A devilishly appealing guy from the Midwest who took the ’80s/’90s NYC clubs by storm with his subversive energy, Michael Alig always talked quickly, injecting a cackle between phrases, as he cooked up all sorts of mayhem and provocation. With aggression, smarts, and an anything-goes sense of creating fun, he quickly rose up the ranks of nightlife, becoming the darling of major domos like Rudolf Pieper and Peter Gatien, who later found that Alig was also a demon who could whip up tons of trouble as easily as he could dream up an open-bar party or a nutty performance art revue.
I covered Alig from the start, mainly because I was reeling from the death of the mid-’80s “celebutante” scene — a more sophisticated type of Fellinesque swirl full of witty, glam people — and was forced to cover this next big thing, even if it was constantly verging on the zanily anarchic. In between chastising Alig for being heartless or incorrect, I gladly put my name on his invites, and he catered to me, knowing full well the value of stroking the press. In fact, Alig would greet me so wholeheartedly — with full-mouth kisses — that my boyfriend at the time got jealous, assuming something was going on between us. (There wasn’t. Alig was simply being outrageous, as usual. DJ Keoki was his boyfriend, clearly finding the exposed-ass culottes, clown makeup, and “Brady Bunch” lunch pails highly alluring.)
Alig seemed to run wild at the club, druggily getting more and more out of control as boundaries dropped and he needed larger doses of attention.
I was always a judge for Alig’s hilarious Dirty Mouth contests, which had people taking the stage to rail curse words at the world, as I evaluated the poetry of their puerility. (“The fucking winner is…”) There was also his annual King and Queen of New York pageant, the first one of which was won by me and Lady Bunny, in my case simply because I wrote a column. (The other contestants seemed too blasé to be that upset about it.) And he’d throw annual club awards too, honoring anyone he felt favorable to at the moment (like me, Bunny, and Clara the Carefree Chicken — long story.) None of these events benefited from great organizational skills — in fact, Alig could barely be bothered to work out some of the production details — but his personal charisma and constant flow of ideas made him extremely popular with young fame whores, and soon enough he was leading swarms of wackily named club kids to nightclub hoedowns, McDonald’s outlaw parties, and other events that could keep them dressed up, pickled and feeling validated.
We’d all go on the daytime talk shows and shout down the audience plants who’d robotically say that the club kids were destroying civilization. In our eyes, clubbies represented creative liberation, which is always an antidote to the puritanical values that want to clamp down on their fun. Besides, Alig was a master of packaging the kids with a Warholian flair, turning them into trading cards, videos and other projects that made sheer hedonism into an art form. The ingenious gimmickry around the kids helped disguise the hollowness at the core, though as the clowny outfits segued into apocalyptic chic, all the gas masks, war paint, and fake blood created an aesthetic that signaled ickier things to come.
Sure enough, dark clouds were circling overhead at the Limelight, the church turned rehab center turned debauchery palace, where Alig’s Disco 2000 Wednesdays filled the air with raunch and recklessness. Even though Gatien was constantly being looked over by Mayor Giuliani’s people, who were anxious to bust him (they eventually did so, if only for tax evasion), Alig seemed to run wild at the club, druggily getting more and more out of control as boundaries dropped and he needed larger doses of attention.
When he started, Alig had been refreshingly reacting against boredom, complacence and the petite charms of the bourgeoisie as he pulled people into a pool in the nightclub, drew up invites sardonically welcoming “HIV negatives only,” or invited the kids to abandoned elevated subway tracks for a quickie fashion show before the cops busted it. His obnoxiousness was sort of entertaining, his insouciance was rather satirical. But by now, he was a human Chucky doll on a rampage — for real this time.
Alig was a master of … projects that made sheer hedonism into an art form.
In 1996, I went to Alig’s apartment because he wanted to meet to plan some sort of nightlife hall of fame, but when I got there, he was druggily incoherent and continually running to the bathroom with various male club kids to do things other than discuss the hall of fame. As Alig’s scene continued to lose luster, I decided it was time to stop writing about him, but then he became hideously newsworthy again. In April 1996, Alig called me, sounding jagged and traumatized. He said he’d been fired from the Limelight and felt betrayed by Gatien, especially since his apartment was padlocked and he was now virtually homeless. But people were buzzing about what was really behind Alig’s demise. He and another clubbie named Freeze (real name Robert Riggs) had shockingly killed a young drug dealer, Angel Melendez, in a fight, later dismembering the body and putting him in a box they blithely tossed into the Hudson. The party was over, even though the other club kids were either protecting Alig, whom they still worshiped, or cagily saying, “You didn’t hear it from me.”
When the box finally surfaced, the killers’ fate was sealed, and they went to jail, concluding a case that rocked nightlife and changed the face of the culture. Without borders, the impulsive fun of clubbing had turned into a completely amoral romp that ended up destroying a human life. At the same time, it played right into Giuliani’s campaign to demonize nightlife and make things overly safe for community boards. Alig had not only killed Angel, he’d destroyed the club kid phenomenon; it would be many years before anyone dared to wear feathers and a lunch box again.
I interviewed Alig early on during his prison time and he said he was reading “Crime and Punishment,” aptly enough, and had regular visits from the late Angel, whom he tried to work things out with. Alig also invoked the oldest cliché by telling me that when he got out, he wanted to direct!
Well, here he comes. Freeze has been out for some time, but now Alig will join him in the real world, with a release date of May 5, after 17 years of incarceration. Apparently he’ll be living in NYC with a former club kid and will try to complete his long-worked-on memoir, as well as working on his art projects. (The directing can come later, I guess.) I pray there’s some attempt at restitution rather than stabs at reality shows and party throwing. But the darker side of the surviving club kids out there are no doubt murmuring: “Doesn’t this city need Michael Alig right now?”