I find it painful to wake up early. I have never been a morning person. I never quite knew what to do with myself in the morning. All those shiny happy people bopping around. Night time always seemed so much cooler. For as long as I can remember, and definitely since I was very small, I have been a night owl. I very rarely saw Saturday morning cartoons as a child, maybe ten times. I was far more interested in the late night programming on a Friday night. It was ok though, because when I woke up on a Saturday, usually mid day, all of the weird live action shows like Land Of The Lost and Space 1999 were just coming on.
As I started to follow the club kid cavalcade around every night, it became an increasingly difficult task to wake up for my clerical job at Kumagai Gumi, but I would drag myself in there, hung over and bleary eyed. It's not easy to understand a Japanese person who speaks no English, even when you're not hungover. The kids were at one club this night, another club the next. I kept seeing the curious girl from The World around. One night I finally mustered the courage to sit down next to her. I introduced myself. She was very shy. She said her name was Jerry Hall. After a few moments of talking to her, I realized that she was a transvestite(her actual name was David). I was always very secure about my sexuality. I mean, I was way into girls. I had plenty of opportunities to seize the moment if I were gay, and I certainly would have seized it. I always thought it would have made life so much easier in some ways, and way more complicated in others. I was always envious of how cavalier it was for my gay friends to hook up. A nod. A wink. An unspoken language. They just got down to it. Wherever they happened to be when the connection was made. But there were other aspects to their lifestyle that seemed always to cause them pain. Especially in those days. I had a great affinity for their world. The humor, the flamboyance, the camaraderie. But I just wasn't into it physically. This creature, however, was compelling and I couldn't explain it, even to myself. This weird, distorted, dark taboo. She was somehow MORE feminine than a true female. It was exaggerated. Amplified. I was intrigued by it. We became friends. But I couldn't pull the trigger physically. I was torn. She was my entree into the center of the club world, and she introduced me to everyone: Armen Ra, Kenny Kenny, Sticky Vicky(Victoria Bartlett), Bella Bolski, Julie Jewels. Goldyloxx and Janet Planet. Fuchsia and Harlequin. Ru Paul and Lahoma Van Zandt. John Black Beauty. I was making exciting, colorful, exotic new friends, and every night was an incredible improvisation. We were having a great time. I was going deeper into the subculture every day. And eventually, one night, she suggested that we take ecstasy together. By this time, I was feeling left out that I wasn't doing it. And so we did it. I will never forget being on the dance floor and hearing A Guy Called Gerald's "Voodoo Ray" as the drug hit me. To this day, that song has a very specific sensory recall for me. It transports me back to that moment, when I was hearing music, seeing light, feeling my space in the universe in a whole new way. I fell in love with this magical substance immediately and I used it at every opportunity.
Most of the other kids lived in a series of various pseudo-squats throughout downtown. The routine went like this: you got enough money together to get a lease, and maybe paid rent for the first few months, and then simply stopped paying until the landlord was able to legally evict you. There was a reckless, care-free, communal feeling to it all. We shared everything: food, drugs, and most certainly, the all important wardrobe. In those days, only a very few people made money off of the party business, so mostly everyone was broke. And those who did work invested their money exclusively into partying, so they were broke too. There was a lot of DIY fashion. A lot of kids who went to F.I.T.(Fashion Institute of Technology) would make clothes for themselves and others. Or you could shoplift. And of course there was vintage. The clothes by the designers that we celebrated were highly coveted. I was still holding onto my day job, so I was able to contribute a lot to the situation. Soon I had a diverse new wardrobe of Stephen Sprouse, Vivienne Westwood, and the like. You might take your new jacket off at someone's after-hours house party, put on a different one, and subsequently watch yours rotate through the scene on different people for a couple of months. And maybe you got it back. Maybe not.
I wasn't really getting any acting work. I kept coming close, but was just missing the mark. I was a little weird. A little left of center. A little intense. They couldn't find a place where I fit in. As I started to feel like I DID fit in to this new, immediately gratifying night culture, my focus fell less and less on acting. One casting director, Howard Feuer, had really taken a liking to me. He was bringing me in for things, and I kept showing up. Among them was "Dead Poet's Society". The audition went really well, and I got called back twice. It came down to myself and another kid for the role, but they ended up going with the other guy.
