Clubland is the sensational story of the rise and fall of a decadent nocturnal empire that stretched over several American cities and spawned its own subculture of celebrities and wannabes.
Journalist Frank Owen spent nearly a decade inside the nightclubs of the 1990s -- an era when disco gave way to more unsettling dance music, cocaine was supplanted by ecstasy and heroin, "club kids" mingled with bully boys, transvestites danced with stockbrokers, and celebrities came to watch the scene.
To anyone who's ever wondered what went on in the 1990s' most notorious nightclubs, Village Voice reporter Owen has a highly engaging answer. He weaves together three strands of masterful reporting, focusing on Peter Gatien, the nightclub impresario who owned Limelight and the Tunnel in Manhattan; Chris Paciello, the gangster who started Miami Beach's Liquid; and "club kid king" Michael Alig, the party promoter and Gatien employee who murdered his friend Angel Melendez. Alig's drug-addled story is the most grotesque and chilling: a few weeks before he hacked off the legs of his dead friend, he had thrown a "Blood Feast" party in which some guests "came covered in raw liver and slabs of beef." The author has apparently settled down now; "life is too precious to waste spending your time lurking around VIP rooms and getting high." At one time, though, he was a true believer in clubs and raves "as perfect but temporary democracies of desire," and is saddened by the crime that came to surround them. He has a distinctive writing style, recklessly mixing metaphors-one woman is "the proverbial tough cookie laced with arsenic straight from the pages of a hard-boiled novel"-and packing his chapters with noirish "wise guys" and "feds." It's a treat for fans of true crime, but armchair party animals will also appreciate the lengths to which this reporter goes-the book opens with Owen seeking, buying and tripping on the drug ketamine. Agent, Todd Shuster. (May) Forecast: This book will appeal to fans of mobster lore, celebrity DJs and drug culture. Both James St. James's 1999 book Disco Bloodbath and this year's film Party Monster, starring Macauley Culkin, treat Michael Alig, the character who takes up about a third of Clubland. Neither were mega-hits, but the story has a solid niche audience. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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St. Martin's Press
December 31, 2002
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Excerpt from Clubland by Frank Owen
New York City, Spring 1995
It began with a simple transaction inside a bustling nightclub, one of hundreds of comparable purchases that must have gone down on that drug-fogged night. In a dimly lit side room filled with vacant-eyed club kids, a crumpled twenty-dollar bill was surreptitiously tendered in exchange for a small packet of white powder. Overcoming my initial nervousness, I flipped forward my long hair as cover, bowed my head, emptied some of the contents onto the back of my hand, exhaled hard, and then snorted up the strange substance, which scratched the inside of my nose like ground-up glass.
On that Wednesday night in May, I was on assignment for the Village Voice researching an article on "Special K" (so named after the breakfast cereal), the animal anesthetic ketamine, which recently had migrated from the veterinarian's office to the dance floor, where it had been reappropriated by clubgoers as a mind-bending party favor. Fancying myself one of the last of the gonzo journalists and willing to do almost anything for a juicy headline, I intended to sample the psychedelic catnip that everyone in clubland was calling "the new Ecstasy" and then write about the powerful visions the drug supposedly caused.
I'd received conflicting reports from club goers who had tried the stuff. Some, especially novices who had ingested Special K thinking it was cocaine, said it was a deeply unpleasant and disorienting encounter, a vortex of delusional dreadfulness -- the closest thing to dying without actually doing so. "I took so much K, I couldn't figure out if I was human anymore," a young sales manager from New Jersey said. "I had no meaning. I lost contact with reality. It was horrible." More adventurous hedonists, however, praised the drug as a shortcut to transcendence, a gateway to a magical kingdom that even Lewis Carroll or Tim Burton couldn't have imagined -- a place where, if you took enough, you could meet yourself in an out-of-body experience, establish contact with space aliens, and glimpse God in a disco ball.
"K definitely gives you a sense of your own death," said habitual user Rusty, a twenty-year-old blue-haired fashion punk from the boondocks. "That's part of the fun. It's really neat as long as you don't have to walk around. You go on a little adventure in your mind. I close my eyes and imagine crawling through all sorts of tunnels -- whether computer-electrical with lights everywhere or dark sewer tunnels with pipes everywhere."