SOME DANCE TO REMEMBER
FULL TEXT REVIEWS
NORTHERN EXPRESS WEEKLY, September 16, 1998, Vol 8, No 37
FIRSTHAND, October 1990
GAY TIMES, October 1990
TIME OUT, August 1990
THE GUIDE, July 1990
WE THE PEOPLE, July 1990
THE ADVOCATE, July 1990
LAMBDA RISING, Vol. 2, No. 4, April/May 1990
PLAYGUY, April/May 1990
OUTWEEK, March 1990
OUTWeek, March 1990
HEADLINE: The Castro's Gone With The Wind
I have long had three inflexible rules for writing book reviews: (l) I will not review a book that I do not like, for not only does no one look sillier than when being bitchy in print, but the review might also be interpreted as sour grapes on my part for some arcane reason or another; (2) I will not write an unqualified rave, for fawning in print looks even sillier than being bitchy; and (3) I will not review books written by writers who have reviewed my books, for reasons that should be obvious. (I do admit to being once very tempted to break rules one and three simultaneously, but my motives were not pure and eventually reason won and the rules remained unbroken.) I am about to come very close to breaking rule two. I loved Some Dance to Remember, all 562 pages of it. When page proofs arrived, I read through them in one day, unable to stop, then I reread them more slowly over the next week, and now I have read them again, and still my opinion has not changed: Some Dance to Remember is the best gay novel since Dancer From the Dance, which I doubt will ever be equalled--another writer might come along with the same skill, but the feeling of the 70s that pervades Dancer and makes it so exciting can never be recaptured.
At the heart of Some Dance to Remember is a love affair between Ryan, a Castro resident who has always idolized bodybuilders, and Kick (as in "that's not a dick, that's a kickstand"), who is the archetypal California Golden Man. Kick is even more than that; he's the blond super hunk of the cover of bodybuilding magazines; he's fantasy sex incarnate. In Ryan, who worships him, he finds something he needs. I know, it sounds dreadful; however, the author uses great care to develop the characters, and the read becomes very involved in their relationship.
One of the strengths of this novel, which helps sustain its length, is that the author draws the minor characters as carefully as the major ones. Ryan's family is extremely Catholic, and when they meet the teenage girl, who dropped out of her sophomore year in high school and soon thereafter marries Ryan's brother, Thom, their mother asks, "You have such a lovely dark complexion. What nationality are you, dear?" "Protestant", Sandy answered.
To say that this marriage was not successful would be exaggerated understatement, although, with three very offensive children, it was fertile.
So, there is a strong plot and interesting characters, but what gives this book its greatest strength is its setting in the Castro over 20 years, from the mid-60s to the mid-80s. Historical events are treated, for the most part, accurately but are seen through the characters, and real historical figures make brief appearances--for example, Divine, a "two-ton act person," Pat Califia, who, according to the author is truly a macho slut, Robert Mapplethorpe, in the beginning of his S&M period. The sense of living history is strong. Mr. Fritscher, as others have, attributes the start of the Castro to an article in June 26, 1964, Life magazine about the emerging gay culture. "An engraved invitation to every faggot in America wouldn't have caused more of a sensation. Reading Life's expose in Iowa was like discovering a travel agent's dream brochure... Not since Sutter's Mill...has any proclamation started such a stampede west."
At first, life in the Castro was heaven on earth for a gay man. Beauty was everywhere, sex was plentiful, healthy and available in variety, and everyone from geeks to gods found satisfaction somewhere. But as more and more came, and as "attitude" became a noun that did not need a modifier, the Castro disintegrated and it is only now beginning to heal, although it will never be the same. As Mr. Fritscher writes, "Attitude assassinated characters, reputations, and motives with more venom than Dan White ever knew...The Attitude Game was great sport, and great hurt; it would take years, and, finally, political and medical terror, before the perverse-rainbow bandana flag of intra-gay separatism [became] the real Rainbow Flag of Gay and Lesbian unity pulling the fussing, feuding dissidents together in true community." AIDS enters this novel in the 80s, of course, for without it, the book would be an unbelievable fairy tale. But AIDS enters only historically; it is not of central importance.