I had been living on the upper west side in a giant apartment share with 3 very sensible young upwardly mobile roommates. I was spending more and more time crashing downtown, returning uptown only to retrieve clothes here and there. In the weeks after the Dead Poet's audition, I had spent a long stretch downtown partying. Upon returning to the upper west side, I found that the community message board at the apartment was jammed with urgent messages from my agent, who had called repeatedly over the weekend, which was very unusual. I finally called her back, but it was too late. Apparently the kid who they had hired for the role I was up for had been fired a few days into shooting. They had frantically tried to reach me to go immediately to Pennsylvania to replace him. Another actor whom my agent represented, Al Ruggiero, ended up playing the role. He answered his phone. I still haven't been able to bring myself to watch that film. Had I gotten that message, so many things might be different today. I don't know if I consciously thought about it at the time, but this whole event seemed to fuel my desire to escape reality, to go deeper into the night.
And so I went...
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
My last day waiting tables at the St. Moritz, I watched a homeless man emerge from central park, purposefully cross through traffic on 57th street and walk directly up to an elegant older lady sitting with her son at an outdoor table. He asked her for money, and when she politely refused, he put his cigarette out on her cheek. Boy was that fun. Then I got fired.
I had found an apartment share in the Village Voice. Bizarrely, it was with a guy from Indianapolis named John Sarno who had written some plays for my home theater group, The Phoenix, an offshoot of the Steppenwolf in Chicago, and the most progressive theater in Indianapolis. The apartment was a railroad flat with the bedroom in the far back, which was mine. John slept in a loft bed constructed directly above the front door. He was an insomniac and was very agitated and excitable. He lived on a diet of melon. Only melon. I have never heard of this diet before or since. It was one of those NY situations where stuff was piled everywhere. A small dresser on top of another dresser, with newspapers stacked on top of that. A television on a chair with a lamp on top. Nuts. We weren't a good match. I was bringing girls home, and he would angrily leap from his loft bed, nude, and chastise me. It was not a sexy situation. After one month, I moved out. My main memory of that apartment was that EVERY single day for 2 weeks, the song that woke me on my alarm radio was "Don't Worry, Be Happy". A perfect way to start a hangover. I smashed that radio into a million pieces.
I figured that since I sucked as a waiter, I would try something else. New York had at that time had an unemployment office where you could go if you actually wanted a job, and they would find you one. It was not a very busy office. It looked like the set of an employment office out of a 1940s movie. Metal desks, huge steel file cabinets, and old fashioned fans. An agent would sit with you and go through index cards of available jobs until something clicked. I found a job as a temporary clerk for a huge Japanese real estate development firm. The Japanese executives would take me to lunch and put bizarre foods in front of me and wait expectantly while I tried them, and then laugh and discuss my reactions in Japanese. I have no idea what I was eating. I was still auditioning for things, but I needed to make money. They found me entertaining, so they kept me around.
I started going out to clubs, hoping to find my people. I had been to clubs in Indianapolis. My friends and i used the stipple brush from my theatrical makeup kit to put makeup beards on our faces to get past the door security. It actually worked. Our cover was blown though when one of us made out with a girl and the beard got smeared.
The clubs in NY were slightly different. After getting turned away a few times, I figured out that I wasn't really dressed right, so I had to start building a new wardrobe. I would watch the people who WERE getting in, and try to emulate their outfits. Slowly I assembled an outfit that got me past the door. Finally.
Michael Alig was doing parties in the basement of the Tunnel at 27th and the West Side Highway, a cavernous place which had once been a repair shop for subway trains. The subway tunnel was still exposed at one end, lit up and ominous. I talked Sizemore into going with me, but we went on the wrong night. I was struck at the mix of people there: black, white, gay, straight. It was awesome. It felt like a living, visceral version of things I had seen on television. That night, I met this cute black girl who I went back to see the following week. She was friends with a group of fantastic, flamboyant, energetic, hilarious, gay kids from Harlem and the Bronx who were members of the Houses of Extravaganza, Labasia, Pendavis, etc. These were to become my first friends in New York...
