The Xtravaganza Ball: Hard to Put Into Words (Photos Inside); Latex Ball Coming Up

The morning was swept away as I hugged my pillow and dreamt of Father Jose Xtravaganza’s iconic 30th anniversary WRATH OF THE GODS & GODDESSES” BALL last night at XL Nightclub. I dreamt of Aphrodite and Hercules and Gods and Goddesses and princes and princesses and sugarplum fairies and lots of other fairies and girls that would be boys and boys that would be girls. I never wanted to wake up. The Ball was everything. It was glamour and drama and love and sadness as those that have gone with God were remembered. It was beauty and emotion. It was professional. Grandfather Hector Xtravaganza was a proud father surveying the universe he presides over. I sat as a judge next to the legendary Patricia Fields who was flanked by the joy that is Jack Mizrahi.

Jack is usually an emcee and he commented on the uniqueness of his new role. Pat Fields was amazing. She was unforgiving as a judge. She was fair but demanding. She wanted excellence, and she chopped those who didn’t bring it. I chopped some guy in the Thug Realness category. He came at me at intermission with anger, demanding to know why. He pointed out that he had brought the required spear and, as he yelled at me, he was full of fire and brimstone. I explained to him – although all around me said I need not explain – that if he had come to the stage with the attitude he was coming at me now, like a thug, I would have given him the "10" and the prize he coveted. On stage there was nothing Thug about him. He got chopped.Xtravaganza Ball

Nunney Karma competing in the BQ Vogue Fem category was all attitude and athleticism and creativity and confidence. He twisted and pranced to his just reward. Jennifer Paris had to tell the MC and the crowd that she indeed was born a man as there were few believers in the crowd. She was recruited to be an Xtravaganza on the spot.

Claudia Charriez Xtravaganza was radiant. YouTube her on The Tyra Banks Show to believe. Claudia and I talked about ourwonder years at clubs gone by, when she and Jennifer were the new kids on the block. They are goddesses now in this Ball world and in mine as well.Xtravaganza ball

Lady Bunny was stealing the show, dancing and toying with every camera in the room. There were many so photos; video should be all over the internet. She was asked to the stage as a legend and told the adoring crowd that she represented the International House of Pancakes. As I have explained, the Ball has representatives from the various "Houses" that make up the culture, competing for prizes and glory. It was glorious.

XL was perfect. I hadn’t ever been. Old friends, owner John Blair and GM Tracy Choi, gave me the 50-cent tour and massive amounts of drink tickets. I keep finding them in the pockets of my jacket, which I got from SEW on Mott Street. I felt like a million bucks, all decked out in their duds, which are anything but duds.Xtravaganza BallBINGO moves tonight from the Bowery Poetry Club (now-shuttered because of renovations) to Duane Park, as Duane transforms it into its brand of paradise. BINGO lands softly on the enclosable roof of Hotel Chantelle.

Tonight I’m going to dream of another fitting befitting of the glow that the Ball has bestowed on me. The next big Ball is the Latex Ball at Roseland Ballroom on August 18th. Thousands will show as all the houses will represent. This will be the 22nd Latex Ball and it is, of course, a GMHC affair.

The Latex Ball’s theme: 

The House of Latex Project presents The Enchanted Forest

“The place in which inner darkness is confronted and worked through; where uncertainty is resolved about who one is; and where one begins to understand who one wants to be.”- Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods, 1987

The inner life of forests has always enchanted us. It is that special place where roots, soil, leaves, insects, flowers, animals, and water collide to create the circle of life. And it is there that the sounds of the raindrops falling from the leaves of ancient trees were transformed into the deafening sounds of our ancestors beating on their drums. Inspiring them to create and spread the magical stories of our creation, our past, and our future – that we now call fairytales and fables.

Tonight’s categories will take you into this inner sanctum and help you travel from tropical jungles to alien worlds; from confronting scary spirits, to places of indescribable beauty. To a place where magical herbs grow unnoticed until they are found to hold the power to help cure illnesses and diseases. We hope your enjoy this trip filled with joy, adventure, mystery and beauty that we call The Enchanted Forest.

The Latex Ball’s categories:

RUNWAY
Cinderella – A classic story where a young girl goes from rag to riches in spite of her evil step mother and step sisters. In the classic Disney animated film, Cinderella is the much-loved only child of a widowed aristocrat. After deciding that his beloved daughter needs a mother’s care, Cinderella’s father marries Lady Tremaine, a proud woman with two daughters from her first marriage, Drizella and Anastasia. Plain and socially awkward, these stepsisters are bitterly envious of the beautiful and charming Cinderella. After the death of Cinderella’s father, Lady Tremaine and her daughters take over the estate, and begin to abuse and mistreat Cinderella out of jealousy. Despite everyone trying her, Cinderella becomes a kind woman and befriends the animals living in the forest around her, until her Prince Charming comes along and saves her.

