The First Time I Heard and Saw Donna Summer

The news of Donna Summer’s death from cancer at the age of 63 shocked me out of my un-routine routine. I went to iTunes and downloaded half a dozen of her hits for use last night while DJing at Hotel Chantelle. Although it is the rockiest of rock nights, with a high probability that everybody in attendance had at one time owned a "Disco Sucks" T-shirt, it felt important to pay respect. At 3am I started mixing disco hits – and every other song was a winner from Donna. The crowd responded. It was "Love to Love You Baby," "Love Hangover", “Bad Girls,” and then Gloria Gaynor’s, "I Will Survive". Diva after diva… and the crowd went wild. The sound of well-produced dance music over a solid club sound system is one of the unique attractions of nightlife. “McArthur Park” was a near-religious experience. They ooo’d and ahhh’d and understood the loss as her voice rang clear.

I first heard “Love to Love You Baby” on my third date with a stewardess back in the mid ‘70s. We were hanging with her stewardess friends at their stewardess apartment when the record was put on. It was put on to turn me on, as I had been missing the hints that my world-weary stewardess was tossing tired of waiting for me to make my move. I caught the eye contact between her and her co-conspirators and understood my job. The 17 minutes of moans in “Love to Love You Baby” was worth a thousand words. After that affair, I retreated to my rock world, aware of Donna Summers’ hit factory but not very interested. Although “Bad Girls,” “Hot Stuff,” and her other mega-hits dominated disco – the most fun era in club history – I was a rock and roller and remain so. I was grunge before there was a name for it. I was a punk with ripped jeans and Ramones T’s. Disco was for the bad cologne, the polyester set.

Over the decades, her anthems were heard at parties and disco nights. She was unmistakable, undeniable. Her voice held even the disinterested in awe. Around 1989 I had the Red Zone, a popular club in the West 50s.

We had booked a Donna Summer event where she was to openly apologize for something she had denied even saying. She was quoted as saying "AIDS was a punishment from God for the immoral lifestyles of homosexuals.” She wanted her gay family to rejoin her, rejoice in her. In 1989 we were all losing scores of friends to AIDS-related illnesses. The hideous statement from a diva whose fan base was the gay community was beyond dumb …if it were true. Few believed her denials, and the event was being held to clear the air. ACT-UP disagreed and picketed the event. Donna never left her limo and that was that. Her protestations and lawsuits did little to regain her lost fans.

Over the years, I would hear a track on the radio or at a club and was awed by her talent…her way of hanging every impossible note and underlining every lyric. It was mid-last decade and I was asked if I wanted to see her perform at some corporate affair at Exit, another club in the far west 50s. Owner David Marvisi figured I might want to see her, but no one I called cared, no one wanted to go. I went alone. I stood in the sound booth, 15 feet above and in front of the stage, and waited. I had no expectations. I had no idea what I was going to see.

She came out in complete darkness, singing the intro to “McArthur Park” and I got goose bumps. It was beyond amazing. When the beat came on so did the lights and she was a DIVA, DIVA, DIVA. The corporate suits flocked the stage to see what all their money had paid for. Donna delivered. I welled up with tears. She was an overlooked star playing to an un-hip corporate card-crowd. The crowd should have been queens, hipsters, club kids, and the wonderful instead of the mundane. She gave them her hits and smiled that show-biz smile, but all I could feel was what could have been.

Donna Summer’s death is a stop-the-presses event. I was to tell you about a bunch of things today in detail, but a few lines will now have to do. On May 18th through the 20th, Roseland Ballroom hosts the New York Tattoo Convention. Clayton Paterson, a friend and organizer, was hooking me up with a photo of man-about-town Steve Bonde for a story, but… in short, he was the Stray Cats photographer back in the day and started this tattoo convention stuff in 1998. He wrote a couple of books: Tattoo with an Attitude and Marked for Life. Everybody in the ink community is going – and so am I.

I was also to discuss the end-of-season run of Daniel and Derek Kochs’ unstoppable hit brunch “Day and Night” at Ajna Bar, 25 Little W.12th St. I would also have talked about the International Contemporary Furniture Fair at the Javits Center on May 19-22 where you can see all the furniture and fixtures of next year’s clubs in advance.

