Lost in the K-hole

Disco Bloodbath
By James St. James
Simon & Schuster
$23, 286 pp.

Anyone who has perused Andy Warhol’s Diaries is obliged to give a tip of the hat to the pale rider. Unlike fellow narcissists of Soho, Warhol had the good sense to take in all the excess of Studio 54 from a perch high above the dance floor where Bianca and Maggie and Halston razzled it up. Until, of course, the party train ran off the rails and the obituaries started appearing in the Times. The self-consciously shallow mood of Warhol’s entries was a rather transparent mask for a resounding spiritual crisis, not just of one lonely gay man but of a subculture adrift in the soulless worship of celebrity and hedonism.

So it was with the ghost of Andy wagging a knowing finger in the background that I cracked the spine of Disco Bloodbath. Indeed, déjà vu looms large and heavy as this chronicle of an idiocy foretold unfolds. The author, a one-time habitué of the Manhattan club scene of the late ’80s-early ’90s, assumes a suitably weary tenor as he recounts the events and nonevents leading up to the gruesome murder of a drug dealer at the hands of a celebrated party promoter, Michael Alig.

Quite a piece of work, this Mr. Alig. St. James holds him up as some sort of evil twin brother. Both hailed from dreadful Midwestern Podunk towns where they spent their early youth daydreaming of that apocryphal bus ride across the cornfields and into the glow of the city that never sleeps, scored with a show tune sound track. Once in the big smoke, their paths crossed countless times at discos and parties where they first came to loathe and then love each other as fellow travelers in search of that elusive magic known as "fabulousness." But just how fabulous can you be when you’re shoving mountains of coke up your nose every night?

Therein lies the hook, for St. James is no run-of-the-mill faggot dishing dirt at rival queens who mocked his wigs, or at spurned lovers who left for greener pastures. As he drags us through night after night of posturing and snorting in the appalling company of his denizens of doom, St. James constantly toys with our expectations. Unlike the coldly libidinal William S. Burroughs, there’s nary a vibe of lust to be found – it’s all look, no touch in this demimonde.

The prose style is suitably bitchy and street, accentuated by catty asides rendered in italics and block letters. Then, just when you think you can’t take one more kitschy pop culture reference or vitriolic remark about someone’s botched hormone therapy, he gives you the old one-two and you think you’re reading Dostoyevsky. Indeed, these shallow waters run deep and dark – an ageless story rife with details of a graceless age.

By the end of the ride, St. James has developed a serious dependency upon the drug Special K, while Alig has become a crackhead. Their relationship takes a turn for the worst when rumors start circulating about the disappearance of a scumbag who lived with Alig. Yet, since gays are involved, the cops do nothing and the gossip continues, as if it were mere party poop fit for Interview.

One snowy night, St. James finds himself in the arms of the wretched Michael and all the gory details are at last confirmed. The final chapter is a riveting love letter to Alig, full of the self-loathing and ambition that drove them both into the dream world that Warhol created. "You had so much inside of you and yet you threw it away? … And if YOU failed, how on earth are the rest of us supposed to succeed? What are we all supposed to do now?"

Well, why not move to LA? Which is exactly what St. James has done.

Some people are gluttons for punishment. But what a shame it would be if our boy does not regale us once again with new misadventures in the quixotic quest for celebrity.

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