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Pierre the Frog:
The Art of the Club

[1]7,940 words

Peter Gatien
The Club King: My Rise, Reign, and Fall in New York Nightlife
Seattle: Little A, 2020

Driving with my father one day, we passed an imposing building, the Cornwall headquarters of the Orange Lodge, the Grand Order of British North America. “What’s that, papa?” I asked.

“It’s like a club,” he answered dismissively.

“A club,” I repeated, catching his tone and turning his response over in my mind. “Why aren’t we members?”

“They don’t want people like us.”

— Peter Gatien

In Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, the titular Eugene Henderson, despite his worldly success, is tormented by an inner voice crying out “I want, I want, I want.” Had he not been scooped by Bellow’s 1959 novel, Peter Gatien could have used the same line as a refrain in this, his life story. [1] [2]

In what is perhaps one last manifestation of an excellent business sense, Gatien has picked a great moment to present his story to the public. His French-Canadian people are once more ruling his homeland’s roost, with another Trudeau, Justin rather than his father Pierre (another Pierre!) residing at 24 Sussex Park; [2] [3] his mother, Margaret, was a fixture at the pre-Gatien clubworld of Studio 54. COVID has made the urban nightlife — already struggling — a memory, fond or not, [3] [4] and Gatien can provide the curious with a look at New York’s last great period from the ultimate insider’s perspective. And in their very different ways, both Donald Trump and Rudolph Giuliani were an integral part of that night world, long before RussiaGate brought them together; back then, of course, it was Giuliani who was the dirty trickster, and Gatien the target.

And speaking of targets, one final, post-publication synchronicity is the death of Michael Alig [5], whose high profile hijinks — climaxing with the murder and dismemberment of a drug dealer — gave the Feds what they needed to end the reign of the “One-Eyed King of Clubland.” [4] [6]

Constant Readers will recall that I looked at Gatien’s clubworld before, based only on a documentary thereon, [5] [7] a fictionalized movie about Alig [6] [8] and my own extremely tenuous memories of New York in the 90s, [7] [9] so I was eager to dive into Gatien’s own account. In those previous essays on Gatien and Halston, I had presented both men as exemplifying the qualities of Aryan entrepreneurs and had traced their downfalls to the equally archetypal machinations of non-Aryans; Gatien’s own account provides additional documentation and confirmation (mostly unintentional) of both points.

The 18 chapters are divided rather lopsidedly into two parts, the first three-quarters as “Cornwall to Chelsea” and the last quarter as “Busted in Brooklyn.” None the less, it really falls into three parts, the titular rise, career, and fall, which would have comprised an equally symmetrical one quarter, one half, and one quarter. Perhaps Gatien, or his ghostwriter or editor, liked the alliteration but couldn’t come up with a third example; I know the feeling.

When I was a very small boy,
Very small boys talked to me.
Now that we’ve grown up together
They’re afraid of what they see. [8] [10]

Joseph Jean Pierre Gatien debuted in the by no means fabulous world of small-town Canada in 1951. Cornwall, Ontario, was a mill town where the atmos’ was permeated by the sulfuric stench of the paper mill, and cancer rates were among the highest in Canada.

You’ll note the name; to working-class poverty was added the occasional sting of being a French-Canadian living in what was still an entirely Anglo-ruled country. [9] [11] “Two circumstances, poverty and bigotry, dominated my early days.”

This being the mid-50s, however, there was a window on a wider world: TV.

I was allowed to stay up and watch Bonanza. It was a wildly entertaining lineup chock-full of Western Civilization ideals like capitalism, consumerism, and a breakneck work ethic. Those television shows served as my window to the south, and the vision of American domestic bliss they presented became an obsession.

Sitcom happiness was American and upper class, two qualities that were inextricably linked in my young mind. I bought into the hype, hard. Those episodes ought to have had warning labels, they were so addictive, seductive, and intoxicating, like cultural cocaine.

Gatien provides many warm and appreciative vignettes of his loving parents and extended family, and their struggles to get by, but he saw no future in the post office, from which his father came home a silent zombie each day, or one of the town’s mills or factories, where people, including members of his own family, had a tendency to lose a hand or be nearly burned alive. [10] [12]

I was surrounded by hardworking men and women, and I admired them, but I know I wanted to escape joining their ranks. [11] [13]

He was, as he says, a frog in a small pond; how to escape? His first attempt, on a second-hand tricycle at age three, was not a success.

Now here, as is my wont, I’d like to step back and bring in a little of the mid-century New Thought lecturer Neville Goddard. Neville, as I’ve mentioned in several articles, taught that we are to visualize the end, not the means:

People don’t realise, not a thing is happening by accident. It’s all unseen causation. So you actually move yourself into states emotionally, and you dwell in [them] just for a split second. And you jump back — or you think you jump back. You did. But the bridge is now about to appear, and across the bridge of incidents you walk, leading up to the fulfilment of what you did unwittingly. [12] [14]

You are relieved of all responsibility to make it so, because as you imagine and feel that it is so, your dimensionally larger self determines the means.

