Kick and Ryan are the opposites that attract, Kick is a blond god, a southern-born bodybuilder whose good looks and classic body are the envy of the Castro. Ryan is the lapsed Catholic intellectual who goes looking for heaven on earth and finds it in Kick -- until his obsessions drive him and Kick toward self-destruction. San Francisco in the 1970s and early 1980s forms the backdrop for their story in Jack Fritscher's new novel, Some Dance to Remember.
The book is a hit -- and with good reason. Some Dance to Remember is one of the few gay novels that truly deserves the "epic" tag so frequently handed out, not only for its length (562) pages) but for the passion of the Ryan-Kick love story and the quality of philosophical discussion that Fritscher brings to the book. In its mix of historical detail, emotionality and soul-searching, the novel is more reminiscent of sprawling volumes like From Here to Eternity than to the usual kind of coming-out accounts that have become such a cliche in our literature.
The author, Jack Fritscher, has led the kind of interesting life that seems to help such novels. He's been a college professor specializing in film, literature and popular culture as well as an erotic writer and filmmaker in his own right. (With coy double-entendre, he calls his company PALM DRIVE VIDEO.) Already well known as a journalist, Fritscher seems bound to enjoy an enhanced following with Some Dance to Remember. Recently, Dallas Voice spoke with Fritscher about the book and his life. Our edited interview follows.
Allen Smalling: How long did it take to write Some Dance to Remember?
Jack Fritscher: Almost 15 years, all told. But it was finished in 1982 except for some minor editing glosses.
Allen Smalling: Why wasn't it published until last year?
Jack Fritscher: It was too long for gay publishers. (My prior publisher) wanted to do the book in two volumes and charge $19.95 each. I just couldn't do that aesthetically -- or charge that much to my readers. Also, it's difficult to publish a book with today's large corporate publishers, who are only interested in the bottom line.
Allen Smalling: Why'd you write Some Dance to Remember?
Jack Fritscher: To remember that time (1970-1982). One of the younger Drummer editors told me recently that it really filled him in on an era he'd only heard about. I wanted a book that has a conversation with the reader, even when the narrative is rocketing on.
I very much admire the way Fielding, in Tom Jones, began each chapter by directly addressing the reader. I wanted there to be this kind of internal discourse in my book for the reader to talk about...a philosophical discussion about who we are, why we are, what we are.
Allen Smalling: How close is Jack Fritscher the author to the novel's main character, Ryan O'Hara?
Jack Fritscher: An artist does not reflect himself in his art as much as he provides a mirror for the readers to see themselves. I created the characters. If anyone, I'm (closer to) Magnus Bishop.
Allen Smalling: The Popular Culture professor, Well, Magnus and you have similar backgrounds.
Jack Fritscher: Like him, I realized around 1970 that gay liberation was very important to the fabric of American society.
Allen Smalling: But looking at your resume, it appears that you didn't move to San Francisco until later in the decade.
Jack Fritscher: From 1970 on, I spent all my free time in San Francisco. I taught at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo until 1975, but that was less than eight months a year.
Allen Smalling: Was that strange, shuttling back and forth between the Bay Area and a small mid-western city?
Jack Fritscher: Of course, it was total culture shock. But my students like my dual identity -- it was the tail end of the hippie days; they still wanted to go to San Francisco and wear flowers in their hair. I moved to San Francisco when the (Vietnam) was ended and there were no more students (like those).
Allen Smalling: What is the theme of Some Dance to Remember?
Jack Fritscher: It's an existential romantic comedy about how human beings screw up their lives and loves.
Allen Smalling: Why does (protagonist) Ryan O'Hara make life so difficult for himself?
Jack Fritscher: Life is no more difficult for Ryan than for anyone who has an inquisitive identity. Some people have greater vision than others. Ryan is a complex character. He looks for love outside himself until he finally learns to love himself.
Allen Smalling: How much does this have to do with the fact that he's Catholic?
Jack Fritscher: A lot -- scratch a faggot and you get a Catholic or a Jew.
Allen Smalling: But there are Protestants, too --
Jack Fritscher: They don't count (he laughs.) They're heretics to begin with. They don't identify with each other as much as Jewish people and Catholic people do. Catholics and Jews are potentially born into a mindset that is gay. The ritual and psychology of both religions gives you models for ritualized, institutionalized relationships.
Allen Smalling: Do you share Ryan's belief that he and his lover Kick were a different breed of homosexual man, not "gay" men -- that they had more in common with heterosexual men than with the run-of-the-mill San Francisco gay man?
Jack Fritscher: Yes. I do. Gay men weren't even invented until 1970. The line in the book about someone painting the old Falstaff brewery "Queers Against Gays" was true then.
Ryan prefers men who are masculine. The book dares not to have a queen at its center. It simply questions why some homosexuals are male-identified and some are female-identified.
Allen Smalling: What was so special about the 1970-1982 period?
Jack Fritscher: A window was open. In that one brief, shining moment there were brilliant people doing brilliant things: My lover, the Cockettes, Divine, John Waters, Sylvester.
Allen Smalling: I take it that AIDS slammed that window shut in 1982?
Jack Fritscher: Yes. Sex is deadly serious now. So is politics. Now men have to deal with, "Am I going to get married, or am I going to go out and deal with AIDS?" They're forced to make that choice at an early age.
Allen Smalling: Will San Francisco continue to be a lure even after AIDS?
Jack Fritscher: Yes. I think so. AIDS won't stop that. Like most people, I was a constant tourist from the first. I first visited here in 1961 with my family, long before I know about being gay....Once the terrible specter of AIDS goes away, I still think that San Francisco will be one of the most liberated zones in America.
Allen Smalling: Who are your favorite fimmakers?
Jack Fritscher: Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising had a great influence on me. Andy Warhol. Currently, Wim Wenders, the German director, and David Lynch. I like the film Angel Heart, because what the lead character is hunting lies within himself.
Allen Smalling: Like Ryan.
Jack Fritscher: Yes. I've seen Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now perhaps 25 times. It's a journey of discover, based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Allen Smalling: What does Ryan learn on his own journey of self-discovery?
Jack Fritscher: Ryan learns that the darkness can be beautiful, too....But there's a revelation in Ryan's experience in that he realizes all gay men and lesbian women are human beings. Ryan learns humility.
Some Dance to Remember is a gay book that doesn't have a queen as the central figure -- or someone coming out, or someone dying of AIDS. I didn't want any of those cliches. Some Dance to Remember is about being human first, gay or lesbian second.
Copyright 1990, Allen Smalling and Jack Fritscher