They accepted me immediately and unconditionally, and taught me how to jump the train without getting caught, how to sneak into clubs, and how to protect my neck in general. I started hanging around with them. They were extremely entertaining, and as I was straight and they were all gay, there was no competition for the cute girls that were around. These kids loved to dance, and knew all the music. The songs were foreign to me, but it was exhilarating. House music was in it's infancy and there wasn't enough to fill an entire night, so DJ's were playing a mix of later disco stuff,some new wave, and other stuff to make it work as a whole set. Anytime a new house track came out and was played, there would be a major buzz that very night. "Did you hear that???"
One night some club kids came through the Tunnel handing out fliers for a party hosted by Alig at another club called The World. It was on the Lower East Side. These kids were outrageous, dressed up in ridiculous costumes and rolling through the club like a mobile circus. Absolutely insane. The flier said "X Marks The Spot" and said something about punch being served at midnight. These were the kids I was looking for.
Party Up: The Tunnel, 1988Continue reading
I had met the legendary children's talent agent Nancy Carson at a Midwest talent roundup. She had worked with a lot of the kids that I did theater with in Indianapolis who could afford to fly back and forth to New York for auditions. We had kept in touch and she had always said that if I could come to New York, or if I could move there, that she would represent me. She was the first call I made when I arrived back from Evansville. The second call I made was to Jeff, the only other person I knew in New York: A nasal-voiced, middle-aged, unsuccessful actor whom I had worked on a play with while he was in Indy for a summer. He had been a caseworker for the NYC child welfare department, and had lost his job in some controversy. He had successfully sued the city and gotten his job back. I always thought that was a weird situation. They didn't want him there, and yet he had to interact with them every day. Must have made for a pleasant work environment. He was a weird dude to put it mildly. He had a shocking Afro of black hair, a huge nose, thick glasses and a pale unhealthy pallor. He met me at the airport in plaid shorts that clashed with his plaid button down shirt, black socks, and some type of orthopedic shoes, with a NY Yankees cap that appeared way too small for his huge head. I've never liked the look of a baseball cap on a grown man's head, especially backwards. It just looks ridiculous. We took the subway into the city. I will never forget the smell down there on that August day, a musky blend of urine, sweat, cleaning solvents and damp underground soil. It smells the same to this day during the humid months. No matter what they do to that city, they will never get rid of that smell.
Jeff had agreed to let me stay with him for 2 weeks in his filthy SRO (single room occupancy) hotel at 102nd and West End, on the Upper West Side. I had to sleep on a diagonal with my head under the bedside table and my feet in the closet. My first night in New York, dude took me to a "nice meal" as he put it. We went to the Times Square Beefsteak Charlie's. It was one of those old school New York chains. A step above Tad's steaks, but several below Sizzler. Even this wide-eyed Midwestern boy knew that this was no swanky place. Jeff informed me that I would have to keep a low profile at the hotel, so that the tyrannical manager didn't know that I was staying there. He also let me know that one night while I was there, I would have to make myself scarce during his monthly meeting with his Indian call-girl. This was his sex life.
Times Square, 1980s.
I was 17. I didn't have any friends in New York. I had been working steadily in one play after the next in Indianapolis, and assumed I would pick up where I left off in New York and immediately be welcomed with open arms into the theater community. It didn't happen like that. I did get a couple of jobs right away, including a TV movie with Jenny Wright, Cynthia Nixon, Marcia Gay Harden, Michael Rooker(who I knew from Eight Men Out), and a young unknown actor named Tom Sizemore, who would become my best friend for a while, probably because we were both maniacs. I adored Jenny Wright. She was cool, glamorous, and unlike anyone I had ever met. I hung around her as much as possible. One day we were shooting on location downtown and she told me that her friends Deborah Harry and the designer Stephen Sprouse were coming to visit the set. They were two of my heroes! Sprouse was THE coolest designer at the time, and I knew that he was from Indiana. I waited on the steps of Jenny's trailer until I saw them walking up the block. I was freaking out. Sprouse would later save my life and become one of my greatest friends and mentors.