Women – $ 1 Trophy
The Fairy God Mother came to rescue Cinderella from her misery and granted her a blue dress and glass slippers. Tonight, bring your wand and transform your simple look into a glamorous effect before our eyes. Don’t forget your wand!!!

Butch Queen – $ – 3 Trophies. European (Small vs Tall vs Big)
Lady Tremaine (Tall) and her daughters Drizella (Small) and Anastasia (Big) drove Cinderella to tears with their shade. Before Cinderella could get to the ball, they tore her dress to shreds to prevent her from going. Tonight, we want to see you take those tattered and shredded pieces of fabric from Cinderella’s original gown and create a Victorian BQ high-fashion effect and walk with your wicked step-family attitude.

All American – $ -1 Trophy. All American
Welcome to Prince Charming’s ball!! The King and Queen are ready to marry you off and set you on your regal way. Bring us Prince Charming in your ROYAL HOUSE COLORS.

Butch Queen Up In Drags vs. Fem Queens – $ – 2 Trophies
From Rags to Riches is how Cinderalla’s life unfolds. Tonight we would like the BQUID to bring it as Cinderella BEFORE her fairy godmother came and transformed her into the belle of the ball, and we want the FQs to bring it like Cinderella in her blue gown as she steps into the ball with one of her feathered friends on her shoulder cheering her on as she gets her prince. FACE
In the original story of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault, seven fairies were invited to the christening of a King & Queen’s long wished for baby girl. Each fairy brought her gifts of BEAUTY, WIT, GRACE, DANCE, SONG & the ABILITY TO PLAY ANY MUSICAL INSTRUMENT. An eighth fairy was accidently not invited to the party, and showed up plucked and gave the little girl the gift of a curse – should the princess prick her hand on a spindle, she would instantly die! Fortunately, a quick thinking fairy granted the princess with one final gift and transformed the shady fairy’s curse into 100 years of deep sleep that could only be broken by the kiss of from a king’s son.

Women – $ – 1 Trophy
Paint your face as a gift of beauty, wit, grace, song, or music – and dance down the runway to the judges and give them the best gift of all – your face!

Drags – $ – 1 Trophy
The overlooked and understated fairy served Sleeping Beauty’s face with a look that made the poor child go to sleep for 100 years! When she awakens, will she gag and live for your wicked beauty – or will she fall back into slumber for another 100 years?!!

Butch Queen – $ – 1 Trophy
The King’s son traveled through the enchanted forest on his steed and stumbled upon a sleeping beauty like no other. In your most royal garb and crown, bring us your look of love tonight. Will your kiss wake her up to love at first sight or will it send her back into a dip of deep sleep?

Fem Queen – $ – 1 Trophy
Sleeping beauty’s face remained ageless when she pricked her hand on a spindle at the clock stopped at the age of 16, keeping her face timeless and effortless. Bring us an effect that only a true Sleeping Beauty could wear to sleep for 100 years and sell us your everlasting carta with a bejeweled mirror. Honey, this Princess is ready to become Queen of Carta!!

TEAM REALNESS
Any type of Realness, Male Figure, Female Figure – $ – 2 Trophies

In the original story of Hansel and Gretel, two siblings try and find their way home from deep in the forest. Unfortunately, the birds ate the breadcrumbs they left behind and they found themselves at the hands of an evil cannibalistic hag. Forced to outwit her in order to escape her stew pot, bring to the judges your realness as Hansel and Gretel and see who survives to live another day in the enchanted forest. FASHION
In Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice is transported to another world and told that she is the only one who can slay the Jabberwocky, a dragon-like creature controlled by the Red Queen who terrorizes Underland’s inhabitants and bring peace back to the forest. With the help of the mad hatter and Mirana of Marmoreal, the White Queen, Alice is able to outwit the evil queen and slay the Jabberwocky, and save the forest and return back home.

OTA Labels – $ -2 Trophies Female Figure vs. Male Figure
The Mad-Hatter is hosting a “Wonderland Fashionista Affair” at his house and only the richest of them all will attend. Bring us this Season’s Labels…

Sneaker vs Sneaker – $ -1 Trophy
Wonderland is full of bright colors and outrageous surprises. Bring us your most colorful sneakers that you would wear to enter the Wonderland forest.

Best Dressed – $ – 2 Trophies Female Figure vs. Male Figure
She really likes the dark side, but she’s so scared of going too far into it that she’s made everything appear very light and happy. In Honor of the White Queen, come dressed in all white best- dressed look.

