When fun is your business, clubs can become just another night on the job, a life's work that tends to vaporize all the honest pleasures of the experience. Stay in the game too long and eventually it's all a free-floating office with a great benefits package. Overexposed personalities sick to death of other same-old-faces, the ritual of idle chatter and cheap popularity contests, an unyielding routine charged with the fear of being considered unlikable enough to be unpromotable. Endless stretches of epic ennui alternating with moments of sheer anxiety, the polar emotional staples of professional life, journalism often inducing simultaneous boredom and tension. A steady diet of humiliation, hatefulness, ridiculous intrigue, and small-change triumphs, the pecking order of clubs, unfortunately, arbitrary and murky. Renegades and the glamorous-for-no-real-reason sometimes pull ahead, but generally celebrities, rich people, and beauties of both sexes occupy the upper echelon of management. The middle ranks fight it out in the nasty bullpen of columnists, drug dealers, and the tangentially useful, conscious of being one step removed from the pay-as-you-go masses, the plankton of nightlife. At a normal office the grunts shirk their responsibilities, desperately try to shine at opportune moments, and scurry like rats before incensed bosses. In the chaos theory of nightlife (unlike the more ordered world of regular employment) each level of the status circus demands to be witnessed, even when its inhabitants are misbehaving.

The big time hits town, Prince's Glam Slam having the softest possible preview party, and the Beach is plunged into the anarchy of status neverland. No complimentary drinks, no particular deference to the leading lights, and technically illegal minors A good little club girls accustomed to instant access from the age of fifteen A are carded and grilled at the door. The press virtually ignored and falling prey to delusion and self-generating hype, lathering up for a phantasmagorical VIP party incorporating the final taping of the Arsenio Hall show. Bathetic beyond reason, reduced to calling Glam Slam headquarters in Minneapolis for an invitation to a party advertised in our own paper, fending off this week's new best friends and pointlessly working all the angles. One more episode of irate theater, showing up on time like a lame eager beaver and testily waiting at the ropes, finally entering a barren landscape of all-too-public ordinariness. A few scraps of district society A singer Maryel Epps, artist/promoter Bobby Radical, Glam Slam design consultant George Tamsitt A mingling with the cover-charge crowd, waiters serving hors d'oeuvres to everyone. The whole democratic affair offensive to the veterans but also refreshing somehow: Nobody is really anybody after all.

His Purple Majesty not in attendance, the staff A most of whom refer to Prince/a.k.a. whatever as "the Boss" A expecting the great chameleon to play the grand opening on June 7, with the concert simultaneously broadcast to other outposts in the Glam Slam empire. The Sun King celebrating the first anniversary of life as pure symbolism: his name now comprising intersecting male and female emblems, a superimposed horn-shape figure signifying love and beauty. Prince apparently having an apostasy over all that name, rank, and title nonsense, the same dangerously egalitarian thinking reflected in the door policy. A touch of rampant hubris still in the air, however, the symbol all over the place, along with an obvious tone of semiotic lust. The design team accomplishing a dramatic makeover in some seventeen days, sexing up the space according to the boss's make-it-horny dictates, creating a kind of postmodern bordello effect amid the deco opulence of the old Paragon space. Lots of orange and red, faux finishes and gold leaf set off against black surfaces, lush carpeting, black drapes and whore-red neon. A mural of wave formations sweeping over a Cyclops-size evil eye in the main room, Adam and Eve cavorting over the lobby bar. Glam Slam's most important sex celebrity converting the third floor VIP room into a private aerie, suitable for Howard Hughes moments, alone at the top and taking in the profitable public from a safe distance.

All in all, a first-class fuss over a very limited number of patrons: dominatrixes walking leather boys on leashes, imported DJ Brother Jules working an unusual soul groove, go-go dancers gyrating before sweeping lasers and enormous banks of television monitors. The creature of MTV right in step with the vox populi, his own videos alternating with psychedelia, camp movies, and Jenny Holzer-goes-mainstream declarations of club truth: "All that glitters ain't gold.... These are the days of wild.... An erection is a terrible thing to waste.... Acknowledge me...." The sexy motherfucker's very own theme park in place, either the true beginning or final blow to South Beach, the age of Glamville wildness no doubt yet to come. An eerily placid evening throughout, a whimper rather than a bang, the arena of possibility all fresh and clean, untainted by the pervasive nightlife stench of stale beer, spilled jism, the sad waft of countless dashed desires. In the meantime, something strange and ambitious this way comes. And God knows, all of us would kill for a chuckle and something -- anything -- different.

The nightlife marathon collapsing from there -- going for the truly different at the Bette Midler concert, the Miami Arena popping with fun and laughter. The "first lady of Jewish entertainers" providing solid value, even at $80 per ticket, descending in a mock throne and embracing her Miami fans: "Welcome, Cubans, Jews, and queens A did I leave anyone out?" Midler and her "sexually harassable" neoharlots opening with an ode to modern show business ("I've been commoditized, homogenized, Disney-ized, traumatized, and Twelve-stepped. I went for the big bucks, and darling, I'm still looking good"), the troupe then donning mermaid costumes for a wheelchair-bound salute to a studiously crass infomercial icon. The bathhouse-to-movie-star legend gathering steam with Sophie Tucker and Mama Rose Lee bits, transforming uncovered showgirl breasts into post-Magritte conceptual trinkets, a study in unlimited talent and triumphant bad taste. Vaudeville of the first rank, spanning fart jokes, beautifully rendered numbers A the exquisite Drinking Again to the cloying schmaltz of Wind Beneath My Wings -- and everything in between: "Don't you Jews in the back have connections?" What kind of people would bring children to such a vulgar display? Is Barbra too expensive?" A remarkable evening, the divine one akin to a supercharged Turnberry housewife blessed by genius, fabulousness, and an understanding of the world's absurdity: "Cher wears a wig on TV and sells hair products. Joan Rivers makes millions selling rhinestone eggs on QVC. Who buys this shit? Is it me, or is the world getting more and more bizarre?

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Tom Austin