A new memoir offers a sneak-peek into the eccentric lives of club kids past and present – and the stories behind them, including some spilled tea on Mama Ru
As a sociology professor craving the ability to join in the notoriously lavish New York club scene, Victor P. Corona underwent a transformation – from “bald, nerdy sociology professor” to colouring his hair and smearing glitter and make-up on his face in an attempt to “bypass the velvet rope and make sense of downtown New York, that glittery incubator of fabulous identities”. After a brief taste of the eccentric scenes the cosmopolitan capital had to offer, Corona was hooked.
Hanging out with the rich and famous and indulging in a downtown subculture teased him with the promise of “re-invention and freedom”. Diving into glamorous venues, clubs, bars, galleries, and hanging out with “Lady Gaga’s old nightlife tribe” by no surprise, provided Corona with a life worth documenting. Gathering images from Gerry Visco, Christel Mitchell, and his own personal archives – from the late 1980s to 2016 – Corona presents his new memoir Night Class: A Downtown Memoir.
“We need to be honest about the price of fame. We can appreciate and admire our superstars while still being realistic about what they had to do as they achieved their fame. Otherwise, we become blind to what being famous really means” – Victor P. Corona
The publication offers a sneak-peek into the lives of the NY underground club kids, dedicating each chapter to crucial sectors that make up the opulent party-world. Branding Gaga as the woman responsible for selling “the spirit of downtown rebellion and revelry to the entire globe”, this memoir also offers a brief insight into her life before international fame. But despite offering us all a glimpse into the sumptuous Lower East Side nightlife, the publication does bare some worthwhile messages. “A big message behind Night Class is that we need to be honest about the price of fame,” says Corona. “We can appreciate and admire our superstars while still being realistic about what they had to do as they achieved their fame. Otherwise, we become blind to what being famous really means.”
Describing his journey and growth from a “closeted and illegal immigrant Mexican” to studying at Yale and Columbia to spending a summer working as an assistant to “party monster” Michael Alig after his release from prison, Corona shares with us his absorbing visual diary complete with revealing personal accounts and friends tales.
KENNY KENNY AND ARMEN RA
“The visual style of ex-club kid and famed doorman Kenny Kenny blurs genders, mixes punk and drag aesthetics, and makes references to diverse lineages in art history. He really is one of my favorite downtown people. In the book, Kenny is extremely candid about his relationships with club kid king Michael Alig and nightlife queen Susanne Bartsch, both of whom nurtured his clubland career. I’m grateful for his honest thoughts about what it was like to collaborate so intensely with both of these famous nightlife figures.
Armen Ra is also a veteran of the club kid scene and Patricia Field’s boutique. Now based in Los Angeles, he tours the globe as one of the leading players of the theremin and had his story documented in the 2014 film When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra & the Theremin. Armen has aged extremely well. He still basically looks like he did when he was a club kid!”
“Actress, model, nightlife host, and ex-club kid Sophia Lamar has a truly incisive and analytical mind. She’s one of my favorite people, although sadly I rarely get to see her. Sophia’s candour is unmatched. She has read me, to my face and in public, at least twice. Follow her on Twitter; she is brutally honest about the delusional side of nightlife, especially the silly, pretentious, and fame-hungry aspects of gay parties. As she tells me in chapter four of Night Class, ‘Anything you do based on your sexuality is awful. It’s horrendous’. Her relationship with Amanda Lepore could be seen as a kind of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart clubland story, although both deserve a great deal of recognition and admiration for being pioneers in the trans community long before the era of Caitlyn Jenner.”
MICHAEL MUSTO AND PERFIDIA
“Today a peddler of pop culture snark in print and on TV, back then Musto palled around with the club kids at all their parties. In my book, Musto is described as ‘musty’ by Sophia Lamar for now being ‘too old, too out of touch’. Ever since my book’s preview party in June ‘musty’ Musto has also started posting interviews with people that spoke to me for Night Class. Great timing!”
SUSANNE BARTSCH, RUPAUL, AND AN UNIDENTIFIED CLUBGOER
“I know that a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race fans might not like the section about RuPaul in chapter four, where I interviewed an ex-collaborator named Flloyd who called Ru ‘childish and petty’ and described his displacement as Ru’s sidekick by Michelle Visage. But it’s important to not sanitise and sanctify entertainers, especially in clubland, the drag scene, and the gay community as a whole. Our idols are human. They’re businesspeople. They’re selling products, even if the product is their own persona. A big message behind Night Class is that we need to be honest about the price of fame, like having to discard your old friends. We can appreciate and admire our superstars while still being realistic about what they had to do as they achieved their fame. Otherwise, we become blind to what being famous really means.”
“When Gaga was a host at the popular Motherfucker party, Gerry Visco took her photograph, only realising years later that the young woman posing for her had become one of the most famous people on the planet. This was before Gaga’s great fame, when she was still learning the nightlife ropes under the mentorship of Lady Starlight, who now lives and performs mainly in Europe. I discuss the Gaga-Starlight tribe in chapter one of the book, ‘Stef Infection’, and describe how effectively she was able to extract, package, and sell the spirit of downtown rebellion and revelry to the entire globe.”
“The brilliant downtown photographer Marcia Resnick had just finished shooting Michael for the portrait that he still uses as his Twitter profile photo. I was working as his assistant so I did Michael’s hair and make-up and Alexander helped out with wardrobe during the shoot. As always, Michael is looking at his reflection, wondering what a little nip and tuck might do to make him look younger.”
“My dear Rose Wood, photographed by our mutual friend Christel Mitchell, is a headlining performance artist at my favorite nightclub in New York, The Box, to which I devote chapter six. The venue just celebrated ten years of offering performances that attract A-list celebrities, Wall Street millionaires, and fabulous club kids. Called the “Mother” of The Box, Rose is known for shitting on stage, setting her penis on fire, inserting a Jameson bottle into her anus, and urinating on audience members.
In person, she’s one of the most gentle, intelligent, and courteous people that I have ever known. Our first interview back in 2014 became a five-hour conversation and since then she has become a real mentor and one of my closest friends. You have to go see Rose’s new “Photo Shoot” act, her gag-inducing nod to the colossal folly of our obsession with fashion, beauty, and image. I don’t want to spoil the whole thing for you, but I will say that I have never seen projectile shit fly across the stage like that.”
“I devote chapter five to two women who are responsible for nurturing and mentoring so many downtown superstars: nightlife queen Susanne Bartsch and style mogul Patricia Field. I finish the Susanne section by discussing the Leigh Bowery window that she did for Bloomingdale’s last Christmas. Downtown went uptown in the most lavish way! It was an absolutely stunning window, featuring gorgeous contributions from today’s nightlife stars.”
“While my friend Muffinhead and I were en route to Susanne Bartsch’s On Top party at The Standard High Line, her documentary film crew tagged along and you can imagine all the puzzled looks and open mouths we got on the A train. But Muffinhead took it all in stride and just waved and smiled at the gawkers. The look he’s wearing was designed and molded by him. I call him an aesthetic engineer because what he designs is really wearable art that requires heat guns, advanced laser-cutting, and solving all kinds of structural challenges. And like Ernie, Muffinhead is also one of the sweetest people in nightlife today.”