Up above, in the boundless reach of infinite space, two great galaxies, Andromeda and our own Milky Way—millions (billions!) of planets and stars, drawn together by implacable gravity, entwined like lovers in eschatological foreplay to a new and bigger bang. This was how cataclysm came to the physical world, droned the unseen voice of Robert Redford—an endless cycle of attraction and shattering collision, creation, and destruction, leading to more and different creation.
“Sexy,” remarks the Gooch, his shaggy head reclined onto the seat-back at the Hayden Planetarium.
Years ago, before his family moved from Italianate Brooklyn to swinging London, where his father, the famous Gooch the Elder, would start the Ur-seventies stroke book, Penthouse, Bob Guccione Jr. used to go to the Museum of Natural History with his cousin Lenny. The 6-year-old Bobby Jr. stared at the dinosaur bones and wondered, How do you catch those things? The question vexed him for years.
Now the Gooch knows better. He ought to. After founding Spin magazine in 1985 as the tuff-punk antidote to the calcifying rock orthodoxies of Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone (just as the lounge-lizardly Penthouse thrust itself full frontal upon Hef’s pipe-smoking Playboy) and an uncertain sojourn in the laddie market with Gear, Guccione Jr. is currently the CEO of Discover, the science magazine he purchased from the Walt Disney Company last fall for $20 million.
“As the publisher of a science magazine, I know people and dinosaurs did not live at the same time,” the Gooch says, his Cockney accent still extant despite his having spent the past 35 years in the U.S. “It’s part of the family business.”
By this, of course, Bob Jr. is referring to Bob Sr., whose pungent legacy the younger Gooch has carried about, Aeneas-like, with ever-compounding complexity, at least since those early London days. “That was when I first became aware of who my father was, at least in the minds of others,” says the Gooch, who recalls being a young boy walking past newspaper kiosks hawking stories about an “American sex-maniac pornographer” being denounced in Parliament. “It wasn’t until later that I understood that pornographer was my dad . . . Such are the hands one gets dealt in life.”
That said, science magazines course through the familial helices of the House of Gooch. In 1978, with Penthouse at its split-beaver Zeitgeistal zenith, Bob Sr., in between emptying his Savile Row–tailored pockets to produce Gore Vidal’s colossally bizarre Caligula (Sir John Gielgud claimed to be shocked—shocked!—that hard-core material appeared in the film), founded Omni magazine. Wired-before-Wired, the bountifully neo-psychedelic Omni, a mélange of dystopic sci-fi, woolly paranormal speculation, and “hard” science articles, was a smash. By the early eighties, it was selling more than a million copies a month. Gooch the Elder, never shy with a grandiose vision, declared the magazine “a launchpad to the future” and nearly bankrupted himself by single-handedly funding a cold-fusion project that would employ 82 scientists and cost $17 million before being shut down.
Discover, Bob Jr. knows, is a way-more-sober thing. With a hefty 700,000 paid readership base, positioned smack between the nut-and-bolt suburbiana of Popular Science and the dishdishery of Scientific American, Discover has long been the field’s general-interest mag: full of topical, well-written and -reported (lots of quotes from scientists and academics) but not overly technical articles. It is the science magazine for the interested layman. In 2004, cover stories included the potentiality of space probes to the planet Mercury, a report on the life cycles of single-cell microbes on the ocean floor, a debunking of “brain chips” for mind control (gray matter, it seems, rejects the Manchurian Candidate scenario), and a tribute to Einstein featuring essays by the likes of Walter Isaacson.
In part, it was this surface respectability, more suitable to the middle-aged gentleman publisher, that attracted Gooch (an even 50 now) to Discover. Such was not the case during the enfant years at Spin, where the daily routine included in-office drive-bys from the rap group N.W.A., Ice Cube and Eazy-E included. Straight outta the Regency Hotel, the boyz took issue with how they’d been depicted in the magazine, a position Gooch was hard-pressed to dispute since he knew the writer of the piece to be “ferrety.”
Famous is the dustup between Gooch and Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses. The paranoiac Rose, shaking his diminutive fist in protest at the way rock-press barons were “rippin’ off the fuckin’ kids payin’ their hard-earned money to read about the bands,” called out Guccione in the tune “Get in the Ring.” It goes, “Bob Guccione Jr. at Spin / What? You pissed off cuz your dad gets more pussy than you? / Fuck you / Suck my fuckin’ dick . . . / Get in the ring motherfucker / And I’ll kick your bitchy little ass / Punk.” With ten years of full-contact karate under his belt (his first publication was a homemade ’zine titled A Step-by-Step Guide to Kung Fu), Gooch challenged Rose mano a mano. Rose demurred, proving the rocker to be, Gooch says, “a cowardly dirt man.”