Clublands: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture by Frank Owen-just the facts without the camaraderie

Clubland, The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture, Frank Owen
Frank Owen
‘s Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture delves into drug dealer Angel’s murder by club kids Michael Alig and Robert “Freeze” Riggs. It objectively states the facts and points to police reports and witness statements. Owen was a journalist for The Village Voice and wrote an article on Special K, which was at the time the new drug in the club scene. As a result of his research he became friendly with some of the dealers, promoters, club owners, DJs, and club kids. Writing with authority he allows the outsider a glimpse into the club scene and what can happen behind the scenes. But the book leaves a lot to be desired.

The thing about Michael Alig, Angel, and Peter Gatien is that their story is deep club lore. They were second generation Factory kids without Warhol or the Factory. They created an underground culture that was so outrageous it became pop culture. They did the talk show circuit. They proposed that beauty could be ugly and created a community for one another. This hedonistic lifestyle could only last so long. People grow up. Or they change. Or worse, they become drug addicts. And maybe that one time, murderers.

Their story was told through newspapers, mostly The Village Voice. I was living in NYC at the time but in a totally different club scene. One that was filled with sixties garage rock, soul, and Britpop music. I remember seeing those other club kids on the street. I loved the way they looked. The colored hair, the facial piercings, the platform shoes. There was a place on St. Marks Place that would make any pair of shoes you liked into platforms, either full color or multi-color platforms. It wasn’t until I moved in with my old roommate years ago (in San Francisco) that I found out about Alig and Angel. Randy bought a documentary of the club kids. Rumor had it one of our friends was Alig’s cousin. Seems totally suspect now but at the time, I was gullible enough to believe it.


Clubland, The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture, Frank Owen

Michael Alig was a young smart queer boy who moved to New York City to become a club kid. He wanted to be accepted by others. He became a club promoter for Peter Gatien, owner of the Limelight and the Palladium. Alig acted as Warhol did, creating his own Superstars. One of them was Angel, who became a drug dealer. Everyone was friendly. Alig slowly escalated from occasional drug user to drug addict. Gatien wouldn’t pay Alig in cash because he knew all the money would go to drugs. Alig continued to do drugs but on credit. Angel went to collect while Alig was with two other friends and high. They got into a fight and Angel died. The published story is that it was an accident. But then Alig and Riggs woke up. They didn’t want to call the police. They hid Angel’s body in their bathtub. For a week. A knife was bought and they sawed up Angel’s body and dumped his remains in the Hudson River.

Clubland explores the drug sting and money laundering that was being conducted against Peter Gatien. The details are more than I care about and at times I suspected they were included to pad the length of this book. Perhaps someone else would be interested in the drug dealers and the want to be mafia men that move to Florida. But it was a stretch to be included in this book.

Clubland is a good companion piece if one wants to know the facts. But sadly, it reads like a journalist wrote it rather than a club kid. There’s no humor, no depth. I realize the story is disturbing, a murder happens, but there is so much more. Having been in a different club scene, I can attest to the camaraderie, acceptance, and family that exists within these circles. Club kid James St. James’ Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland is well written. It’s funny. There is a style and flow and you are transported into the club scene. Owen uses the first person narrative, yet you never feel a part of the scene; instead you are always on the outskirts, watching. This disconnect results from his anger with Alig and the lack of legal interesest in the murder of a young person of color (who happened to be a drug dealer). His hesitancy to align himself with the club kids is understandable but his inability to write other than a long newspaper article is a bit disheartening, considering the subject. Owen misses the opportunity to explain why Alig and club life was so desirable and relevant for these misfits and outsiders. We never read about what brought these kids together and how they enjoyed each other’s company and supported one another.

He loses the capacity to understand his subjects and the friendships that arise from dancing every night, going to late night diners, bagels from bodegas, falling asleep in a cab with friends, drinking sprite mixed with cheap booze while walking down the street, rushing to the after hours party before they close the doors, riding the subway, leaving a club after the sun has come up, crashing on someone’s couch or floor, borrowing someone’s clothes because you haven’t been home in three days, talking for hours to someone you swear is your kindred soul but you never see again, and that first time you hang out with your club friends in daylight.

I shouldn’t judge the book based on my experiences, but I just can’t help it.

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C. D. Wofford, writer, friend, and love is gone

C. D. Wofford

We’d been dating a while and he didn’t want his polaroid taken. When I was going on vacation, he pulled me into the bathroom and made me take this polaroid.