Me & Jenny Wright.
So things were happening, but I was mostly feeling rejected by the theater community and NOT feeling like I was with my people. I was lying about my age and my experience to get work. My first day in New York, I walked around and found a job waiting tables at Cafe de la Paix in the ground floor of the St. Moritz hotel on 57th st. Salvador Dali had lived at the St. Moritz. I was perhaps the worst waiter they had ever seen. Every day the human resources lady came down and asked for my I.D. so that she could finish my paperwork. At that time, you had to be 21 to drink alcohol, but only 19 to serve it. I was 17. I had claimed to have left my license at home when I was hired, and I kept using that excuse with the human resources lady. I somehow had to get a fake I.D. I went to Times Square one night and started looking around for a shop that did fake I.D. I didn't know the area at all and sort of got lost. Times Square in 1988 was certainly not the Mall of America it is today. It was fully depressed and seedy. Many of the streets in the 40s were poorly lit, and there was flagrant illicit drug and sex activity everywhere. The police presence was focused around the theatre to protect their patrons, and other than that, it was a bit of a free for all. I was in the middle of a block, and a wiry black man bounced up to me and asked what I was looking for. I told him. I instantly knew that this was not going to end well, even as the words were coming off my lips. He told me to follow him, that his boy could do the I.D. for me. We walked fast, and as we did he talked fast, and seemed to signal to other brothers on the block. We were moving fast and I didn't know the area, and was all turned around. The guys he was signaling ended up congregated in the middle of a block, around us. He said he could now get me the I.D. It happened so fast. He threw me against the wall and they closed in. My breathing was heavy and I could feel myself beginning to tremble.
"Alright, motherfucker. How much money you got?” I was up against a wall, surrounded by about 10 guys. I was screwed. I had about $100 in 5 $20s in a folded stack in my pocket. I thought if I could pull one out and hand it to them, I would be able to get off just losing that. I tried to pull just one out, but the others peeked out with it, and they snatched them all. After checking to make sure I wasn't holding anything out on them, they flipped the script and started pursuing me as if I had done something TO THEM! I was really freaking out now, I started running toward Broadway, out of the shadows, and they followed, shouting at me. We rounded the corner and there were a pair of uniformed cops there. I ran up to them, and when they turned, they seemed to know my assailants. They spoke to them by name and told them to beat it. I was a mess. The cops flagged a taxi and asked the driver to give me a ride home to the upper west side, which he did. Big love to the NYPD for that one.
It was the summer of 1988 and there was a cover story in New York magazine about the burgeoning, colorful club kid subculture that was happening downtown. It detailed all the players, including it's ringleader, a Svengali of a kid named Michael Alig. The article said that he was from Indiana. I followed the map the article provided, and set out to find him.
It would change my life forever.Continue reading
PART 3: The Party bites back…. again.
I was, in fact, working on the film Eight Men Out. I was skipping school and working as a P.A. on set. I had auditioned for a role they were casting locally, and couldn't do it as I had braces and the film was set in 1919.
But I wasn't about to miss out on this circus that had rolled into town: John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, D.B. Sweeney, Michael Rooker, Christopher Lloyd, New York indie icons Richard Edson and Bill Irwin, and the relatively unknown John Mahoney and David Strathairn. So I showed up and asked them to put me to work. I had seen "Brother From Another Planet" and was stoked to be around John Sayles. I asked him questions from time to time and he always took the time to answer. One night, we were preparing to shoot an outdoor scene at sunset and it began to rain. I knew that the scene didn't call for rain, and was curious how he would accomplish it. Sayles began to explain to me what filters would be used, etc... and I nodded and pretended to understand. During his lengthy explanation, my radio began to chirp with "John to set". After a couple of times, he reached down and turned the volume off on my radio and completed his explanation before returning to set. He was a class act if every I met one.
