The story of Michael Alig is complex. His life has been one that is amazing, tragic, and hopeful. He was the ultimate NYC “club kid” of the 1980s and 90’s, who made club and party promotion into a recognizable art, and he became famous for it. Then he became involved in a brutal crime and spent many years in prison (you can read more about that here).
Since his release, Michael has returned to NYC, adjusting to a life of rebuilding and redemption in a changed city. He was kind enough to answer some of Mr NYC’s questions about his past, present and future. Whatever one’s feelings about Michael’s life, his story deserves to be heard.
Tell us a little bit about your background and what attracted you to the downtown club world/party scene of the 1980s and 1990s?
I grew up in Middle America, came to NYC on a scholarship to go to college and was fascinated with the amazing mix of different kinds of people, different races and sexual orientations, all living together in one city. Clubland offered for me a more concentrated version of this, with an even more extreme mix of people.
You were known as the ultimate party promoter. What made you so good at it? What makes someone a good party promoter?
I think I am a good party promoter because I love doing it so much that I would do it even if no one paid me. Anyone who loves their job--I don’t care what kind of job it is, from being a bartender to a garbage man--if you love doing it, you're going to be successful at it.
What were some of your favorite clubs and parties back in the day -- and what are some of your favorites now?
Probably my all-time favorite club of all times was Area, a giant warehouse in lower Manhattan that changed themes every six weeks or so--a concept that was cool and exciting at the time because no one had really done it yet. This club also massified the idea of selecting people, one by one, to come into the club the way a florist chooses flowers while making a bouquet. I always had goose bumps when approaching this club, worried I'd never make it past the doorman. Danceteria, Palladium, Red Zone, The World: all super fab. Today there is nothing even remotely comparable to any of these spaces, but The Box, the House of Yes and a place in Brooklyn called Members Only are perhaps the closest thing you'll find to what once was.
What are some of your best memories of the club scene back in the 1980s and 1990s?
My fondest memories of the club scene from back in the day mostly involve outlaw parties, after hours clubs and other events skirting the edges of what was legal or acceptable. There were clubs like the World that didn’t even have working electricity, we had to attach wiring to the electric poles in order to have lights and heat. Places like Save the Robots would serve alcohol to underage kids at all hours--in complete disregard of the law. You won’t find anything like this happening in today's NYC.
Personally, downtown NYC doesn't feel very "downtown" anymore. The funky, dirty, mysterious vibe of the Village, Soho, and the Lower East Side is gone. Do you agree?
I do agree, not only Downtown Manhattan but all of NYC has become more Normalized and has lost most of its edge. It’s something that's happening not only here but all over the world, as things like the rising cost of real estate causes edgier, mom and pop-type shops to close down and get replaced by big box/chain stores, and the Internet makes it impossible for there to be any real "Underground" scene. You were in prison for many years. What did you learn from that experience and how what kind of perspective on life did it give you? Probably the biggest thing I learned while away was patience. Before going to prison, I was impossibly spoiled and impatient. Demanding, even. If someone didn’t have what I wanted when I wanted it, I would find someone else who did. Spending time in solitary confinement had an amazing effect on this, in that nothing there happens very quickly or without waiting patiently. A book you might want from the library can be had--but only after writing letters to the library clerk--that may take ten days to get a response to. There is something about waiting ten days for a response about a book from the library that will tame even the most jaded and impatient club kid.
Has it been hard to re-enter life in NYC and the club world?
I feel actually very fortunate that people have made it so easy to re-enter both daily life and Clublland in NYC. Not that I have much desire to get back into clubbing--Keoki did ask me to help promote a weekly Monday night event, which I did as a favor for an old friend--and I have done one-off parties here and there. But for the most part I'd like to do daytime work. I have a clothing line called SkroddleFace I’d like to get started; I do a daily web show with Ernie Glam called The Peeew; I’ve been writing and painting. I feel extremely fortunate being given the opportunity to work on so many things, especially considering the difficulties some of my fellow recently released inmates face on a daily basis trying to find work or a place to live.
Can you tell us what you thought of the movie made about you, Party Monster?
I was surprisingly pleased with the way the movie Party Monster turned out. Given the circumstances, things could have turned out a lot worse. If I have any complaints at all I guess I'd say I wish the characters in the movie had been fleshed out a little more, as they seem sort of one-dimensional. It’s possible that my feelings are a result of being so close to the storyline, however, as many young people I speak to say they love Party Monster, that it’s one of their all-time favorite movies. I see that you're writing a book.
Tell us about your upcoming book Aligula.
I suppose the question I get asked the most is “When am I going to release my own version of the story?”, and my answer is always, "I’m working on it." Truth is, I’ve written my own book, the problem is, I tried telling too many stories in one book. Between my own story, the story of post-disco NYC Nightlife, of the introduction of ecstasy and techno music, the rise and fall of Peter Gatien, the Superstar DJ Keoki story, the rise of RuPaul, Moby, Chloe Sevigny and other Clubland Celebrities--there is way too much content here for one book. I need to separate my biography from the other things, and make it into two books. So far, I seem to have been too distracted to get this accomplished. Hopefully this year will be different, and I will get these books done.