BAY AREA REPORTER, December 13, 1984
San Francisco CA, United States
By Joseph D. Butkie
HEADLINE: SAFESEX MELANCHOLY
* "Like Rechy, Fritscher joins words in powerful couplings"
* "90 pages of potent aphrodisiac...lean and compact sytle"
Thickcock of leatherman meets cherry boybutt. Bluecollar biker with chestfur, leather vest, and bootgrease greets a youngman who needs to learn how much fun sex with another man can be. Leather Blues by Jack Fritscher is as lean and compact as a well-toned leatherman: all-muscle, not a hint of fat. The volume is 90 pages of potent aphrodisiac. The reader will pant for his own chance at manhandling (or being manhandled) during a stimulating read. Both S's and M's will savor this novella.
Fritscher knows the rhythms of writing fuckprose. Like Rechy, he joins words in powerful couplings that enhance eroticism. Here you will find leatherscent, mansmell, and even cumshine. Also, the author creates remarkably hot sex-scenes, jabbing with a spate of short, choppy sentences.... Then, the author permits us a long, low sigh of pleasure after passion by lengthening the sentence, slowing the frenetic place.
Fritscher is a poet of porn, those exaggerated metaphors of nature's power--as applied to manmeat during a heavyduty workout--meshing beautifully to make the reader's own (by now) tumescent mound respond. If your fantasyman is leathermean and bikerbuilt, buy Leather Blues to chase away periods of safesex melancholy.
©Joseph D. Butkie
CONNECTION, April/May 1985
New York NY, United States
By T. R. Witomski
HEADLINE: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
SUBHEAD: Cool, Quiet Sadomasochism
* "almost Proustian...a great, cool book, a rememberance of things past--and to come"
* "extrodinarily well-written"
* "Anne Rice/A. N. Roquelaire/Fritscher's original re-write of Mr. Benson enabled Mr. Benson's first publication"
* "very California...Fritscher introduces SM concept of "mutuality"
Jack Fritscher's novella Leather Blues is a most pleasant surprise. It had gotten pushed under my bed along with other review copies of books that turned me off before I'd even started to read them. The Rex drawing on the cover is wonderful, but I'd seen it before and it seemed to promise a book I'd read in another incarnation. I retrieved Leather Blues one night when I was looking for something new to jerk off to (Boyd McDonold's collections can be called on to do only so much; at some point it becomes necessary to move on). The book is hot stuff, but it's also extraordinarily well-written and one of the rare examples of gay fiction that make any sense once sadomasochism rears its little head.
It's practically carved in stone that any pornographic book or magazine must include some S/M material. In the smut business, this is what is meant by "balance." As a result. there's a lot of very bad S/M porno out there. Bad not because it's badly written (though it often is) or horrifyingly ugly (though it often is that, too), but bad because it presents a false picture of what sadomasochism is. I don't think it's mandatory that a true and erotic portrayal of gay mole SM must be written by someone who's personally into gay male SM, but I can't think of a single case (other than A.N. Roquelaire's Beauty books. which are omnisexual rather than homoerotic in spirit anyway) where a valid portrait of gay male SM wasn't written by a practitioner. True, to know an egg tastes good doesn't mean you have to lay one, but to get the gay SM experience down on paper, it does seems you need first-hand experience. I'm not sure precisely why this is so. Most types of porno can be composed by writers who may have no direct experience of the kind of events they're describing, but when gay male SM porno is phony, it's horribly, ludicrously phony. If SM were as grotesque as it is often pictured in lousy porno, why on earth would anyone be turned on by it?
There is some extremely heavy-duty SM in Leather Blues, particularly a long scene that describes a ritual hanging. But Fritscher never portrays these sexual expressions as a sine qua non of SM: they are erotic dreams, "passion [that] rises out of far off nights..., fueled by memory, driven by dick beyond any logic." Leather Blues, like other important works of S/M fiction isn't a how-to guide for budding S/Mers. It would be insanity to take the events in these novels literally, to seek to recreate their set pieces. The good writers of S/M porno aren't guides to the orgy, but magicians showing us new wonders.