Lastly, I would have mentioned the piece in yesterday’s NY Times about Justin Ross Lee, international man of controversy. In that, the Times referred to me as "an authority on nightlife.” Now that I am official, I’m going to put down the pen, grab a diet Ginger Ale, and sit back and listen to "Last Dance."

A Tale of Two Mikes: Prison and Provocateur

I was at dinner the other night with Eater’s Scott Solish and he asked me if I was tired of writing yet. My answer was no, though few realize what it takes to deliver something fresh five days a week. He writes three or four entries a day while I write six times a week, including the relationship advice column. What does get tiring is all the ruckus over seemingly innocuous statements or minor incidents in the nightlife world. Within a span of 20 minutes I got calls from Provocateur owner Mike Satsky and blogger/friend Brittany Mendenhall over little bits of gossip that seemed to be nothing. I was having a latte at a truck stop in upstate New York. Before your deviant little minds wander, I was at the truck stop with the gal pal. We had just visited Michael Alig. Yes, I did that again.

Michael had gotten into a little spat and was bruised, rocked and rolled–but surprisingly not shaken or stirred. We talked about his homecoming and how he was going to enter society again. He is obsessed with showing the world how rehabilitated he is and how he will use his creative energies to serve society. We talked about how close the light at the end of the tunnel seems. We talked about some of his old friends who have shunned him and how he hopes they will give him a chance to prove himself. Talk is cheap (you should see my paycheck for writing this) but it is a great first step. He has a job with a writer (not me, a real writer) and a choice of two nice places to live. The last time I visited him and wrote about the visit many commenters raised many questions. I addressed these with him. In remorse-filled answers he told me how events played out and how the drugs owned his mind. To some extent many will buy this explanation, but the dismemberment and cover up will always haunt him.

There were many times when anger and circumstances provoked me to act violently. I’ve driven cars too fast and, on a handful of circumstances, been out of my mind on alcohol or other substances. I have raised a hand with ill intent. Luck kept me from crossing that big line that Michael certainly crossed. Michael woke up unlucky that day 15 years ago and has been paying the price since. I’ll keep you posted.

Back to Mike Satsky and Brittany. So I’m in this truck stop and Mike is complaining to me that Brittany had written this story about how he and his partner Brian Gefter were opening a lobby bar and outdoor area despite the fact that they were incredibly behind on the rent. He explained to me about how that is impossible because they’re partnered with the Gansevoort Hotel. I heard the story too, but elected not to write on it even though I confirmed the rent issue with a source who is half-right some of the time. I remembered that when I interviewed Satsky way back when and he told me that they weren’t partners with the hotel. I hadn’t told this to Brittany when she called me to check her story, I told her that getting a little behind on rent is natural when a place is opening past its predicted date, and Provocateur opened later in the year than they hoped. It is very common for a new venue to be in arrears in rent and most landlords give a grace period of maybe 5 or 6 months for the build out. Provocateur’s agreement with their landlord included a grace period, according to Mike, that was more like 2 years. I told her it was no big thing and the place was slamming and slammed.

She went through with publishing the article and later told me that the Provocateur camp at first discredited the entire article as false. But she pressed them and under her intense first-year law student cross-examination they admitted that part of her article (that they were opening a lobby bar) was indeed true. One small lie is enough to give credibility to the whole tamale, in her mind. Lies are like that, they are remembered.

I read her article and her tone was indeed a bit snarky. I told Mr Satsky that this sort of thing is going to happen when you don’t let her in to your joint. Although she usually attends Provocateur with no door problems she was denied the other evening. Mike says it was 3am and she didn’t call ahead. That whole call-ahead policy thing isn’t going to work as an excuse with me and many people scoff at that concept . It would be fine if that was the policy for everyone who stands at the ropes of Provocateur, but many are admitted without calling. The door, as I predicted after my first visit, is a problem. Since it has only been open for about a year, it may not be that big a deal for them yet—they’re still drawing a crowd—but let’s see how this plays out over time.