I wrote at the beginning that this was going to be an almost unqualified rave. [Editor's Caveat: Note here the applied importation of the trend of "Political Correctness" as the reviewer confuses reportage and presumes it is autobiography.] It would have been totally unqualified if Mr. Fritscher had not introduced what seems to me to be another nasty and elitist concept: homo-masculinity--the super men, those with great, muscular bodies and strong minds who would never be caught in drag or own any pet that wasn't a snarling brute. Mr. Fritscher writes the appropriate words that say that all kinds of gay men and lesbians are equal members of what I shall call "our community" for simplicity, but it is obvious that, at least in this novel, the author dearly thinks the "homo-masculinists, the manly homosexuals," are superior. My notes summarize my opinion about this point; I wrote "Bullshit! Fritscher takes himself too seriously here." However, and this is a big "however," the novel is large enough and complex enough so that the politics, right or wrong, do not interrupt it, and, in fact, give the reader something to think about.
Jacket blurbs are often irrelevant or silly, but there is one on this book that comes pretty close to truth. "Some Dance to Remember is the Gone With The Wind of sexual liberation." I would say it is the Gone With The Wind of the Castro but the point is almost the same.© Christopher Davis
HEADLINE: THE CASTRO HIGH LIFESUBHEAD: Remembering the Way It Was
* "An enormous amount of popculture documentation"
* "As a document of our times and lives Some Dance to Remember has no peer."
This long novel of love in the Castro is packed with street-level repartee, street-level political opinions, and street-level commentary upon the condition of gayness. Jack Fritscher's Some Dance to Remember is largely an effort in documentation, recording "the way we were" before and during the onslaught of AIDS. This documentation is the stated intention of the narrator, Magnus Bishop, whose sole purpose is to record, dispassionately, the daily details of the lives of certain people living in San Francisco from 1970 to 1982.
The narrator focuses our attention upon a writer of erotic fiction, Ryan O'Hara, and his love-mate, Kick Sorensen. Sorensen is a blindingly beautiful blond bodybuilder who, with his writer-lover as his coach and training partner, explores the limits of homo/muscle/sex and homo/masculinity, and eventually graduates from their intense three-year affair into the world of professional bodybuilding.
Ryan and Kick are a "Famous Couple" in the Castro, until dark-haired Logan Doyle disrupts their partnership, publicly making a fool of Ryan and shepherding Kick into the world of main-lined steroids.
The cascade of words that fills Fritscher's weighty effort is perhaps its greatest asset. An enormous amount of raw pop culture drives the action, filling the dialogue and informing the discourse of the narrator. This technique seems an intentional mimicry of the massive flow of polished, pre-packaged culture in our daily lives. Perhaps this is the author's silent comment that his characters' mad pace, impulsive decisions, and witty catch phrases reveal little to themselves about the inner workings of their own souls. Even the yeoman efforts to work through all the details of the complex relationships never seem to transcend the intrinsically flip attitudes and decisions of the characters. Take for example, the following dialogue:
Kick had pared down his own life to an almost Thoreauvian simplicity, just as he had pared his body down to transparent skin, hairy and tanned, with no subcutaneous layer of fat, revealing only the cordage of vascularity, of veins wrapped like cables around the defined bulk of his muscle...
Kick had always called Ryan coach. "I know what else you want," Kick said. "You want muscle. Not just mine. Yours." He handed Ryan a training schedule. "I want you to be my official workout partner."
"You'll give me muscle?"
"You can have anything you want."
"Can you make me a blond?"
As a document of our times and our lives, Some Dance to Remember has no peer. Further reflection on our times and our lives is left to the reader.
© Jack Garman
HEADLINE: SOME DANCE TO REMEMBER
Those of you who mourn the passing of the late great high priest of pulp, Gordon Merrick--those of you who anxiously await the next potboiler penned by Jackie Collins, Danielle Steele and the like--are going to love Jack Fritscher's latest novel. It's pure trash. But I have to confess that I couldn't put it down. Some Dance to Remember, set in San Francisco, is all about life in the fast lanes during those halcyon days before the current epidemic picked up steam. Ryan O'Hara, former seminarian and current publisher of Maneuvers a porn mag dedicated to rallying the cause of homomasculinity is in hot pursuit of the perfect lover. Kick Sorensen a slow walk'n', smooth talk'n', dropdead blond bodybuilder is heaven sent and hell-bound. But first there's three years and more than three hundred pages of sweet, sweet love.
This is the couple everyone loves to hate. Their relationship reads like an excerpt from an interview with bodybuilder Bob Paris and his lover, model Rod Jackson. And it's all orchestrated behind recurrent flourishes of lyrics from popular love songs from the seventies.