Do not think for one moment that someone is going to be injured in order to make it so, or that someone is going to be disappointed. It is still not your concern. I must drive this home. Too many of us, schooled in different walks of life, are so concerned about the other.

You ask, “If I get what I want will it not imply injury to another?” There are ways you know not of, so do not be concerned. [13] [15]

Although as we’ll see, Gatien is as willing as I am to read archetypal motifs into his life, none of this spooky Neville stuff is a part of his narrative. [14] [16] I mention it only to give some background to the unlikely “bridge of incidents” that will lead him out of Cornwall and continue to characterize his business success.

At age six, in first grade at St. Jean Bosco school, a broken broomstick used in a playground baseball game sails out of the batter’s hand and hits the pitcher, Pierre. Unlike Ralphie in A Christmas Story, the sharp, jagged end really does tear his eye out.

Even more improbably, his parents decide to sue the Catholic Church for negligence — the Church! In Quebec! Sacre bleu! — eventually winning a settlement to the tune of what would be around a hundred grand today; available to Gatien when he turned eighteen.[15] [17] As he says, “The whole incident serves as an easy parable about the twists and turns that life can sometimes take.”

Gatien later notes that he was happy to let his first PR person dream up the story of a childhood hockey accident, rather than the all-American sport of baseball; this was the story in my previous essay, relying on the film Limelight (Corben, 2011), where even the Church’s involvement was hushed up. I also picked up and ran with the Wotan archetype, as many did at the time, from news reports — “A single cool, watchful eye looks over all. The eye of Peter Gatien, the Lord of Nightlife” — to rap songs: “Running New York’s night scene/with one eye closed like Peter Gatien.” [16] [18]

“There exist a surprising number of myths, proverbs and anecdotes floating around that relate to the loss of an eye,” Gatien notes, but although he mentions Homer and Freud, Wotan is absent. Nevertheless, he acquired some wisdom in the loss of his eye [19], which he elucidates through a song by Sam the Sham: “Oh That’s Good, No That’s Bad”: what may seem like a bad circumstance can flip to something good, and vice versa. [17] [20]

Losing an eye was, of course, bad — but as I got older, the wound was something that set me apart, gave me an identity. In high school I gradually switched from the glass eye to an eye patch, which I hoped would prove a cooler and more rebellious accessory. When I first started wearing patches, my mother sewed each one, fashioning them out of black suede, two and three-quarter inches by two and a half, tied with a string of black threaded silk. I instantly became a member of a select fraternity of eye-patch wearers, which included James Joyce, Bazooka Joe, Sammy Davis Jr., David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, and Snake Plissken, the hard-ass hero of the movie Escape from New York.

The eyepatch would come in handy later, but first, the settlement money would be the key to his escape from Cornwall.

I feel so extraordinary
Something’s got a hold on me
I get this feeling I’m in motion
A sudden sense of liberty.

[21]

You can buy James O’Meara’s book Green Nazis in Space! here. [22]

After wasting a year at an Ontario college, listening to rock and taking drugs, [18] [23] he returns to Cornwall and begins to take a closer look at his fiancé’s family, the Abrahams. Vaguely described as emerging from “a vaguely Middle Eastern background,” the Abrahams were the local high achievers, owning “a hotel, a bowling alley, and one of Cornwall’s tallest buildings, an eight story office tower,” as well as “a large house in . . . the nicest part of town . . . their own boat and a vacation cottage.”

For a long time I didn’t realize that the Abraham empire was built on sand. All their holdings were heavily leveraged; every property they had was mortgaged to the hilt. I’d come to discover that the family didn’t actually own anything — the banks did.

Sheila’s father, Ted, and his brothers dashed frantically from enterprise to enterprise, always moving, never standing still. They were almost fiendish in their efforts to develop new schemes to prop up the old. [19] [24]

The Abrahams became my anti–role models, with Sheila’s father and three uncles serving as examples of how not to succeed in business. I studied them accordingly.

The lesson I took was that the true essence of the capitalist was the hustle, not the score.

Peter Gatien had learned the great secret of Donald Trump: all you need to be a billionaire is 100 million, and 10 banks willing to loan you the rest. Or, in his case, take a couple grand, borrow ten thousand from your uncle at 15% interest, and open a teen-friendly (with rock and incense) jeans store. Success!

But then: “I could have just continued on, with my future as a prosperous clothier ensured. But restlessness set in, an agitated sense of incompleteness that would become familiar.” I want, I want, I want.

