By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
The Elvis principle, alive and well on Miami Beach. The opening of "From Memphis to Tokyo" at the World Gallery on Lincoln Road, featuring the usual cast of South Beach thousands and the very tasty hand-colored photographic work of George Hirose, encompassing everything from Japanese 7-Eleven stores to Elvis's birthplace and that mother lode of twisted evenings, Graceland. Boomerang go-go dancer/Elvis impersonator Steve Love jumping around being fabulous, Hirose contentedly taking it all in: "I feel at home anywhere that has the spirit of Elvis."
The spirit, at least, lingering on in entertainments of a distinctly non-Elvis nature. Like Paragon, the former Club Z, Deco's, 1235, et cetera, the March 21 opening with Frankie Knuckles eagerly awaited by the fun brigade. Big changes from the Club Z heyday nearly a decade ago, when we were young and lighthearted. In its prime, Club Z was a splendidly vulgar display of what money and absolute nerve can accomplish, non-stop aesthetic overkill. Murals of the late Seventies airbrush-van painting school. A stage backdrop of the yellow brick road leading up into the heavens, directly across from a glassed-in champagne room. Two towering palm trees in the middle of the dance floor. The gold card/silver card/private club number, maybe we'll let you in, maybe we won't. An incoherent mass of nicely dressed people that included everyone from lame boys (actually willing to go home and change clothes to suit the vagaries of the dress code) to somber rabbinical students to hip orthodontists, dancing in the manner of the professional classes: affecting an air of wild abandonment while simultaneously remaining ever conscious of appearing ridiculous.
The Nineties now, not the golden age of the mid-Eighties, and no one's really young any more. Or all that fun. And clubs are tightening up, taking care of business Elvis style: pack them in, sweat out a little showbiz razzle-dazzle, end things on an upbeat note. A theatrical standard set by the preview party at Paragon, the climactic opening of the lobby doors actually accompanied by the theme from 2001. Electra and other performers from La Cage, along with the nightlife pantheon of Miami, doing a kind of free-floating Wigfield Follies ode to Paragon. Banks of laser beams sweeping back and forth across the room like pushbrooms, as if the place were one big glamorous concentration camp for the pectorally-obsessed.
From the start, a real nonprivate club convention, filled with every imaginable variety of human being. Fire-eaters, BVD-clad sex slaves, and other conceptual diversions, including two handsome firemen, who were immediately surrounded by guests who mistakenly believed some tantalizing homoerotic tableau was in store. When it became apparent they were real firemen on official business, not Village People poseurs, the crowd's interest naturally quickened considerably.
The music insistently pounding, an ultimate club girl sleeping peacefully in the balcony lounge, straight through a demonstration of the club's "All Male Revue." This particular episode inspired by the Herb Ritts ad featuring somewhat idealized gas station workers. Eight or so nonpimply/nonhollow-chested pump jockeys emerging, shirtless, mock-greasy, carrying tires. The tire boys prancing around awhile like young colts, and then, being all hot and bothered, the situation naturally lent itself to a little simulated sodomy. Happens in garages across America every day.
In and out of garages, almost too much happening. Monique, the Mistress of Comedy, appearing at Carino's for a City of Hope AIDS Research benefit. Drag star Jackie Oh! in Charles Busch's Vampire Lesbians of Sodom at Semper's. City of Angels at the Jackie Gleason Theater, opening Thursday night. The incredible Astrud Gilberto, coming to the Cameo Theatre March 20 as part of a co-production between the Rhythm Foundation and the Danza Del Lobo Series. A cocktail party in honor of designer Gemma Kahng at the Butter Club, March 23, to kick off a Saks Fifth Avenue fashion show and luncheon the following day, a benefit for the Children's Home Society. The Miami Light presentation of LadyGourd Sangoma, a troupe of very talented dancers/singers/ musicians/ storytellers. Wonderful stuff, except for the fact that every intelligent, right-thinking, ethnically attuned culture vulture in the city was there. Somehow, when everyone you know appreciates something, the authenticity of the experience is leeched right out.
Nightlife also pretty plentiful and even fairly authentic. Private parties with zillions of people. Liquor promotions with naked mock savages. The trick is getting invited. The big-event private party of the month, on Hibiscus Island, was attended, apparently, by absolutely everybody, as various invitees reminded us later that night at Van Dome. We were actually invited though, very officially with an elaborate written invitation, to the mega-promotion party for the new Tandem liqueur at Warsaw. The "Subcultural Celestial Revelation" theme carried out with half-moon-shaped decorations, miles of silver mylar paper, old Star Trek episodes playing on a screen behind the main bar. The thematic focal point, a huge plywood box with peepholes, the topless dancers inside painted with Indian war paint, worshipping a bottle of Tandem on a pedestal.
Lots of drag queen go-go dancers, old hat on the Beach, a Manhattan nightlife legend with the 411 on Miami's new drag star: "The word in '92 is China Blue. She's a 23-year-old Cuban boy who looks like a sixteen-year-old girl; there's always a line of horny boys following her on the street wherever she goes." A vaguely hip-looking woman, who turned out to be with a New York ad agency, marveling: "Is this like a normal party in Miami?" Mickey Rourke, with some L.A. type consorts, swilling an evil-looking reddish liquid from an Evian bottle, conspicuously hanging out on the fringes of the stage and taking pictures of various eccentrics. George Wayne of R.O.M.E. doing a little tentative cha-cha in Rourke's direction, only to be rebuffed when the great man turned away with a bored sneer. Just another night on the town.
On to more nights, transfixed, bored, even delighted. Torpedo, for the "Chains and Chests" party. Torsos in chain-link cages, the usual sort of thing. The Karaoke reunion party at Semper's/ Underground/whatever, packed again, Tara Solomon winding down with a virtually nausea-free splash. (Karaoke will be moving to the La Cage space April 1st.) Brian Mehmel of Wire telling a great story about Jackie Smit of the Palace, who had, for many months, insisted that she would be moving to San Francisco on March 10 to begin a new life. No one believed her, of course, except for Varla. The night before, the former Beach drag legend called and chirpily informed Miss Smith that she wouldn't have to start over all alone. San Francisco was also Varla's kind of town: she/he/it had booked a seat on the morning flight out and would be meeting her plane. The myth of renewal and transformation, the great lie of beginning again. Pernicious, irresistible, ultimately impossible. Elvis would have understood.