The Dull and Dreary Nightlife

Where's John Hood when we really need him?

Miami Beach City Hall never looked so good. Lots of hair gel, sleeveless T-shirts and exposed bellybuttons, everything but the velvet rope. And despite the heavy cloud cover and rain, no one forgot their sunglasses. This, of course, was at the big club industry protest last week. Nightclub owners, promoters, and their minions were congregating in square central to protest a proposed ordinance limiting outside entertainment.

It seems that the opulent condo owners who neighbored clubs south of Sixth Street wanted city hall also to enforce existing noise ordinances, and the jukejoint mob was panicked. The commission's chambers were a sea of black T-shirts bearing the message "i live, i work, i vote, i love the nightlife."

Somehow I couldn't get all teary-eyed for the millionaires who live part of the year in monstrosities that should have been illegal in the first place, i.e. Portofino Towers, and their whining about nightclubs that pre-existed them for years. By the same token, we can get attacked, go to war, shred our environment, and the only thing that will get these hipsters out of bed during daylight hours is a threat to the ever-present party. Call it a draw. I went home early.

I've always felt a little let down by the South Beach club scene. World-class money and talent, tons of youthful energy, and nothing more inspiring behind the doorman than the promise of sex and lucre. The video and spoken-word artists have decamped across the causeway. The thinkers and talent avoid the spots du moment like the plague. Creativity and originality are the first casualties when money and looks are the criteria. The pretty folk may be strolling Washington Avenue, but the gritty folk are slouching in some Miami warehouse, sneering at all the bloated decadence and narcissism across the bay. The problem is that to stay vital, the entrenched Beach scene is going to need those creative folks that it's done such a good job of alienating.

Where are the eccentric street mongrels who make the club scene not just a job, but a life?

There was a time when a wretch with style was as welcome at the bar as a Saudi prince; when utter crooks prowled the pavement in clean shoes and dirty thoughts and South Beach was better off for it. Like when John Hood was free to move about.

Some are going to call me a hypocrite. I certainly delighted in exposing the foul deeds of plenty of hooligan club owners. But my problem with them was that they were posing as something they weren't -- dignified businessmen. Hood never pretended to be anything he wasn't. He was a hopped-up cabaret gangster who, even when his brain was marinating in a chemical cocktail, tended to be wittier, brighter, and more searingly offensive than any ten people in clubland today. He was a scoundrel on skag as likely to cite William Blake as Iceberg Slim while he hatched some new scheme to propel past the mucks sleepwalking through town.

Don't get me wrong: John Hood was a liar, a junkie, and a thief. But, ah, the lad had verve.

He was the brains behind Fat Black Pussycat, the famous one-nighter that kick-started the South Beach scene back in the early 1990s, and remains to this day its longest-running party. He's been featured in at least one documentary and a nonfiction book, Alexander Stuart's Life on Mars, all flirting with the Beach's derelict past.

"While what's happening on the Beach right now is exciting, all the growth, I catch myself waxing nostalgic for the Hoods," says Rich Santelises, who handles nightlife accounts for slick-set bible Ocean Drivemagazine. "These tragic, genius, brilliant characters, guys like Gary James and John Hood, that really made the Beach what it is today. We owe a lot to these guys." But in the same breath, Santelises acknowledges that vintage rogues couldn't make it in today's South Beach. "It would be like Bugsy Siegel going back to Las Vegas."

"I absolutely love the guy," gushes Kenny Smith, co-owner of one of the strip's alpha clubs, crobar. "He was the heart and soul of what South Beach was: a tragic creative genius."

Yes indeed, Hood was the real thing. And he tried not to harm anyone but himself, although that didn't always work.

I know this because for longer than he should have, Hood slept on my couch. With a beat-up valise, a porkpie hat, and some getup approximating a zoot suit, Hood wound up at my doorstep vowing it would only be a week or so, until this or that happened. It took six weeks to kick him out, and I didn't come out of it unscathed. But those were some six weeks.

I met Hood at New Times's Biscayne Boulevard offices in 1998. He was crafting an opus on his experience in the local stir that started: "Sometimes murderers turn out to be the nicest guys," and went on, "There are no innocent men in jail. Period. If you're on ice, you probably turned the thermostat down on yourself." Apparently he had bopped some guy on the head with a blackjack after he found the mope with his girlfriend.

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