“My Last Dance with Auntie Brie is a rollicking, well -written, soaring story of discovering yourself, the pain of lost love, the comfort of conviction, longing for possibility. Ron Naples has
written a captivating story of pride, loss, bitterness, and redemption.
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My Last Dance with Auntie Brie, Ron Naples' debut novel, is gay erotic fictionalized memoir based on his coming out experiences in the '70s. It is a vivid translation of a time when closet doors were nailed shut, but more than a vicissitude, it is also a peek back at the madness of the Disco Era. Raised an Italian Catholic, Ron escapes his disciplinary family life when he's introduced to his first gay bar. There he meets Auntie Brie, a drag queen who shapes his destiny. His impending dream of becoming a professional musician is shattered when he is seduced into the gay party arena. Feel the reverberations of the disco beat as Auntie Brie seduces you on to the dance floor. Revisit some of the infamous clubs of the day including NYC's Studio 54 and escape to the Cape on a summer vacation gone wild with one of Ptown's most celebrated houseboys. His familiar tour de force reaches even farther with his insight and questions surrounding gay culture. It delineates a 70's puritan society filled with fear and ignorance which ignited The 1979 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights to end violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. My Last Dance with Auntie Brie defines an entire gay generation who succumbed to the hedonistic lifestyle of that time which has now become legendary. It carries the universal message of unconditional love and acceptance; we all need somebody to love us just the way we are.
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About the Author
Ron Naples, a native of Connecticut, has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area with his partner Joe for the last 37 years. In his youth, he was a professional musician. In 1979, he attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA majoring in percussion and recording engineering. In 1987, Naples studied at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, CA and earned a degree in Interior Design. In 2004, he enrolled in the National Holistic Institute in Emeryville, CA and became certified in massage therapy which he continues to practice today. This is his first literary work. He is planning to write the sequel.
April 5, 2020
Ron Naples' My Last Dance with Auntie Brie will strike familiar notes to its readers who have survived the pre-internet, AIDS-genesis disco era. Many of the novel's chapters parallel our own experiences. The story brought the "70's-turned-80's" back to life. I was there. I knew those people. Its soundtrack is my soundtrack. I went to those clubs. I danced to those songs with Mr. Naples, Auntie Brie and their fabulous, talented, endearing and unforgettable friends. My Last Dance With Auntie Brie is a brilliantly crafted time capsule, composed from the heart with love and respect for an era not defined only by the emotional spectrum of the highest highs and the deepest lows, but by the BPMs (Beats Per Minute) with which it keeps time.
September 21, 2019
I have heard many of Ron’s autobiographical tales first hand. If you are interested in gay culture on a historic or personal level, this book has it all. Wonderful characters in a colorful, humorous, and sometimes emotional telling. Ron makes the struggle to grow into one’s identity - gay, straight, or otherwise - very relatable. Through some heavy events, the tone is one of an upbeat survivor. If there is anything critical to say it is that there could be three novels in one here - sometimes you just want to hear more. As a SFO native I have a real-life connection to much of the history Ron starts to live in the later part of this book. For me this is a big reason to look forward to forthcoming installments!
July 11, 2019
Although I came out in the 90's, I could easily relate with this book. It gave me a very detailed account of what it was like coming out in the late 70s as compared to then. It is the story of a young man grappling with his homosexuality in a devout Italian-American family in Connecticut. He takes us through the rise of the LGBT political movement (March on Washington 1979) and his participation in gay activism. It is a shameless account of drugs, alcohol and when disco reigned supreme. Ron flourishes in his promiscuous tale when free love was at its peak in Ptown. It is a good read for anyone coming out, then and now, and experiencing all the aspects of gay life
5.0 out of 5 stars
May 26, 2019
It's been a while since I've read a book that captivated me so much that I took it to work and read it on every break. My Last Dance with Auntie Brie is such a book. It's the story of a young man stumbling (or, should I say, whirling) into his sexual identity and going through as many ups and downs as an EKG on the rocky road to understanding himself and his loved ones. It's written with enormous energy and detail--sometimes too much (don't worry: the later sex scenes are far less graphic than the first one), but it never bogs down. It tells a compelling story set in the Disco era of the late 1970s through early '80s, full of drag queens, white powder, and social protests. It touches everything from the author's Catholic upbringing and guilt, to a wild adventure at Studio 54, the emerging AIDS crisis, and a life-changing summer as a Provincetown houseboy. Just when you think the book is going nowhere it spins you around, slaps you in the face, and rewards you with an unexpected yet inevitable ending. I love this book because it spares no one in its honesty--all without malice. This is wonderful storytelling.
