A New Century

Looking for Angel
Did king of club kids Michael Alig really kill Angel Melendez? Or is it all a hoax?

By Frank Owen

June 25, 1996

Standing over 40 stories tall, the Riverbank West apartment complex is a beacon of faux luxury amid the drab, workaday surroundings of the far west 40s. Until recently, the building's most notorious resident was kid Michael Alig, who lived in a two-bedroom, blond-wood floor apartment paid for by his then employer, the indicted club owner Peter Gatien. It was at the Riverbank, in the walled redbrick courtyard, with its circular drive and feeble attempt at a fountain, that Johnny Melendez last saw his brother Angel. Angel, a 26-year-old small-time drug dealer and friend of Alig's, had come to New York from Colombia 18 years ago. He had ambitions of becoming an actor-filmmaker, but in his late teens he fell in with a racy nightlife crowd and became a full-time scenemaker instead.

In early March, Johnny dropped Angel off at Riverbank after a rare get-together over a Chinese meal in Manhattan. The two brothers didn't hang out very often. Though they look alike physically, the worlds they moved in were vastly different. The conventionally attired Johnny is a salsa DJ who spins insmall Latino clubs in New Jersey. Angel, on the other hand, inhabited a trendier milieu; he was a conspicuous figure at the Gatien-owned Limelight, where he could often be spotted selling Special K and Ecstasy while wearing his trademark, Barbarella-style feather wings. . . .

Several confidential sources, only one of whom would speak on the record, claim that former Limelight promoter Michael Alig has told them that, his press denials notwithstanding, he did indeed kill his sometime roommate Angel earlier this year.

Notes on Girl Power
The Selling of Softcore Feminism

by Joy Press

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  • September 23, 1997

    From the moment do-me feminism was coined (by a male Esquire writer) in 1994, it was inevitable that a magazine like Jane would be born. Although the term was reviled by the women it supposedly defined—attractive, prosex feminists of the Naomi Wolf genus—it did expose a growing trend among young women: a backlash against the perceived puritanism of traditional feminism, and a move toward the politics of pleasure.

    But do-me feminism also described an emerging niche in the marketplace: young, free, and single 18- to 34-year-old women. Targeting this demographic, Jane—the monthly that made its debut last week—is the grown-up sister of Sassy, Jane Pratt's legendary teen magazine of the late '80s. Sassy had a serious agenda: to break through the sickly sweet fodder of Seventeen and its ilk, and put teenage girls in touch with the pleasure principle. Says Debbie Stoller, coeditor of the zine Bust and one of many then-twentysomething women who guiltily enjoyed reading Sassy, "The other teen magazines were about 'just say no' to everything, whether it was french fries or dick. Sassy was all about yes—the older you get, there's more and more things you can say yes to, and isn't that cool."

    Jane arrives with little of this heady idealism. With more than $5 million of Fairchild money riding on it, Pratt's not likely to make many daring moves. At an idle glance, it looks a lot like your standard women's magazine: beauty and fashion advice, and endless ads featuring models so skinny it's hard to see where their internal organs might fit. Yet, within the narrow confines of the genre—one pretty much defined by its ability to stoke female anxieties and insecurities—Jane makes some subtle inroads. It avoids old chestnuts like "How to lose 15 pounds in 10 days," or "How to trap a man," instead continuing Sassy's emphasis on fun and independence with first-person accounts of a nudist retreat, kickboxing, and the hazardous life of a female pirate-radio DJ. The tone is feisty and the attitude is encapsulated in the subscription card: "Ever notice how most magazines are either for teenyboppers or baby boomers—filled with lame stuff about how to get a life? Hey, you've got a life! You're in your prime."

    In her debut letter from the editor, Pratt, the perpetual teenager, admits that her first choice for a magazine name was Girlie. The appeal of that word is no fluke. Girl power has come to represent a whole new school of softcore feminism for thousands of (mostly) white, hip, middle-class young women. Girl reserves the right to think about clothes and makeup, but she still expects to be taken seriously. Girl isn't afraid to be obnoxious or snarly for fear she'll be seen as unfeminine. Girl wants a boyfriend but values her female friendships more. Girl knows she's as good as a guy, but she's proud to be girlie and to wield her girl power. Independent but not adult, pursuing a career but not exactly a "career woman," fierce but feminine, girl is a mess of contradictions and conflicts, sure. But when you get right down to it, she expects a lot from the world. As the online girlzine Minx puts it: "Can we please be smart AND want to get laid? We propose: Yes. We demand satisfaction. Meaning: Don't waste our time. Stay true to your word. Equal pay for equal work. And make us come."
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    The Luminous Beam
    by Vince Aletti