Leather Blues isn't a major novel, but it's tremendously effective on its own terms. So few books give us even one memorable moment that it would be carping to bring Leather Blues to task for not giving us more than it does. The opening pages, with their surreal mixture of dreams and memories, are almost Proustian in their associations. The first graphic sex scene (between the lead character Denny Sargent and the mysterious motorcyclist Sam--he's as intense and as elusive as a character in a wet dream) has a power and a beauty that's breathtaking. And the conclusion, as Denny and Chuck pursue their mutual shadow westward," continues both hope and sadness, a probing wistfulness, a nostalgia for a place one has never been to.
Not all of Leather Blues is successful. There are a few concessions to sleazily pornographic language along the lines of "the young ass had swallowed the man's monster meat" which are more jarring than they usually are because Fritscher too often shows us just how good his use of words can be:
Chuck laughed and rolled off Den. They lay side by side. The night air was cool on their bellies. Den sat up and watched the early moon spilling through the cabin windows. It lit the cumshine on their breathing bellies. Out on the highway they heard the traffic roaring by. Several trucks rumbled down the pavement into the darkness. But the sound they attended to most was the dopplered whineroarwhine or lone cycles tearing down the stretches of lonely road. Some of them hot with their machines boiling between their legs.
Fritscher gets a bit too elementary at the times when the characters chit-chat about sadomasochism (beginning--I kid you not--with S stands for sadist and M for masochist, except, and Fritscher doesn't mention this, when they don't), and the character lapses into some odd bits of proselytizing for "mutuality" and against strict role-playing (a very California idea of S/M that I guess Fritscher shares). But there's no need for the characters to tell us these things only to later act them out. Such schematic rigidity--first I tell you what I'm going to do, then I do it, then I tell you what I did--breaks the flow of the narrative.
For the most part. Leather Blues is deliberately distant. Its use of a third person omniscient narrative violates one of the central conventions of porno--the constant presence of a character named "I". Story of O is even more insistent in its distancing, using two beginnings and two endings and turning the "I" into nothing, zero, 0. In John Preston's Mister Benson--the novel, if not perhaps the more widely known serial version [Editor's Note: for which Fritscher wrote the final version for Mr. Benson's first printing in Drummer]--diffuses the I by doubling it; in the epilogue Aristotle Benson criticizes Jamie's version of events. In A. N. Rocquelaire's The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty's Punishment, the I is multiplied and interpreted: individual characters tell their own stories and there's a third person narrator who bridges the tales. It would seem that good S/M porno novels can't sustain the traditional pornographic "I." To explicate their subjects, all these books must separate readers from the action, make the reader doubtful about what's happening, postulate the plurality of truth.
The distancing devices in these five books show that the S/M experience isn't clearly definable. Jamie and Denny Sargent find maturity of personality through S/M; O abrogates her personality in S/M, and Beauty is torn between these two courses. (This lack of "one definition fits all" also characterizes the superb collection of lesbian writing on S/M, Coming To Power, and the gay male magazines Dungeonmaster and Drummer, where Fritscher was once an editor.) Unlike standard S/M porno--those hundreds of novels and stories with titles like My Brother, My Slave and the one that got Andrea Dworkin so upset, Whip Chick, Leather Blues, for the most part, tries not to proclaim, "This is S/M." Rather, it says. "SM may be like this."
I'm fearful of praising Leather Blues too much. It's not a book that can sustain a hard-sell campaign. Leather Blues is paradoxically, quite fragile: its greatest moments are almost throwaway bits. Denny's boss is mesmerized by "the light shine of sweat beneath the hairs where the boy's smoothly curved spine entered his jeans above his lean buttocks." As a child, after being beaten by his father, Denny sleeps clutching a leather jacket: the jacket "had given him the strength to endure." When the die-hard masochist Arrow acts outs his fantasy, he's reliving a cloudy moment from the past, "helpless and drunk and howling at the full Wyoming moon low on the horizon behind him." Despite its shocking sequences, Leather Blues is a quiet, cool book, a remembrance of things past--and to come.