Possessed by “the Alec Baldwin Fantasy of Club Owning,” [20] [25] calculating that he could sell beer at five times the markup of pants, and realizing that the only way anyone in uptight, Presbyterian Ontario could break into the hospitality business is to take over an existing liquor license, he then turns his eye (as he says) to the Lafayette House, a dump in the worst part of town that “did its best to drag the neighborhood down even further.” Selling The Pants Loft and using the proceeds to convince a bank and the Canadian government to finance a loan, Gatien now owned a building that came with a liquor license.

Gutted and renovated in 36 hours, the rechristened Aardvark had a spectacular opening week, thanks to the signing of a little-known band that had just released its first album: Rush [26]. Again, the bridge of incidents. The club will become a regular stop for touring bands, and Gatien will become a millionaire.

Around 1976, Gatien begins to sense a change in the business: with the rise of disco, “the customer is the show,” and decides to double down, “taking a risk on a Titanic-size discothèque that made the Aardvark look like an actual anteater. To go big, I had to think big.”

He finds what he needs in Miami, “the anti-Canada,” where, in a scenario that seems taken from Donnie Brasco, a half dozen Long Island mooks “had taken over a German beer hall that specialized in drag shows” and christened it “Rum Bottoms.” When Gatien walks in, two of them are having a fistfight.

Another gut job — “I thought of the transaction as ‘buying the box’ — purchasing the club’s structure, the physical plant, the location” [21] [27] — replacing everything with state-of-the-art sound and lighting. And the money?

We convinced the Canadian government to grant a million-dollar loan to [Paul Sciotte, the lighting guy’s] Montreal-based company. In the interest of stimulating the national economy, and not caring that the loan would actually be used to remodel a club in America, Ottawa handed us the money, amortized over five years at over $16,000 a month.

And again the bridge of improbable incident:

I was the owner of a megaclub in South Florida the year John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever hit America like a Mack Truck in platform shoes.

Our biggest break came when I booked Village People, four months in advance of their actual appearance at the club. Their Macho Man album hadn’t dropped yet when I signed them, but I knew that the cowboy/hardhat/cop/leatherman gimmick was great, simply because everyone likes to dress-up [22] [28]. . . . Four months later, when the Village People finally hit Limelight, “Macho Man” was in nonstop rotation on local radio and I had the hottest act in the country.

Lightning struck not twice but again and again. The Trammps had appeared at Limelight in 1977, the week before Easter, when “Disco Inferno” was in such heavy rotation that it was being played every tenth song. [23] [29]

Remember the German beer hall and the drag shows? Gatien’s arrival coincided with their biggest event, a drag awards show: “’Hey, it’s a big party,’ one of the owners told me. ‘It always makes a lot of money.’” Petite Pierre’s provincial mind was blown, and he learned another lesson: “if you don’t have a healthy percentage of gay people in a nightclub, it turns into a boring hetero meat market.”

Gatien, in a kind of transcendental deduction, realized that if the audience was now the show, then the show itself has its own show: “Even though no one readily admits it, the mundane reason anyone comes out to a club is for people-watching.” [24] [30] He recruited a group of regulars to showcase on the dancefloor:

They functioned as club kids before club kids existed, showing up every weekend, dressed to the nines and fiercely loyal to the place. In exchange for me waiving the nominal door charge, they essentially provided free entertainment. [25] [31]

Atlanta was where Gatien really found his calling:

Atlanta Limelight was large enough, and the money flowed freely enough, that, for the first time in my career, I could really allow my imagination full rein. We did crazy-ass shit, lowering dancers from the ceiling to the dance floor in chains, setting up cabana tents in place of VIP rooms, throwing monthly events when we would perform a complete, multithousand-dollar makeover on the whole club to bring the décor into line with an established theme.

In short, the club as Gesamtkunstwerk [32]:

[We] produced tableaus that were by turns funny, surreal, and disturbing: strange disco automatons called Glitter Bots, glamour-girl marionettes, a “white trash” panorama, plus seasonal stuff like a food fight between pilgrims for Thanksgiving and a Christmas set off The Nutcracker. All of it was sexy and impeccably stylish, and it served well as a calling card for the club.

What really had patrons coming back for more were the creative strides we made. I became obsessed with continually refreshing the club environment. A credo came together in my mind, defined by the phrase “Clubs create culture.”

Of course, like any composer of Wagnerian-scale musical theater works, or motion pictures, Gatien acknowledges with Aryan modesty his need to first create rotating bands of creative outlaws, veritable Männerbunde: [26] [33]

I understood that I could only be as good as the crew I gathered around me. I had to create a community of sorts, a collection of simpatico workers to help me operate my club.

I assembled a second family of sorts, a core of dedicated staffers around me, a collection of misfits, geniuses, and misfit geniuses. [27] [34] I came to think of them as a street crew, tight knit, loyal, fiercely fun loving.

My employees were usually on their way to some other career, some other goal. I wasn’t hiring Harvard graduates. They were artists, actors, musicians, architects of castles in the air. But for the period we spent together, we engaged in a gigantic co-conspiracy to build this club, to orchestrate this experience, to pull everyone together and have as much fun doing it as we possibly could. One of the byproducts of a cocreator mentality was having a fucking good time.