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  • May 26, 1998

    "State of emergency is where I want to be," Björk sang over and over in her encore at Hammerstein Ballroom last week, but that's just where she'd been for the previous hour and a half. Working her vocal range like a DJ scratching and fading vinyl, she never merely sang, she shaped noise. She shouted, she whispered, she crooned, she shredded lyrics and rewove them in midair. She moved beyond language, beyond words to create a buzzing, burbling, weirdly thrilling soundscape—a place you could lose yourself in for days. "I don't recognize myself," she sang, and we knew just what she meant. In a funny little white leather Jeremy Scott dress with pleated, bat-wing sleeves, she was Alice in Wonderland as Merlin the Magician, lost in spaces that only she could have imagined. Bj has always seemed to inhabit a world of her own, part twee fantasyland, part gnarly fun house.
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    The AIDS crisis is over–for me
    Why I think it's time for new attitudes about risk, charity, and letting go
    By Dan Savage

    February 25, 1997

    About five years ago, I had sex with this guy I met at a party. In the bathroom of his apartment, I noticed a dozen bottles of pills—all familiar AIDS meds. He lived alone. The fact that he had AIDS was not an issue, as we didn't do anything unsafe. The sex was fine, but the events before and after were weird. When we would find ourselves standing next to each other in a bar, we would pretend not to recognize each other. Very hostile vibes. At those times, I would comfort myself by thinking, "Well, he'll be dead soon." And when I did stop seeing him around, I assumed he'd died.

    Then two weeks ago, at four in the morning, in another time zone, I'm eating pancakes in an all-night restaurant with my friend Dave, when in walks the guy with the AIDS meds in his bathroom. We were the only other people in the restaurant. It was awkward and uncomfortable, and all I could think as we sat there eating was, ''Jesus Christ, why aren't you dead?'' I felt cheated. Of all the people who survived, why him? Now, he's probably going to live a long life, and the two of us could go on running into each other again and again for the next 30 years.

    Of course, I'm not so evil as to wish anyone dead for such a stupid, selfish reason as my dining comfort. I'm honestly glad this guy is not dead. Sort of. I only relate this story to illustrate a point: A lot of the things we took for granted during the AIDS crisis, such as the eventual deaths of people with AIDS, are going to have to be revised. Why?

    Well, in the last 12 months, everything about AIDS has changed. Because, as you've surely heard, the AIDS crisis is over.

    Thanks to new drugs, men and women near death just a few short months ago are running marathons, dumping boyfriends, being dumped by boyfriends who'd been quietly looking forward to being widows, and checking out of AIDS hospices. . . .

    Some people don't want you to know about this end-of-AIDS business. This kind of talk is premature, they insist, and dangerous . . .

    They're right to be afraid. ''The End of AIDS,'' real or imaginary, is going to ''impact behavior choices'' in bedrooms and legislatures, and affect people's decisions about volunteering time and donating money. They're right about something else too, something at once very important and utterly meaningless: AIDS ain't over. People are still getting infected, and the vast majority of people with AIDS are still going to die, drugs or no drugs.

    Free Villy
    James Ledbetter  

    February 20, 1996

    What a perfectly postmodern conundrum: thousands, probably tens of thousands of people who know nothing about The Village Voice now know that it is going to be circulated for free. (On Monday, Rush Limbaugh used the development to proclaim victory over liberalism.) Last week, the few hundred people who know a lot about the Voice from the inside were not feeling much more enlightened. I won't speak for the business side, but my colleagues in editorial are confused, highly skeptical, and a little scared. Here's a distillation of reactions:

    It's going to hurt our bottom line, and therefore our journalism. People don't need to know a damn thing about publishing or business to know that it's rare for a successful, profitable paper to one day declare without warning: "You know that $3 million or so in cash generated by newsstand sales? Forget it. We don't need it." This makes people think the conversion is a desperate move or that, at best, the missing chunk of profit is going to be taken out of the staff. Why spend extra money to, say, cover the presidential primaries in 2000 if there are no extra readers to attract? Why pay writers and editors a decent salary when all you need to do is fill space? . . .

    For all those well-placed fears, however, I hold on to the notion that this dramatic move may yield positive results . . . I have friends who've bought the Voice less often since the price went up to $1.25. Not destitute friends, merely busy people who already have too much to read and took the price hike as one more reason not to pick up the Voice. I'd like to believe that some or most of those people will become weekly readers again, and that they symbolize a broader potential readership that has never experienced the barbs of Barrett, the pop dialectics of Powers, the soul erudition of Tate.

    Father of the Movement
    How Al Sharpton rose from 'racial arsonist' to racial healer, and changed New York City
    By Peter Noel

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  • April 6, 1999

    It has been six hours since the Reverend Al Sharpton orchestrated the largest multi-ethnic sit-in of his 15-day campaign of civil disobedience in front of the New York Police Department headquarters.

    On this evening of March 26, Sharpton's mentor, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and 215 other people have been arrested protesting the police killing of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo, and booked and released. The throng of New Yorkers—choked with rage built up from the antiapartheid movement of the 1980s—pushed the number of demonstrators who already have been charged with blocking the building's entrance over the 1000 mark.

    Sharpton, wide-eyed and restless, is on an emotional high, pacing the second-floor office of his Harlem-based National Action Network, flipping channels and pumping his fists at reports highlighting the NYPD's double standard for blacks and whites. The news is all good; it is beyond anything the man who is being propelled to the leadership of a growing civil disobedience movement had imagined could be possible.

