The Sober Bunch

Life's a Party for New York Nightlife's Sober Hipsters

Hill, who cribs from Dean Martin and makes alcohol a part of his shtick, adds, "When your social life is your business, there's no separation of boundaries. It's all mixed together. I never thought I'd be able to quit. It's so part of my show."

In John Leland's book Hip: The History, he writes about the connection between hipsters, counterculture, and drugs. Hipsters deliberately set themselves apart from society: They dress differently, listen to edgier music, and do drugs. Writes Leland: "Drugs are the product, hip is the marketing plan. Decades before the advent of lifestyle advertising, hip linked drug use to a lifestyle that is sexy, rebellious, and streetwise. . . . To be hip or high is to be outside the authority of church, state, work, school, and the law. . . . It is the elitism of last resort."

But what if everyone is doing drugs? What if being high becomes the status quo and loses its mystique? In the club world, it's the clean kids who are the rebels.

From left, top row: Kenny Kenny, The World FamousBOB*, Michael Cavadias; middle: Justine D., Murray Hill, Steven Lewis; bottom: Princess Superstar, Tommie Sunshine, Larry Tee
photo: Josh Gosfield
From left, top row: Kenny Kenny, The World FamousBOB*, Michael Cavadias; middle: Justine D., Murray Hill, Steven Lewis; bottom: Princess Superstar, Tommie Sunshine, Larry Tee

"My life is so much more exciting," says Larry Tee. "I get to travel around the world. I get to make music with my idols. Really, I can do whatever I want to now, but I'm not high. It was just the opposite of what I thought. Because the culture said, 'If you're cool, you get really high, and if you're lucky, you get can get high all the time, because then you're really living.' But I found out that that was the big lie. Once I got clean, my life really started."

Mike Nouveau
photo: Nikola Tamindzic/
If you believe Tommie Sunshine, there are only three reasons people go to clubs and bars: "They either go out for the music, which is incredibly rare," he says, "they go out to get laid, or they go out to get fucked-up."

As we talk in a café near Union Square, George Michael, the formerly pretty pop star who once crooned "I Want Your Sex," is on TV after being arrested for alleged possession of pot and GHB in London. He looks bloated and is nearly unrecognizable.

Everyone who's quit drinking or doing drugs has a bottom. Michael may not have reached his bottom yet, but Sunshine recounts his: "After doing five days of South by Southwest and seven at the Winter Music Conference, bumper to bumper—after 12 days of drinking till you black out and snorting half of Bolivia, when you feel like a piano has been dropped on your face every morning for 12 mornings—at what point is it enough?"

For Princess Superstar, it was after a three-week tour. She'd stopped drinking but, using some perverse reasoning, still did drugs. "I was like, 'I'm an alcoholic, but yeah, pass the blow,' " she says. "I did drugs every day. I was on codeine, all this shit, and mushrooms. I recorded fucked-up. I played live fucked-up. I DJ'd fucked-up."

Larry Tee calls himself "a classic garbage head"—somebody who does everything. Combining "ketamine and crystal meth is a recipe for the inside of Satan's bowels," he says. "I literally ran to St. Vincent's once all the way from Twilo. Literally ran."

Addiction is the white elephant in rooms filled with white lines. Not even the recent drug-related deaths of two college students, Maria Pesantez and Mellie Carballo, or the passing of high-profile hipsters like skateboarder Harold Hunter give clubbers pause. Murray Hill, who calls himself "the hardest working middle-aged man in show business," unsurprisingly counted beer as his vice of choice. "I hit rock bottom eight, nine times." he says. "I would tell my therapist, 'Oh, I had seven, eight beers. It was a pretty light night out.' And she was horrified. But that's normal for us in the nightlife scene. You lose sight of the real world. You're going home tanked in the cab and the sun's coming up and everyone else is waiting for the bus to go to work."

BOB*, who started drinking when she was 14, says that after a while, partying loses its luster: "By the time I was 25, I felt like I'd been waiting in line for 12 years for the same ride."

So nine years ago, she stopped waiting in line. Now she goes to "meetings." Like Princess Superstar,BOBtook a structured self-help path to sobriety. Murray Hill, Sunshine, and Kenny Kenny went their own way. But whether they did it themselves or in support groups, going out sober means relearning how they live and work. For some people, getting sober means leaving bars behind, but DJs and promoters don't have the option of staying home, nor would they want to.

"I go to bars to socialize. I go to bars to celebrate life, to see my friends perform. I go to bars to perform, myself," saysBOB*.

After Kenny Kenny swore off his favorites, whiskey and beer, 11 years ago, he went back to work. "It was like hyper-realism," he says. "I normally go to the bar. Now I'm not going to the bar. Now I pass the bar. Now I don't have a bottle in my hands. So now I have to walk to the club without the beer, and now I go to the club, so what do I do? It was like learning to walk."

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