SEX SIREN
Dating back to 1697, the tale Little Red Riding Hood tells the story of a little girl going to go visit her sick grandmother. During her trip she bumps into the biggest, baddest, and hungriest wolf in the forest. At first he’s ready to eat her, but decides on another plan. The wolf runs to the grandmother’s house and eats her, then waits for Little Red Riding Hood to arrive so he can eat her. When she arrives, she is confused by the deepness in her grandma’s voice and the size of her Grandma’s hands and teeth, she gets a little too close and is quickly gobbled up too!! Luckily a lumberjack from the forest steps in and chops the wolf open and frees the Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood!!

FQ – $ – 1 Trophy
Little Red Riding Hood is on her way to visit her sick grandma, but had actually planned a date for later that evening. Bring it in a red cloak and sexy lingerie underneath!

BQ – $ – 1 Trophy
The lumberjack stepped in and rescued Little Red Riding Hood from the big bad wolf. Bring it in your plaid sexy wear and show us how chopping wood all day does a body good!

TM – $ – 1 Trophy
Come as the biggest baddest wolf in the forest ready to eat some young tender white meat. The bigger, badder, and hairer…the better. BODY
Written by a female author in 1740, the story of Beauty & the Beast is about a merchant, his three daughters and a tortured prince who has been cursed to live his life in the shape of a beast. Lost in the forest on his way home from a failed trip to bring back his daughters jewels and riches, the merchant bumps into a castle and seeks shelter for the night. The next day, the merchant steals a rose from the garden to bring to Belle – it’s all she really wanted, since she was his most humble and good daughter. Enraged by the merchants disrespect, the owner of the castle – the Beast, forces the merchant to give up his daughter Belle in exchange for the rose and gives him the riches he promised his other two daughters. Belle agrees to live with Beast and is showered in the finest clothes and jewels but misses her family. The Beast agrees to let her leave for a week and when she fails to return he almost dies of a broken heart. When Belle finally
 returns she finds him half dead and weeps over his body and her tears magically break the curse and the Beast transforms into the most handsome Prince she has ever seen.

Beauty and the Beast
Team FQ & BQ – $ – 2 Trophies
Bring Belle and the Beast to the runway in their finery. In his search for love, the Beast has spared no expensive and showered Belle with the most beautiful ball gowns and jewels money can buy. Tonight, you are the most elegant couple at the ball. Bring the house down.

Women – $ – 1 Trophy
A rose is a rose is a rose….come covered in roses and show us why the rose is such a powerful symbol of beauty.

BIZARRE
OTA – $ – 1 Trophy
Bring the enchanted forest to life in your effects. Forests are often the home to rare animals and flowers that live nowhere else in the world. Show us an effect no one has ever imagined or seen before. You are the forest that brings life and beauty to the world, and especially to tonight’s ball.

VOGUE
An orphan with the ability to fly and never age, Peter Pan is one of the most beloved forest dwellers of all time. With his crew of other orphans known as the Lost Boys, Peter Pan invites Wendy Darling to be the house mother and join his wild adventures on the island of Neverland that have inspired us for more than a century now. At the Mermaid Lagoon, Peter Pan saves the native princess Tiger Lilly and fights off the evil Captain Hook and his crew of pirates. Captain Hook tries to poison Peter Pan but his best friend, a fairy named Tinkerbell, drinks it and is saved by the promise that we will always believe in fairytales no matter how old we get!

FQ – $ – 1 Trophy
Tiger Lilly is the prettiest Native in the forest who fiercely took on Captain Hook and his men. Tonight bring us this princess warrior, ready to fight and snatch that trophy for her tribe.

BQ – $ – 1 Trophy
This mischievous man-child can fly and twist and turn in the air on a dime. Tonight bring us that childlike spirit and energy and take flight!

Women – $ – 1 Trophy
Tinkerbell is Peter Pan’s best friend and always has his back. She’ll even drink poison to save him. In a fairy effect, spread your fairy dust love on the runway.

Drags – $ – 1 Trophy
In the end, Wendy chooses to go back home and leave Neverland, but not before she leaves her mark in her signature blue dress. Show us what you got and why you’ll always be remembered in the forest of Neverland.

Pop, Dip & Spin vs New Way – $ – 2 Trophies
Captain Hook and his pirates are always in search of treasure and will do what they gotta do to get it. In a pirate effect, show us why we will always treasure the Pop, Dip & Spin, and why New Way gets the crowd to their feet.

Twist – $ – 1 Trophy
Sometimes parents just don’t have it together and can’t take care of their kids, so the kids are left to figure it out on their own. We call these the Lost Boys. They’re young, they’re strong, and they have what it takes to survive in a hard world. And when the pixie dust touches their skin, they get cunt and twist it out. Bring it in a lost boy effect and let the battles begin!