It was fun learning about filters, and being around a film set, but it was really all about the party - the fantasy of being involved in something real, something important, and the escape of getting loaded with these interesting and famous people every night. One legendary night, Cusack hired a beekeeper to frame out the door to Sweeney's room with a net and fill it with bees, so that when he came out in the morning an angry swarm would be waiting for him. Serious high jinx. I went to see the Circle Jerks with Cusack, my first punk show..
U2's The Joshua Tree tour came through town, and we went en masse to the show. It was a legendary night. Los Lobos was opening for U2, and their flight was late. To keep the crowd happy, u2 put on wigs, and came out as a "local group", the Dalton Boys, and did some country songs. About halfway through the set, the crowd started realizing it was them and went nuts. Sheen was supposed to leave a ticket for me at the will-call window. Apparently, in his drug addled haze, he forgot. Luckily a guy from Amnesty international was hanging around the window, and seeing my predicament, gave me a ticket. I went inside to join everyone and found Charlie hammered off his face backstage. I mean beyond. At this point in my life, I had never seen anyone wasted like this. He had a guy who would fly into Indianapolis with his required pharmaceuticals. The guy would literally pull up in a car from the airport with nothing more than a briefcase, and they would disappear for a bit, and the guy was out of there. One time, a dubious FedEx package addressed to a crewmember was intercepted by the Police and an investigation ensued. I was partaking in as much of the revelry as possible. I learned about Cocaine's popularity during this shoot, and having been warned about it, I abstained. It was all so captivating to me: the drugs, the circus community, the fame. I was busy keeping up with the lies I was telling to my school, to the film, and to the girls I was meeting. I was getting really good at dealing with my lack of self-esteem and self knowledge through creating fiction about myself.
One weekend toward the end of the shoot, I was entrusted with a van to pick up legendary actor Clifton James, and literary titan Studs Terkel at the airport. They were arriving on a Sunday, and the production office was going to be closed. I lived near the airport so it was an easy gig for me. My parents were out of town, and an opportunity for a serious party on that Saturday prior could not be missed. I was out until all hours with the crew. I set 3 alarms to wake up for the pick-up but still slept through it - all day. Of course there were no cell phones at this time, so Terkel & James were stuck at the airport in a strange city, with no one to call, and no idea where they were going. After several hours someone had stopped into the production office and noticed the phone ringing off the hook. Needless to say, everyone was slightly pissed. I was swiftly fired and I was devastated. The art department took pity on me and gave me a job. I finished out the shoot loading trucks and sitting in warehouses.
Because of the notice I had received for the work I had been doing in the local theater, I had been offered a full ride theater scholarship to the University of Evansville in southern Indiana. It was certainly the best theater school in the state, and one of the best in the Midwest. They selected only a handful of students each year, and it was a real honor. My parents couldn't really afford to put me through school, and my grades weren't so great by this point, so this was my best chance at a quality education. I went to look at the campus, and I was overwhelmed with a claustrophobic feeling. I could not sit here for 4 years. Thinking things through and listening to reason were not my strongest assets. So the decision was made…
I was going to New York.Continue reading
PART 2: ALL ACCESS
I had a knack for finding my way to whoever was important, wherever I was. I just figured it out. At NBA games, at the Indy 500, at Christian concerts, wherever. I craved access, excitement, and I didn't see any reason why I shouldn't meet you if you were exciting. When I was 13, I went with my cousin Brent to see Lionel Richie and Tina Turner - my first proper concert. I bought a program, and saw that Lionel had 3 break dancers from LA on the tour with him(exclusively for the "All Night Long" showstopper encore). I was like "I can talk to these guys. I had a crew." It was true that I had attempted a breakdancing crew. Two of us. We never actually DANCED, but we made a cool logo and listened to hip hop. I walked around the arena until I found the backstage entrance. As soon as I saw one of the breakdancers, I leapt. I made friends with them, as they were bored out of their minds in Indianapolis, and this fast-talking 13-year old must have been at the least an entertaining diversion. Before I knew it, I was backstage getting Lionel's autograph. My cousin and I then hung out with them until all hours at the hotel lobby. My mom was pissed.