THE ADVOCATE, May 14, 1985
Los Angeles CA, United States
By Geoff Mains
HEADLINE: Corporal in Charge of Taking Care of Captain O'Malley and
These are wonderful books, full of careful writing and a fine sense of words. Full of compassion and humor. And full of hot, horny fantasies that make good one-handed reading. But these are also works that surge into lyricism and insight.
In these two simultaneously published books Jack Fritscher celebrates that mythos of male-bonding which is so central to our society but which drives so many men ape-shit. In these stories, however, men who are mostly, but not always, gay bond with a frankness that refreshes.
Corporal in Charge brings together works from Fritscher's generous pen over the past 10 or so years. The tales fall mainly into two groups.
In the first, Fritscher delivers adolescent throbbings--those desires so intense they almost surprise. "The summer between junior high and senior high, Engine remembered, he had beat off 358 times for an average of nearly four loads a day." How small details preoccupied us then, and still do, becoming part of our ongoing sexuality. Fritscher creates his texts from those morsels that so transfixed: images, memories and fantasies; shed pubic hair collecting in urinals; abandoned and redolent jockstraps. His writing becomes a frieze, a fine caring, lovingly crafted.
Fritscher's largest category of tales embraces that joy shared between men in living their sexuality. Here are many facets of leather sex. Here is a man as brother and daddy ("And deep down you're glad...you can...let him feel some comfort and fun...that Daddies need Daddies too"). Here is man as tester and prover. Here is man as erotic dreamer, as self-lover and shaman, as animal (the brilliant ironic nuances of "Young Deputy: K-9 Dog Dik"). Here are men who cross old barriers and old prejudices ("Hustler Bars"). Here is mansex as ritual and initiation ("Captain O'Malley" and "USMC Slapcaptain"). Here are watersports, titsports, dominance, submission and fisting.
In the midst of this strongly erotic writing are some quite different tales with unexpected twists. "Caro Ricardo" is a tender, surreal story of a desperate search for personal meaning, of being together and alone in the frenetic glitz of New York obsessions. "Silver Screen Castro Blues" traces these same universal themes in a different but no less ironic way. And in "Earthorse: Harvest" Fritscher work these same themes into a bleak future that reaches back to threaten up today.
The fable Leather Blues, though not even a hundred pages long, packs a world of insight into its metaphors: growing up in America; the crazy, even cruel contradictions of straight sexual expectation; the myths of proving oneself. Denny Sargent sets out to take on the world with his cock but ends up learning some very different things. That a man can indeed be top and bottom, that a good top does a scene not for his own ego but for his love of the bottom's trips and needs. And he learns that there can indeed be sharing and respect between men who have sustained this rite of passage in giving themselves.
The themes of Leather Blues elaborate on those in Corporal in Charge. Fritscher talks of a world in which men can care and share. And of men who are not trying to flaunt a supposed superiority. These are men who know the joy of being themselves. Because once a man has embraced and accepted the reality of himself and the complex range of instincts and emotions that must be lived with, the deceits of ego-inflation become superfluous. Ending one of the hottest stories I his collection, Fritscher writes: "San Francisco, in my book, is the place where, when you go there, you get to be your true self. The Slot...is the place most likely to see or help a dedicated self-sucker doing himself, because he knows in such a special City that nobody does it like he does it when he does it to himself." Amen.