Gatien’s culture-creating ambitions could not be satisfied, even in booming Atlanta; to work on the scale he dreamed up, Snake Plissken would have to break into New York.

Thus what would become Limelight NYC, housed in a deconsecrated Episcopal church in Chelsea. Why a church? Of course, this gave me license, in my previous essay, to explore the neopagan aspects of Gatien’s parties, reversing the Christian takeover of pagan places of worship. [28] [35] Here, at least, Gatien is more circumspect:

I didn’t go in for a deep analysis of my motivations behind the purchase. Because of my strict Catholic upbringing, did I have some grudge against organized religion? Was I a former altar boy acting out? If you insist, Dr. Freud. But really, things were less complicated and more straightforward than that. Churches are designed and built as places for human assembly, with lots of exits and large open spaces in their floor plans. [29] [36] It was as if the building had been designed with me in mind.

Well, that last part is a bit woo-woo, at least. And again, he can’t resist the slide into mysticism:

A disco church represented a great publicity hook. I was banking on people coming to the club just to take a look at the place. A panther beneath the dance floor wouldn’t cut it — been there, done that [in Atlanta]. I was more interested in the attraction of a Holy Ghost up in the rafters.

I wasn’t totally naïve about the risk — just naïve enough, and just bold enough, to go through with it.

An unknown part of the risk was the opening of Limelight NYC coincided with the arrival of AIDS, which again gives the book a contemporary feeling:

The mid-1980s was a time of incredible fear and uncertainty about the disease. No one was sure whether AIDS could be communicated by a kiss, by drinking from the same glass, or even by shaking hands.

More to the point, the gay element of the crowd almost disappeared, upsetting Gatien’s formula for dancefloor excitement. With the New York club still profitable but boring, Gatien embarked on world conquest, opening satellite clubs in Chicago and London, but shutting them down in the early 90s to concentrate on a now recovering New York scene. [30] [37]

In nine months in 1992, Gatien opened Club USA in Times Square (across the street from my day job), took over the legendary Palladium on 14th Street, and revived Tunnel on the far West Side. Together with Limelight, he now controlled exactly 251,000 square feet of Manhattan, with a capacity of 18,000 clubgoers. One quarter of the tri-state area would be patrons at least once. “There never was a time, and there probably never will be again, when a single person controlled such a large percentage of New York nightlife.”

Online reviewers complain about this middle section being repetitive; after all, how much can you say about “get restless, find new club, club opens, problems solved, celebrities hang out, success, restless, move on” over and over? Constant Readers know repetition is no problem for me, [31] [38] but I do prefer brevity. Although coming in at a mild 250 pages, it does begin to sag a bit in the middle, as Gatien reaches his peak and the narrative, like Limelight in the 80s, kind of plateaus.

It’s understandable that Gatien would want to dwell on this period, as he was running more clubs than ever, including his largest ever, Tunnel, representing both a professional peak and a geometrical increase in the complications of running them (along with two and soon three marriages and families).

Unfortunately, this also corresponds to his most problematic period, for himself as well as for readers here. I imagine quite a few are fans of Rush (Aardvark) or electronic dance music (Limelight NYC), including perhaps Moby (whom Gatien hired for $300 one night), perhaps even a few nostalgic for disco (if not perhaps Village People) but hip-hop or rap is where the line would be drawn as far as empathy goes.

That’s the price that we all pay
Our valued destiny comes to nothing
I can’t tell you where we’re going
I guess there was just no way of knowing

[39]

You can buy James O’Meara’s The Homo and the Negro here [40].

Tunnel should have been Gatien’s Bayreuth, a humongous performance space custom-designed for the ultimate club experience, isolated in the then-barren 12th Avenue (no pesky community boards to deal with!). Tunnel, however, proved to be a bridge too far.

Hubris met nemesis when Gatien, looking for something to kickstart Tunnel, met a promoter named Jessica Rosenblum, “a blonde Barnard graduate who fell in love with rap music, dove down deep, and never came up for air.” (As we’ll see, this won’t be the last New York ethnic to meddle in his life.) Gatien, by this time justifiably confident in his ability to spot new trends, decided to go all-in on hip-hop.

On paper, he was right; indeed, hip-hop is still a leading genre of pop music. [32] [41] For a club owner, however, it would be a nightmare. From the first, Gatien should have known better; his negotiations with “Funkmaster Flex” for creating the “Mecca” club night begin thus:

“What we need to do is find a way to keep everyone safe,” I said. “We have to be able to maintain the heat without ever boiling over.”

Indeed, “the atmosphere at Mecca tended toward the mean and dangerous. . . . We were taking blades away from kids all night long.” This was a problem:

I ran my clubs with a built-in paradox. People dearly want to believe they’re taking a walk on the wild side, while deep down they prefer to stay on solid ground. I needed to keep the scent of risk alive, the idea that on any given night anything could happen, but underneath that, I had to have a rock-solid sense of security and well-being.