Here’s a great example on their half-baked door policy. A very well-known wife of a well-loved owner was throwing a birthday bash at Provocateur the other night. It was planned and arranged as important birthdays are, and went well until, well I’ll let the birthday girl do the talking. Here’s some of the venting I got about the incident.

“I’m sure you have no interest in my new petty “Hate Campaign” against Provocateur but little Geffie cancelled my birthday there while I was standing at the door in front of him b/c he didn’t like the “short fat one in my group.” We’ve known each other for 10 years and I was very supportive of him and Romer back in the day. I then found out he has pissed off almost everyone in nightlife in NY, so much so that almost every industry person I invited to come by for a birthday cocktail declined saying they won’t go there b/c they’ve been disrespected by him or his staff at the door.

I guess I just miss the respect we used to have, even if we didn’t like each other we never forbade staff to go other places, we let each other in, we showed some love, it made this industry unique I thought. I guess part of it just makes me wonder what will the next generation of the industry be like? Whose responsibility is it to remind them of the rules–old school or not. I will say this, it made me respect my husband for always extending hospitality and respect to those in the industry and it made me miss Gilbert for really knowing how to do it so well. Those two blond heads on sticks at that door were scurrying about in and out all flurry, no action, no panache. I guess I miss the idea that a night and a crowd could be curated out of more than models, investment bankers and promoters.

Anyway most of all I wanted to vent and vent big by venting to you, maybe hoping just a little that maybe more had done the same and that there would be a call to action and Geffie and Satsky would forever mend their little ways.”

I’m sure I’ll get a call about this. I think Mike and Brian “Geffie” Gefter need to talk about this. They are bright people and must realize they need bright people at their door. I think Provocateur is a major player but it wasn’t built for 1 year. The people they are turning away harshly now will not forget this when they are needed to fill the room or provide a needed service. All the great clubs turn most people away. How it is done and by whom is very important. In an age of Twitter and camera phones, Brittany and others like her don’t need to be in the club to know the dirt.

On a much lighter note, I could not attend the birthday bash for Justin Ross Lee the other night at 49 Grove. I was ultra busy rearranging my sock drawer that very night. Happy birthday Mr. Justin Ross Lee! Now grow up, my friend.

Talk Is Cheap: Rachel Uchitel & Bottle Girls

Talk is cheap. Silence can get expensive. The New York Magazine article ‘Rachel Uchitel is Not a Madam‘ by Lisa Taddeo is the talk of the town and spot on. For an outsider to gain such access and insight is amazing. As the story developed, club moguls called me to get the story on Lisa. I made it clear I was talking to her and I felt in my bones she could be trusted. Most opted not to chat with her but there were many who did. The result is a story that, in my opinion, properly describes the conditions in bottle service clubs that led to the Tiger Woods scandal. It was great to hear Rachel’s side of things. When Lisa told me she was talking to her, I realized that this piece was going to be real. Whether Ms. Uchitel was paid to be quiet is subject to much speculation. I actually don’t care. Consenting adults can do what they want, say or not say what they want, as long as they let the slobbering public have a peek once in awhile. The Uchi-Woods scandal is the tip of an iceberg that could take down the Titanic, the 6th Fleet and half of Clubdom, if it exposed all the other gents doing the exact same thing. The most unforgivable thing Tiger did was to make me feel sorry for him.

When I walk through a serious club and I see the Arab business types or the real estate heirs or the celebrities, I don’t write about it. First of all I don’t do gossip…much. Secondly, if I did, I wouldn’t be considered a ‘friend to the club’ when I came through. It’s not that I’m gagged, but there is an understanding that the thing that real clubs are selling is more than booze, music and accessibility to fine looking loose women. The most cherished commodity is confidentiality. The big spenders must believe that their free spending on not so free women and seriously expensive booze will not be all over the gossip rags tomorrow. That’s the reason a Brittany Mendenhall or a Justin Ross Lee get into broohaha’s every so often. They’re often considered loose cannons and therefore a danger to a system which supports a global network of nightclubs.