I found myself anxiously turning to the next page, hoping and praying that some conflict would arise to make this all-too-fantastic couple seem more human. Of course, trouble by the name of Logan Doyle eventually rears its ugly head. Then Ryan learns the hard lesson that one always loves more than the other, and the one who loves the most stands the most to lose. But not before the reader suffers through a veritable sugar factory of syrupy prose. "I love us," Ryan said. "I love the Energy-Being we create between us."
Much of Some Dance to Remember is too California, too San Francisco to suit my taste. Then again it is a book about the Castro and its mustached, flannel-shirted Castronauts. But to give credit where credit is due, there are passages when the novel rises above the mire.
Jack Fritscher's at his finest when writing about Solly Blue, an erotic video mogul. Here's a man who's seen and done it all. He's cynical but not jaded. ("Jaded," Solly pontificates, "is when you do it but don't enjoy whatever it is.") And the pearls of wisdom he dispenses throughout the novel are well worth savoring. "Politically correct," he quips. "I love that kneejerk jerkoff phrase."
Another strong point is the insight the author brings to those early plague years, the days before AIDS had so much as been given a name. This is one of the first gay novels to have in its favor the passage of time necessary to objectively examine the dawn of the plague. And the historical value of Fritscher's sharp-sighted recount of the time when patrons deserted gay restaurants, and no one had a clue how the virus is transmitted, cannot be discounted.
For a fun, lighthearted read, Some Dance to Remember is guaranteed to satisfy. How can you go wrong when the recipe calls for lots of graphic sex and a heavy dose of recreational drugging and discoing, all spiced with a generous slice of gay gym culture? Try it you'll like it!
HEADLINE: THE BEST OF TIME, THE WORST OF TIMESSUBHEAD: Novelist Jack Fritscher Takes a Hard, Long Look at the Castro's Golden Age - "graphically elegant.
Jack Fritscher didn't invent the Castro. He just made it mythical.
For 562 pages, the 51-year-old author lays out stories from what he calls the Castro's Golden Age (1970-1982) in the recently released novel Some Dance to Remember (Knights Press, $11). Heady, erotic, comic, and often boggling for the sheer weight of information it contains, Fritscher's novel is the first comprehensive fictional chronicle of the best of times bleeding into the worst.
"I didn't have to invent the high comedy of the Castro or the high tragedy," he says respectfully. "I listened, and I watched even as I participated. It just unfolded itself dramatically as history unfolded itself. I didn't have to invent assassinations or fires or deaths. From 1970 on, I took notes."
HIGH AND LOW DRAMA
"Some Dance to Remember is not my autobiography," says Fritscher, who used to take a notebook with him to the baths, sequester himself in his room, listen, and write. "My autobiography is much stranger than this book. When people ask me which character I am, I say, 'I'm all of them.'"
Be that as it may, the narrator of the piece, Ryan, bears the most resemblance to the real-life Fritscher: curious, romantic and obsessed with the hypermasculinity of gay competitive bodybuilders. [Editor's Note: The narrator is not protagonist Ryan O'Hara. The narrator is university professor, Magnus Bishop.]
"I like to make the comparison that the book is big like a bodybuilder," says Fritscher, "but it is also cut like a bodybuilder. There isn't a word in there that hasn't been judged 25 different times from 25 different angles."
Some Dance to Remember is, above all, a love story. Ryan the curious onlooker to and participant in the Castro's heyday, is after the ideal man. He finds him in Kick, the quintessential gay competitive bodybuilder. During their torrid, try-everything affair, Kick and Ryan become the idealized Castro couple--the gay Scarlett and Rhett, as it were--searching for love in all the wrong places. Along the way, they run into the Castro's historically correct inhabitants of the era, including Divine, Sylvester, and Robert Mapplethorpe. If one can learn American history via the novels of Gore Vidal, one can learn gay American history via Some Dance to Remember.
"Some Dance to Remember was written as a crossover novel," Fritscher says. "Half the characters are straight, and half are gay. I wanted it to communicate what we are about to people who are not gay. Straights have become terrified of us because of AIDS."
Perhaps no one is better suited to capturing the rise and faltering of gay liberation as personified by San Francisco in the 1970s than Fritscher. Born in Peoria, IL., he gravitated to the Bay Area after getting his Ph.D. in American literature at Loyola University of Chicago. For the next 15 years, he taught and lectured at Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College.