May 9, 2019
A memoir is always difficult to approach. What does this person have to say? Why is it important? My Last Dance with Auntie Brie is a rollicking, well-written, soaring story of discovering yourself, the pain of lost love, the comfort of conviction, longing for possibility. Ron Naples has written a captivating story of pride, loss, bitterness, and redemption. What can you say about a story where a night at Studio 54 with Grace Jones, Truman Capote, Farrah Fawcett, Debbie Harry and David Bowie isn't even the highlight? A memorable record of time of place. Highly recommended!
May 7, 2019
I very much enjoyed reading My Last Dance with Auntie Brie in part because it comfortably reflects the life I remember as a young gay man coming out in Boston in the early 70’s. I am just a little older than Ron was on the book, and I remember working on the first days of the struggling Gay Community News or GCN ( the real parallel to the BGN). The book is an easy read, and it rings true. It reflects the angst, the free wheeling fun, and the adventure of being young and gay in the 70’s. I enjoyed meeting the characters through Ron’s eyes. They had a familiar ring. I felt that I knew them back in the day.
The place was old, dark, and damp; an abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere. It was a secret refuge of forbidden pleasure, and it became legendary to all of us who knew it. What I found there shaped my destiny…
Derek dropped his ’67 Karmann Ghia into low gear and rumbled up the driveway. I ran out of the house to his car, afraid I’d change my mind if I didn’t get into it soon. He had barely come to a stop when I opened the door and jumped in. I saw Mom watching us from her bedroom window, her hand holding the curtain, probably trembling at the thought of me going out with Derek, suspecting we were up to no good.
We headed down an unlit road that wound through the woods of Mansfield, Connecticut. Flashes of light from neighboring houses winked behind the trees as we raced out of safe suburbia and onto the interstate, with Donna Summer’s “Once Upon a Time” blasting away on his cassette deck.
“Are you ready for the time of your life, my dear?” Derek asked, with a naughty grin on his face. I was nervous as hell and didn't respond. Derek’s midnight forays were his way of rebelling against his parents. He needed to uncover his innate personality, interests, and capabilities as well as his limitations, and he encouraged me to do the same. I was unaware of his secret life, a life that not even I, his best friend in high school, had ever been exposed to. Until tonight.
He had asked me to go out with him on his after-dark expeditions before, but I usually flat out refused. Despite my severe skittishness, curiosity finally got the best of me, so I decided to take this tentative step and enter his clandestine world.
We drove down I-84 to Hartford, took the Sigourney Street Exit, and ventured toward Woodbine Avenue, which brought us to an abandoned factory. It's asphalt parking lot was cracked and overgrown with weeds. Strewn about, were various metal parts along with some discarded machinery. A chain-link fence surrounded it, falling apart, like the industry it no longer served, dead and forgotten. The moon-lit silhouettes of tractors, and other demolition equipment, surrounded Derek’s car like dinosaurs waiting to attack their prey.
We bumped our way over potholes and found a space to park. As we exited the car, traffic sounds rattled from nearby overpasses that pierced the misty night. The air reeked of gas, oil, and exhaust fumes, which added nausea to the butterflies in my stomach. It was a frightening place to be, and I questioned my decision to come with him.
We walked toward the brick warehouse with all it's windows boarded up, and entered it through a door that was illuminated by a single red-light bulb, the kind one would see outside a Danger Zone, warning passersby of explosives or other hazards. The red “eye” pulled us forward, as I held my breath and I followed my high school chum into the unknown.