GRAND PRIZE
As A House – $$
James Cameron’s film Avatar took us to a whole new world where the forest was the center of all life. As a house, take us to the future of 2148 and into the forests of Pandora, where the cure for HIV has been growing deep in this alien world. Your house has recruited 1 Legend, 1 Face, 1 Runway, 1 Vogue and 1 Realness to find this rare flowering plant that is the panacea to all that ails humans, including the HIV virus. Your house holds the key to end the pandemic of HIV and on Earth. Bring us your best, as undercover Avatars to help humans find the secret location of this rare alien flower.
 

My Saturday Night with Madonna

I arrived at the Roseland Ballroom for the Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange Project/Madonna fest, way too late for entry. I had a hard time getting "Madonnavated" and missed the press call, and so there were no guest list gals or PR flacks to whisk me inside. Only a gaggle of indifferent security guards who had heard it all. They kept repeating their mantra that they were over capacity and no one was getting in. A fellow shut out was being told by a friend in the smoking section that the line had been around the block and that it was absolute chaos inside. He proclaimed Madonna was "only going to be here for 23 minutes!"

I wondered how that number was arrived at or how nuts this fellow must be. Catherine Fulmer, an extraordinary designer and old friend who I chat with on Facebook since she moved to Nashville, suddenly appeared and told me about the madness inside. Someone had stolen her phone which she had placed on a table in the V.I.P. section, and no one would help her. I asked her what she was doing here. She told me she was dining across the street at Victors when she saw the line and inquired. "No," I said, "I mean in New York." She was in town buying fabrics when she was swept up by the Madonna wave. Here I was on the outside looking in, and I grasped the irony of that position. How many hundreds of thousands had stared at me when I was on the other side of the rope. Suddenly, a celebrity appeared and she and her entourage were granted entry. I talked to the man who made that call, explained to him briefly the profound reasons for letting me pass, and I was in.

The queens I worked with on my job sites during the day were over Madonna. I was shocked, for she was their deity not so long ago. Their indifference weighed me down as I walked into the familiar hall. Roseland is still one of the best rooms in the city. Ancient crown moldings and architectural remnants whisper of a glorious past. Most of the pizzazz has been gone for years, or obscured now by giant video displays and sound equipment. The crowd was mixed: Flocks of little twenty-something girls traveling in packs with suburban smiles on their way-too-made-up faces; queens feeling it; odd couples of somehow connected straights and planted dancers working up their sweats. Camera crews blinded patrons while catching dancers in their moment. The images were being whisked around the world and images of dancers from around the world were being whisked to us. It was chaos by the V.I.P. section, but I didn’t see anything that looked like a winner being let in. The crowd downstairs was having fun and their enthusiasm  swept me up.

This could easily have been a cheese-fest, a glorified Dancing with the Blahs competition, but their was a certain vibe being felt that it was going to be cool. An MC appeared. I had arrived just in time. Dancers of the TV variety did an uninspiring Argentina bit. A Thai troupe followed and was so boring I won’t eat pad thai for months. Then came the real-deal dancers, and then Madonna rose from below center stage.

She wore a white blouse, some sort of black skirt or shorts, and boots. She clung to a very expensive-looking long coat. Videos introduced the dozen finalists, with names like Skorpian and Princess Lockeroo and Lil Buck. Lil Buck would eventually win, but all were amazing. I found myself yelling "Wow" and "Geez" and "Holy Shit" a lot. Lil Buck had me screaming. I can’t describe his schtick, but luckily I won’t have to. YouTube the man, he’s been around. Now he’ll tour with Madonna. She asked the 4 finalists if they had ever been arrested before. Strange that this wasn’t dealt with on the application level, rather than in front of a couple of thousand live attendees and a worldwide audience of millions. Madonna repeated the "change your life" thing, and then gave the prize to Lil Buck. He proved to be a better dancer than public speaker as he accepted his sneakers in a box trophy. He declared, "I’m straight from the streets and things like this don’t happen to us."

This was a great party and a great overall concept. I need to highly commend Smirnoff for sponsoring this event, which must have cost mega millions. I must commend Madonna for always delivering a product that inspires. She looked great and worked hard to greet as many people as she could. She was there for way more than 23 minutes. I wanted to call Catherine Fulmer and talk about the event but alas, her phone was history. I headed down to Snap, knowing I had missed the big fight. I went down to Stash to see how the preview week was going. My week is going to be rough, too much to do. The Roseland event has me up. It has me believing that good things can come from hard work. I need to grasp that concept right now.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Smirnoff

Party On: Ball Awards and Some Scottish Love

The Ball Awards held in the The Lab Banquet Hall on Fulton Street, Brooklyn has left me limp. (Please, no wisecracks from my ex-wives.) It was a reassuring chaotic happening. It said that the world, as I know it and love it and live for, can and does indeed exist…albeit sometimes in Bed-Stuy, and other times in those places not on the beaten-down path of nightlife. It was thousands of people gathering to hug, kiss, and scream for joy as the most limber and creative amongst them competed for prizes and status. The outsider who accompanied me was amazed, dazed, and sometimes confused, but she was not alone. I was often brought to tears by the magnificent mayhem, and the love poured at us and at everyone in attendance.

