Thursday, January 31, 2019

Book 166: Party Monster



"Oh, Angel was probably dead, all right. No big deal. Or maybe he was in the hospital. Who cared? They had probably been partying too hard and Angel overdosed. Happens all the time. People die around us all the time. Drop like flies. Overdose. AIDS. Sometimes they kill themselves. People come. They go. Dying is the same as rehab or moving back to Missouri. It just means I won't be seeing them again. New people were already in line to take their place."

Dates read: August 5-7, 2017

Rating: 5/10

I've never really gotten what makes drugs fun. I'm not a total square, I drink regularly and I've partaken in the occasional marijuana cigarette, but nothing really harder than that. I don't like feeling out of control. I'm already high-strung enough without the help of uppers. Even very low doses of pain or anxiety pills just make me sleep, which I do love to do, but I don't really classify as "fun". And the idea of seeing or feeling things that aren't there just seems more scary than anything else. Who knows, if I tried those things maybe I'd like them, and if other people do enjoy them, that's their business, but I generally feel like I'll be okay if I meet my maker (or don't, I don't know what happens after we die) without ever having tried cocaine.

Suffice it to say that when it comes to drugs, James St. James and I have different opinions. In his memoir of his days as a New York City club kid in the late 80s/early 90s, Party Monster, he gleefully recounts his experiences doing LOTS of drugs, with ketamine as a special favorite. But the drugs aren't really the focus of the book. The focus is really on the murder of Angel Melendez, a crime that marked the end of the reign of the Club Kids. It's not a who-dunnit, as the murderers, Michael Alig and Robert Riggs, are identified right at the beginning through Alig's own confession to St. James. We even know how and partially why. What's left is the context.

To give us that context, St. James tells his own story. An earlier arrival on the scene than Alig, St. James tells us how he came to occupy a fairly high rung on the social ladder of the nightclubbers, introducing us to the people whose asses he kissed to get there. Just a short while later, Alig arrived and St. James tells us how he at first watched and then became a friend and sort of mentor to Alig as the younger man engineered his own meteoric rise up the hierarchy. And part of what Alig brought with him, along with a new group of hangers-on, was drugs. Well, there were already drugs obviously. But more drugs, and harder ones. The kind that let two strung-out junkies, high on a cocktail of pills and their own sense of importance and untouchability, brutally murder a drug dealer, shove his body in the river, and carry on with their lives like they're going to get away with it. And they very nearly do: despite the fact that Melendez is a missing person and Alig and Riggs' involvement in his disappearance is an open secret in their community, it isn't until the body is found that the police actually take any action.

I've never been one to find substance abuse memoirs especially appealing...reading about someone's experiences taking a lot of drugs doesn't really do much for me. But St. James' arch, gossipy writing style makes it about as good as it can be. And while there's no doubt after reading it that he mostly enjoyed the experiences, he doesn't shy away from exposing the less glamorous side of it. Like groups of addicts ripping the radiator out of an apartment wall because they think they remember someone dropping a bag back there, a scene he renders darkly humorous while still exposing as pathetic. Indeed, it's St. James' strong writing that makes this book workable overall. 20somethings drinking and dancing and getting high out of their minds wearing weird costumes is something that seems like it would make a decent essay but would be tiresome at book length, and yet the way St. James tells his story makes it mostly pretty fun to read. This is not great literature, but it's an interesting, well-told account of a very particular time and place.

Tell me, blog friends...are drugs more fun than I think they are?

One year ago, I was reading: Lost Horizon (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: Marlena

Three years ago, I was reading: Creative Mythology

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