I first met Jack Ricardo back in 1993 when the two of us were writing for The Community Voice, a short-lived LGBT monthly out of Palm Beach County. Ricardo was in his literary heyday then, with two gay mystery novels under his belt: Death With Dignity (1991) and The Night G.A.A. Died (1993). Since then Ricardo and I have crossed paths in life and in print; the latter as mutual contributors to several short fiction anthologies published by STARbooks Press.
Now semi-retired, Ricardo continues to write, as witnessed by his most recent novel, Last Dance at Studio 54. A self-styled "biographical novel," Last Dance at Studio 54 takes the reader back to New York City of the 1970s and to Studio 54, the legendary nightclub and disco that defined that era.
"I was raised in Smalltown, New Jersey during the 1950s and fell head over heels for Judy Garland's Vicky Lester and helped crown Elvis king while bopping to his 45s and styling my hair (badly) into a DA, and I saw the anguish of Jim Stark and Cal Trask in my mirror," Ricardo recalls.
"In the 1960s, I fell in love, not wisely, and returned to NYC as a foolish young adult, escaping into the tarnished silver screens of 42nd Street. During the 1970s, I fell in love again, and again not wisely, plus I manned the barricades as a gay activist, and dove into the deep end of the dope and disco pools and survived intact. The 1980s drew me to Florida where I wrote and sold mounds and pounds of porno. The 2000s still sees me in Florida, and both my epic saga Sam's Hill and my detective mystery Desperate Innocence are e-booked and awaiting discovery. I still dream of living happily ever after."
Though obviously a work of fiction, Last Dance at Studio 54 is also true to life. Ricardo admits that the protagonist, Paul Markey, is based on the author: "Paul is Jack, and Jack is Paul. In a fictitious setting. I lived at the Bryant Hotel in Times Square and in the same circumstances. I overindulged in all three. Dope, dick and disco."
Ricardo also has memories of Studio 54, having "spent too many stoned nights and early mornings there in the summer of 1977. I also did know Andy Warhol and visited him at his studio fairly frequently, but it was strictly business. My lover and I were antiques wholesalers. (Andy bought mostly Art Deco jewelry.). Studio 54," Ricardo continues, "is a story about [Paul's] search for Adam" another Ricardo doppelgänger, "and about the search for Paul, which is really one and the same."
Unlike some other writers, Ricardo does not idealize 1970s New York City in Last Dance at Studio 54. "I tell it like it was. There was the new gay militancy, of course, and that was good. But it was also the era of unhindered promiscuity and unlimited dope. A sad era for gay men."
"We blew our respective minds (and maybe our hearing) at blaring discos. We fucked, we doped, we haunted the bathhouses, with no thought to the consequences. As Paul says, 'If the grime that encrusts the mirthless men at The Barracks led to anywhere, it was to the free clinic where a shot of penicillin and a cure awaits.' But AIDS was already incubating inside many of us. I figure the only reason I escaped the disease was because my sex of choice was oral not anal."
Ricardo calls Last Dance at Studio 54 "something of a historical book, showing both the glory and the doom of the worldwide phenomenon called Studio 54. Even today, just about everyone is familiar with the name 'Studio 54.' Older readers might recognize themselves in the pages of the book (or might not, since all gay men of the era didn't overdose on dope, dick and disco). The younger reader might be curious about Studio 54 and why it was so popular, since now it only exists in memories and photos. Younger readers might also discover that they didn't invent dancing, doping, and sexing."
"But maybe in reading this book, the young might also learn about the wastefulness and the perils of overindulgence, in sex, in dope, in dance. The 1970s in NYC played havoc with the lives of many gay men. I sure as hell wasn't wallowing in the bars, the docks, the baths and the discos all by my lonesome."
Now 72 years young, Ricardo remains active, and urges his readers not to "let age stop you from doing anything you believe in." Last Dance at Studio 54 is available from Amazon.com, both in paperback ($9.99) and in eBook (Kindle) form ($5.99).