I waited with the crowds outside for the doors to finally open around 11:30pm. We were told to be there at 9:30pm, but have some experience with these affairs; nothing was going to happen until midnight. The cold air had us all huddled up and tight as the line went way down the block. Little skirmishes with line-cutters were dealt with Ball banter from attendees who sometimes looked thugish or shady on the outside, but of course were as sweet as can be once they let their masks down — not that they can’t roll if they have to. The ballroom life brings many who traveled a rough road to find acceptance. Sharp tongues managed by sharp minds gave shade like an elm tree to the misbehaviors. Someone in the crowd scolded a young transgressor, telling him he could "get Brooklyn-hurt, not Jersey-hurt" if he continued to offend. Once inside, a female staffer who could kick my ass with one hand tied behind her back, searched me good. That gal knows more about me than half the
dates I ever went with. It hurt, which means it must have been good for me. I wonder if it was good for her as well. 
 
Ball Awards
 
A 6-foot-3-inch man — who was more of a lady than most of the security who harassed her — stood her ground at the inside ropes. She wasn’t going to take the laughter or put-downs and got in their faces and demanded a manager. She got an apology. She was magnificent.The mandatory coat check was $3, but you could pay $5 and keep your outerwear. I knew I wasn’t in Manhattan anymore. Inside, people were complaining about the $10-a-glass Hennessy, reaffirming we weren’t in Manhattan anymore. The Lab is an amazing room and a brilliant choice for this affair. I have been to many Balls, but don’t remember one as fun and exciting as this. I sat with the wonderful Princess Magnifique and Punk Rock Frankie Magnifique. Frankie hadn’t been out in a while, so a lot of people came by to say hello and pay respect. The Latex Ball is coming August 18th at Roseland Ballroom, I believe. Cancel all vacations or other plans as this event; this culture must become a part of you.
 
Tonight, Mr. Mark Baker has implored me to attend "From Scotland With Love: The Tenth Anniversary Show." He refered to it as "Dressed to Kilt" and I thought that was clever. It’ll be at The Liberty Theater and starts at 7:30pm. I will, of course, be at BINGO at the Bowery Poetry Club and unable to attend, but as I am a supporter of all things Baker, I had to tell you about it. The affair benefits The Wounded Warrior Project and Cash For Kids. Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin McKidd are expected to show.

The 22nd Annual Latex Ball: The Olympics for the Fringe (PHOTOS INSIDE)

The 22nd Annual Latex Ball at Roseland Ballroom this past Saturday was more than it ever was. It was packed to the rafters with a mixed crowd of Ball community regulars and voyeurs for the voguers. There were strangers of all types in this strange land usually reserved for the Ball culture and LGBT community. I saw more straight women at this affair than in years past. Tourists and first-timers were everywhere. There were times in years past where I felt like I was the only straight, white guy in a room of thousands. That has changed as more and more people of different races and preferences have come to realize the importance of what is happening at the Balls. This culture is eons ahead of the world outside of it in terms of our sexual journey as well as its acceptance and celebration of differences. It lives in a reality that TV is almost ready for. The "virgins” I brought with me, one of which included photographer Lela Edgar, had a hard time believing that “she” was a “he” and they were that and such. They can be excused as realness was everywhere. Lines were certainly blurred. The thing about blurring lines and perceptions is that it makes you go with your feelings, and I have a feeling that if we could just let go of the ancient rules that suppress us and went with our feelings, we would feel a lot better about a lot of things.

No one was disappointed – except maybe those who came in 2nd or 12th place in the fiercely contested competitions. The GMHC Latex Ball serves as the Olympics for a community that has lived on the fringes for decades. It is an event and a mindset that celebrates fabulous fringes, flowers, lace, ribbons, and serious designer labels. Categories like Butch Queen Sex Siren, Women’s Face, Legendary Performance, Realness with a Twist, and 20+ other contests were fiercely competed in. Trophies and cash were awarded after a panel of judges ruled. The GMHC has thrown this bash for 22 years. It serves as an educational reminder that the epidemic is still upon us and is still killing and taking prisoners. I can’t spend time explaining the Ball culture to those who have no idea what I’m talking about except to reference the flick Paris is Burning, the song and famous video "Vogue" by Madonna, Myballroomlife.com, YouTube, Wikipedia, or links to past articles I have humbly offered.

There was an energy in the air Saturday night, a feeling I get when I look to the past for fond and warm and exciting memories. Those feelings reared their wonderful head as creativity, love, and acceptance of each other blurred all lines and screamed that there was indeed a way back to a world of relevant nightlife by going forward with what I clearly saw Saturday. It was a eureka moment, like in that silly flick Avatar, when the light is extinguished and the hero sees that the jungle itself is lit up.  When I got home at 7am, I posted this on my FB page:

"latex ball completely over the top. the need for mixed fun nightlife created and curated by creative people will soon be apparent as the boredom of black cards and bottles implodes that scene. the edge will be sought again."