Along the way, he became something of an icon in the international leather community. As the editor of Drummer magazine (he is currently editor emeritus), he authored "over 3,000 pages" of leather porn and wrote diverse and original full-length erotica, including Leather Blues, Corporal in Charge of Taking Care of Captain O'Malley, and Stand By Your Man. He is founder of the quarterly magazine MAN2MAN, playwright of the one-act comedy Coming Attractions, screenwriter for the classic gay porno film Flashback, and a copywriter of some note for such corporate giants as Kaiser Engineers, Centex Telecommunications, as well as the San Francisco Municipal Railway, and KGO-TV/ABC, San Francisco .
Using a state-of-the-art studio near his Sebastopol, CA. home, Fritscher is also shooting and distributing "bodybuilding performance-art videos of men and women" as well as a series of videos he terms "real porn for real people"--heavy on reality, light on nubile Los Angeles-type blonds and blondes.
Despite his various successes, Fritscher concedes, "I'm sort of famous for being the Mapplethorpe widow nowadays." Fritscher met the late gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe "when he was just coming to prominence, so I saw and did with him a lot of things that he's come to be controversial for."
In his graphically elegant style, Fritscher detailed in Drummer last fall his relationship with Mapplethorpe. Presently at work on a complete biography of his friend, Fritscher is still clearly affected by his recent death and angered by the censorship Mapplethorpe's photographs have, in part, spurred.
But Fritscher is also inspired by the controversy: "What Robert tried to do and shake up with his photography is what I try to do, by writing, in Some Dance to Remember."© David Perry
Don't be intimidated by the cover of Jack Fritscher's Some Dance to Remember, or by its weight (562 pages in a trade paperback format)--this book is a ground breaker, not a bone-crusher. Some Dance tells a frank, compassionate story of a time many of us lived (and many others wish they had!), the Golden Age of San Francisco's gay mecca, the Castro.
Fritscher's style moves along at a comfortable clip, pausing only when necessary to reflect on a moment in that dizzy spinning of lives and events. The book covers the period from 1970 to 1982, a time when sexual freedom and gay liberation were at previously unheard of heights, and the Castro symbolized every gay man's Emerald City. The central characters dance in and out of the nonstop flow of sex, drugs and good dance music, weaving a colorful fabric of persona and passion. Ryan O'Hara, the hub around whom Fritscher's tale revolves, searches for the perfect man, the perfect relationship. Kick Sorensen, the hub of Ryan's dreams, is that man. (The name "Kick" refers to what some less-than-tactful people call a third leg, as in "is that a kickstand or your...?) Kick apparently has it all: muscles, great looks, and endless charisma. A golden god bodybuilder, Kick epitomizes Ryan's non-clone ideal man--if not as a role model, then as a lover.
By the time he meets Kick, Ryan has soured on the"numbers game": the baths, the bars, and the boys. He yearns for something more, something more in keeping with his vision of a "homomasculine" culture. Ryan has worked at publishing a magazine devoted to his credo, whose title, Maneuvers, plays doubly on the focus on men and their dance. In his cinematic writing style, Fritscher lets us peek at Ryan's private notes for his soon-to-be-published book The Masculinist Manifesto:
"Homomasculinists have little, if any, Jungian Anima On a 10-scale; homomasculinists rate a nine for almost pure Animus. Straight and bisexual and campy gay men are closer to rating what militant feminists would rate as the Perfect One of Total Anima... They are drawn toward the feminine Anima as naturally as homo-masculinists are drawn toward pure masculine Animus. Masculinists are sons of the Patrix."
A third of Some Dance to Remember takes place in Sonoma County, at Ryan's ranch, Bar Nada. When things get too crazy for Ryan and Kick, they retreat to Bar Nada. The ranch must have some appeal, because fairly early on in the story, Ryan's loser brother and his wife and messed-up kids descend on Bar Nada, determined to make it their home, thus narrowing the choices of haven for Ryan and Kick.
The intensity of Ryan's and Kick's affair takes an eagle's flight, soaring through deeply passionate ups and surrealistic downs. The entrance of a "stranger," one who diverts Kick's attention, creates some of the essential conflict in Some Dance to Remember. A nightmarish turn of events with his brother also draws Ryan through some rough times. Fritscher anneals these steel and silver links into a masterful chain, one which moves vividly and quickly.