Here, Gatien’s background becomes a liability, and prevents him from understanding his massive security problems at Tunnel, which he struggles to blame on anyone but the poor innocent people with the guns and knives. On the one hand, “The racist blowback against hip-hop always brought to mind the prejudice I saw growing up as a Catholic French Canadian.” On the other hand, this lover of the American way of life falls back on the smug Canadian notion of “how deeply embedded gun violence is in the culture of the States, and how violence stains the American soul.” His new buddy Flex even convinces him that the kids need their weapons, since they have to go home on the subways at night, and even “home” — the Bronx — has the highest murder rate in the country. [33] [42] Still,

If I had possessed a true understanding of the extreme situations those outer-borough communities were facing every day and night, I might have hesitated in resurrecting hip-hop parties at Tunnel.

Correct, although I don’t think he has yet found that “true understanding.”

While it is naïve of him to extrapolate the “take the underdog’s side” mentality which he acquired as a working-class francophone in Ontario to America’s ghettos, he is understandably skeptical about Giuliani’s “broken windows” policy, having been eventually targeted by the grandstanding mayor as if he were just another squeegee guy, promoting rap violence at Tunnel and feeding drugs to our kids at Limelight, rather than a hard-working Aryan visionary:

The government’s “drug supermarket” theory maintained that the availability of drugs at my clubs attracted customers, who paid entry fees, and, therefore, I had profited by conspiring to promote drug use. The whole idea was offensive. [34] [43] I was the most successful nightlife entrepreneur at that time. I had gotten to that position not by encouraging drug use but by working my tail off to make sure that coming to my clubs was an outrageous, inspiring, and cutting-edge experience, as well as a smooth, pleasurable, trouble-free one. It was a tremendously difficult feat to pull off. A lot of people had tried, and no one had succeeded to the extent that I had, running top venues in a cutthroat business. Now all that work, all that expertise, all that creativity was being written off. My success, said the prosecutors, was due to lines of white powder and batches of little smiley-face pills.

Readers who feel their knees beginning to jerk at the prospect of sending the “king of NYC nightlife” to getting what’s coming to him should read the account here (or in my earlier essay) and reflect on how much it resembles the government’s post-Charlottesville shenanigans, or the more recent targeting of White advocates as “domestic terrorists [44]”; or, ironically enough, the attacks on Trump that Giuliani has more recently been dealing with. [35] [45]

Undercover agents targeted Jen, attempting to build a case against my daughter for dealing drugs. There didn’t seem to be a line that the agents wouldn’t cross.

[Gatien’s attorney] Brafman went on to characterize the methods that the prosecution used to develop its case as “government at its worst.” Strong-arm tactics, multiple superseding indictments [a RussiaGate speciality], plus use of ridiculously flawed informants [ditto] like Sean Bradley, Sean Kirkham, and Michael Alig, all of them criminals themselves. [36] [46] God help the poor schmuck who finds himself in the crosshairs of a prosecution using tactics such as those.

As I wrote before:

The case against Gatien seems to have been yet another example of the classic Judaic technique of Projection: the unbelievably corrupt Feds fielded an array of drug dealers, perjurers, and murderers to convince a jury that Gatien was . . . a drug-dealing crook. [37] [47]

Gatien’s taste for the archetypal leads him to characterize his antagonists as the Three Fates, but their names — Michele Adelman, Lisa Fleishman, and Eric Friedberg — suggest a different archetypal combat. [38] [48] Gatien also notes, without comment, that the drug of the hour for the Feds, ecstasy or “E,” for which Gatien was being scapegoated, was being smuggled in from. . . Israel.

In fact, of the hundreds of people Gatien employed over the years, not one, despite the considerable amount of force the Feds could apply, could be found as a witness. Instead, the Feds mounted a “rogues gallery of Staten Island scumbags” (slander, I’m sure, against Staten Island).

There was [Michael] Alig, already in jail for murdering his dealer—Feds would take him out occasionally for “questioning” so he could buy drugs. There was “Lord Michael” who, when questioned about the “suicide” of his “houseboy” broke down in tears and begged the jury to believe “I’m not a murderer!” And there was Sean Markham, a drug dealer Gatien had actually banned from his clubs, who was now also claiming to have been hired as an escort—by the male prosecutor.

