Reuniting The World Nightclub

A Facebook friend asked me if it wasn’t time for a World reunion. He was referring to a joint I ran during its best incarnation back in the day. It had been around before me and survived a little while after I moved on. The World opened, I believe, on September 17th, 1987. That’s a little more than 25 years ago. I’ll quote some poet and say "Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now." I was so sure of what I was doing, knew everything I needed to thrive. The place was famously "gangstar.” Long before hip-hop and house were breaking mainstream, we went with it. We booked Public Enemy for the opening (my notes say I paid them $1200). I was paying big acts of those early years, like Kid and Play and Big Daddy Kane, like $400 to perform. My main floor DJs were David Morales, Frankie Knuckles, and David Piccioni (Black Market Records).

I declined being involved with the reunion thing. Three of the four owners are scattered to the winds, and the 4th, my friend the great Arthur Weinstein has sadly passed. Last I heard, Paul Garcia (who I never dealt with) was up in Martha’s Vineyard or someplace like that. Peter Frank was practicing law up in Kingston, NY, and Frank Roccio had fallen on hard times. He has a Facebook page that says he is living in Brooklyn. I wish him well.

Although I remember it fondly, I have no desire to go back and relive it – even for a night. It might be nice to see a few old friends, but Facebook allows me an occasional "hey, how ya doing," and that’s enough. There will never be another club like The World unless it’s post apocalypse. It was dangerous fun in a wild west kind of hood that was the Lower East Side of the late ’80’s. During the day, you could buy drugs and guns right there in front of the place. The buildings up and down the block were abandoned, and dealers would often cement themselves in and drop their products in tin cans to the needers below. That sort of atmosphere has been outlawed, at least in Manhattan, and although an underground scene still survives in the outer boroughs, it is comparatively safe, almost saccharine.

I wrote a story called “Five Easy Pieces," which named The World as one of the top five places of all time. The others were Studio 54, Area, Max’s Kansas City, and the Paradise Garage. Here’s The World excerpt.

"The World (254 East 2nd Street) was a mess. It was my fault, as I helped run it. It was where house went from the Paradise Garage crowd to the hipster crowd. It’s where hip hop broke out from the streets to everywhere. Public Enemy played, plus Salt-n-Pepa, and Beastie Boys, but also Bowie and Sinead and Bjork and even Neil Young. One night Pink Floyd rolled in unexpectedly and wowed us. It was a place where Keith Haring was arting up the bathroom stalls and Andy Warhol was calming me down. It was dangerous and smart. It was Caroline Herrera wearing a zillion dollars worth of emeralds while project kids popped and spun. Owner Peter Frank says, "The true stars of The World’s universe were the club kids and patrons … when they came through the doors, they became anyone they wanted to be." The building was torn down some years ago. Today the East Side Tabernacle resides on the first floor, while upstairs East Villagers listen to music that broke there  back in the day. Setlist: “Paid in Full” (Eric B and Rakim), “Yo Bum Rush” (Public Enemy), “Saturday Night” (Schooly D), “Open Your Heart” (Madonna), “Brass Monkey” (The Beastie Boys)."

Here’s an piece of an obit I wrote for Arthur after he passed:

"Art passed yesterday, after a courageous fight with cancer. Known to everyone with clout in the nightclub industry, Art was a familiar face for a few decades. He owned and operated some of the best clubs in history. The World, Hurrah, The Continental, and The Jefferson provided thousands of extraordinary nights for thousands of hipsters long before the word was unfortunately popularized. Everybody loved and respected him, even those who were over him. Even years after he had operated anything he could still get Calvin or Ian or Grace on the phone. Grace Jones recently paid a visit to him as he lay dying in his Chelsea Hotel apartment. He told me of hanging with Ian Schrager and David Bowie, who he called the White Knight. He never ceased to amaze me with stories of life in the fastest lane. It wasn’t the drugs or the booze that killed the beast, it was, as Carl Denham once said, beauty that killed him. He was trapped by the drug called clubs, its  kaleidoscope-like enchantment, its vision and pitfalls, and by his camera and his art. Arthur ignored the pitfalls, as he only saw the possibilities."

Consider this a reunion.

Public Enemy Fans Donate $75,000 for New Album

Just a little over a year ago, rap pioneers Public Enemy announced they would use Dutch website Sellaband.com to raise a staggering $250,000 to fund their new album. Somewhere in between, that figure was downgraded to a relatively scant $75,000, and late last week, they hit the lowered mark. In a statement on the group’s fundraising page, Public Enemy wrote, “It has been a long and winding road. We’ve had explosive starts, media attention, corporate troubles, media criticism, recalculations and finally resurgence. When its all said and done, the bottom line is that we never lost faith in ourselves, our fams and the future of fan funding as a model.”

