“Try taking that on faith,” he says, exalting in his own acceptance of the impossible-to-absolutely-prove primacy of the Big Bang’s lifting him up in the same fashion as the influx of the Holy Spirit buoys a Pentecostal tongue talker.
In these times of so-called intelligent design and the politicization of that tenth-grade biology class you kept flunking, such relativist commentary on the part of the publisher of a widely read science magazine can be taken as the act of a double agent in the culture wars. In fact, a number of Discover staffers reportedly indicate they may hurl the next time Guccione uses the term wonderment. The issue came up during the planning of the May cover story on the astronomer Michael Brown and his search for new planets. Instead of standard techie starry-night imagery, Gooch went lo-fi.
“I got a piece of black construction paper, stuck holes in it with a pin, and put a light behind it to stimulate stars. For the planets we used marbles. The art department didn’t get what I wanted until I told them to make believe they were doing a second-grade science-fair project. When it was over, everyone agreed it worked. By using a kid’s image, instead of something like the Hubble, we captured the profound innocence of looking into the sky. That whole cover cost me, like, $20.”
The notion that Gooch considers owning Discover an enabler of his inner child (re)opens a whole new line of inquiry: As previously hinted, who can fathom the Oedipal conundrum of being the son of Bob Guccione?
The basic story of the beginning of the Lear-like split in the House of Gooch goes thus: After his initial funding of Spin, Bob Sr. attempted to close the place, demanding all copyrights be turned over to him. Bob Jr. refused, and after rescuing the subscription list from a trash can, relaunched the mag with his own investors. Outraged by this defiance, Bob Sr. closed the iron door on his son, refusing to acknowledge Jr.’s rapprochement attempts. Brother Tony Guccione, likewise excommunicated, said of his father, “It is the Sicilian persona, being able to cut off a limb without remorse.” Beyond acknowledging that “my father can be a very stubborn man,” Bob Jr. does not talk about the fight. Going into rarely exercised Soprano mode, he says, “That’s a family matter.”
Recently, however, as the elder Guccione struggles with debilitating throat cancer, the two have gotten over their differences. The ongoing reconciliation has allowed Bob Jr. to more fully appreciate what he calls “my father’s larger-than-life immigrant epic . . . from Brooklyn to all that.” One thing Gooch has realized over the years is that “I am a lot like my father, but I never wanted to be him. I mean, how could I? He lived in a special time and ran with it like no one else. But I never wanted to take over Penthouse or live that sort of life.”
The fact that his own existence is pitched on a smaller canvas than his father’s is something Bob Jr., childless after two marriages, has grown to embrace. While Bob Sr.’s 27,000-square-foot, 45-room townhouse on East 67th Street and his $200 million collection of Picassos and Matisses were sold to settle almost inconceivable debts, Bob Jr. is happy enough to move into a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn where things are “quiet.” For sure, there will be no $17 million cold-fusion schemes, or anything like that, emerging from the Discover offices.
It’s the Guccione family tao: the sense of mission, the messianic zeal for space exploration, better oral sex, etc.
Bob Jr. says that buying Discover has brought him closer to his father, a contention seemingly borne out by an e-mail received from Bob Sr., currently residing in Palm Springs. Asked to compare Omni with Discover, Guccione wrote, “When I started Omni I tried to make it as reader friendly as possible, adding humor and cartoons to the mix . . . In my opinion Omni was the best looking and most balanced magazine on the market . . . Discover is a somewhat different package. It is devoted to a wide variety of more serious matters, although Bobby, in his wisdom, has introduced other, somewhat lighter elements to round it out . . . I, for one, find myself reading it from cover to cover.”
Assessing his son’s qualities as a publisher, Bob Sr. goes on to say that while “Bobby was always a relentlessly determined young man, a characteristic that we both share,” he is also “very kind and sentimental, which softens the impact of his drive on his staff.”
The letter ends with the elder Gooch saying, “My relationship with Bobby is one of mutual love and respect. Who could ask for more?”