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Clubland Horrorcoaster

[whitespace] 'Disco Bloodbath' Celebutante Tell-All: 'Disco Bloodbath' is a drug epic spiked with celebrity and murder.

James St. James illuminates the glamourous monsters of the club scene

By Michelle Goldberg

Disco Bloodbath begins like a Fellini version of Rope. Michael Alig, the king of the New York City club kids, gets in a fight over drug money with his live-in dealer, Angel Melendez. Soon Freeze, another chemical peddler, shows up and whacks Melendez on the head with a hammer. Then the grotesquerie really begins--first, Alig and Freeze smother Angel; then they inject him with Drano and put him in the bathtub. They leave him in their apartment for days, maybe even a week, while they have parties, do Angel's drugs and spend Angel's money.

Recounts author James St. James, "Like a lousy, lopsided Lucy episode, a girl goes in the bathroom to pee, and a mottled arm tumbles out from behind the shower curtain--'Oh, excuse me!' she says. 'I didn't know there was anyone in here.'" Finally, when the stench of the rancid corpse becomes unbearable, Alig does 10 bags of heroin, saws off Melendez's legs and, with Freeze's help, dumps him into the Hudson River. He proceeds to tell almost everyone who will listen exactly what had happened. No one goes to the police. As St. James writes, "I mean ... if a person commits a crime, and no cares--can we all just adjust our lip liner?"

That is, essentially, the subtext both of the circus surrounding the murder and Disco Bloodbath itself. Alig was the most famous promoter in New York, while Melendez was a C-lister tolerated only because of his stash. Thus no one in their little subculture was particularly bothered by his disappearance. Kids in liberal arts colleges in Connecticut knew almost exactly what had happened months before the police got around to investigating.

The brilliance of St. James' book is that he unflinchingly re-creates a world where drug-addled acolytes in fake eyelashes would look the other way over a little issue like murder if it meant getting on a guest list, getting free drugs, getting a little closer to the holy grail of fabulousness.

Even before rumors of Melendez's slaying started circulating in New York in 1996, much had been written about Alig, the brash brat from the Midwest who rose from a lowly busboy at Area to the ringmaster of the freak show at the legendary Disco 2000.

Alig was Andy Warhol's mutant offspring, creator of a sordid and self-contained fantasyland populated by self-proclaimed night-life royalty. Among his early protégés, St. James recalls, was Ida Slapter, who pulled a lighted string of Christmas bulbs out of her ass, lights that were powered by a battery pack inserted into her upper intestine. "There were drag queens and drag kings and freaks of all kinds," writes St. James. "Club kids in all their frippery, wearing tiaras and flower pots on their heads. Futuristic Geisha Gangsters stood next to a pair of beaded jellyfish, who were learning all about a new unisex masturbation machine made from six cow tongues attached to a rotating wheel."

St. James is one of the few Alig intimates to emerge from the club kids' De Sadean Romper Room intact. Melendez is dead, of course, as are numerous other hangers-on, would-be superstars who perished of drug overdoses, AIDS or suicide. Alig himself is in prison; so is Freeze. But St. James, Alig's best friend, rival and confidant, has survived unscathed to pen the Quentin Crispy true-crime Disco Bloodbath, a fascinating horrorcoaster of depraved glamour and hallucinatory evil. Surprisingly, he has a talent for writing to match his gift for social climbing, combining campy vernacular with the bitchily erudite aplomb of a Gary Indiana or Truman Capote.

One of the virtues of Disco Bloodbath is the way St. James brings both the viciousness and the liberating joy of this world alive. He neither whitewashes the pathologies that were built into the scene from the start nor turns it into a dreary morality tale. Instead, Disco Bloodbath evokes a lurid K-hole where stark moral issues are trumped by intricacies of fashion and popularity--and then makes you wish you were there. Impressively, our author doesn't hesitate to offer up the details of his own ghoulishness. Take this scene immediately following Alig's confession to St. James:

    Wait ... wait a minute.

    You mean,"--it was registering-- "You went on a shopping spree afterwards? ... Gorgeous!"

    Suddenly the whole situation seemed farcical. Slapstick. And we laughed until our sides hurt. We laughed until tears ran down our faces. "And those boots, Michael? They look awfully familiar..."


    And we collapsed on the pillows in peals of girlish laughter.

This little exchange comes early, before St. James backs up to explore how he and Alig became so monstrous. What follows is a tale of epic drug abuse spiked with celebrity and pederasty. Alig was like a satanic Pygmalion, turning, for instance, an earnest lesbian heath-food-store manager from Boston into a massive cocaine dealer and crack addict. He and St. James were vampires, taking kids from out of town, giving them a few moments of celebration and debauchery and then discarding them.

But while the book is the story of how decadence soured into evil, St. James also captures Alig's crazily anarchic charm, and some of his misdeeds seem merely picaresque. When he was late for a flight, for example, he called in a bomb threat so it wouldn't leave without him. He threw a party in a cardboard shantytown rented from its homeless inhabitants and another one in a Burger King. It's easy to see, reading Disco Bloodbath, why Alig thought the world's rules didn't apply to him.

Occasionally, though, St. James is himself too caught up in Alig's mindset to appreciate the full weight of his guilt. A section titled "Let's Talk Ill of the Dead, Shall We?," which reviles Angel for being, essentially, uncool, just seems like a sad attempt to circumvent his own culpability, and a belated tribute to the victim rings utterly false.

One of the most poignant scenes in this story occurs when Angel's brother appears on the scene and is baffled by the callousness and indifference both of the police and of the scenesters Angel considered friends. St. James doesn't give nearly enough attention to this part of the tale, perhaps because it's too painful for him to confront. After all, the club kids who ignored Angel's slaying because he wasn't fabulous are simply the mirror image of the cops who ignored it because Angel was a gay Colombian drug dealer.

In much of the book, St. James' nasty, glib tone feels honest in the way it captures the prevalent mood of laissez-faire perversity, but when he writes of Angel, this flip style feels like an evasion. Still, a writer without a talent for shallowness could never get nearly as deep into Alig's gory story as St. James does. Disco Bloodbath is a guided tour of several circles of hell that, when illuminated with drugs and disco balls, can look scarily like heaven .

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From the August 16, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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