The ball had me high on its energy and the fabulousness of all involved, but I believe in that statement, and tomorrow I will outline the possibly-inevitable rebirth of club culture as I know it or, more likely, a retooled version of it. I, we have been blind and accepting. There are hundreds of great nights and events all over this town which have burgeoned to include a vibrant nightlife culture outside of the moated confines of Manhattan. Bridge and tunnel is now a good thing.

Creativity on a grand scale will return to nightlife as a business decision. Creativity is hard to extinguish. It has thrived on the street and in the subways, cave walls, in prison, and in societies that have repressed it. It has reared itself at advanced ages. It has given those seemingly impaired a way to the light. It has channeled the beasts and the fears within us and brought them to survivable places. Creativity will be embraced by the bean counters because it will be useful to separate their bean machine from the others. More on this tomorrow.

Today, my throat is still sore from screaming encouragement and worship; my eyes are dry from joyful tears; and the dancing of sugar plum fairies and other mythical creatures still hold sway over my feeble mind. The 23rd GMHC Latex Ball will surely be next August and will surely be at Roseland. Congratulations to all that came, served, and carry this night and the life it represents in their slightly larger hearts. Start thinking about next year’s outfit now.

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."

4 Out of 5: Colleen Nika on New York

Colleen Nika is editor of Rolling Stone’s Thread Count, a daily column that explores the intersections of music and fashion culture. She is also DJ for and curator of Nightvision, a nonconformist and forward-leaning music editorial, radio, and live music platform kicking off in full effect in 2012.This is her take on four places she likes, and one place she doesn’t.

RECOMMENDED

Hotoveli – "The coolest avant-garde boutique in NYC, tucked away on a leafy street in my old neighborhood. They fit my off-duty assassin aesthetic pretty well, carrying rare Westwood, Owens, Comme Des Garcons, Ilaria Nistri, and some rarer import labels. They always have something amazing locked away behind glass, too. I DJed a cool Fashion Week party here last September. The boutique’s co-proprietor, Cody Ross, who also runs the label Priestess NYC, is truly one of my favorite people in the city."

Mela Foundation’s Dream House – "I like to listen to a lot of drone and ambient music these days, which can either evoke feelings of unease or placate them. I feel like a lot of people are on that wavelength right now, so it’s auspicious for us that an actual drone zone exists in NYC. La Monte Young (who Brian Eno hailed as ‘the daddy of’ all studied ambient sounds) once conceived of a Dream House — a place you could go just to experience sound and light in their purest forms. With the Mela Foundation’s help, he did just that. It’s nice to know that in our crumbling and austere times, such a specialized little universe can still exist, and right in the heart of Tribeca. Young still performs here on Saturdays."

Obscura Antiques & Oddities –  "I love this place because it means the oddest and most macabre artifacts Manhattan has to offer can be found five minutes from my door. Their specialty: decaying curiosa. This can mean something like a weird chess set or creepy dolls they find at an estate sale to something more sinister, like memento mori or a Tibetan death skull. They often partner with The Observatory, another favorite NYC anomaly, which is a morbid workshop, lecture space, and reading room based in a corner of a library in Gowanus. They had a mummified cat I considered buying before it became the talking point of a related TV series The Science Channel produces."

Myers of Keswick – "For all my favorite British Imports. I grew up under a strong British influence, and I’m still very connected to the culture, which means I sometimes crave its more savory goods. You can’t beat buying this stuff in the motherland (I plan to do most of my Christmas shopping in London), but when I’m in NYC, I buy all my British teas, biscuits, preserves, crisps, candies, and curry here. And not only food and drink — they even carry Fairy liquid and Lemsips and other household goods. Plus, it’s only blocks from Tea & Sympathy and A Salt & Battery, a whole little domain they were aiming to dub ‘Little Britain’. It hasn’t happened yet, but we hold out hope."

NOT SO MUCH

Terminal 5 – "Full disclosure: I got punched in the face at a Hives show in 2008 here, and it’s been on my shitlist ever since. But because of the way the Bowery Presents chain of command works, every moderately successful commercial act plays this venue, which is a shame because it’s awful. The sound is horrendous, the location makes the hike over almost not worth whatever fun the experience may otherwise offer, and its ambiance is zero. I still prefer Roseland Ballroom, or better yet, the more elegant Hammerstein Ballroom, for a more satisfying mid-scale concert experience."