The Warehouse wasn’t as spacious inside as it appeared from the outside. Only a portion of it had been reserved for public access. The odor of moldy basement air, mixed with cigarette smoke and booze greeted me as I followed Derek, who walked in as if he owned the place. We stopped, to let our eyes adjust to the darkness, before approaching a bar on the right side of the room with half a dozen drinkers hunched over their cocktails. With as much confidence as I could muster, I stepped up to it with Derek.
We sat on a couple of vacant stools, and Derek ordered drinks. The bartender popped open a couple of cans of Bud, and placed them on the bar before us. Derek gave the scruffy man in an AC/DC T-shirt some money, and he pecked on an old cast iron register with a cash drawer that wouldn’t stay closed.
I was petrified and didn’t dare look at Derek or anyone else. I focused on the row of dusty booze bottles lined up in front of a hazy mirror and sipped my illegal brew in silence, hoping I wouldn’t be caught for underage drinking. Then I realized, the bartender or the patrons couldn’t have cared less.
“Why’d we come so early?” I asked Derek.
“To avoid being carded,” he whispered, and then it made sense.
While we finished our beers, people began drifting in. Most came alone, a few in pairs. Some of them were dressed like they’d just come from the office, others wore T-shirts and jeans. A couple of them were in formal evening attire.
I gazed around the room. A group of guys were conversing with a woman who looked like Bea Arthur from Maude. Two other men were making out in the corner by the bathroom. A fat lady, in a pink taffeta prom dress, kept yelling at the bartender for another drink. She looked like a truck driver who desperately needed a shave. She was not an ordinary woman, and this was not an ordinary bar. The Warehouse was an underground gay club, and the unusual crowd frightened me to death.
Turning on my stool, I saw a three-tiered plywood platform that served as a dance floor. No one was dancing. Buried in the rafters, were dozens of loose wires, strung between lights flashing to the rhythm of thumping music from loudspeakers that were chained to the ceiling. Spots of color, created random patterns on the floor, as though someone was running a slide projector and lost track of what they were doing.
A DJ cued up “Supernature” by Cerrone. The tune had an environmental theme, an imagined future in which all the animals took revenge against humankind for mistreating Nature. The song was hypnotic, eerie, with synthesized minor chords and a lot of percussion. The drum solo at the end of the song, flashed me back to a time when all I wanted for Christmas was a drum set: a chrome snare, a sparkling red tom-tom on top of a bass drum, and a hi-hat with two shiny cymbals. How I fantasized about playing in a band like the ones I had seen on Don Kirshner’s televised rock concert. My parents eventually bought me a drum kit, and I played them in the high school band. It was the one thing that helped me get through my senior year, I detested all my classes. Music was my only means of survival.
I looked at my glow-in-the-dark watch. It was almost eleven o’clock. I hoped my parents had gone to bed and wouldn’t know I was out past my curfew. Derek was always out late at night, and I wondered how he got away with it, how he got away with everything.
“Derek. I think we should go.”
“We can’t leave now; the place is just getting started,” he said, and ordered another round.
The clicking of stiletto heels announced the presence of a beautiful woman who approached the doorway. She wore a Valentino mid-length, black ruched dress with a mock collar, and a diamond-shaped center bustline. Elegant nylon sleeves veiled graceful shoulders. Her dark curly hair, swept into a French braid, exposed a delicate pair of diamond earrings, that caught the light above the entrance.
She pecked the doorman on the cheek, when she turned to hand her mink to the coat checker, a chubby tomboy. I saw that her backless dress opened with a dramatic cape-style drape. She turned and placed the thin strap of her rhinestone purse over her shoulder, so it rested on her hip, then strutted over to the bartender, who gave her his full attention. She took out a cigarette, placed it in a jeweled telescopic holder, and breathed, “Light my fire, Sweetie.”
The bartender flipped open a cigarette lighter, and when the flame shot up, I had a clear view of her facial features. She was beautiful; her make-up was flawless. After taking a deep drag, she let the smoke seep from her nostrils while the bartender poured her a vodka, neat, and didn’t charge her for it.
Derek nudged me and said, “That’s Ms. Brianna Gabriella Dominguez, the Queen of Putnam Heights. Isn’t he fabulous?”
