"Man is so perfectible and corruptible that he can become a madman through sheer intellect." -George Lichtenberg
On March 17th, 1996, legendary club kid and NYC party promoter Michael Alig murdered his drug dealer. It would be nine months before the police would recover the (dismembered) body and he would be convicted for the crime. Until then, Michael would go about his party lifestyle, flippantly disregarding the rumors flying around about his involvement and, in many cases, perpetuating them. At one point, he even showed up at a club with “Guilt” literally written all over his face. And in an interview just three months before his arrest, the baby-faced killer looked into the camera and said, "He was a copycat and that's why we killed him... I killed Angel Melendez." And then with a flip of his head and a flash of his playful grin, he shrugged off the statement by saying, "That's the kind of thing that gets me in trouble."
At the time, I was hundreds of miles away from New York City and knew nothing about the murder scandal that would rock a small but highly visible slice of NYC society known as “Clubland” and its followers, Michael’s followers, the Club Kids. But after hearing one little interview regarding the release of Party Monster, the new independent film on the story, I became enthralled.
Immediately, I picked up the book/memoir that the film is based on, Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland, which is written by Alig’s friend and confidant, James St. James. The movie is directed by two documentarians that previously won accolades for their 1997 Alig documentary of the same name. I read the book in one sitting and within days I’d seen both the documentary and the motion picture. I was perversely fascinated.
And I couldn’t quite figure out why. I just wanted to get into the mind of this individual who was so beguiling, so wrought with energy and charm, so blindly ambitious, such a fun-loving individual and yet... such a monster?
Michael Alig burst into the NYC club scene in the late 80s. Through his charmingly impish personality and marketing savvy, Alig talked his way into a promoter position at several of NYC’s hottest nightclubs, including the infamous Limelight. He quickly shot to the top of New York City nightlife. His parties were decadent, growing more so with each weekly invite. There was nothing too risqué. He constantly had to outdo himself, throwing “outlaw parties” at venues such as Burger King and a Disco Truck Party that involved commandeering a meat truck and hauling the revelry into the back of the trailer.
Alig once said, “I didn’t want to be like the drearies and normals. I wanted to create a world full of color, where everyone could play. One big party that never ends.”
He was the King of the Club Kids. A group of people who thrived on the carefree party scene, a lifestyle of excess, enjoyment to the fullest, and an obsession of “fabulousness.” Their costumes were outré. They mocked celebrity as they embraced it. They were famous for being outrageous. But the message behind the club kids alternative dress and lifestyle was a positive one: No matter who you are or what you look like, you too can be fabulous. And driven by their enigmatic leader, they were fabulous. He created them, he gave them fantastical names and personas. They were his lost boys, he was Peter Pan. The NYC media couldn’t get enough of them or their outrageous antics.
But the party was bound to end. Michael Alig began a downward spiral into drug use that eventually culminated into that fateful day in March 96, when amidst a drug binge, he and a friend killed Angel Melendez, placed the body in the tub for a few weeks while they frolicked around town spending Angel’s drug money, and when the smell got too strong to disguise, he hacked up the body, put it in a television box and threw it in the Hudson River.
The newly released movie and the book (which has now been re-released under the Party Monster title) succeed in encapsulating the club scene at this time and its descent from decadence to depravity. St. James’ book is brilliantly written and I found myself laughing with each turn of the page, feeling guilty at my enjoyment knowing the inevitable end of the story. And the one thing that struck me more than anything as I delved myself headlong into the story of Michael Alig was this: I didn’t hate him.
Could it be that this charismatic individual, far from me in time and distance, had impacted me too with his killer charm?
I’m not the only one. Even with his horrific actions made public (oft times by himself), he still receives support and well-wishers. He receives hundreds of letters monthly. Internet sites and message boards still make him the focus of their obsession. Michael himself runs an Internet site from prison, which garners thousands of hits and hundreds of people posting into his guestbook each month.
St. James, who has long battled both his love and hatred for Michael, addressed him in Disco Bloodbath, “It’s a difficult thing to grasp- this duality that exists in you. On the one hand, you are a wicked, wicked boy… But on the other hand, you’re still Michael, that hasn’t changed. You’re still funny and charming and worldly and wise. You’re still my best friend… You were a genius… but you failed.”
Perhaps an individual like Michael Alig appeals to the normal person’s inner psychotic. Perhaps some don’t consider him psychotic at all. He does beg the question of the Dostoyevskian philosophy: If a worthy person kills someone deemed despicable by society’s standards, is it still a crime?
For friends and followers of Michael Alig, this was a simpler question. They loved Michael, they hated Angel. Enough said. Many of Alig's supporters seem to overlook the heinous crime, longing only to embrace the persona they loved. He was this brilliant shining light that gave them a place in the world. But for the rest of us, it's not so easy.
Personally, I think Michael Alig appeals to the hedonist in all of us… our most basic desire to live a life devout to our pursuit of happiness… a pursuit wagered at all costs. In some capacity, we all envy his world that was created exclusively by his wants and desires. It was a life seemingly untouched by responsibility. He was child-like, mischievous, untouchable.
Or so he thought. Alig became so firmly planted in the fantasy world that he created that nothing could penetrate his demeanor. It's this obliviousness that makes him so frightening. It was the end of his saga that has deemed his story time and again as a cautionary fable… that by living an existence so scandalous and nihilistic, that one must inevitably take a devastating fall back to the real world.
But is it truly a cautionary fable? Many critics of the film and its depiction of Michael Alig's story seem to feel that a fault of the movie is that the viewer does not leave the theatre with a sense of insight into the consequences of the character's actions. I would argue that it's the unfortunate consequence of the story itself. Party Monster is a film that starts off vivid, fun, and full of imagination, and ends in horror. This sharp adjustment can be unsettling to the viewer, but that's the reality of the story. It's not the filmmaker’s job to make the viewer take any moral implications away from it. God knows that Michael Alig didn't.