Kaskade Conquers Halloween Weekend in NYC

After announcing his latest album, Fire & Ice, (to be released next week under the Ultra Music label), dance music superstar Kaskade, took to the decks for two sold-out Halloween shows at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom. Joining Kaskade in the celebration were Alesso, Le Castle Vania, MNOR, Sleepy & Boo on Friday, ad Theopholis London, Alvin Risk, and David Waxman on Saturday.

“The first thing I think about when I make music is the melody and the lyrics,” said Kaskade before his set. “Production styles come and go, but good songs can stand the test of time. The Fire & Ice concept allowed me to present my music to people in a new way, and show that my music can work at many different tempos and styles outside a club setting.” Kaskade dished out a major line up of his latest tracks, “Eyes” and “Turn it Down,” as well as his collaborations with Skrillex, Neon Trees, Skylar Grey, and Dada Life. No worries for long-time fans, as he also delivered his signature hits, “Move for Me” and “I Remember” (with Deadmau5), in addition to Britney, Madge, Beyoncé, Gaga, and all the other Euro and pop it takes to make a crowd move these days. Kaskade (aka Ryan Raddon) spent nearly a year toiling over Fire & Ice in his Santa Monica studio on infrequent days off from touring. His 2010 album, Dynasty, debuted at number 5 on the iTunes Overall Album chart. A similar response is expect for this effort. Fire & Ice takes Kaskade’s style and sound a bit further, amounting to a total night-out package, from pre-drinks to the sweaty center of the dance floor, right up until the walk of shame hours later. For more on Kaskade’s latest album, go here.

Photo by Shea Mckeon.

My Experience at the 21st Annual Latex Ball

The Latex Ball, held this past Saturday at the crumbling Roseland Ballroom, was everything—yet it fell short. It was all that a Ball could be, but for me it was defined more by what was missing than what actually occurred. It began as all Balls do, just a little later than you can stand but as it commenced and lived, the drama and the performances were breathtaking.

To the newbies who tagged along with me, it was Nirvana, a realization of a world only glimpsed at in a Malcolm McLaren or Madonna video, or in Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary, Paris Is Burning.

Jennie came to The Latex Ball and said a few words. She also produced a very excellent tribute to Paris Dupree, who was the last of the “great mothers” of the Houses of the Ballroom community. Paris Dupree was missing Saturday night. Her passing and the passing of so many others this year and in recent years set a sad tone at the usually happy gathering. The short documentary captured the essence of a legend. Her attitude for the ages underscored the meaning of the whole affair. The Latex Ball is sponsored by GMHC and besides the competitions and awards and performances, they provided education about AIDS and HIV, free on-premise testing and, as far as I can tell, handed out about a million condoms to participants.

The world I live in seems to be becoming less aware of AIDS and HIV as if it were a disease that those “other” people get. It can’t affect me because I’m white, or I can’t get it because I’m older and haven’t gotten it yet, and I can’t get it because I’m straight or safe most of the time, are some of the many misconceptions we as a community have accepted. I think after decades of the crisis taking a toll on our world, we have relegated the problem to the dark corners of our consciousness and tune out the billboards and TV commercials there to help us understand. Although aggressive treatments have made survival a reality for most and living a good life possible, the stigmas and real dangers of HIV and AIDS still persist. At the Ball, speaker after speaker recounted the lost and pleaded with the audience to grasp this concept.

Missing at the Ball were the many groups of people I have seen there before. The Chelsea boys were not in the house, nor were the flamboyant crews that I’ll call the Patricia Fields, Kenny Kenny and Susanne Bartsch crowd. Even the mainstream crowd, that over many years came in to peek, didn’t show. The gathering was mostly Black and Hispanic and mostly young. It has almost always been this way but this Ball lacked the outsiders (one of which, I must have appeared to be). This happened despite a broader understanding and awareness of the House or Vogue Ball culture. Indeed, a lot was missing Saturday night but so much creativity and talent did attend. I saw some of you there and I hope you enjoyed it and discovered this universe of tradition and love that has always obsessed me. I attended my first ball in the early ‘80s and never wanted to miss another. I constantly annoy Ball community members about when the next one will occur. I will attend the KIKI Ball on October 28th. If you want to know more about this society and future Balls visit myballroomlife.com or the GMHC website.

I have lost hundreds of friends and a relative or three to the AIDS/HIV epidemic. The Ball was an important opportunity to educate young people as well as oldsters like myself on the continuing problem of the epidemic. The young Hispanic and African American crowd that were in attendance are at particular risk. I saw a statistic saying that although the African-American population represents about 10 to 13% of the American, population close to 50% of the people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were African Americans. Although the mainstream American universe seems to be believe this scourge is something under control, the dangers still persist. Flyers and posters underscored the dangers of making bad sexual decisions while under the influence. It is true that many strains of the virus are being treated with increasing success but many individuals do not react well to treatment and the virus continues to evolve into prevention resistant strains. The Ball was sponsored by the GMHC who have always been there to support and educate. They continue to fight this good fight and deserve the recognition and our support.