Nightclubs are no longer the sole domain of guys like Rick from Casablanca or dudes like me. The lone wolf with a dubious past, a quick one-liner and access to the important guys and dolls, now works within a corporate structure which precludes them (and me). The high price of bottled booze pays for impossibly high rents, insurance, legal teams and the salaries of door people, promoters and bottle hosts who bring in the money guys. In Casablanca, the Peter Lorre character gives Bogie the important papers even though he knows Bogie despises him. What Bogart has is his word. The word of the proprietor today is one of the fundamental things that still apply as time goes by. The married baller, broker or lawyer must leave the club knowing that what has transpired will not be revealed. What happens in New York nightclubs must stay in New York nightclubs.

Lisa Taddeo got it right. The part about trusting the girls… the proven temptress, the ones who will not talk was so well put:

“To be a girl who is trusted, you need a track record of having slept with famous men and not talked about it. It’s an unwritten résumé. Talking about anything that goes on at the clubs is called “burning the athlete” or “burning the celebrity.” Privacy is prized invaluably in an age when the National Enquirer performs police-quality stakeouts and the video capabilities of cell phones have turned every banquette kiss into a YouTube trailer. It’s a wonder celebrities think they can get away with cheating, but if they do, it’s because of people like Uchitel. People who understand the value of future returns”

Right up front in her title block she says:

And the bottle girls who work at clubs are not prostitutes. As Tiger Woods’s very public escapades through the 21st-century courtesan economy suggest, it’s all much more complicated than that.

There are plenty of hot girls you can pay for. These women advertise quite openly in magazines and online. Every so often, someone’s locked up with a big show in the papers to let you know it’s still illegal. Society’s shocked when a powerful man is caught with his pants down and socks still on, but we all know it’s happening every day. Tiger just got tanked. It could have been a lot of people. The hookers have their charms, and the more you pay, the more considerable they are. Former pimp to the scene Jason Itzler (who also contributed to the article) was the genius who realized that most men figure they’re always paying for the sex in some way or another. He advertised the girlfriend experience (GFE),. This meant his girls made their ‘Johns’ feel like they weren’t hookers but their fantasy girlfriends. Jason made a killing.

There’s an old joke about the difference between sex in NY and LA. In NY, you ‘get some’ after dinner and a movie. In LA, you skip the movie. This is funny because, like most jokes it has some truth in it. Buying a hooker is simple and easy. The Johns who buy the booty nowadays often want it to seem more like a natural relationship. The club bottle experience is direct competition to the pimps and madams. The spender sees his love, talks to her, whispers in her ear and it’s done. He can actually leave the experience feeling in his very small heart that she likes him…a little. In a sense, it’s a new form of romanticism. The John gets the illusion of being loved for being himself and success makes him the stud attracting the babe. His triumphant mind is always working, and figures it costs him the same money as the call girl. The added value is that his ego (that ever present commodity with successful men) is satisfied that he didn’t have to pay for it. As for the girls, they’re just connecting or having fun doing what you do when you live in New York and, “John is so nice”. In a few years they’ll grow too old to be relevant to these fellas, but the hope is by that by then, they’ll finish school and get a great job with a connection they’ve made, or marry rich or move back home with loot and the hot ex-model boyfriend. Lisa had it right, it’s as complicated as any machine with thousands of moving parts and dreams can be .

I caught up with Lisa and asked her what she came away with. She answered, “It’s easy to denigrate the bottle waitresses. It’s easy to be high-horsed about anything that’s less 9 to 5 than what many of us think ‘normal’ is, but the truth is that nightlife is its own microcosm with its own set of rules and morals and good times or bad times. Like PR or fashion design or any other, I came away from my research intrigued by the world, but no less respectful of its moving parts.” Great job, Lisa.