Michael Alig is serving a 10-20 year sentence for manslaughter and is currently working on his own book entitled Aligula. He is up for parole in 2006.
Writer's Notes: The film stars Macaulay Culkin as Alig, making his return to show business after a nine-year hiatus. Seth Green gives a highly acclaimed performance as James St. James. Supported by a star-studded cast, the movie is worth viewing. However, I would suggest the book by James St. James for a vivid, hilarious and horrific account of clubland and the party monster who created and destroyed it.
Heather has a penchant for drama, both personally and professionally. She secretly wishes people spoke in song and wholeheartedly believes that everyone deserves a standing ovation now and again. She finds it appalling that people reserve champagne only for special occasions, when champagne is clearly best on a Tuesday, while riding the subway, accompanying a slice of kick-ass pizza.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
9.26.03 @ 12:19a
From 1995 to 1999 I was a club kid here in SF. We'd go out 2, 3, 5 times a week and dance all night long. Weekends were: Go out at midnight on Friday night, dance until 8:00am, sleep until 5 or 6pm, lay on the couch until midnight and do it all over again.
And it was absolutely fabulous.
For those who have never been a part of that world, it's really hard to describe. But it is a world where everyone is accepted and loved. Alig was a skinny little nobody who discovered/created a world where he could be king. That's a powerful thing.
Melendez was looking for the same thing - that acceptance. It got him killed.
9.26.03 @ 12:28a
Often getting exactly what you want turns out to be your undoing. It's always fascinating to get into someone else's mind and figure out what makes them tick.
9.26.03 @ 2:04p
The author of Disco Bloodbath is at a bookstore in West Hollywood tonite and I'm very excited to be going to meet someone who lived it. Of course, I'd really like to be able to pick the brain of Michael Alig, but he has prior engagements.
Is there anything you'd want to say/ask him?
9.26.03 @ 2:28p
Ask him where he buys his drugs now.
9.26.03 @ 2:39p
Well, he claims sobriety now but says that heroine is easier to come by than stamps in prison.
[edited to push that freakin' link out]
For an interesting (albeit poorly designed) site, here's his. Michael Alig's Website
9.27.03 @ 12:21a
Whoa! Michael Alig's website is so visually mind boggling, in a very bad way. I couldn't get beyond the first page before getting a headache. The background along shows he's nuts.
michelle von euw
9.28.03 @ 1:57a
I didn't quite live the lifestyle the way you did, Matt (I clubbed from 11 pm until 5 am, maybe twice a week) I did dabble in it for a few years. And I loved it, too.
H, this article is fabulous, and I'm definitely going to hunt down the book and the movies on your recommendation.
9.29.03 @ 10:11a
Thanks, Chelle! :) The movie is currently on release in about 10 cities, expanding to 25 in October. The documentary is tricky to come by (found it at a gay video store), but the book is widely available.
And meeting the author the other night was wonderful. His personality really comes through in his writing. He did some excerpt readings and even read some of Michael's "Aligula." They are still in contact and he was full of updates... although he did refer to him as a "piece of shit I've been trying to scrape off my shoe for 20 years."
9.30.03 @ 3:01p
I am not as regular here as I'd like to be. Yet I have read most of what "the usual suspects" have written. So then, being a firm believer in giving praise where praise is due, I must say, I enjoy your articles, your style, your subject matter quite a lot. Notice I am purposely dancing around what I truly wish to say, avoiding the use of superlatives, don't want to bruise any egos...
9.30.03 @ 3:13p
John -- If she's your favorite, you can say that. I don't think any of us is fragile enough to mind.
Great article, H.
9.30.03 @ 6:57p
Hey Chase, I'm just reading between the lines here, but fuck you. You don't like my stuff, don't read it! ;)
And Jael: I'd say someone stands corrected, eh?
9.30.03 @ 7:41p
Wait, wait, wait.
We have egos? I thought it was all id around here.
Agreed, though.. frickin' amazing column, Heather. You deserve all the kudos you get.
10.2.03 @ 11:44a
It would seem that Alig's world of make believe knows no bounds. It's also a striking example of the weakened structure of our prison system that a murderer can have a website and celebrity status. I'm sure he is becoming justly rehabilitated.
This turned out well, Penny. Good job!
I wasn't as much a club kid as a band girl. I was in the joints until 3-4am, then at the the diner or at the house party with the band until 6am. It was a different type of unity, and you had to be careful of that invisible but easy-to-trip-over line between groupie and pal.
10.2.03 @ 11:54a
Tracey, "my" boys recently officially promoted me from groupie to pal. Actually, I think they said something about my potential for stalkerhood, and the "enemey you know" or something like that.
Back on topic, it is very disconcerting to me when a conscience-free whackjob becomes a celebrity. I mean, this guy participated in the death of a human being, and now he's famous?
8.15.06 @ 3:47p
Everything that is said is true. I think we are intrugued by Michael, but what he did was wrong. I do not look down upon him for one reason and one reason only. He was strung out on so many different drugs. I think he literally went insane. If you watch the Shocumentary with Commentary from James St. James, you hear him say towards the end that Michael was going crazy toward the end. If you look at Michael before all the mixtures of drugs and after years of drug abuse of more than 3 different kinds at one time, all the time--you'll see....I know how it is. I never messed with half the stuff he did, but I know that after staying up more than a few days, you go crazy, or start to. If only he didn't do all those drugs.....Maybe he should've just stuck with Extacy.