    There, on NY1, is the somber-faced Police Commissioner Howard Safir, grudgingly conceding that his predominantly white Street Crime Unit—four of whose members were expected to be arraigned this week on charges that they murdered Diallo in a hail of gunfire last month—perhaps had become a law unto itself and had to be corralled.
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    Making the Cut
    Kara Walker
    By Jerry Saltz

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  • November 24, 1998

    No one gets out of Kara Walker's world alive, not even the artist. In one of her characteristic, nearly life-size black silhouettes in cut paper, a naked black girl kneels to suck the cock of a white slaver. We're already in deep water. He has the claws and paws of Satan, the jaw of an ape. His cock goes into her mouth and out her ass. The image is titled Successes.

    A lot of people hate Kara Walker's work and her successes. In certain circles, there is a veritable fatwa on her head. She's too black for some, not enough for others. The African American sculptor Betye Saar sent out hundreds of letters warning that Walker's "images may be in your city next," and signing herself "an artist against negative black images." Last spring, at a two-day Harvard symposium convened to address issues of stereotypical imagery in art, Walker (absent) and her work were attacked as being especially reprehensible. To these people, Kara Walker is a demon: the black girl in Successes who stoops to accommodate the white art world. Funny thing is, Walker would probably find these readings somewhat on the mark. . . .  

    A generational abyss of metaphysical proportions comes into high relief around Walker. Older blacks feel that images of mammies, pickaninnies, and Sambos are irredeemably evil—that they cannot speak except with malice and hate. Younger people assume all images are unstable projections, subject to change. As always, both camps ignore how good art can lift you above the problem and change lives.
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    Bin Laden 3 years before 9-11
    One Man's Private Jihad

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  • Osama Bin Ladin, the main suspect in the East Africa embassy bombings, has been linked to the World Trade Center explosion and other terrorist acts aimed at Americans. The Voice looks at the man with the motive and the means for carrying out an international holy war.

    By Frank Smyth & Jason Vest

    August 25, 1998

    Though the government and the fourth estate have a notorious history of jumping the gun when it comes to blaming "Middle East radicals" for big explosions (recall Oklahoma City and TWA Flight 800), fingering Bin Ladin for a role in the [East Africa] embassy bombings is by no means unreasonable—and not just because one of the reportedly confessed bombers has admitted to being a follower. Not only does Bin Ladin have the motive, means, and opportunity, but in light of his personal jihad, the bombings are thoroughly understandable. While Bin Ladin is neither a mainstream Muslim nor the paragon of sanity (one consulting CIA psychologist's assessment holds that he is a "malignant narcissist" who views people as objects either to be killed or protected), if he is responsible for the bombings, it's imperative, Middle East experts say, that his actions and motivations be examined not just in terms of a terrorist threat, but in the context of current Arabian politics, U.S. foreign policy, and Islamic theology.

    "If this was done by Bin Ladin—who is definitely a fringe character—part of what we should be focusing on is what the bombings are reflective of in the Islamic world vis-à-vis the U.S. right now," says Sam Husseini, former spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
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    To Tell the Truth
    What if Clinton had said he loved those blowjobs?
    by Karen Cook

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  • September 1, 1998

    It's hard not to be furious with Bill Clinton. Not because he fucked—or sucked, or got sucked by, or spurted all over—Monica, or because he cheated on Hillary, or because he lied to the country. The First Adulterer's real crime is that he didn't take advantage of his wrecked presidential image by also blowing American sexual hypocrisy to smithereens.

    Read his lips: "Yes, I had sex, I enjoyed it, I did exactly what I wanted to do, and you all should be so lucky. You guys wanna impeach me for getting a blowjob? Go right ahead." If Clinton had dared to say something so nakedly honest, maybe we wouldn't have had to ask if he was merely asserting his masculinity when he decided to bomb Afghanistan and Sudan. Lies and half-truths can get ugly, especially if you have to send friends, colleagues, and an entire government out to cover up on your behalf.

    Integrity, alas, has always been far too revolutionary a concept for politics. Some pols even like to argue that it's detrimental to effective leadership. Many of Clinton's signature compromises were built on sexual hypocrisy (just ask Joycelyn Elders or gays in the military). Even after admitting to Gennifer Flowers and dodging Paula Jones, he's still making a public show of going to church, Hillary in one hand and a Bible in the other.

    Clinton bows his head about apparently consensual sex at the same time that a whorehouse is busted in New Jersey and half the businessmen in town are on the premises. When New York cops are getting caught using a brothel. And as ever, politicians are keeping mistresses on the side, or they're ditching their dying wives, or they're really gay, but so what? The joy of being a guy is getting to do what a guy gets to do. . . .

    Indeed, the only time male sex gets called into question is when it somehow fucks up a career. On those rare occasions when the luck of the double standard runs out, the rest of the male establishment snaps to attention. If a guy needs nookie so bad it's about to cost him his job, something freakish must be going on: it's for moments like this that terms like sex addict and compulsion were invented. But Clinton's no sex addict: he's just another guy who thinks success gives him an inalienable right to whatever he desires.
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