Party Reunions and Backwards Gossip

“Up is down and down is up,” is Eddie Dane’s cryptic observation from Miller’s Crossing, an early Coen brothers flick. The two sensational clubland cases I written about involving anti-heroes Justin Ross Lee and Tarale Wulff may not be what they seem, as the two are not what they seem to be on the surface. I have had extensive conversations with all parties involved regarding Ross Lee’s big bang-up and Wulff’s class acts. Things don’t seem to be as they appeared in the initial reports. These stories have more legs than a 1Oak cocktail waitress and I’m just dying to tell you, but I can’t say much more as of yet. Except maybe up is down and down is up. I am told things in confidence and being a man of my word, I must wait until I am unleashed to blab.

But I can talk about the weather. As Spring is about to be sprung, the old fogies of my era and those before me are dusting off the pointed boots, ripped jeans and the well-worn leather jacket as reunion parties of long dead clubs are the order of the night. This Thursday we’ll find the legendary Tommy Gunn hosting “a one night stand, 20 years later.” The one night stand will be held at one of the only venues that still holds old-school values, Bowery Electric, the Joey Ramone place on the bowery. Tommy has lined up 10 bands, including New Zealand rockers Electric Mary and local vocals Wild Street. Project Runway’s Stella Zoltis will toss in a fashion show for good measure and go-go dancers are promised. Let’s just hope the dancers are not from the old days. The host committee made up of 24 folks, including myself, Gaslight owner Matt de Matt, Rock photog Bob Gruen, 80’s rocker Sally Cato (Smashed Gladys and The Conchords) and Danceteria’s John Argento. I asked Tommy why he decided to throw a party two decades after his last shindig. His reply: “I wanted to find out if New York City was ready to rock again! I wanted to bring back the magic one more time.”

It might take more than magic to bring back the old days. A crowd that will have to look for their dentures when they’re getting dressed or be literally resurrected might be in order. Luckily young stud promoters like Sam Valentine will ensure a current crop of revelers will join in the throw-back.

A reunion of sorts is now scheduled for Sunday, May 9th for the Danceteria crowd. This unofficial gathering will take place at Aspen Social at 8pm- a starting time that obviously takes into consideration the age of those who will be reuniting. The gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the legendary club, which means most attendees will be in their late 40’s, at best. I did the math.

There are other reunions for Club57 and the Mudd Club. I also I heard of a Cat Club reunion as well. When put into this context, I don’t think I can picture a future where any of today’s clubs would be remembered with such nostalgia and that any of today’s staff and patrons would maintain relationships strong enough to have a reunion 30 years from today. Personally, I never thought I’d survive Tunnel. Maybe I really didn’t?

Clubland’s Most Hated and Club Monaco’s Most Loved

“Who’s fighting and what for?” Mick Jagger Justin Ross Lee wrote on his website ClubPlanet that Richard Thomas, who is best known for working the door at Marquee and now Avenue, is the most hated man in nightlife. Numero uno, hands down, the worst guy around. Everybody with the possible exception of Richard Thomas knows that Justin was just being Justin. Justin has told me that he, himself, wants to be the most hated man in nightlife and has proceeded to “send up” a ton of people. It’s kind of ironic that Justin identified, for all to see, the person he wants to replace at the top of his most hated list. Many people enjoy Justin’s lampoon of nightlife, but many more are not amused. For the people who read him daily, despite all of his silliness, bad poetry and misadventures, there lies some truth.

Mr. Richard Thomas rejects thousands of ‘wannabes’ that ask to get behind his gate at Avenue, many he turns away without explanation or social niceties. For this, he must expect some heat. Justin yanks a lot of chains and for this he must expect a little confrontation. I have spent countless hours listening to Richard Thomas professing peace on earth and an end to all wars and have seen him lecture so many others about not using force to resolve conflicts. The fact that he allegedly punched Justin in the stomach the other night at 1Oak shocks me, but everyone in clubland is chatting about it and many are telling me it’s true.

I have seen the police complaint and read about charges, including the alleged theft of a Flip camera. Justin: today is Richard’s birthday. Can you please drop the charges? I know that you are a gentleman and there is no need to take this further. Richard has been showed-up. Now show all of us that you are a gent.