In the end, Gatien was saved by his Aryan rectitude. As Alig says, Gatien was making money hand over fist, why would he risk it all for a few thousand more? “Peter was a businessman but he wasn’t extraordinarily greedy” and –unlike most New York businessmen, not “holed up in his office counting his shekels.” [39] [49]

Gatien’s attorney rested his case without bringing any witnesses, even Gatien, and asked the jury to decide solely on the basis of the prosecution’s case; after two hours they delivered eleven not-guilty verdicts. [40] [50]

Ironically, his experiences in New York — from hip hop gangstas to Federal persecutors — seem to have turned Gatien from an Aryan entrepreneur (a sort of combination of Ayn Rand and a neopagan Wagner) into a good liberal. As such, Gatien prefers to mock Trump [41] [51] and Giuliani rather than draw a comparison — if not in sympathy then at least in irony — to their own later battles with federal prosecutors; but he does note another, perhaps more devastating irony:

The same year I was busted, 1996, Rudy had begun representing Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the company that developed and marketed the opioid-based pain killer OxyContin. The company’s aggressive marketing focused on denying OxyContin’s addictive qualities. Giuliani brokered a deal in a crucial Florida case that allowed Purdue to continue selling the drug despite early warnings that it was incredibly addictive. The result, of course, is an opioid epidemic that caused the deaths of thousands of people — an estimated four hundred thousand and counting. In 2017 alone, forty-seven thousand Americans died of overdose; it emerged as a leading cause of death for people under fifty, ahead of car crashes. Whatever drug use occurred in all the clubs I ever owned pales in comparison to the destruction “America’s Mayor” helped unleash and directly fostered.

Unleashed, be it noted, on White Americans. [42] [52]

You might think this would lead to the happy ending of one of those American sitcoms Gatien loved as a kid, but as he ruefully observes, when the Feds decide to get you, they won’t stop until they do. Not wanting to risk another trial, this time in New York state court, on a penny-ante “tax evasion” charge, Gatien pled out to two months in Rikers, at which point the Feds suddenly realized that Gatien’s real crime was there all along: he was an immigrant! Or, in the words of one prosecutor, “This man is nothing but a carpetbagger.”

As we have come to know all too well, there is no arm of the Federal government more vigilant, more swift to mete out justice, than Immigration & Naturalization (now known by the chilling name of ICE). Canada was not sending us its best — criminals, rapists, drug cartels, and “bad hombres” had been flooding America for years, and the time had come to make an example.

I jest, of course. But indeed, Gatien got the treatment Trump promised us he’d apply to the real “bad hombres” years later, and Ocasio-Cortez thinks happens every day to poor downtrodden day laborers.

In September 2002, the other shoe dropped. On a routine visit to the probation office, I found immigration cops lying in wait. They loaded me into a van and whisked me away. No phone call, no stopping at home to pick up a toothbrush, no nothing. It was like those cartoon images where someone is grabbed so suddenly they leave behind their shoes and socks.

Note the date: Patriot Act, bitches! No more Canadian crooks peddling poutine to our youth! And no more pesky juries getting in the way of justice, Fed-style.

As an especially dangerous “tax felon,” Gatien was transferred upstate to the Buffalo Detention Center, since the one in Manhattan must have been overflowing with terrorists and drug dealers, right?

In lockup, I started chatting with the immigration officers. “They’re going to have to move you right away because this facility is full,” one told me. I looked around. I was the only one being held on the whole floor.

Here are the words of a true Dreamer:

Out of all the direct hits and irreparable damage that I took, the reversals of fortune, the nights in jails and INS holding cells, the loss of my business, my name being smeared in the media, the worst wound was getting deported. Losing America broke my heart. I’d been obsessed with the USA ever since I stared across the Saint Lawrence River and fantasized about the magic realm on the opposite shore. I got my green card and lived legally in America for over thirty years. I fought to keep my kids on US soil. For all intents and purposes I had become an American. I embodied the American Dream, became a success, raised a family, and made a home in the home of the brave. I could have survived sleeping on a concrete shelf for a bed and eating shitty prison food. I could have faced being pummeled by repeated legal proceedings. But getting exiled from the land that I loved killed a part of my soul.

The chances are we’ve gone too far
You took my time and you took my money
Now I fear you’ve left me standing
In a world that’s so demanding

Gatien is an engaging writer, — apart from the longeurs noted before — and not afraid to take a mythological viewpoint on his life and work. [43] [53] We get a lot more detail than the Limelight film, and, of course, from Gatien’s inside perspective. In my previous essay I tried to present my intuition of Gatien as someone whose career manifested — albeit perhaps unconsciously — the hallmarks of Aryan Man. I’m happy to say that nothing here, except his unrepentant love of rap, contradicts that perspective.

Moreover, one aspect of that view — his work ethic — receives extensive documentation; he is a Faustian Man in an era when things like hard work and “perfectionism” are regarded as symptoms of “White supremacy culture” needing to be ruthlessly expunged [54].

