on providing fresh meat for an endlessly,
monstrously hungry American male.
Like many of the works done in Screw, Sue's Village Voice debut was
slick, but cold, lacking any sense of urgency.
In "Redlight," she would repeat this error, and worse, fall into a
confused sympathetic state that destroyed the book's credibility.
The Village Voice article, however, also lacked the close up focus
needed to make the dancers and the management human.
Where was the danger? What was the Russian Mafia making these women do?
While others claimed Sue unveiled significant abuse, the article lacked
substance upon which to make a claim she had irritated the Russian
I talked to Electra, a woman Sue spoke with for her Screw Articles, the
Russian Mafia article and "Redlight." Electra, who I later saw dancing
in a Secaucus bar, claimed she had introduced Sue to one dancer, but
said this woman was "very Americanized," and was unlikely connected to
the Russian Mafia.
But from it, Sue managed to manufacture a mythology of personal danger,
Ridgeway and others would alter attribute to alcohol use and drugs.
Almost from the day I met Sue, she was seeking the glitter and fame of
the high life, hungering to leave some monument to posterity that would
keep her name a live in people's minds, something to the East Village's
most famous fake: Steve Brodie, who staged a fake leap from the Brooklyn
Bridge, and later his own disappearance.
Sue loved the power of the word, the raw visage the investigative
reporter displayed when uprooting scandals. But in school as she would
later do in Nutley and New York, she got too close to her stories,
always becoming entwined in the scandals she sought to uncover. In
school, she talked about mob men and the CIA, in Nutley she would find
them becoming real, like that old Graham Greene novel about an agent
inventing a conspiracy only to find people dying around him.
Sue once said she envied me because she believed I had the stuff to make
it in the creative world, a man with a mission. She told our professors
as much as if expecting ttold our professors as much as if expecting
them to say as much about her. Now, a decade later, among the hostile
world of publishing, where local mobsters dominate the weekly town paper
and sex kings dominate New York City porno magazines, she still gets no
raves, though she seems to stalk this campus of little town and big city
politics with the same rage she did our campus, looking for the "one
"She has a way of sticking that pretty little pale face of hers in
places where it doesn't belong," one of the other reporters on the
school newspaper told me once. "She wants to be Woodworth and Bernstien,
only WPC just doesn't have a convenient Watergate scandal."
Her story on the Russian Mafia was supposed to be that story, and the
book "Redlight" her masterpiece that would maintain her in the high life
forever, allowing her to ride around in stretch limos that were hers,
But something went wrong. The Village Voice story flopped, and though
"Redlight" would sell an amazing 100,000 copies, Sue would not get
Long before she vanished on July 16, 1996, Sue must have suspected the
worst. Even as she ran through the ritual of research, Sue must have
worried over publishing credit, pushing Ridgeway for assurances, telling
Ridgeway she wanted to quit dancing and the whole scene. And Ridgeway,
according to one source, pushed her to continue, encouraging her to
write everything down in her diary, keeping her on this new, more
elaborate treadmill until the book was published.
And Sue, of course, talked more and more about being hunted.
Ridgeway Gets in Wrong