He? This perfectly coiffed woman was a man in drag. She didn’t look like the stereotypical drag queens I had seen on Donahue. Instead, Brianna was meticulously put together and carried herself with style and grace. I stared at her strange elegance with intrigue. Her appearance was so unexpected, so startling to see in this old warehouse that reeked of darkness and destruction. It was as though a peacock had walked into a dungeon.
All eyes were on Brianna as she made her way around the room, sauntering from person to person until she reached the burly transvestite at the end of the bar. She straighten out her wig, which had shifted over one eye, gently kissed her on the cheek, then left her side.
“Disco Heat” by Sylvester began to tear up the loudspeakers. The energetic song was infectious, with a gospel influence, that gave it a more unique sound than the usual Disco songs. Brianna put her empty glass down on the bar, and made her way onto the dance floor. A few flamboyant boys circled her, showcasing her as the main talent. Together, they paraded around the floor like a well-rehearsed Broadway act. Brianna, and her entourage, twirled in the blinking lights to the pulsating music, capturing everyone’s attention. No one in the group was paired up. They danced individually; rapt up in their own worlds. I had never seen that kind of dancing before. Their movements were energetic, uninhibited, free-flowing expressions of joy. Not like the stiff cardboard moves I remembered from high school functions.
“Come on,” Derek drunkenly hollered, “Let’s join them!”
He grabbed my hand and pulled me off my stool. I tried to break free from his grip, but before I knew it, we were on the dance floor surrounded by the prancing drag queen and her choreographed boys! With blasting loudspeakers hovering above our heads, the boom of the bass reverberated through me. I couldn’t hear myself think.
A fog machine generated vapor across the floor, and I lost Derek in the mist. Suddenly, I was within an eyelash distance of Brianna! As self-conscious as I was, she was incorrigible. “Get into the groove, Sweetie!” she shouted, spurring me on. I began to mimic her moves and laughed at myself for daring to compete with her.
I was thankful the fog helped camouflage my amateur dancing feet. The music—earth-shattering, primal, and contagious—became the fabric that wove us together. I experienced a mystical unity, an unspoken bond. It was as though I had always known Brianna and her fan club, total strangers who were at that moment, inviting me into their lives. No one paid any attention to how I danced. They didn’t care who I was, what I did, or where I came from. The important thing was that I had joined them.
An acceptance enveloped me, the kind that can only be found on the dance floor. I began to understand why Derek raved about it. The Warehouse was a very special place, and it was becoming a legend right before our eyes.
Derek suddenly appeared by my side and winked at me. I was as bewitched by it as he was. We continued to boogie to the next several songs while taking in the scene around us.
I would no longer have to walk down that lonely dark corridor of the mundane. I had discovered a bright new horizon, and my fate was guiding me to it. From this point on, my life would never be the same.
Nearly 38 years in the making, My Last Dance with Auntie Brie began as a journal I wrote in Ptown.
I'd like to thank my original editors Jolien Dexter and Marilyn Pesola for taking this emotional writing journey with me. Their dedication to my work helped make my novel become a reality. I'd also like to thank the team at MLR Press for believing in my story.
Much love and gratitude to my parents who did their very best to raise me during that turbulent time. It was a difficult period for all of us. We were true victims of a generation who misunderstood homosexuality, yet we managed to persevere and we have become even closer because of it.
I dedicate my book to Jan, Gary, and David, the real life people who flavored my characters in my tale. Honorable mentions to Richard, Tim, and Eddie. Their friendships continue to enrich my life.
Most of all, I'd like to honor Auntie Brie who embodied all the fabulous drag queens I knew back in the day, with special thanks to my editor Allen Horne for adding humor to her character.
An Interview with Ron Naples
I’ve recently read Ron Naples' debut novel “My Last Dance with Auntie Brie” and posted a review on this site as well as on GoodReads. Shortly after that, Ron sent me a PM saying he was delighted with my review, I wrote back, and one thing leading to another, we ultimately agreed we ought to continue our friendly chat on Skype. Now, it’s six pm here in Paris, France, so I’ve poured myself a glass of red wine in lieu of the almost compulsory French aperitif. I’m sipping it when our connection is established.
ParisDude (lifting glass in a mock-toast): Hi, Ron. So good to see you! Thanks for accepting to chat about your book.