I went to see INXS in 1987. I had made a bogus MTV Staff ID with a little cut-and-paste magic. It worked like a charm on the geriatric security guard at Market Square arena(where Elvis Presley performed his final concert). I wandered around backstage after the show until I found Michael Hutchence, shirtless in a fur coat, arm in arm with 2 babes. I walked right up to him, threw him whatever line of b.s. I was spinning, and ended up kicking it with him, and the babes, but I didn't have the kind of game to hang for very long.
And then there was the Eddie Murphy RAW show(also at Market Square Arena). This was at the absolute height of his fame. I had read a Rolling Stone cover story on Murphy which detailed how his operation worked, and how his family: cousins, uncles, etc..., were his infrastructure. I waited around after the show until I saw his Uncle Ray, who I had learned was his tour manager, onstage directing the break-down. I quickly briefed my friend on what I was about to do, went up to the edge of the stage and just completely freestyled it:
"Hey, is Eddie still around or did he split?"
"Aw man, he's long gone"
"Damn. Ok, well if you speak to him, would you let him know that Tony Scott's nephews were here and said thanks?"(I didn't even realize this would have made us RIDLEY Scott's sons)
"You Tony Scott's nephews?"
"Hold on a second"
Uncle Ray got on his radio and walked toward the back of the stage. In a flash, he was back and offering his hand down to us to pull us onstage. Bingo. I knew it would work. So without saying another word, we followed him through a maze of backstage rooms. When we got to what I KNEW to be my heroes', the Indiana Pacers, locker room, I was amazed not only that I was in that holy room, but by what I saw. There were about 40 girls of varying races (as much as that is possible in Indianapolis) with numbered buttons on their chests, sitting in rows of folding chairs. One of Eddie's cousins was standing at a podium giving some kind of instructions. We continued through a maze of rooms until we came to a door at the end of a hallway. Uncle Ray opened it and motioned us in. Inside: Eddie Murphy and a young couple that he seemed to know. After a few minutes the couple left. We were sitting there with Eddie. Me, my goofy friend Keith, and Eddie Murphy.
"You Tony's nephews?" Eddie asked.
"What are you doing in Indianapolis?" he queried.
"I don't know. Haha. Actually, I'm working on the John Sayles film Eight Men Out."
"Oh, cool...." (awkward pause) "You coming to the after party?"
"Uh, yeah. Ok."
"Have Ray sort you out."
We left. It was so bizarre. Had we really just done that? On to the after party…
We arrived at the Indianapolis Hilton (same hotel where Mike Tyson allegedly had his scurrilous encounter some years later) and apparently Eddie had rented the entire hotel. His security were at the elevators with walkie-talkies directing people to various locations. We were given clearance to go to the after party suite. While waiting for the elevator, a few of the numbered locker room girls arrived. One of the security guards would announce their arrival, giving their description and number over the radio. A voice would come back with a room number, and they were given individual keys. Seemed odd, but we didn't think much more of it. We went to the suite, which was more like half a floor. Periodically, one of the girls would turn up in the after party. After a while, I couldn't take it any longer and when over to one of them, a hot redhead in an extraordinarily tight dress. The type of girl I had theretofore only seen in music videos.
"What was that number thing all about”?
"I went to a room and waited. Eddie came in and chatted with me for a minute. Then he left"
"That was it?"
"Yeah. He asked me some questions about my sexuality. I guess he wasn't feeling me"
PART 1: EXPOSURE TO THE OTHER HALF
As some of you may know, I was a notorious troublemaker and club kid in New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was a crazy journey that provided me with many stories that my friends have long been encouraging me to write. So here we go...
Me in 1984.
I want to start by explaining how I ended up in New York in the first place...
I grew up in a working class, Christian home in Indianapolis, with Very little exposure to culture. When I was 10, we got the then-brand-new technology of cable television. I became obsessed with the late night programming. The imagery and personalities I saw there were a surreal departure from my surroundings. I became fascinated with what I saw on shows like “Night Flight” and “Video Jukebox” and the strange films that were aired at these hours. In 1981, I was 11 years old, and MTV made its debut on the airwaves. It may be hard to understand it, given what it later became, but MTV at that time was incredible. It was a portal into a world that I didn't even know existed. Segments involving the likes of Jean Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol or artists like Devo or David Bowie blew my mind. I was like "where are these people? WHO are they?" I just knew that these were my kind and I wanted to find them in my world.