The supporting cast is almost as interesting as (and certainly more varied than) the "leads." Ryan's baby sister has grown up into an offbeat chanteuse nicknamed Kweenie. She moves to San Francisco to join Ryan and Kick in their revels, carving out a name for herself in the city's spotlights.
A picture of Kweenie: "A Night in the Entropics!" Kweenie was appearing in a new review at the Mabuhay Garden on Polkstrasse. "Zola! Z-O-L-A. Emile Zola. Girls will be boys and boys will be toys." She tipped the top hat crowning her Dietrich tuxedo drag. "Marlene was a man... and so was Zola. Z-O-L-A. Zola" She was triumphant returning from Hollywood after a small part January had caged for her in Alan Carr's ill-fated Can't Stop the Music!"
Kweenie is part of a myriad of colorful characters who revolve around Ryan. Solly Blue (Solomon Bluestein, actually) is an eccentric film maker and purveyor of danger. Magnus Bishop, the apparently straight man who narrates Some Dance to Remember, is only a peripheral player in the game, and yet it is he who is Ryan's strongest support at one point. Logan Doyle, the bodybuilder who throws Kick's and Ryan's happiness into a tailspin, is played here a gold-digger, out to mine his rich vein of opportunity in Kick. And Ryan's family, most notably his brother Tom, his wife Sandy, and a brood of brats, provide some of the most bitter comic relief in the novel.
Some Dance to Remember is a powerful tribute to an unforgettable era and valuable piece of history, our history. Jack Fritscher is acknowledged as a writer who does for gay writing what Robert Mapplethorpe did for gay photography: he brings our collective vision into sharp focus. Let me assure you, Some Dance to Remember, like its cover picture of a boxer, is a knockout of a book!© Tom Phillips
HEADLINE: SOME DANCE TO REMEMBER
Jack Fritscher's mammoth chronicle of Castro Street, Some Dance to Remember, is, at heart, an historical epic: a tale of heroes struggling against not only one another, but fate and history as well. That his protagonists are leather men, musclemen, and pornographers whose battles are against hate, repression. and AIDS only heightens the book's sweeping epic stature. Like the huge, hyper-masculine stone figure that graces Fritscher's cover, the characters loom large both on the page and in their own lives. At the center of Some Dance to Remember is the romance of Ryan O'Hara, topman/porn-scribbler/erotic philosopher/ex-seminarian, and Kick Sorenson, a blond bodybuilder who gets higher on pumping up than on any of the drugs he and Ryan take to enhance their musclesex. Focusing on Ryan and Kick allows Fritscher to tell his real story which is the rise and decline--not really the fall of the golden age of the Castro and Folsom Street 1970-1982. There are scores of minor characters, hundreds of episodes, thousands of historical details and a plot that makes Gone With The Wind seem like a short story.
Some Dance to Remember is a great ambitious work and a rarity in modern fiction: a novel of ideas. (In fact, it has so many ideas that, at times, even its author seems overwhelmed by them.) Fritscher is concerned not only about telling the truth of gay men's lives--how we lived and loved, struggled and survived--but in examining in the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of those lives--the intricate interplay of self-expression and self-destruction, of sexual autonomy and erotic dependency. But more importantly, he has recreated more than a decade of gay history--its sights, smells, nerves, and guts. If Some Dance to Remember both astonishes and bewilders, seduces and frightens us (often at the same time) it is because Fritscher has captured, with intelligence and love, the way we live, both then and now.
© Michael Bronski
HEADLINE: SOME DANCE TO REMEMBER
Some Dance To Remember. This outstanding novel, set in the pre-AIDS "Golden Age" of San Francisco, has an epic, Olympian quality which led one American critic to describe it as "the Gone With The Wind of sexual liberation." It's an outrageous, outspoken and overwhelming fable about love, betrayal and obsession in which all of the players are larger than life. The central character Ryan O'Hara is an intellectual, Catholic, porno-journalist-publisher, and the book revolves around his intense and all-consuming passion for Kick Sorensen, a handsome blond bodybuilder with universal appeal. The novel covers an amazing period in homosexual history (1970-1982) when post-hippie San Francisco became the gay capital of the world opening its golden gates for lesbians and gay men to flood through and take over. Set against a background of gymnasiums and bodybuilding competitions, it details the opening of the legendary leather bar "The Toolbox," and the subsequent ghettoization of Castro, the arrival of the bath-houses of Folsom, the advent of "homomasculine" men (leathermen, clones, construction workers, cowboys), the murder of Harvey Milk and finally the emergence of AIDS. The book is full of surprises and contradictions--literary and cinematic references are juxtaposed with stimulating descriptions of ideal "musclesex." It's simultaneously heart warming and heart breaking, an example and a warning of how constructive and destructive love can be. And finally, it's an inspiration and a tribute to the indomitable gay spirit: "Nothing, not disease or prejudice or murder; or assassination, could stop their kind... The secret gift that made them different was their strength. The knowledge of that gift was their power." An "evocation poetique" of an era.
