What could be more festive for the holidays than the colorful and vibrant glam rocker and singer/songwriter Ricky Rebel?!
The androgynous performer, who has witnessed the death of several friends from AIDS-related causes, including choreographers he’s worked with, lends his talent to HIV and LGBT fundraisers, and publicly touts safe sex.
He sprang on the music scene in the late nineties as lead vocalist for the boy- band, No Authority, touring with Destiny’s Child, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Aaron Carter. He also lent his voice to such films as Apollo 13 and Anywhere But Here and has appeared on television in Boston Public and American Dreams.
Deep depression followed the break-up of No Authority. Eventually Ricky set out on his own
and in 2012 released the hit record, “Manipulator,” from the album of the same name. In October, he performed in Las Vegas alongside Diana Ross. His new album, The New Alpha, is out; proceeds from the release party went to Teen Cancer America.
When he was growing up in Upland, California, Ricky raised pet pigs. Currently he has a partner of five years (did you like that transition!?), two dogs, Brian and Bonnie, and lives in beautiful downtown Burbank.
Taking advantage of his locale, I meet Ricky at the iconic NBC Studios one gray afternoon. Walking down the corridor to the soundstage, I pass giant framed pics of Taraji P. Henson, Miley Cyrus, Johnny Carson, and the cast of Laugh In. Never heard of them? Look it up. Before SNL, Laugh In was the rage!
As I enter the studio, I see Ricky in the sound booth. He joins me and we sit on a couple of folding chairs, next to the forest-green cement wall. He brings me a cuppa coffee, with a coconut and almond milk chaser. He sips green tea.
Ruby Comer: Nice to see you again. I think we saw each other last at an amfAR event. Ya know, a lot of adjectives have been spun around to describe you. Sum up “Ricky Rebel” in one word.
Ricky Rebel: Intrepid.
Lovely. Who are your inspirations in the music business?
Bowie, Prince, and Madonna.
That’s a triple powerhouse! I know at one point in the late nineties No Authority signed with Michael Jackson’s label and the release party was held at Neverland Ranch. What was that like?!
Hanging out with Michael was a surreal experience. We rode dirt bikes, swam, watched movies, rode the carnival rides there, and danced in his studio together. Neverland was a cool place and I never wanted to leave! Michael was a mysterious man but he was also extremely kind and generous. Those are memories that I will never forget.
OMG, yes, wow! Ricky, you preach – “Celebrate your sexuality.” How do you celebrate yours?
In my bedroom or someone else’s bedroom. I also celebrate sex in my music, like my new record called The New Alpha, I candidly sing about my sex life and fantasies.
What is your first memory of the epidemic?
I remember hearing Madonna say, “Put a rubber on your willy.” I asked my mom what that meant and she told me that it’s about condoms, which protects people from HIV. [Madonna’s documentary] Truth or Dare opened my eyes about the virus. To this day, it’s one of my favorite movies of all time. She brought to light a lot of cold hard facts about the epidemic.
She certainly did. No one like Madge! She was just… [Ricky interrupts]
I grew up with this idea that if I hook up with a man, there’s a strong chance that I could be infected with the HIV virus. It was just safer to hook up with girls.
So you consider yourself bisexual?
Yes, I do. I first had sex with a girl at sixteen and a guy at nineteen.
Interesting…I lost my virginity to a girl at sixteen and to a guy at nineteen. [Ricky flashes a lively smile.] Tell about your first guy experience.
We were on tour with Britney Spears and this radio host gave me head. I was so incredibly nervous afterwards that I might be infected; the next day, I called a doctor to come out and test me. I was super paranoid about it. Depressed until my results came back four days later…I was negative. Back then I was so naïve. Nowadays I test regularly.
When you and your partner began your relationship, did you get tested together?
No, but we did talk about it and showed each other our test results.
Good idea! What a nice healthy activity to do together. What’s your take on PrEP?
I like it. I think that it’s important to use if you are engaging in high-risk activity, but I don’t like the possibility of liver damage [one of the potential side effects].
I understand. You are quite visible in charity events, what motivates you to give?
I care because I know what it’s like to be persecuted. I grew up in a very homophobic industry in the nineties. I was told that being gay must not be revealed to anyone. “You will never make it if you are openly gay,” I was warned. I had a producer lock me in a closet once to read me bible verses to “cure” me of my homosexuality.
OH MY GAWD. Sick Biblethumper!
I have always had a sense of wanting justice for people who do not deserve to be persecuted. I am a freedom fighter. Fairness and equality are an illusion but that does not mean that people who break the law cannot be punished for it.
[There’s a brief silence between us.]
I also have a soft spot for LGBT children who are kicked out of their homes for being gay. I can’t imagine who I’d be if my parents had done that to me. My older brother and I were not raised in a religious home, more in a spiritual environment. [He ponders.] My parents are role models for me.
Awww, wunderbar! So nice to hear, Ricky. Also, this reminds me of how Frank
Zappa responded when asked, “Why do you have such wonderful kids?” He answered, “I told them to stay away from religion.” Say, your generation has one of the highest rates of HIV infection. Why?
Because HIV is not a death sentence anymore. The fear evaporated. I have friends who are HIV-positive. I know people who have HIV but do not want to tell me. I respect their wishes. [He looks off as a sound engineer passes.] I believe that more artists and politicians need to talk about the epidemic. Being gay is still very taboo in certain parts of the world. In fact, being gay can mean a death sentence.
Incredibly unbelievable. Un-frigging-believable. Who do you consider a hero in the pandemic, Ricky?
Madonna. She made it cool to wear a condom. She donated to AIDS charities. She stuck her neck out when she really didn’t have to. She was hated for loving sex and talking openly about the devastation the disease visited on her friends. She told her story—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Not long ago I went to the Human Rights Campaign headquarters to organize events that we could do together to help raise money for the gay community and safe sex advocacy. [Ricky halts. He carefully flips his electric-blue hair out of his grey-green twinkling peepers then declares in a lively serious tone] I’m a big supporter of…Safe. Fun. Sex.
Learn more about The New Alpha by logging on to: www.rickyrebelrocks.com.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].