INTO THE RABBIT HOLE…
“Everyone overemphasizes the importance of his own era.” – Unknown (actually, I forgot)
Anyone who has ever been a part of a true scene can never forget the moment when they stepped inside that bubble. The obsession to be a part of it, to be one of THEM, is consuming in a way that is difficult to understand unless you have felt it. I had experienced this feeling when I discovered the theater, and now, for better or for worse, I had the same fascination with this nightlife circus. My friend Sylvia Myles once said that I “Had left the theater and found the theater of the night.” I suppose it was an easier stage to get onto. I couldn’t sleep once I had that invitation. I had a time and a place fixed in my brain where something was going to happen. There was something so compelling about it. This thing that moved with reckless, wild abandon was calling out to me. A group of misfits from all over who bound together to form a new, bizarre, living, breathing organism. These were the grandchildren of the Warhol scene. Andy’s death had left a void in New York. Aids and a poor economy had rendered nightclubs passé. The perfect storm was created for a cadre of self-made celebrities to flourish and take over. There wasn’t necessarily any requisite training, or ability required. One simply chose a loose identity, perhaps giving his or herself a moniker to go along with it, and embellished themselves as they went along. I had lied to get into things, and lied to get out of things, so I was excellent at improvising the story of me.
The main dance floor at The World, 1988 – Photo by Stephan Lupino
I hadn’t yet been to the lower east side or “alphabet city” as people called it then. As my cab crawled further downtown, things got dingier, darker, and more exciting. I saw the decadent, burnt out shells of buildings… Different fashions on the streets. An edgier, sexier aesthetic to it all. The World was on 2nd street just west of Avenue C. There was illicit hustle happening on the sidewalks surrounding the club. It was a week night, Tuesday I think, and yet it was chaotic on the street.
James St. James was at the door. He opened the rope and said hello to me as if he knew me. WELCOMED me. It was a massive, dance hall with three levels. The upstairs main room had been a wedding hall in the early 20th century. A huge room with a balcony that wrapped around the back, It was decayed and beautiful, with a mix of black, latino, white, gay, straight, boys and girls and everything in between. It was minimally decorated and lit with a moody, makeshift feeling. I wandered around and immediately felt at home. It would be hard to imagine a club like this existing in today’s bottle service driven, antiseptic, posed fun club world. This place was downright dangerous – lawless, dark and cavernous with nooks and crannys where anything could happen. The party was in the crystal room on the first floor, named for the giant chandelier that hung low in the middle of the room. When people danced above, the ceiling pulsed and the chandelier shook dangerously, as if it would fall at any moment. A kid named Keoki was djing. The music was a mix of early acid house and new wave classics: New Order, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure, etc… Classics that were only a few years old at this time. I was in heaven. I had barely been exposed to this music but I loved it, and now I felt like I was INSIDE the music video. All around me, wild, colorful, theatrical kids inside the very room where The Talking Heads had shot their “Burning Down the House” video. I had seen it a thousand times, and recognized the backdrop immediately. The fashion was DIY – improvised. Touches of New Romantic, Gothic, and outright preposterous imagination. The It Twins, Robert and Tim were there, dressed in identical Vivienne Westwood Seditionaries outfits, with matching neon hair. Julie Jewels, a beautiful blonde girl in semi-bondage attire held court and laughed in the corner. This was the world of Grace Jones and Nina Hagen, of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, or as near and accessible a world as I could find. The club’s name was appropriate. It was a melting pot.
Julie Jewels in the Crystal Room, 1988 – Photo by Stephan Lupino
I saw Michael Alig, in lederhosen, holding court near the DJ booth. I went over and introduced myself. I told him I was from Indiana, etc… and we connected. He gave me an invitation for a party the next night at a club called TRAX. I had heard about this club through the vogueing kids, who went there to hear legendary DJs like Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan.
I saw an odd, tall girl in the corner. Cute. Strange. Awkward. I studied her for a moment. She was so odd and interesting. I was feeling shy, but I thought maybe she would be at the party the next night.
At midnight, kids gathered around a punch bowl that was brought out and placed on the small stage. Michael asked if I wanted some. I was too scared to look uncool, so I didn’t ask what was in it. But I was afraid to try it, so I politely declined. I didn’t yet know about Ecstasy, but I was about to learn.
The Balcony at The World, 1988 – Photo by Stephan Lupino