Clay died. We dated when we were younger. We loved each other so very much. You never love someone like you did when you were 22. I hadn’t spoken to him since last year but I thought of him every day. The last time we spoke he wasn’t himself. And I sunk into a deep depression. I couldn’t face the reality.

I’ve missed him for some time. We broke up over a decade ago. We only dated for 9 months or so. But I really loved him and he loved me. We were on different paths. I was in grad school. He wanted to go to mortuary school. I worked at Urban Outfitters. He worked at a mortuary. But we both read. He wrote. I used to. And we both liked goth music. And Pulp. And of course, Bukowski. We’ll always have Bukowski.

He moved to Southern California and was in a terrible car accident and was in a coma for 28 days. Just like the movie. Randy, his brother and my roommate, and I went to visit him three times. Eventually he came out of the coma and I went to see him a fourth time with our friend Ronnie. Our friendship and caring for one another never ended. I saw him many times throughout the years; he stayed with Randy and I a few times; once to take care of me after my accident. And we used to talk on the phone and write each other. He wrote more than I.

People say, “he pushed them away. He pushed me away.” I said that last week. But that’s not accurate. Clay eventually became a more challenging person to be friends with. And so I stopped calling so much. I said I would write him. And I did, but not often, seldom. So seldom. I meant to, I really did. It makes me wince to think about it.

I’m not supposed to feel guilty. I didn’t. Not really. But then I didn’t cry. And I started to think about him more and more. And I would think about him typing away at my hand-me-down computer (which was a glorified word processor). He’d drink some crappy flavored vodka (because I was 22 and bought vanilla vodka with peach cranberry juice) and write while Fawn and I went to the club. He’d write until we came back with Randy.

The next day I would wake up and read and do homework while he drew. He smoked a lot. Too much. He drank. Too much. So did I. We were 22.

There are photos. So many. And I see how happy we were. And it’s nice to remember that.

I needed to find his writing and artwork. I knew I had some. I didn’t realize I had so much. It warmed my heart and broke it at the same time to see how much correspondence we once had. He asked me to edit, rate, and give my opinion of his writing. And I did, but not enough. And it destroys me to acknowledge that.

His other friends and I are also coming to terms with how prolific he was. He wrote so much. And he drew and painted. What do we do with it all? What is our responsibility to him? I can hear him saying, “Just burn it all—no, toss it because it’s not worth the match.” He was so wittily self-deprecating. But what do we do? He wrote because he needed to. He wrote short stories, plays, and poetry. He illustrated his writing and handcrafted books. I feel accountable to do something with his writing. And so do his friends. Perhaps it’s an art show of his work with some of us reading his writing. But even that doesn’t seem enough.


He did this zine, Bleeding Hearts with his friends.

And maybe that’s the problem too. Instead of feeling things, I am trying to problem solve and organize. But writing this is helping. Writing about him helps. And writing about his writing helps too.

When do I feel something beyond guilt? When does actual sadness begin and when do I stop trying to think rationally and just cry?

I’m not trying to mythologize him. He wasn’t without flaws but no one worth knowing is without flaws. He was a sensitive soul who cared a lot; too deeply sometimes. He saw things differently and created nonstop. And he helped me see things differently; hell he helped me see myself differently.

He had a crooked grin that would take over his whole face, and an a-line haircut that he would push up high. He listened to bands that were too goth even for me. He switched between wearing three piece suits to a bright orange jack-o-lantern t shirt and broken levis. He had the kindest eyes and the best laugh. There’s a hole in my heart. 





C.D. Wofford

He asked me while I was half asleep what I wanted him to paint. A fat pointy black cat with skinny legs.

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John Dies at the End by David Wong: Contemporary Surrealism?

John Dies at the End, David Wong
I had seen David Wong‘s John Dies at the End twice in the bookstore and considered buying it but opted not to. A friend recently recommended I read it so I bought it. I wasn’t sure if it was science-fiction or horror but soon found out it was more horror than sci-fi. I’m a much bigger fan of science fiction than horror so I was disappointed. The title is the main reason I wanted to read it. He tells you from the outset who is going to die and when. But then you wonder if it’s just a ploy to get you to pick up the book. Will John really die? And because this is horror with strange otherworldly things happening, does that mean he can come back from the dead?

I am drawn to linear books or at least books that wrap up tidily in the end. I don’t like loose ends; I don’t enjoy things left for interpretation in plot. I want to absolutely know what happened and how it transpired. And yet this book left me confused. I don’t really know that I fully understood everything.