The Ball was magical. The competitions were fierce and winners graciously took home their trophies and kissed and hugged those who fell short. We went through packs of throat lozenges as we screamed and jumped up and down with awe. We lived for the outfits, costumes, and ensembles. We gasped as “Voguers” leaped higher in the air than ever before. We teared up as the role of the missing and gone was recited. Someone scolded and shouted “Do not forget Willi Ninja!!!” when the list was recalled. How could Willi Ninja be forgotten? Time and numbers make us forget the unforgettable. Willi may not have invented “Vogueing,” but he took it to an undeniable place. I adored him. He was gracious and intelligent and fun. When he was at the door of the Sound Factory Bar, or some other joint, I looked forward to chatting with him.

Many in the Ballroom community fought their way up from a very low place to find acceptance from the community and from themselves. The Houses provide refuge from a backward world and an opportunity to find out who they are and how to express themselves and make their mark. Leaving behind a legacy was a much discussed topic at the Ball. Names of icons, legends, and those who passed too early were recited on stage and talked about in the crowd. Paris Dupree was the last of the original five mothers of the modern Houses. She was preceded by Angie Xtravaganza, Pepper LaBeija, Avis Pendavis and Dorian Corey. Others spoke of Danielle Revlon, Catiria, Nicole Iman, Danny Xtravaganza and the recent passing of Leo Xtravaganza, Kevin Milan and so many more. With all that we have learned, people are still dying too young, too soon. It’s easy to slip up, forget or risk just this once but if I took anything from the glorious 21st annual Latex Ball it was I want to see the 31st and the 41st Anniversary Ball. I pray for a time when we get to a point where GMHC isn’t involved anymore because their mission has been accomplished. Have fun, play safe.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Smeyne via Village Voice

The Latex Ball Is Coming to Roseland Ballroom This Weekend

I’m not here to be your dad. A dad has to be listened to and respected, even to the point of obeying him. No, I am dubbed Uncle Steve. My advice to you can be taken or left on the table. As an Uncle I do my best, but I don’t dwell on it if you choose to ignore me. Now listen carefully: This Saturday, August 20, The Latex Ball will be held at Roseland Ballroom. Sell the house, hock the children, don’t eat for a few days, save money, get a really chic outfit, clear the calendar, bring a hanky and a dry towel — you’re in for the ride of your life.

For those who know…well, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t have a clue, then baby you don’t have a clue and you better get one before it’s too late. This is going to get serious and more fun and drama-filled than the weak of heart can handle. GMHC is, of course, the sponsor, host, and reason to attend and pay the $20 donation. They don’t need promotion, as 4,000 people are already expected. As your Uncle, I am strongly advising you to join them.

What is it exactly? Well, like all things magnificent and undeniable it is hard to define exactly. Even to describe what happened last year might not be sufficient, as this is an evolving world of glamour, love, respect, style, grace and fulfillment. Stars will be discovered; elders will lay down their swords and pass on into legend status. Those who have passed on will be remembered. This is a Ball, a competition between Houses and individuals. It was glimpsed at in Paris Is Burning, exposed to the wider world in Madonna’s “Vogue” and by Malcolm Malcolm MClaren before. The term “Vogueing Houses” has been used by some. It is ancient and yet modern. There will be competitions; for months, the participants have been preparing. The outfits, the moves, the attitude has been honed. They are sharp, ready as Olympic athletes. Categories are complicated, requiring teams to ready for. There are cash prizes, An example of a category is as follows.

image

Portrait of a Fem Queen: “The Fem Queen Face Divas of the ballroom have always been the true definition of how we view beauty today. Through glamorous gowns, gorgeous hair, flawless make-up and the timeless art form of selling FACE! Tonight, let’s pay tribute to the true Fem Queen Faces that inspire you. Bring forth a look that will give you the right to grace the same stage as them.”

The loss of Paris Dupree will weigh heavy on the Ball’s attendees. The passing of Leo Xtravaganza and Kevin Milan must be mentioned. The Balls are a gathering of thousands of people who have often been outcasts of our so-called society. The Houses came together as a response or defense against rules, traditions, and ignorance that often left individuals without family and friends. The Houses became their families and within this structure, creativity and love blossomed and thrived. the Houses in attendance will include Allure, Aphrodite, Balenciaga, Blahnik, Chanel, Ebony, Epic, Evisu, Herrera, Garcon, Revlon, La Perla, Mugler, Lacroix, Xtrvaganza, Infinisit and Labeija. Doors open at 8pm and the Ball will go till 4am. Traditionally it will not be done when it is over. I cannot explain this to you any further. I can only say that this is going to be amazing. If you want to know more, visit myballroomlife.com and educate yourself. I will be there and hope to see you.

Photo Credit: Village Voice