When the 28-year-old from Amarillo, Texas, began publishing his weekly smut rag Rocky Mountain Go-Go in October, he penned gushing reviews for the porn industry (his main advertisers) and pasted them into his free paper. Haney envisioned himself becoming Denver's Larry Flynt, and the photos he ran with his page-two column promoted his hey-guys-look-at-me libido: There was Gary posing with a fetish girl licking an oversized, swirly colored lollipop; Gary cupping a porn star's massive tits; Gary getting a smooch on his fleshy cheek from a dominatrix. The lifestyle was his, the envy, supposedly, ours.
But the walls of the adult industry closed in on Gary Haney and, after nine years of working inside the biz and just five weeks of posturing as a porn publisher, he realized life in those pictures was just that: life in those pictures. "I had to ask myself," Haney says, his voice a hearty West Texas growl, "in my heart, was I really happy peddlin' smut? And the answer was no."
Now Gary Haney has gone legit.
Haney is pushing his publication -- renamed simply Go-Go -- toward the mainstream by removing the hardcore vibe. Areolas that once appeared in advertisements and pin-up centerfolds are being covered by bikini tops and lingerie. "I still see myself as a champion of pornographers' rights," he says. "But I don't see myself limited to that arena."
But though the question about whether he should change may have arisen in Haney's heart, the answer came from his wallet. A mainstream paper can bring more advertising dollars than a smut rag, especially in a town where one adult publication, The Rocky Mountain Oyster, has cornered the market -- and loyal advertisers -- for more than twenty years.
But Haney's decision was more gradual then epiphany-like, he says, something he's been planning for a long time. Pornographers aren't born, after all -- they're made. Haney was made when his mother, Lesa, was just fourteen years old. He says she got pregnant the first time she had sex and, fearing she couldn't raise Gary by herself, agreed to put him up for adoption. Once she gave birth, though, she broke the agreement and kidnapped her own son by hiding him beneath her gown and fleeing the hospital.
Haney grew up a hell-raiser, and in his preteen years, he was sent to live with his father, whose loose parenting style taught Haney unintentional lessons: "I quickly came to the realization that causing shit is fun, but it isn't so much fun if you don't have someone telling you not to do it. When you come into the house and a guy hands you a beer, it's kinda weird." When he was fourteen, Gary's mother enrolled him in Cal Farley's Boy Ranch in Amarillo. Life at the ranch taught Haney discipline and intellectual curiosity; he thrived in acting and debating and eventually became the class valedictorian. But the school taught him little about women. "We didn't have girls running around. We saw them one Saturday a month. Maybe that's why I was a pornographer for so long."
At nineteen, Haney's distinct voice made him a natural DJ, and he worked the 12-to-5 a.m. shift at a small station making $5 an hour. One night he and a female friend visited a strip club called the Crazy Horse, where the manager chatted with Haney and recognized his voice from the radio. Coincidentally, the manager needed a DJ for both of his clubs. "I said, 'I can make $60 a night plus tips and I get to look at naked women all night?' Well," -- Haney lets out a Texas-sized roar -- "that's a no-brainer." Within a year, Haney was managing the club and opening upscale adult clubs in other cities. He indulged in the lifestyle ("I was doing drugs, doing strippers, that kind of thing") until, after a few roller-coaster years, he wanted out.
Looking for a significant change in his life, at age 22 he moved to New York City with a girlfriend but immediately suffered a three-day case of big-city paranoia. "I just knew if I walked outside and turned the corner, with so many people, I would never see her again." Eventually he left the apartment to find a job but wound up circling the block of his personal history and did what he knew best -- managing a strip club. He landed a posh gig at Stringfellows, making between $800 and $1,500 per night. Once again, Haney moved into new cities along the eastern seaboard to open new clubs. And again he burned out. He returned to Texas and tried working 9 to 5 in customer service for Microsoft, but that didn't last long.
Haney took a job selling ads on a start-up rag called Night Moves. When the editor landed herself in jail for a reason Haney still can't recall, the publication was thrown into his lap. "I didn't know what I was doing, made a lot of mistakes. But I learned a lot." Luckily, the learning curve was on someone else's tab. When Night Moves went belly-up, Haney returned to deejaying in clubs -- and hating it.
So, Haney says, "I sucked up all of my humility and walked into the office of the biggest asshole in the world and asked for a job selling ads at his adult publication." At least there was room to grow, Haney figured. And in February of this year, still working for that company, Haney moved to Denver to begin Adult Stars, an adult monthly that lasted just two months. Haney found his own financial backers to start the Rocky Mountain Go-Go.
For his first order of business, Haney planned to knock the Oyster out of its warm bed. Where the Oyster had grown complacent with chintzy spot-color advertisements and dated design, Haney offered four colors and a clean, superior layout. He went after the Oyster's bread and butter: escort agencies, adult clubs and personal ads. His rag also differed by including local sex stories and doing profiles of local performers, such as his Q&A with "Hometown Honey" porn actress Kylie Ireland. Even the paper itself differed: The Oyster prints on tissue-thin newsprint; Haney chose a higher quality stock closer to binder paper.
Elaine Leass, editor and publisher of the Oyster, says she has seen only one issue of Go-Go and came to no judgment. "There's been so many papers that have started up [since the Oyster began in 1976], put out a few issues and folded, so I don't spend much time reading them, because that is generally the trend."
And with a circulation of 55,000 -- more than twice the size of Haney's -- at distribution points stretching beyond the Rocky Mountain region, the Oyster is tough competition. After five issues, Haney's longing to change reached the surface. "This town just wasn't ready for the type of adult publication I was going to put out there. At the same time, neither were we," he says of his four-person, mostly rookie staff. Now Go-Go remains sex-friendly but goes beyond the industry with, for example, stories about local and national bands. There's also a restaurant review by a scribe with a tattoo on his chin, titled "Josh Ford: Tattooed Food Critic."
The new emphasis has also inspired Haney's staff. "I want to be respected as an artist," says art director Corey Cox, 27. "And it's hard to get respect as an artist when you're just doing adult stuff." Haney's sex-advice/adventurer columnist, adult entertainer Stephanie Glenn, was relieved she still had a job. "He didn't tell me to tame the column," Glenn says. "He told me not to let it get racier than it already was."
Haney will distribute 30,000 copies of Go-Go into restaurants and bars, not just liquor stores and adult bookstores. "I'm not trying to report the evening news," Haney says. "I'm not going to tell you the latest on the EgyptAir situation, because we're not a news source. We're trying to be an honest-to-God, good local guide to entertainment."
Entertainment, honest to God, without the X.