Lessons of a Lounge Lizard

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

It's midnight and the restaurant is clearing out, but Capponi is still chewing on artistic integrity, the very recent past, the wearying road to success that his father followed. "If you were truly happy, you'd be home with the one you love," he observes. "Why are people in clubs in the first place? You're bored, you have nothing else to do, you make yourself into a kind of art. I go to build my business, find a girl to get my mind off the one I love. Nightclubs wear me out, and sometimes the only way to escape is the bottle. You're trapped in these mindless conversations, bored out of your mind, and if you walk away, you're an asshole. It's a lot easier to put up with everything if you've got a buzz on. The business can be fairly debasing. I live in a world where money, sex, and fame is just about the whole thing. I fall into this totally, I play the game, but I try to avoid getting addicted to the luxury. Business is built on who you are, who you know, what you own. True life is exactly the opposite. To stay sane I have to separate Michael from the Michael Capponi at night. My home is in both worlds: the left foot's on one tightrope, the right's on another, and sometimes I feel like I'm splitting apart."

A subdued evening of regular rounds, Capponi having taken the night off from promoting. He still hands out 700 or so party flyers each week, picking out the beautiful, the interesting, the eccentric. He stops in at Les Bains, where he is trying to put together a weekly party. In perfect French, he chats with co-owner Charles Shreiner, shakes hands with a couple of people, moves on to Cassis for the regular Tuesday night party. At the door a waiter insists that the restaurant is closed, but Capponi patiently asks to speak with the owner. "Most people would make a fuss, say shit like, 'Do you know who I am?' That's not my style; no one is anybody, man." Up to Sinatra Bar, pressing flesh like a politician, settling down in the outdoor patio for a rumination on sex: "I have no interest in girls who want to be with you because of the club thing. To me sex is a total effort; I want love. And AIDS is going to be the next civil war; our own people are dying. Most of the early Beach pioneers are dead, but it hasn't really even started yet. People still don't want to know about it."

On Washington Avenue he stops a dozen times, kissing and schmoozing. Apropos of nothing, he asks how old I am. He is momentarily, absolutely stunned. "I'll bet you've forgotten everything I'm just learning. God, man, I hope I die before I get that old."

It's showtime, "Bohemia" in full swing, and the night-world Michael, the showman, is everywhere at once. Another trademark outfit: black pants, black Miles Standish shoes, and a blue crushed-velvet shirt, a fabric someone describes as "looking like something from a sofa in a Cuban grandmother's house." Still, Capponi is impossibly cool, although very ragged. In the dressing room, he picks at his stubble and recites an allegorical poem about the sun blinding itself with love for a woman, rhapsodizing about the passion without limits, a love freed from banality. He's beyond reason, terminally young, hopelessly romantic.

Swaying to the music, drinking Moet champagne, Capponi drifts around Warsaw awhile. Tonight he's got it down: rock star mumble and attitude, clownish gestures undercutting grand moves, wallowing in pain and the romance of self-destruction and death, the Sixties free gestalt, the escape of drugs, liquor, and sex. But Capponi seems to recognize the absurdity of his position, a pop-culture artist glamorized by the potency of fame and power, his better nature being gradually chipped away by the jagged edges of nightlife. In this soulless environment, love and art are nothing but chump stuff.

He saunters outside, dispensing favors like the Pope, walking arm and arm with a couple of models, jumping on the hood of a passing car for a photo opportunity. The night wears on, more pointless conversations, more hustles, more battles for club fame. By 4:30 a.m. Capponi is toying with a club dancer and sex magazine model. The girl is perched on his lap, whining steadily: "How come you don't call me any more? I guess it's because I'm not a model, right?"

"You live in New York now, I'm incredibly busy, and I'm still in love."
There is, briefly, a hint of comprehension on the girl's face, a sign that she has glimpsed something bigger. The Pied Piper, the man who has led the children into dissipation, is momentarily a beacon in the darkness, leading the soiled into the light.

"Michael, where's the old gang? I don't recognize anybody. Who are these people? Is this your world now?"

Capponi, the ultimate post-MTV child, looks off into the distance, smiles sadly, and answers with a question: "Do you think I'm aware of what it is? Or am I just caught up in it?

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