David and John are best friends at a party and they both end up taking a drug, which has no official name, so they call it soy sauce based on its appearance. This drug allows them to see things others can’t and to move more quickly—speed of light quick. There’s a girl, there’s always a girl. I liked her but was disappointed in how her relationship evolved with David.

However, there are so many insanely nonsensical things that I kept thinking perhaps this is contemporary surrealism. David speaks to his best friend through a hot dog. How? Why? I don’t know. There’s a talking dog. There’s a creature made up of frozen meat cutlets. There’s this disgusting oversized maggot type creature that lives underneath a trailer in a hole dug deep into the ground, under the toilet. Faces appear on the television. They  can talk to the dead. There are zombies. There are too many illogical things happening at once. Things happen and you feel as though you’re in a dream.

Add to all this that the author’s name is David Wong, the same name of his narrator. The author is intentionally blurring the lines; he chose the name David Wong because those are the two most common names making him impossible to find. But why is he hiding? And why is the author using his character’s name? (On the back of the book, the author’s real name is listed, as Jason Pargin, editor in chief of

It’s confusing and I felt lost reading; I suspect I held that against John Dies at the End. But at the same time, I enjoyed this other world. Despite a talking dog and a floating jellyfish in a den I continued to read. This is the first of a trilogy; I’ve bought the second book, This Book is Full of Spiders. Ultimately, the reason I liked the book is that it scared me. While reading the book I was spooked out. I kept hearing things. When something fell in my bathroom, my heart began to race. I was scared to enter my room in the dark so I left the light on. Also, I had a Lost Boys moment, when I opened a bag of french fries and thought they were all squirming maggots. And this, on a hot day in the sun with a friend. All because of a book I was reading.


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Interview with Danielle, designer of the Don DeLillo stencil for California Bookstore Day


Photo courtesy of Zachary Ray. Follow him on Instagram

Photo by Zachary Ray. Follow him @


California Bookstore Day was May 3, 2014; an exciting day for booknerds all over the state. One of the greatest pieces offered was the stencil with a quotation from Don DeLillo‘s White Noise. I was so excited that a stencil had been made from a book quote, especially one that is so powerful and challenging, “California deserves whatever it gets.” I was fortunate to interview Danielle Hobart, who designed the stencil along with other collateral for the day.

How was your art selected?
Nepotism—Zack Ruskin (from Book Passage) and I are a couple and he was involved with Green Apple; starting this idea [California Bookstore Day] they worked together. It was Pete’s (of Green Apple)  idea and he’s been involved in the business for a really long time. I think he was inspired by record store day and realized that it could translate. Independent bookstores stay in touch and Zack was creating the website for California Bookstore Day and mentioned to Pete and Samantha that I would be super into working on something for them.

They had this idea of a stencil they wanted to make come to fruition and didn’t know how best to do that. And I was like yeah, I can totally how to do that. And I thought it was a great way to jumpstart my portfolio which since college, has been a little dormant.

So Pete from Green Apple and Sam wanted to do a stencil.
They conceived the idea and they wanted it to be this really great standout statement that would be about California, about reading, and bring those kinds of worlds together. The idea of using Don DeLillo and being a bad citizen is sort of the fire behind California Bookstore Day and just being a part of, being aware of your community, but also wanting to challenge it. We are in a position with amazon and books online where the bookstores have to fight to stay relevant and I think that the stencil embodies that sort of feistiness, as does the whole project. They had the quote, it was their baby, they wanted to go with that quote. Yeah unfortunately not my idea for the quote but I thought it was a great one to use.


How was it created?
It was just a really a simple graphic design job. Unfortunately, there was no grand brand scheme. I played around with a bunch of designs, we knew it would be laser cut which definitely affected how much detail we could put into it just because of the cost involved; laser cutting is really time consuming and expensive as soon as you get into minute details. So we had a rough draft where there was a white noise pattern under the quotation that we were crazy about but when we brought it to the woodshop or printers it just wasn’t going to be feasible because we didn’t want to charge people $50 so we had to stay in budget.

We went over a bunch of different design concepts and we wanted it to be a look that if you did see it stenciled on the street that you would have to check twice to see if it’s a real warning or not. You know when MUNI uses spray paint to say, “this is no longer a bus stop and we’re gonna ruin your day”.  Something that people would look at and think was sort of official. I wanted to keep it with nice clean lines and a modern look because that old army stencil font is just so tired.