Ron Naples (toasts back with the cup of coffee he’s holding): Same here! I would have loved to join in with some wine myself, but it’s only 9 in the morning over here. And that’s definitely too early for wine. (chuckles) We chit-chat for a while, Ron immediately putting me at ease. Then it’s time to launch into the main subject.
PD: Ron—I’ve read your short bio on Amazon and have seen that you held several jobs in your life. I’ve also noticed one thing: none of them is even remotely connected with writing or publishing. So, what exactly made you start writing?
RN (shrugs): I’ve always felt my story was a good one, and it needed to be told. I was intimidated by trying and getting it published, though, because I felt I was lacking professional writing experience. But I did read many books on how to write and publish. I also kept checking my grammar and punctuation with online sources while I was writing it. When I felt it was good enough, I hired an editor, who helped me with manuscript formatting and submission guidelines.
PD: Your novel is supposedly based on your own experience. Tell me—how much of it is really true?
RN: Most of it, really (laughs). All the characters in my book are based on real-life people. I’m still in touch with a few of them. All the places did exist, some still do. And the events, although exaggerated at times, really happened.
PD: Some of the drag queens’ quips in the book are truly hilarious. I’m thinking of that fabulous line, “The best way to get over one man is to get under another!”, for instance. Are they quotes, or are they part of the fictionalization process, if I may say so?
RN: Mostly quotes—things I’ve heard drag queens say over the years. I really did play my drums in a drag show in Ptown, you know, together with my character Auntie Brie.
PD: Alright, so most of your book is true. But—the wedding scene? (winks) All true? I mean—really?
RN (laughs): OK, guilty. I might have embellished it a bit. But I sold you, so why not? My sister loved that scene, by the way. It was an over-the-top version of what actually happened, but in my mind, it happened like that. Wouldn’t it make a great movie scene?
PD: It would, alright. Er, now a more personal question. Your bio says you’ve been living with your partner Joe for 37 years… Having read you novel, I wonder if Joe and that cowboy character, Mitch, are the same person…
RN: No. I really did fall in love with a cowboy when I was in Boston, and we lived together for a while. But I met Joe in San Francisco
many years later. We’ve been together since 1982. (shrugs as if saying they’ve simply been meant to be together). Unbelievable for me as well.
PD: I find it rather inspiring. Way to go for me and my boyfriend! I take it you’re planning to write a sequel to “My Last Dance with Auntie Brie”. Can you tell me more about it? What will this sequel be about?
RN: You’re right about that. The sequel will play out in San Francisco, and I’ll try to tackle all my West Coast adventures. I have so much more to write about; all the wild times I had in the 80s. It was quite a different time before AIDS. I’m lucky to still be alive!
PD: Sounds interesting! When do you think it will be published?
RN: Well, I have to write it first (laughs). In fact, “My Last Dance” started as a journal I wrote in Ptown 38 years ago. I completed the first draft in 2015. It took me nearly 4 years to find a suitable publisher, that was the hardest part. I’m hoping the sequel won’t be as arduous. I’ve started an outline for it, but my focus has been on promoting my current book.
PD: Of course. And you know what? I’m really looking forward to reading that sequel, so do hurry up! Now, I guess I’m being nosy, but do
you have any other writing projects?
RN: You’re not nosy (smiles, then thinks about my question). Other writing projects? Not really. You know, I have created a website for my massage practice, and I have recently launched a website for this book. I’ve written documents for various jobs I’ve had through the years, though—guidelines, policy and procedures etc…
My boyfriend walks in at that moment and asks me if I want him to start preparing dinner. I notice Ron listening to our exchange in French, almost as if he understood what we’re saying.
PD (surprised): You speak French, Ron?
RN (shakes his head): Not at all. I took a class in high school but have forgotten it. I’m entertaining the thought of visiting Paris for my birthday in October, though.
PD: That’s great! Know what—let’s have that glass of wine then!
RN (nods): That would be wonderful!
PD: Well, I guess you have work to do now. Best of luck for “My Last Dance with Auntie Brie”. And thanks again for your time. It was a real pleasure chatting with you!
RN: And you as well. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me.