Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Chemical Cowboys: The Club King Of New York

Lord Michael

Club Kid James St. James (left) and Michael Alig
Club Kid James St. James (left) and Michael Alig
By the early 1990s, crass yuppie materialism had burned out, giving way to the cult of disenchanted youth. The Club Kids' simple message to anyone who felt neglected, misunderstood, or less than beautiful was: "Be somebody." It was the same message of the reefer smokers and dealers in the clubs of Harlem during the Jazz Age who encouraged hipsters to "light up and be somebody."

"There's a place for you," is how Club Kid James St. James described the new scene. "If you feel like you're a freak, if you've got a hunchback, throw a little glitter on it, honey, and go out and dance and show the world that it's okay."

Every time Club Kids showed up on TV, new young converts from middle America would be inspired to run away to New York to join them. Alig let them believe that in his world, they could become freakish superheroes. It was liberating and boundless.

"There was a plan to take over the country by spreading that mentality to other cities," Alig's pal Walt Paper told Time Out New York years later. "But unfortunately, everyone got strung out on drugs and ruined it."

In 1991, Alig discovered twenty-two-year-old party promoter and techno DJ Lord Michael, who would herald a new era in Gatien's clubs by flooding the scene with suburban ravers, wannabe thugs, and a seemingly limitless supply of Ecstasy.

Lord Michael was a dark-haired, blue-eyed Italian American who two years earlier had been just Mike Caruso, a college dropout and deliveryman at Mike's Radiator Repair, his father's shop in Staten Island. When a car accident put Caruso out of commission, he took the advice of his DJ cousin and began promoting parties. Caruso got his nickname during a trip to the United Kingdom and Amsterdam with a group of DJs and tour managers. When he exchanged his entire budget of American dollars for pounds all in one shot, he was stuck carrying around a ridiculously large wad of cash. The other managers dubbed him "Lord Michael," and the nickname stuck.


Excerpt from Chemical Cowboys by Lisa Sweetingham