How long did it take you to create?
I started working on it in December and we had the holidays to contend with which are  just a super busy time. So it was sort of in process for a few months, I think it really got done in April, but just a tweak here and there; definitely a learning experience.

What did you learn?
I learned about working with clients and the delicate balance between making a product that will sell and look good which thankfully I think we achieved and communicating some really original vision which is hard when you’re just trying to keep it to a very simple font and something that can be cut quickly and easily. One of the original fonts we had, the letters were hand-lined so when the printers looked at it they said it would take the machines a lot longer to follow it and to actually be able to cut it out so the cost would be exorbitant. So we had to just scrap any sort of hand done work which was a little  crushing, honestly, to be like, “oh dang, it can’t be something I drew” but maybe next year we’ll get there. We’ll get a boon from this year.

Where were the bookmarks and mini-posters made?
I worked with the printers at Geary Street print shop. They did my bookmarks and my posters and the stickers. I did all of that as well. I made the bookmark for California Bookstore Day, the one that is red on the back, and I did their flyers, and the sticker that’s on the package for the stencil. I think the wood shop was different. Those I did just as a sort of volunteer portion just to be involved and then the stencil. I graciously received a stipend because they got a grant from James Patterson.

James Patterson gave away a ton of money to a bunch of independent bookstores recently. And he gave California Bookstore Day their own grant to keep working, expanding, and growing. So they called me and said, “Great news, we can pay you!” That was really nice.

I remember when I saw James Patteson speaking about the importance of independent bookstores on the news.
It’s amazing, I guess one in ten books sold is a James Patterson book. He’s gotta be up there with Jesus, right? The Bible’s gotta be up there as well. But James Patterson makes so much money on his book sales and is so successful that he just wanted to return the favor to the industry that supports him. And it’s so amazing. He’s made such a huge difference for so many bookstores. Book Passage got a grant too so they were able to buy a van. They do offsite events with schools and I think it’s going to make it easier for them to do outreach.

I believe the stipulation is you must have a children’s section to apply for a grant.
Yeah, they do good events. Green Apple have their great [children's] section upstairs. And then California Bookstore Day had their great kids’ items that were really cute. One of the authors that did the joke book, she used to write Animorphs, those books that we read in elementarty school, it’s a sci-fi series about these kids who turn from children into animals. And they all had holographic covers. It was when Goosebumps was really big. She did the jokes, and the joke book is called Do You Smell Carrots?

How many stencils were produced?
I don’t know because the orders came in until the last minute.

Don DeLillo stencil, Jason Arnold, Stitches

I don’t know if they were replenishing throughout the day but  when I was there, there were only three or four on the stand at the Booksmith when I was there at 11am.
I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Green Apple party at the end of the weekend because they won Best Bookstore from Publishers Weekly which is fantastic, they’re doing so great. Paul and someone from City Lights was there. I met him and it was really fantastic to get to talk to him and we have a similar perspective of artists in the city, struggling. He said, “Oh man we should have ordered more. I saw it and I was so upset”. I think because we were working on it for so long, we had sort of a working proof to show bookstores when they were doing their ordering process but I used a jpeg of woodgrain, so it looked pretty silly but when people saw the finished product, they said we should have ordered more and I think we did them to order.

I bought one for my parents because I didn’t know if it would stick around or not. And I brought it to my parents and my mom said, “I don’t know what it means so I’m not going to put it up yet”. I said, “it means I did something great,” and she said, “I don’t want people coming to my house and seeing that if I don’t know what that means”. “Oh mom, ok, well I’ll get you a copy of the book.”

What did you study in school?
Fine art as well as modern literature. Literature from here and there, I suppose. And I focused mainly on painting and drawing but I also dabbled in photography and printmaking. I think printmaking would be something I would be more involved in if the spacial studio demands weren’t so high. You can get away with wood blocks in like kind of contained spaces but no one is giving me a press, you know? Since graduating, I’ve had to adjust to not having a big huge studio and managing a full time job (or two) at the same time. My focus is really switched to things that I can contain and do in my apartment or  do outside and take with me. I’ve done a lot of photography since leaving school and messing around on the computer and graphic design that I can do for friends and side projects; it’s a great way to feel like I’m still working on stuff.

Where did you go to school?
UC Santa Cruz.

