Michiana--I keep threatening to do this, but it might have to come-to-pass: an interview with Michael Alig. Michael's mother--Elke Blair--lives just miles from our home here. In watching the documentary, "Party Monster," I was stunned at how similar our experiences living around here were.
I'm not gay, but it makes me shudder to think of the abuse that Michael had inflicted upon himself by others in the area. It makes for a better understanding of why he did what he did. Living here, I am completely unsurprised that Michael's life ended-up the way it did, and look at the entire story as a tragedy. You couldn't find an uglier place for real outsiders than this region.
It could have worked-out differently, though I have to wonder if he would have had the drive to accomplish what he did with the club kids without the rage that began here in the South Bend/Mishawaka area.
Being a kid around here in the 1970s-80s was a extremely violent time for a lot of us. It was another era entirely, and if you didn't fit-in you were a target. There was no escape from this existentialist hell, and like today, adults were unwilling to take any responsibility for this atmosphere. Many of them actively encouraged the hunting-down of the "others" who were "different." The violence was rife, ubiquitous, and everywhere as a daily-occurrence.
What constituted that difference usually didn't matter. I can recall a memory from those times of watching in horror as a well-known family of young malcontents literally enslaved neighborhood children into building a kid's "fort" for them through violence and intimidation. The examples are numerous and similar. It was like a war zone.
There is a theme of revenge, or a desire for it, in Alig's life that must surely spring from this context. Who were his predators during his childhood, the individuals who victimized Michael Alig? "Party Monster" outs a local preacher, but also hints at homophobic tormenting and bullying by other children in this area (as well as general climate of violent bullying). This should be examined more thoroughly.
What Michael did was wicked, evil, and wrong by any standard, but I don't think the surface was remotely scratched by documentarians Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. They should have gotten more of a feel for where Alig grew-up. It's probably the shortest-part of "Party Monster-The Shockumentary" (1998). Watching it on its original broadcast, I nearly fell off of my couch! I never saw it coming. But how does one summarize a life?
That's not entirely their fault, it's a tall order. James St. James has done a good job in these areas, and I agree that the filmmakers were probably a little too enamored with their subject, being too seduced by the glitz and glamor they were party to. It's not unlikely that Michael Alig became his oppressors in some way through dehumanization and constant humiliation. We should find-out who these people were, because they could be doing things that are far-and-away worse than what Alig did, even today. I believe the preacher is deceased, but what of Alig's peers from those early-years before his move to NYC?
For myself, the club kids were something you saw on Springer, Sally Jesse Raphael, or Geraldo. They were a visually interesting and bizarre part of an ugly and boring decade. I liked them in their Kabuki-style poses, though I would learn later that much of it was copped from UK designer Leigh Bowrey. But there was also something very intriguing about their androgyny and free-spiritedness, it was interesting and appeared very fresh. The ladies attached to the scene were pretty hot. It all looked very sexy and subversive.
Hilariously, I once received a Richie Rich single in the mail for a little zine' I was doing during that period--there was no context for it at all! Frankly, the single was hilariously bad dance techno with helium-vocals. The Club Kids weren't exactly talented, they just became very famous overnight. What's amazing is how long it all lasted. Where it all went wrong was that many of the participants couldn't face that these scenes only last a for a time, and then they're gone. Normally, they don't last more than a couple years, which is what made this countercultural scene so unique. But holding-on to something that must inevitably end is when the demons arise from their hiding-places.
Add tons of hard drugs, and stir! There are so many rumors and allegations surrounding this story, and while I would trust James St. James over Michael Alig in most areas, it would be healthy for Michael to finally finish that autobiography ("Aligula"), and in a shorter form than he's been promising (a staggering 5,000 pages). It should be clear and manageable for readers, and direct. My hope is that he finds someone to help him edit it into something readable and accessible (paging Michael!).
Some very bizarre rumors and allegations surround the murder of Angel Melendez, and the government's investigative role in Gatien's clubs doesn't add any clarity. One is that Alig and his roommate "Freez" cannibalized Angel's body. This sounds very hard to believe. What's certain is that Gatien's clubs were teeming with law enforcement who were incognito.