The other aspect, which I devoted more time to before, is Gatien as a conduit for a rebirth of pagan cults of ecstasy. Conversely, despite its length and mythological tropes, The Club King soft pedals that angle. Nevertheless, it is bookended by two invocations of hyperreality: it opens with a prologue in the present day, where Gatien experiments, with and at the insistence of his daughter, with ayahuasca. And it ends with Gatien musing thus:

I’ve come to believe that we have to return to the Dionysian nights when clubs were central to so many lives, the years of dance floors packed with crowds thousands strong, and remember the pure exhilaration and energy of the time. I’ve watched my younger children grow up in a very different world, one where social anxiety seems all-encompassing. We need to recall the days when we were golden. [44] [55]

We should read this alongside Carl Jung’s essay on Wotan:

Every interpretation of intoxication and exuberance is apt to be taken back to classical models, to Dionysus, to the peur aeternus and the cosmogonic Eros. No doubt it sounds better to academic ears to interpret these things as Dionysus, but Wotan might be a more correct interpretation. He is the god of the storm and frenzy, the unleasher of passions and the lust of battle; moreover he is a superlative magician and artist in illusion who is versed in all secrets of an occult nature. [45] [56]

If all this makes you want more — or if it’s already too much, and you’re willing to wait for Hollywood to present it to you on a streaming service — word on the street [57] is that Amazon is making Gatien’s memoir into a film, with a screenplay by Nick Pileggi, forming an informal yet appropriate trilogy with Pileggi’s Goodfellas and Casino. [46] [58]

As he comes to the end of his story, Gatien tells us that his memories have a soundtrack: the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” I suppose that’s inevitable, given the time period, and Warhol’s own participation in Gatien’s early events. Throughout this review, I’ve alluded to a different soundtrack, but that’s a movie Gatien would probably not want to be linked with [59] after all.

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Notes

[1] [61]What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?’ was my constant inner refrain.”

[2] [62] Or not: “Justin Trudeau won’t move in to 24 Sussex, says Margaret Trudeau” [63]. CBC News. October 23, 2015.

[3] [64] “In many cities, the nightlife sector has long been operating under difficult circumstances. Over the past decade, rising rents and changing urban demographics have forced nightclubs and bars to close, pressured by protests from affluent new residents in the ex-industrial areas where many are located and unsympathetic official attitudes that perceive any nocturnal activity primarily as a nuisance. . . The pandemic has just intensified this plight, but it has also made cities more aware of both the economic and social contributions of their bar and club scenes. Berlin’s nightlife tourists, for example, earned the city €1.5 billion in 2018. With this sector of the economy currently all but shut down, even conservative media voices fret about the future. “The night-time economy was the consumer society at its most extravagant and seductive, but also at its most vulnerable, and now it’s gone,” wrote Nick Cohen of the U.K.’s right-leaning Spectator. In a May column [65], he prescribed an uncharacteristically progressive-sounding set of urban reforms aimed at rescuing London’s scene, including establishing car-free districts to allow clubs to set up outdoors: “If you want to save the businesses, you have to ban the cars and free the space.”

[4] [66] Alig died of a drug overdose on Christmas morning — how appropriate! Gatien, interviewed in 2020: “Now that whole time and movement will be tainted because of Michael Alig. Do I want to reminisce with him or talk to him? Absolutely not. There’s something deviant about him.” Interviewer: “I think there’s no coming back from chopping someone up.” See “Peter Gatien, Club King [67].”

[5] [68] Limelight (Billy Cobden, 2011); free with ads here. [69]

[6] [70] Party Monster (Bailey/Barbato, 2003); free here. [71]

[7] [72]From Ultrasuede to Limelight: Aryan Entrepreneurs in the Dark Age, Part 2: Peter Gatien [73]”; reprinted in Green Nazis in Space! New Essays on Literature, Art, & Culture; [74] ed. by Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015).

[8] [75] New Order [76], “True Faith.”

[9] [77] Even in Quebec, French was the language of the servants. Edgar Bronfman, scion of the Seagram’s whisky fortune (whose mash was another source of stench in small Canadian towns) and later head of Universal, was outfoxed in his merger with the Vivendi since, despite (or because) he was born and raised in Montreal, he understood not a word of French. At my university, I had a professor who was the son of the Archbishop of Ontario, educated at Oxford, and author of a book on Sartre, who pronounced French as if it were English.

[10] [78] After narrating the Job-like horrors visited on his uncle’s family, the most pious in town, he reaches a Jim Goad-like conclusion: no prayers and candles for him; “If there is a God, I don’t want him to know I’m alive.”

[11] [79] Gatien thus rejects the common trope on the Right, romanticizing the “hard life” of our forefathers as some kind of ideal, “traditional” lifestyle, rather than as the regrettable product of ignorance, poverty and exploitation, as explored in my essay “Wild Boys Vs. ‘Hard Men’ [80]”, reprinted in The Homo & the Negro: Masculinist Meditations on Politics & Popular Culture; 2nd, Embiggened Edition, ed. by Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2017).

[12] [81]Faith [82]” (July 22, 1968)

[13] [83] Five Lessons: A Master Class (1948); reissued with a bonus chapter by Mitch Horowitz (New York: Tarcher/Perigree, 2018); Chapter One: “Consciousness is the Only Reality.” See my review here [84].

