The Sober Bunch

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

In the ultimate test of faith, Superstar, after a month of sobriety, had a gig in— of all places—Amsterdam.

But the nightlife business can make it almost impossible to stay clean. Professional clubbers are given fistfuls of drink tickets and offered drugs as if they were hors d'oeuvres—sometimes even in lieu of cash. Justine D., who has seen a guy shoot up heroin in the DJ booth while she was trying to spin, recalls when an out-of-town promoter palmed her a bag of coke as a bonus: "She said, 'This is for you. I don't know whether you do it, but thank you so much.' That makes me feel so uncomfortable. This is illegal and I don't want anything to do with it."

The normalcy of substances can make abstinence, or even moderation, difficult, if not impossible. "If you like Ho Hos and you're sitting at a table and there's a plate full of Ho Hos, you're probably going to eat them," says Sunshine. "If there's a plate full of Ho Hos following you around 24-7, like what essentially happens when you're a musician, you're gonna be eating a lot of Ho Hos."

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

Over chocolate cake at Le Gamin in the East Village, Superstar says, "I love free things! I get in the fucking car of the promoter, and it's like, 'What do you want? What do you need?' And I'm like, 'Oh my God, a kid in a candy store.' I get backstage and there's like a bottle of champagne —and it's always about champagne too. And you know, I'm 10 thousand trillion times more sparkly now when I'm clean than I ever was when I was drinking champagne and I was sloppy. Totally."

She takes a bite out of the gooey center of the cake, mixes it with the vanilla ice cream, and sighs heavenward. "Larry. Larry fucking saved my life," she says. "So I love Larry. He just told me, 'You can do this. There's a lot of people that are sober. You don't have to live like that anymore.' "

Larry Tee is making a cappuccino in his Williamsburg loft. His dog Nelson, a rambunctious white-and-brown rat terrier, bounces like a jumping bean around the kitchen while Tee heats up milk and pours a round of espresso into his mug. The ceaseless self-promoter, known to the most recent batch of clubbers for electroclash, is never one to pass up credit for a trend. "I invented this!" he quips in his trademark squeaky voice, only partially joking. Tee helped Princess kick and lent support toBOB*; he takes friends to NA or AA meetings. Sometimes people ask him about the meetings and never go.

During Disco 2000's heyday, Tee lived above Twilo, another debaucherous super- club of a bygone era, where he enticed pretty straight boys with pills in exchange for thrills. In those days, he'd wake up at two in the afternoon, crawl to the post office, do a bump of ketamine, and call it a successful business day. "I was wasted and pathetic," he says. "I couldn't make music."

Tee says that after he quit drugs, his career went from being on life support— provided by the royalties of his biggest hit, RuPaul's "Supermodel"—to the kind of career every DJ dreams of: getting songs in movie soundtracks and jet-setting around the world. Now he plays not one but three of the city's biggest parties every week. Those who still indulge, he says, are missing out on the most fabulous moments of their lives. "They won't appreciate it when it's really gorgeous, when life is just sumptuous," he says. "They're sleeping before their big gig in Brazil, like with a million people wanting to meet them and fuck them. And they've got their hands in their heads going, 'Oh, my life is so hard.' "

He makes another cup of coffee. "One of the fears that I had is that getting clean would be miserable, that it'd be like the end of the road," he says. "The party's over, because it's so much a part of being a rebel and all my rock-star heroes were drug addicts."

With that he echoes a common sentiment and an accepted fallacy—propagated by popular wisdom and the work of bohemian heroes like William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Hunter S. Thompson—that the best art is made under the influence, that cool is derived from drug counterculture. So many musical subcultures are intertwined with drug use; so many records are made high or are best experienced while high. Try to separate the druggy associations from records like Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction (an hour-long love song to dope), Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, the Velvet Underground's "Heroin," and every jazz record ever made. And would the rave revolution ever have happened without Ecstasy? Tommie Sunshine admits that his first drug experience was sitting at home stoned, watching The Wall. "So stereotypical," he says.

"I allowed myself to be an addict because I saw it advertised as part of the counterculture that was part of my being an outsider," says Kenny Kenny. "Really, in the end, that was a fool's game."

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