Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Chemical Cowboys: The Club King Of New York

Michael Alig & the Club Kids

Michael Alig
Michael Alig
Alig soon nurtured a burgeoning circle of suburban youth and trustafarians who delighted in his impromptu mischief. He was their puckish leader, the pied piper of the latchkey set. They embraced adolescence, wearing diapers and pigtails and sucking on pacifiers. They painted their faces with polka dots and dressed up like every night was Halloween. When Danceteria's owners bought the club Tunnel on the Westside Highway, Alig was let loose in the wide open space and his Club Kids followed.

The Club Kids experimented with a life-as-theater aesthetic. Their bodies were pierced and fish-hooked and tattooed like walking artwork. The grotesque was glamorous. Alig's cohort and fashionista staple Ernie Glam created wild outfits (seatless unitards and glittery headpieces fashioned from wires and tubes) that evoked sex, science fiction, and campy fantasy in one-off looks he described as "robomutant club freak" or "perverted-sex clown aesthetic."

"The outfits weren't just outrageous, they were just sometimes disturbing," Village Voice columnist Michael Musto said in the 1997 documentary Party Monster. "I mean, everything from oxygen masks to blood on the face and all these apocalyptic images. The aesthetic was one that was both embracing American capitalism and mocking it at the same time."

When Alig tired of the boundaries of a club space, he took his band on raucous field trips, or outlaw parties. He wasn't the first to throw them, but he made them famous. The inaugural outlaw party was on an abandoned railway bridge, overlooking 99 Tenth Avenue, the future site of NYFD headquarters. Alig and his posse once posted detour signs on the Williamsburg Bridge, handed out cocktails to astonished motorists, and partied in the traffic jam. He held massive outlaw parties inside packed subway cars, where painted clubgoers danced from car to car; and at a Burger King in Times Square, where Alig ordered a hundred burgers for his guests and danced on the tables, sloshing vodka from a plastic cup. He once rented an eighteen-wheel big rig, had it fitted with a sound system, liquor bar, and disco ball, and invited two hundred partygoers to take a ride inside the disco truck. Panicked partiers fainted as the truck reached sweltering temperatures, the sound system crashed to the floor, and the driver failed to hear them pounding to be let out.


Excerpt from Chemical Cowboys by Lisa Sweetingham