If the Feds knew the answer to this question, they certainly were keeping it secret, as it appeared they intended to use Alig as a Prosecution Witness against Peter Gatien. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office surely knew also, but they have a long history of hiding from the public information about crimes involving the Occult. Further investigation proved that Michael Alig and Freeze were involved with the Occult; Michael being a ‘dabbler’ whereas Freeze was heavily involved. (Americanmafia.com, 'The Agony Of Ecstasy: The Fall Of Sammy Gravano And Peter Gatien, James Ridgway de Szigethy. September 2002)Peter Gatien's story is also basically untold, and by all appearances, he was probably railroaded by the federal government in all of this. Consider that for a long-time, they didn't even care about Angel Melendez's murder, and that they just wanted to take down Mr. Gatien and the Limelight club, the Palladium, Club USA, and other venues he owned during the 1980s-90s. Gatien is now living in Toronto (2008).
Law enforcement even ignored an early confession of Alig to Melendez's murder and allowed him to roam free for weeks. Sound familiar? But what Gatien and Limelight, and his other clubs, can be seen as are victims of former NYC Rudolph Giuliani's campaign to "clean-up" the city (for organized crime?). The murder probably was--and is--unimportant to law enforcement at all levels. None of this is in-defense of Michael Alig. Four-years-ago this 21st of August, Peter Gatien was deported to his native Canada. He currently resides in Toronto, sans his distinctive eye-patch.
Again, there could also be a much larger and untold story in this area known as Michiana regarding Alig's background. Remember that Michael grew-up around Penn High School (a place swarming with rednecks), the very same stomping-ground as that of "Heathers" (1989, written just a couple years after Alig left for NYC) scribe Dan Waters. Watch that film, and you'll see that the connections to Alig's life are there.
My own experiences in the educational system around here echo the movie in many respects (no, not literally in what Christian Slater's character does to his tormentors), so I know that Michael's environment was almost identical to my own, and that of many others.
Waters was an astute social observer: he really nailed the rage and anger experienced by outsiders around here. It's all about the pecking-order. Such are the roots of Columbine, and all the other tragedies, the elephant in the room that everyone's afraid to acknowledge. Part of the reason is that many parents and other "trusted" authority-figures would be going to jail for life.
That elephant is how horrible we all allow others to treat one another, and the price of tolerating the pathological bully, the pederast, and the child abuser. That price is too high for our society. How many murders were there in the Haight Ashbury district after the Summer of love? A lot. It would dwarf the body count of the club kids, and handily, yet that's not the picture we usually get of that scene.
The whole thing about these scenes is that it's an ongoing tragedy about young people wanting to have acceptance and to escape from the alienation of the modern world by creating their own space. They just wanted to create another life, a better life, and as wrongheaded as many of them were, it's not an evil motive at all. As these ersatz Edens crash, the hard drugs strat playing a role. But someone had to provide the drugs, and that brought in the criminal-elements and the cops.
Alig was one of the "two Michaels" hired by Gatien in the late-1980s to promote the Limelight, the other being Michael Caruso. Caruso became a DEA informant after being popped sometime during the early-1990s.
A May 2000 Village Voice article offers some clarification of his role in the club kids scene:
Two years ago, as he sat on the witness stand at Limelight owner Peter Gatien's drug-conspiracy trial bawling his eyes out in a badly fitting blue suit, Michael Caruso's life seemed effectively over. The big-time promoter—the man who first brought techno music to Manhattan and turned Staten Island on to Ecstasy—confessed to a string of brutal crimes: bank robbery, home invasions, extortion schemes, kidnapping attempts, wholesale drug trafficking, and more. These should have put him behind bars for 20 years. But in exchange for leniency, he became the centerpiece of the government's case against Gatien [Ed.-Instead of Michael Alig?], betraying a man who he'd told associates was closer to him than his own father. Caruso's testimony about the inner workings of the Limelight's drug network, which he himself created, not only provided a glimpse of the seamy underbelly of club culture—the violent demimonde of dope peddlers, gangsters, professional party-goers, and police informers hidden behind the superficial veil of fun and fabulousness—but helped put behind bars many of his former colleagues. (Village Voice, 'Wu-Tang Clan are Sumthing ta Fuck Wit,' Frank Owen. May 24-30, 2000)Well-intentioned Edens fall. This shouldn't be an unfamiliar theme to anyone. One can hardly blame James St. James in his wish to move-on from this whole affair. It's a sad story filled with animosity, subterfuge, and several unexplained deaths and a few explained murders. Utopian experiments rarely end well, and we should be examining why this is so. The seeds-of-destruction are usually already in-place, often coming from that "outside world" the participants are desperately trying to escape.
Watch Heathers again sometime, and consider what you have read here. Add informant programs and other elements of criminality added to-the-mix (not DJ Keoki's!), and it only gets uglier. It didn't have to end the way it did, but it did. What can I say? It looked like so much fun, and it could have been so good. It could have been so very good.