©Copyright: Michael Griffiths
Some Dance to Remember is an epic--one American critic has described it as "the Gone With The Wind of sexual liberation." Set in San Francisco between 1970-1982 ("the golden age"), it is post-Stonewall and--more or less--pre-Aids. As the author admits, this is an historical novel. Ryan Steven O'Hara (known behind his back as "Scarlett") editor and main contributor to a gay magazine which glorifies muscle and what he defines as "homomasculine" sex (to which the very antithesis is "gayboy" sex). Ryan's Rhett Butler comes in the form of bodybuilder Kick Sorensen--blond, beautiful and possessed of what they define as "Universal Appeal." This long (562 page) novel follows the course of their passionate but ultimately turbulent romance--replete with lingering descriptions of "mansex," enough literary and cinematic allusions to keep the most dedicated of culture-vultures on their toes and a nice wit which conveniently distracts from the sometimes eccentric sexual politics. Though Fritscher seems to be making an act of homage to "butch," his characters are just about nelly enough to remain sympathetic.
© GAY TIMES London
BOOKS - San Francisco Nights
"Sweeping epic structure"
"Fritscher is as interested in gay history as he is in hay histrionics...the clear ring of authenticity"
"eight major plots, fifteen principal characters and so much to say..."
"hard-edged emotional realism...honesty"
Jack Fritscher's Some Dance to Remember, a mammoth saga of San Francisco gay life which spans the Sixties to the Eighties is so bursting with plot, characters, energy, and ideas that it is not so much a successful novel as a great epic: a tale of heroes struggling against not only one another, but fate and history as well in their attempt to create a perfect, or at least tolerable, society. That his protagonists are leathermen, musclemen, and pornographers whose battles are against hate, repression, and AIDS only heightens the book's sweeping epic structure.
At the center of Some Dance to Remember is the romance of Ryan O'Hara, topman, erotic philosopher, ex-seminarian, and Kick Sorensen, a blond bodybuilder who gets higher on pumping up than any of the drugs he and Ryan take to enhance their musclesex. Ryan and Kick are the perfect SF couple: Beautiful, built, hung, intelligent, fashionable, and known all over town, they embody both the eros and the errors of fast-lane urban gay life. But Fritscher is as interested in gay history as the histrionics of gay relationships, and Some Dance to Remember uses the unsteady, and unhappy, course of Ryan and Kick's relationship to chart the rise and eventual decline of the complex, teeming, and flagrantly erotic gay culture which thrived on both Castro and Folsom Streets.
Most novels are content to tell one, or ever two, stories with a handful of characters but Some Dance to Remember has so many--eight major plots, fifteen principal characters and so much to say that it can barely contain the heady mixture of sprawling panorama and intricate detail that Fritscher has crammed into its more than 500 pages. And while Kick and Ryan (and most of the other major characters) are Fritscher's invention, Some Dance to Remember is also populated with actual historical figures: Robert Mapplethorpe, Pat Califia, Divine, Camille O'Grady, Robert Opel, and Harvey Milk all make appearances, giving the work the clear ring of authenticity.
But beneath the fictions and the facts, Some Dance to Remember also tells some hard truths. Fritscher is concerned with the psychology of how gay men live and love, the intricate interplay of self-expression and self-destruction, the erotics of autonomy and dependency. The characters here are heroic but not invincible, brave but not always successful (and sometimes even self-defeating) in their quest for a perfect world. It is this hard-edged, emotional realism that gives Some Dance to Remember its unflinching honesty and allows it not only to seduce, but frighten us as well.
Also reviewed in the same article: A MOVIE, by Donald S. Olson; WHEN THE PARROT BOY SINGS, by John Champagne. © Michael Bronski
HEADLINE: The 70's are back...with a vengeance
Gay author recalls a rebel with a camera and San Francisco days
Movies like "Boogie Nights" and "54", the new "That's 70's Show" on tv and the resurgence of disco music and fashions are being championed by people who were barely out of their Huggies when the era was at its absurd peak. That is nothing short of perplexing to those of us who were grateful to move onto the even-more superficial 1980's, but what the heck—a few extra re-runs of "The Brady Bunch" never hurt any anybody.
