Lessons of a Lounge Lizard

Oh, sweet youth! The pain, the suffering, the heartbreak. The champagne, the nightclubs, the women.

Over dinner at The Strand on a quiet night, Capponi is in a reflective mood, reminiscing about getting into the life. It is an existence based on hype, but unlike many South Beach club promoters, Capponi shies away from bold declarations and hustles. The talk is heartfelt, philosophical, laced with irony and self-doubt. His manner alternates between spells of irrepressible enthusiasm and a low-key, cool dispassion. "This business is in my blood," he says. "My grandfather on my mother's side, Jean Omer, was a bandleader who owned a club in Brussels, Boeuf Sur Le Toit, one those great, glamourous Forties places with 40 showgirls and a huge orchestra, the girls coming out topless and everything. Jean Cocteau wrote a poem about the place. My father, Fefo Capponi, was a completely self-made success story, a Turkish-born Italian who went out and became an Olympic swimmer."

"My dad ran nightclubs in Amsterdam A Le Scotch, the Golden Gate, Fefo's 2000 A where all the jetset people went, Sean Connery, Brigitte Bardot, Jayne Mansfield. I still have a picture of him kissing Jayne Mansfield in one of his clubs. My mother, Danouchka, met him in a nightclub, and her parents met the same way. My mom and dad used to take me to my dad's clubs as a baby; I'd be in my crib until three or four in the morning, checking everything out. We lived in this town on the coast, Le Knokke Zouete, in a big house, and there were always parties with 300, 400 people. I'd have ten clowns at my parties, drive around the house in a little electric car. A total spoiled brat."

The Capponi family moved to Miami, first to the Kendall area and then Key Biscayne, when Michael was six. After a series of business reversals, his father moved abroad, and his mother started over from nothing, building a business recharging cartridges for laser printers. In ninth grade, Michael was expelled from Ponce de Leon Junior High for "fucking with the teachers," and fell into the teenage wasteland/feral child set on South Beach, which meant, among their things, early experimentations with drugs and sex.

"I used to skip school all the time, riding the bus to First Street to surf and ride skateboards," he recalls. "We were all little burnouts; we thought we were pretty cool. Don Busweiler, who's opening the Pervert clothes store now, and I used to ride freestyle on our stunt bikes, doing tournaments with 10,000 people watching, getting written up in BMX magazine and all that. Don was number one in Florida in the thirteen-and-over division; I was number one in the thirteen-and-under category. We'd shoot the half-pipe at the Youth Fair, this tube thing where you'd ride up the side and fly into the air, twenty feet off the ground, and do 180s and 540s. Don missed the edge one time and fell all the way down; he wound up breaking his collarbone. But the pipe was really the basis for me eliminating my fears.

"At fifteen I started hanging out in the [21st Street] parking lot by the Kitchen. It was like baggy jeans, wooden beads, and a shaved head, really into the industrial thing. My friends were saying, 'Michael, what's wrong with you?' But I was already off in a different world. You can see some bad, crazy things in clubs, but they're addicting, just like sex or drugs, although most people are cooler, more comfortable with themselves, after they've been through it. It gives you a new security, you get to be like a regular character, with people coming up to you and everything. You're suddenly someone. Fame is a high, even club fame, and you need to feed that security. That's what people get addicted to, not the action.

At the Kitchen, I'd drink beer, play with the girls in the back of vans, try to climb the back wall and sneak in. My only worry was being ID'd by the cops. You can't imagine how many worries I have now. Anyway, I started handing out flyers to help people out, and that's how I got into the business. That same year I went back to school, Miami Shores Academy, a private school. I did tenth and eleventh grades in one year, and then by my senior year, at seventeen, I was doing a one-nighter at the Cameo, 'One,' going out every night to promote it. It was impossible to get to school at 8:00 a.m. after being up all night. So I made a deal with my teachers that I'd show up once a week and turn in all my assignments. That's how I finished high school. Being in the business that young was really difficult. I couldn't get into Le Loft and places like that. Even now, 'Bohemia,' for instance, is twenty-one and over.

"Don and Ruben Pagan had gotten me into 'One.' Ruben, Carl B. Dread, and I formed Global Tribe, which presented the night, mostly industrial and hip hop. The theme was universal unity, blacks and whites mixing together. We'd have a crowd with 70 percent blacks, 30 percent whites, models dancing with Rastas. Eventually the Zulu Nation from 163rd Street moved in and started fighting with the Power 96 Latin crowd and the whole thing collapsed. After that Ruben and I did another one-nighter at the Cameo, 'Eon,' opening with Deee-Lite. We managed to book them right before they got hot, they were like $2000 then, and we did 2600 paid admissions. Then I worked with Avenue A and 'Disco Inferno' down here, and then Boomerang when Gary took 'Disco Inferno' to New York.

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