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Frank Owen: Clubland: The Fabulous Rise And Murderous Fall Of Club Culture


Clubland: The Fabulous Rise And Murderous Fall Of Club Culture

Author: Frank Owen
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

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Dance floors suspended over tanks of live sharks, drug dealers snorting coke off their Rolex watches, oafish DEA agents dressing in drag, spacey clubgoers with names like Woody The Dancing Amputee, a entrepreneurial mastermind leering through an eye patch–such is the milieu of Clubland, a chronicle of New York and Miami nightlife from a miraculously not-too-distant past. Focusing on the knuckleheaded thugs and "dancing drugstore" club kids who populated spots like Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium, and Liquid, the book bursts with anecdotes too rich for fiction. But it also presses down purposefully on an epoch that built up and collapsed with embarrassing speed. Culling from his own reportage in the Village Voice, author Frank Owen fixes his sights on the coterie surrounding Peter Gatien, the fiendish impresario whose nightclubs became bustling centers for all forms of illegality. In an abandoned church crawling with dark corners and spooky airs, New York's Limelight played home to the burgeoning '90s Ecstasy trade and all the characters lured by its promises of money and perpetual wastedness. Aspiring mobsters from Staten Island rubbed against outlandish club kids who made transgression a way of life, fixing Gatien as a lorded-over target of police goosed by the emblematic hand of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. None of the involved parties were saintly, and Clubland does an admirable job of outing both the bad guys' crooked ways and the good guys' dubious march toward "justice." The dealings of the mobsters and club kids play like the darkest comedy of errors, with backstabbing criminals robbing each other silly and ostensibly brilliant culture stars (like club-kid king Michael Alig) making a mockery of an all-too-real murder. The story of Alig's downfall has been well-documented enough to spawn a forthcoming film, but Owen's sturdy reporting and impressive reach shed light on the mucked-up investigations that surrounded it. Relying mostly on lowlife informants ready to sing whatever tune would grant them leniency, the authorities bumbled through a forceful hunt to bring down Gatien and others of his ilk. It marked the beginning of a fateful crackdown that lingers to the present day, but however scintillating their misdeeds are to read about, the characters in Clubland deserve little more than the thorough lashing that Owen delivers with a heavy hand.