If you're interested in two serious, insightful and memorable looks at the transition from the 70's to the 80's, then be sure to pick up the pop culture memoir "Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera" and its worthy companion piece, the fictional epic "Some Dance to Remember," both by the gifted writer Jack Fritscher.
A Ph.D. who earned his doctorate in American Literature at Loyola College in Chicago and a former professor at Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo, the brilliant Fritscher has authored six fiction and four non-fiction books; written countless essays, articles, plays and film scripts; photographed the coffee-table book "Jack Fritscher's American Men" and covers for over 20 magazines and books; founded the legendary "Drummer" magazine in San Francisco; and like fellow author Anne Rice, has long written for both the mainstream and the underground.
The Undiscovered Mapplethorpe
It was while Fritscher was the editor at Drummer in 1977 that a then-undiscovered Robert Mapplethorpe asked him to look at his portfolio of photographs. Fritscher was immediately intrigued by Mapplethorpe unique camera eye and assigned him for magazine cover. They became friends, colleagues and lovers, and after their relationship ended, Mapplethorpe went on to international stardom, a storm of controversy and death at age 42 from AIDS. Fritscher went on to become a prolific writer whose many subjects included his reminiscence of his years with Mapplethorpe.
Largely based from Fritscher's journals and a collection of letters, notes, photographs and reviews he kept on "this most determined of artists," "Mapplethorpe" is a memoir, not a biography. At the onset, Fritscher gives the advisory that "This pop culture memoir contains sex, lies, greed, perversion, murder, deceit, infidelity, drugs, sex, immortality, scatology, ambition, equivocation, character assassination, slander, blasphemy, aspersion, betrayal, distortion, racism, ungodliness, sodomy—and that's just the critics of Mapplethorpe." It's a clear caveat for what's about to follow.
What Fritscher captures so well is the essence of the tumultuous ‘70's and the spirit of an artist who wanted "to be a story told around the world," and paid the price with his life. Fritscher's remembrance is so personal that he writes "takes," not chapters, and his intimate relationship with his subject provides a unique point of view that couldn't be expressed by another biographer.
Art is always in the eye of the beholder, and the validity and purpose of Mapplethorpe's will long be debated. Fritscher lets us know that without the dark side of the soul, there an be no saint, and that Mapplethorpe was living proof that moments may be perfect, but people are not.
Life in the Castro District
"Some Dance to Remember" contains a dedication to Robert Mapplethorpe and "for the 14,000 veterans of the Golden Age of Liberation who each gave me piece of his heart." Spanning 1970-1982, the book, which borrows its title from an Eagles song from the album "Hotel California," is a fable, a "docudramedy" (as the author calls it) and as a document of gay life in the Castro district of San Francisco, has no peer.
As with most epics, a colorful ensemble cast of characters provide and propel the action: a gonzo writer, a hunky bodybuilder, an erotic video mogul, a cabaret chanteuse, a Vietnam vet and a Hollywood television producer, among many others. One of Fritscher's many gifts as a writer is that he clearly loves all his diverse characters, and fleshes them out with their own voices, foibles and dilemmas.
Meld in some significant social issues, like the burgeoning gay liberation movement, civil rights, AIDS and crime, then throw in a murder, and a healthy dose of drugs, sex and rock and roll, and you have the framework for a book that was hailed as the Castro's version of "Gone With the Wind."
Though the author clearly wrote from the perspective of someone who experience the time, place and persons like those in the book, he states up-front that it's not an autobiography, but an imagined journey through a personal heart. Part of the book's beauty is the recognition the reader has of themselves in many of these characters and of the universal world in microcosm at the intersection of 18th and Castro.
"In the pursuit of excellence, there is no fault in high expectation," writes Fritscher at the book's poignant end. "There is only virtue. Then, finally, comes the realization that the quest is of itself the only importance. The quest has no end. The questions have no answers. The questions themselves are the answers, and the quest its own end."
In "Some Dance to Remember," Fritscher's quest was to chronicle an era, and through a fictional platform, pose questions that can only be answered in the heart. "Some Dance to Remember" is a book to remember, and its humanity, humor and intelligence is a tribute to many who won't be forgotten, as well.