Why is California Bookstore Day so important?
It’s a great way for  bookstores to connect with their consumers and customers and for bookstores to be relevant and in touch with their publishers. I know that a big part about getting these pieces made, was that the publishers had to agree that it was ok for the living authors—Neil Gaiman made this whole new book—that he would only be able to sell it in California for on this one day or starting on this one day. I’m sure they could have made a lot more money if they released it everywhere but it means so much more for them to do something special and to contribute to a culture of going to bookstores and reading and being excited about books. I think the fact that everyone did it and then these 93 California bookstore day participants were all like yeah, we’re gonna staff these events and we’re gonna come up with cool events to make people excited about coming. And the publishers all thought these are great ideas and products that we can make. And the fact that everyone came out and bought stuff and supported their bookstores was fantastic. It says something, that it’s relevant and important to have those sort of community connections. And I think it’s on trend. There’s a big push, at least in San Francisco, of having strictly neighborhood shopping nights and events, like street faire. I know Bold Italic does great neighborhood events, for us, it’s Clement Time, and Green Apple is always there with a keg. I don’t think there’s anything more luxurious than going to your bookstore and getting a beer and just walking around. There was beer at California bookstore day too and it was fantastic.

I didn’t know anyone there but I wanted to be a part of it. It was kind of funny to see all the introverts in one space because no one was talking to each other but everyone was smiling.
Because everyone was blissed out on the inside.

It was fun to hear everyone say what did you get? What did you get? I bought two copies of Neil Gaiman’s book, don’t worry it didn’t end up on ebay; it went to a lovely home in Canada.
I loved a week or two after the Bookstore Day, California Bookstore Day posted on facebook,

“Trying to buy a Neil Gaiman on ebay for $75? Don’t be an idiot, Come down to one of bookstores that still has it. It’s still just regular priced.” So they said, here’s the list of people that had it to begin with. The whole thing was that they could start selling it that day and if it remained it was just going to be for sale.

Who designed the actual logo for California Bookstore Day?
The girl who designed the bear and logo is also named Danielle and she works at Green Apple; she’s very sweet. I saw her yesterday and I said, oh hey, it’s you! She has an etsy shop that you can find on the California Bookstore Day facebook page.

Will California Bookstore Day expand and become national?
They began with California because it would have been unwieldy to take on more; it was a great test run to deal with one time zone. But we’re hoping that sooner than later it’s national instead. I think once they’re able to look at their numbers and see how impactful it was, people will be clamoring to join in. Because there are so many authors that could be involved. We’re really lucky in this area with a huge plethora of California writers to be involved.

Full disclosure: I am in a Professional Ladies Group which is where I met Danielle. A month later I posted a blog entry about California Bookstore Day and my prized Don DeLillo stencil. A mutual friend told me that Danielle designed the stencil so I asked her if I could do an interview. And she very kindly agreed.

Thank you to the gracious Zachary Ray for allowing me to use his awesome instagram pic of the stencil.


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A Portrait of My Father, the Reader, in Books

John Kobler, Capone
My dad read the newspaper everyday. The San Francisco Chronicle and The Pacifica Tribune. He always had one book he was reading. But he worked full time and likes to build things so he did not have too much time to read. Since he retired, his reading has increased exponentially. I wish I would have thought to chronicle the books he’s read before now.

While my dad loves reading, he does not believe that he needs to keep the book after reading it. In his mind, once he has read the book it has served its purpose and is now just taking up space. While I do not agree with him, I see the value and respect his opinion. Ideally one would read a book and remember everything about it, never needing to look at it again. Alas, my memory is poor and so I keep my books. My dad oftentimes gives his books to a relative, friend, or donates them. So these are just the books we had in the house when I decided to start documenting his books.

He likes to read non-fiction. Maybe 1% of his books are fiction. Whenever father’s day, Christmas, or his birthday come around I go to the bookstore and spend close to an hour searching for the right books. He loves history, biography, cultural affairs, and crime novels. Our interests are similar: most books I buy him I would like to read but choose not to only out of lack of time. And what’s great is he always is excited about the books I’ve bought him.

Poor Dad, he made a bookcase for himself that ended up in my old room; which I slowly started to take over even though I no longer live there.

While we never read books side by side on vacation or at home, he always promoted my love for reading. I knew that he considered reading a luxury and that it was a wonderful thing to have the time to read.


Note: some books that are missing are his many books on the Vietnam War. He was drafted when he was 18 and was a mechanic on planes. Those books he tends to give to his brother after reading them.

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