Tomorrow, Club Monaco honors famed photographer Bert Stern at their flagship store on 21st Street. The brand’s CEO, John Mehas will be hosting. Sterns famous “last sitting” photographs of Marilyn Monroe taken 6 weeks prior to her death are some of my favorites. I look forward to attending this event. By the way, Patrick Duffy is somehow involved so it will be fabulous.

A Response to ClubPlanet’s Most Hated People in Nightlife

In an article appearing on his Clubplanet blog, Justin Ross Lee named the “Top Ten Most Hated People in New York Nightlife,” a list in which he includes himself. I like the idea of this list, specifically the idea of identifying who the biggest assholes and bullies are. I just think Justin’s list is a little too narrow. With the exception of Strategic Group honcho Noah Tepperberg, he names the puppets and not the puppeteers. I became aware of the list when promoter Sally Shan, who made the list, asked me what she should do about it. I had just written about Sally, and she told me it had reinvigorated her haters, which is odd since she is certainly not a bad person. In fact, she is hard working, moral and somewhat pleasant. Promoters like her are motivated by many things — money, glamour, excitement — but the need to feel loved is at the core of it. This is especially true for Sally, since her big heart doesn’t take criticism well.

My advice to her was not to worry. “I was on the top of lists like that for years!” I said, “If you don’t have a few haters, you’re doing it wrong. Promoters are generally people who, besides the money, seek admiration. Those going down that road will have haters throwing dirt at them. The bigger you get, the bigger the target you become. Feel sorry for those who find satisfaction in hurting others … they are merely moths to your flame since they have no light of their own. Otherwise they just live in the darkness of their own making.”

This seemed to cheer her up, and as any good promoter would do, she proceeded to publicize the mention proudly. Others on the list include Matt Lipman, a promoter who flies under my radar, so how bad can he be? Adam “The Glove” Glovsky is another promoter I can’t see harming a fly or doing anything except annoying people to come to his events. I’m sure Glovsky and the other promoters disturb people with texts and Facebook invites, but that’s part of their job. Jonathan Schwartz is harmless — unfortunately, way more harmless than he himself thinks. He is brighter than most and has risen quickly through the unwashed promotional ranks to become a promotional director. Although snarky at times, he is never malicious, and this “hated” branding is uncalled for. David Jaffee, like Adam, considers annoying an art form and is so good at it that the art form becomes fun. Mathew Assante is a puppy, not a pit bull. He is always a gentleman that travels with a polite and pretty crew, and I have never seen him do or say anything that would warrant an emotion as strong as hate.

Now as Justin Ross Lee described them, “the rope rats.” Aalex Julian and Rich Thomas stand in front of clubs that hold about a tenth of the number of people that want to enter them. Saying “no” a few thousand times a night will collect haters. To the people who know them and are deemed worthy to enter their spots, they are a pair that is loved: both are professional and both must be defined as people who have a lot more going on than standing in the cold and rejecting the Justin Ross Lees of the world. The only really big fish on this list is Noah Tepperberg. He is described by Justin as “Dr. Evil.” I’ve known Noah for over 15 years and have never seen or heard of him going back on his word. His success is undeniable, his list of friends expansive — he supports thousands of people with his vision. Noah loves what he does and has quietly been a friend to so many in need. Running an empire is not an easy task and if sometimes he seems distracted or indifferent to the small talk of people he doesn’t know, it should be forgiven.

In a business populated with real assholes, Justin Ross Lee seems to have named none except himself. Out of the 10 he lists, only he remains without my defense, which is ironic since Justin once told me that he was going to try to be the most hated man in the business. To do that one has to actually be in the business and be important enough to be noticed, which means one has to target the real players and creeps rather than point out the people who deign to kiss one’s ass. I certainly am hated by many and accept that as part of what I do. I’ve always felt that If some people “like” me then I must be failing. I like Justin a great deal — he’s smart, witty and I consider his antics a unique branding ploy. But he throws spitballs, not rocks, which doesn’t really earn him a spot on my hated list. There’s plenty of real live jerks out there who need calling out, and Justin seems to be flailing about and screaming like a three-year-old trying to get the adults’ attention. I’m an adult, Justin Ross Lee, and now you have me listening. Did you have anything important to say?