Sellaband incentivizes donors of varying levels, much like Kickstarter and similar fundraising websites. Although no “believers” in the Public Enemy campaign took their love to the “PE Number One” level of a $10,000 buy in, 10 of them did commit to the $1,000 “Terrordome” Level, meaning, amongst other things, they get unlimited-use backstage passes for the next three years. In case you’re not a math major, that breaks down to a slightly less ridiculous $333.33 a year.

Originally slated for a 2010 release, PE’s 13th (!!!) album will presumably come to fruition next year, following the group’s current series of European dates. Here’s hoping some of those 10 big spenders are spread across Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Itlay and the Netherlands.

Our Man in Miami: A Night on the Town with Irvine Welsh & Public Enemy

“My God. Did that really happen last night? If I didn’t have pics I’d swear it was just an extended jetlag and writing fatigue hallucination.” That’s from my pal Irvine Welsh, who texted me as soon as he woke up last Sunday morning. It seems a particular portion of our Saturday night was a little far-fetched even for a man whose mind is behind some of the most out-there novels in the history of literature. Then again, catching Public Enemy in a locked-down burlesque joint on a sultry late summer evening is almost too surreal to be believed by anyone.

Irvine had flown into town on Friday and given me a ring, and we’d agreed to meet the next night. At the time, I had no idea where we’d go, but I figured something swingin’ would come up. Little did I know that it’d be something that swung in straight from another world.

Like all wild nights, it began with some splendid fortification. In this case, it was at the ever-hopping Mercadito, which opened in Midtown Miami back in May and hasn’t had a mild night since. As always, our host was the indefatigable Brian Hicks, a Chi-town native who seems predestined to table-hop. As a manager, Brian makes Mercadito move as smoothly as the Miami River. As a man, he’s the consummate gentleman. and he never fails to make patrons feel more than welcome.

Mercadito, which means “Little Market” in Spanish, knows how to feed folks too, with perfectly-portioned delicacies sourced as fresh and as fine as it comes. The cocktails are also crazy cool, and we opted for some pineapple concoction that tasted like a treat from Dionysius himself. Perhaps that’s why the rest of the night came off as some sort of ecstatic madness – we’d drunk from a god’s flask, and now we had to pay for it.

And how. The drive up to La Fee Verte was pleasant enough. As we crossed the 79th Street Causeway, Irvine filled me in on his August in Edinburgh at the legendary Fringe Festival, and I tried to counter with recollections of my summer in the thick of it all. We talked about books (he’s here to finish up a novel called The Scag Boys), flicks (he’s in L.A. next week to see about the filming of his book Filth), and women; or more precisely, his one and my lack of just one (Irvine’s longtime accomplice happens to be one of the most remarkable women alive).

We entered La Fee Verte expecting no less than sheer sexy from the get go, and we weren’t disappointed one bit. The art, the furnishings, the colors, the lights – all harked back to a time when burlesque was big business. Here, a man has to pinch himself to remember he’s actually in the 21st century.

But all the trappings in the world wouldn’t mean a thing if the entertainment didn’t also hit the mark, and here the joint outdoes itself. Aurora Natrix, Milena Hale, and my own personal favorite, Nicole Soden, shook and shimmied their way into our hearts as if they’d been designed to be broken. Call me a masochist, but there’s something about a tease that leaves me reeling; something delicious indeed. And these three knockouts knocked the proverbial wind out of me.

Then it happened. The lights dimmed, the room went silent, and a voice came out of the ether: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy!”

The crowd, such as it was, went nuts. And Irvine and I looked at each other with a note of utter surprise. We kind of expected Chuck D to be there – Flavor Flav, on the other hand, was always in doubt. That the two would then ascend to a go-go dancer’s poled platform and launch into some of the most riotous hip hop ever to blast from a boombox never once entered our minds. Sure, we counted on hearing the hits, but from a stripper’s perch? Not in a million years.

Things got even kookier when Chuck and Flavor started serenading the birthday boy, who’d obviously coughed up a good chunk of change both to lockdown the joint and to lure what’s left of Public Enemy. And from the way these hip hop heavyweights bantered about, the largest part of that chunk must’ve been going straight into their pockets. But who am I to criticize? The cat made it possible for me and Irvine to see two of rap’s most historical figures from within arm’s reach. And at the end of it all, we both felt as if we’d seen something few people ever would see – let alone believe.