I went to see a play at the professional theater in Indianapolis, Indiana Repertory Theater, on a school trip. The play was Moliere's "The School for Wives". A dashing, exciting farce. I couldn't believe it. The vibe in the Theater was pulsing. It was exactly like what I had seen on MTV: Adult, weird, exciting. I knew instantly that I had to be a part of it. I had never truly felt like I fit in, no matter what my experience ACTUALLY was. I mean, I was popular at school, girls liked me, I was academically prodigious, but it all felt wonky. I felt as if, despite my achievements or apparent aptitude for whatever situation I was in, once people found out how weird I was, they would abandon me. I knew it would be different here. I could tell that this is where all of the people who thought differently, who were curious, who had ideas questioning to the status quo found communion with others. I had to be a part of it. I set out with an obsession to make it happen. I started doing whatever I had to do. I took city buses to auditions. I embellished my resume. School plays, Community Theater, crime re-enactments for the local news. Whatever. I didn't have an idea that I would be "famous". I just did it because it seemed like it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I loved the communion with the often-older people. Talking about politics, art, and music. I felt nurtured in a way that I never had. Family and teachers often questioned whether it was an intelligent choice for someone with such academic promise, but I couldn't even hear it. I was certain that this was my path. Logic was no opponent for my obsession, once it was married with my burgeoning interest in girls and alcohol. I was on my way to finding my demi-monde.
Dennis & Hackman, 'Hoosiers' still.
There was big news in Indianapolis in 1985, my sophomore year in high school. A Hollywood film was coming to town. It was all over the TV and newspapers. Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey were coming to town to film "Hoosiers" about Indiana Basketball in the 1950s. I was obsessed. I had to get involved. An open call for extras was publicized. My Dad took me and dropped me off. In typical fashion, I sought out the right person and asked if I could be involved. I was directed to a casting director who asked me if I could basically be on call as a "continuity" extra. Since the story centered around a high school basketball team, they would need lots of young extras as students at the school, games, etc... Of course I could be on call! My school had very poor attendance, so they had devised a system whereby you could make up multiple days of school by sitting in a study hall for 4 hours on Saturday Mornings. I exploited it. I must have missed 20 days of school shooting and made them all up in about 6 Saturdays. I was having the time of my life. There were cute girls, plenty of alcohol, and exciting, worldly types from New York and Los Angeles who seemed to embrace me as one of their own.
Dennis Hopper was also in the cast. He had recently gotten sober after years and years of notorious drug and alcohol abuse and insane living. I knew a bit about him and was fascinated by him. He always sat alone and seemed slightly nervous. Everyone else was so confident and he seemed so out of place. I didn't really understand the full magnitude of his career and life story, but I knew a bit about him. One day I walked over and sat down with him. A bold move. We struck up a conversation and became pals. One Friday night we were riding back to the hotel in a van and Dennis asked the driver if he knew where James Dean's grave was. The driver said he was actually from Fairmont, Dean's hometown. Dennis said he had never been and asked the driver if he would mind taking him on Sunday, our day off. The driver was completely stoked to take the screen legend to the grave of his old friend. Dennis turned to me and asked me if I would like to go. I couldn't believe it! Of course! I was ecstatic. This was exactly the kind of experience I was dreaming about. Saturday night, I went out with some guys from the movie. We got hammered. I drank more than I ever had to that point. I was slightly embarrassed about my age and I watched my curfew come and go. My pride about how these guys would perceive me if I said something far eclipsed my fear of getting in trouble. My mom was waiting up when I got home. I was grounded. Monday at work, Dennis sees me and comes over. "Where the hell were you?" he asks half-angry. Imagine the embarrassment of telling Dennis Hopper you were grounded. There are no words...
Me, Dennis, & Andres Serrano (1995)Continue reading