Editor's Note: This issue of The Advocate, May 14, 1985, reviewed Quentin Crisps Manners From Heaven alongside Jack Fritscher's two works of Fiction. The photograph of Quentin Crisp was by New Orleans photographer, George Dureau, who was interviewed in Jack Fritscher's ^Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera^ and was the subject of a Palm Drive Video documentary Dureau Verite show at the ^Maison Europeenne de La Photographie Ville de Paris^. Also included were Joseph Hansen's Brandstetter and Others: Five Fictions and Samuel R. Delany's Stars in My Pockets like Grains of Sand.
Copyright Geoff Mains
BAY AREA REPORTER, June 27, 1985
San Francisco CA, United States
By John F. Karr
* "Fritscher invented the South of Market (SOMA) prose style...as well as its magazines.
* "Fritscher's writing is a cold slap in the face, an awakening to words"
Surpassing Mike Shearer's well-done work is that of a veteran author. Jack Fritscher is an anarchist of gay sexual prose, the man who invented the South of Market prose style (as well as its magazines, which have never been the same without him). In anthologizing his work from the dozen magazines in which it originally appeared, under the title ^Titanic: Forbidden Stories Hollywood Forgot^, Gay Sunshine Press has done Fritscher's fans and his initiates a favor, and also thrown down a gauntlet (black leather, of course) to other writers. Fritscher's writing is a cold slap in the face, an awakening to words and the expression of sexuality that never loses its sting.
Fritscher can be cerebral, like Shearer, but conveys his thoughts through the action and dialogue, not stopping to lecture. His sex is decidedly unsafe, most at home with spit and slaps, piss and dirty rectums. It is aggressive, abusive, extreme, and at times (I have to say it), politically incorrect. But his freewheeling prose creates a believable world of hedonistic sensuality--forms of sex some readers might find unpalatable within the realm of fantasy, and Fritscher's work is clearly such. Within Fritscher's forbidden world we are safe, and that is what fiction is for.
Fritscher has roamed the furthest corners of sexuality, and can lead you on head trips unequaled by any other gay writer I know of. You may resist, as I did, some of the aggression, machismo, and sexual practices, only to be won over by Fritscher's prose.
And sorry, boys, he has a moral, expressed at the end of the secon Gay Sunshine Press Fritscher book, the novella Leather Blues, This is a classic male-bonding story, in which 18-year-old Denny Sargent is initiated into a leathersex bike club. As the jacket says, it's a book of hardballing sex and untender mercies--yet its conclusion finds Denny snuggled up with one buddy, their pact sealed with a romantic glob of spittle, a romance in full flower. Fritscher writes with heat and wit, dirt and desire. Forget those kneejerk collections; Fritscher is a knee in the groin.
Also reviewed by John Karr in this article: The Great American Gay Porno Novel, by Mike Shearer.
© John F. Karr
GMSMA NEWS, August 1985
By Thor Stockman
HEADLINE: HOT TYPE
* "He's at his best in his erotic, inventive use of language"
...Spend your money instead on Leather Blues or Jack Fritscher's other book, ^Titanic: Forbidden Stories Hollywood Forgot^. The latter is a collection of short stories and "meditations" on masculine fetishes, many of which appeared in what are still being referred to as "The Golden Years" of Drummer, or in Fritscher's own, now infamous publication, MAN2MAN.
The title piece, a sort of radio play or "hot tape" script, is actually the weakest of the lot. A few of the pieces overemphasize the author's adoration of macho "straight" men, but they never reach the homophobic coarseness of The Brig. Fritscher celebrates the full range of pleasures possible between men consensual and without shame, no matter how heavy the scene or which role, if any, is chosen and he's at his best in his erotic, inventive use of language. More on both of these fine books in a future issue.
[PHOTO CAPTION -- Highly recommended: Leather Blues, Jack Fritscher's powerful tale of male bonding and coming-out into S/M, available at your local gay bookstore, ^A Different Light Bookstore^, and ^PALM DRIVE VIDEO^. A number of books are briefly reviewed here, but thanks to Rex's masterly artwork, this one has the most attractive cover.]