[14] [85] After a prologue, of which more later, the book opens with Gatien and wife crossing the Seaway International Bridge for her first visit to his hometown. When he leaves Miami for Atlanta, “the Florida Limelight became a bridge that I literally burned behind me” when the club goes up in flames (presumably by the new owners; he will eventually brag that “in my club, gangsta rap was what finally bridged the underground-mainstream gap” (as we’ll see, a bridge too far).

[15] [86] Typically, the Church has lots of money to pay out settlements but not enough for decent athletic equipment.

[16] [87] Gatien now identifies the rapper as Jay-Z

[17] [88] Alan Watts told a similar tale, supposedly from Taoism, about a farmer whose son breaks his leg, making him unable to work; the next day, all the healthy young men are dragooned into the army.

[18] [89] Had I known him at the time, I could say he had been the inspiration for my own college career.

[19] [90] A little scene where Gatien discovers Ted, Sammy, and Ness in the kitchen, boiling water to steam wood into lacrosse sticks, ignoring him as he questions their idea to corner the market dominated by First Nation tribes, is wonderfully absurdist, in the spirit of Philip Roth.

[20] [91] “Alec Baldwin has a passage in his memoir, Nevertheless, where he fantasizes about alternate lives he would have liked to have lived. One such life is that of a nightclub owner. ‘I’d surround myself with a cast of lovably quirky characters. All men would envy me. Women, against their better judgment, would throw themselves at me nightly.’” Again, shades of Trump!

[21] [92] Hitchcock used a similar phrase to describe how, in periods of creative drought, he would keep busy by buying the rights to a play and then filming it practically as/is; hence such claustrophobic works as Rope, Dial ‘M’ for Murder and Rear Window.

[22] [93] At least white people do; see “Fashion Tips for the Far-from-Fabulous Right,” in The Homo & the Negro, op. cit., which contains a meditation on theme nights and dress codes at NYC nightclubs of the 90s.

[23] [94] Used over the end credits of the Halston bio.

[24] [95] “The logic held that part of the reason people take the trouble to leave their homes for the nightlife is to see what kinds of other people have done the same. People-watching was what made the straight-gay interchange so powerful,” as did “the newly common practice of dancing apart.”

[25] [96] It would be the group at the later NYC Limelight that the media dubbed “club kids,” most notably the disastrous Michael Alig.

[26] [97] See various essays among those collected in The Homo & The Negro, op. cit. “I knew that most people didn’t see me as a businessman but rather as a freebooting buccaneer.”

[27] [98] “I see the usual gang of misfits and dope addicts are here.” – Ed’s wife greets the cast and crew of Bride of the Monster in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

[28] [99] A protestor at the opening carried a placard reading “Don’t Dance on My Religion.”

[29] [100] “The church’s multiple entrances and exits meant fire inspectors would allow a high occupancy rating, which I needed because I was intent on drawing crowds.”

[30] [101] He also dabbled in film production, including financing A Bronx Tale by Chazz Palminteri, who had been a busboy at Limelight NYC in the mid-80s. Another, later busboy, Michael Alig, would be less charming.

[31] [102] See my new collection Passing the Buck: Coleman Francis and Other Cinematic Metaphysicians [103] (Melbourne: Manticore Press, 2021), reviewed here [104]. More worrisome is Gatien’s use of “fear and loathing” no less than four times, the fourth time helpfully modified as “Hunter S. Thompson levels” in case the reader doesn’t get it.

[32] [105] “Tunnel, a solitary nightclub on the west side of Manhattan, became a conduit for what eventually rose to become the most dominant cultural trend of the day.”

[33] [106] Black people need guns to protect themselves from the gun culture created by whites; got it?

[34] [107] Kim and Jimmy already hashed this out on Better Call Saul: “Doesn’t it [having a sale on burner phones] sound like you’re encouraging these people to commit crimes?” “They don’t need encouragement, believe me.” Episode 5/01, “Magic Man.”

[35] [108] As they say, a “conservative” may be a liberal who’s been mugged, but a “liberal” is a conservative who’s been arrested.

[36] [109] “I’d say about 10 percent of [the trial] was devoted to my alleged transgressions. The rest was spent on enumerating, investigating, and deliberating about the crimes and trespasses that the witnesses testifying against me were either convicted of or charged with. The trio of informants who had been listed in the initial indictment, Michael Alig and the two Seans, Bradley and Kirkham, were long gone, deemed too compromised to testify. Gitsie couldn’t testify because she was dead. Another witness, Brooke Humphries, was supposedly operating as a confidential informant for the DEA, but she was caught muling heroin between New York and Texas, and had to be crossed off the list.”

[37] [110] One example from many: DEA agents would take Alig out of jail, ostensibly for “questioning,” so he could buy drugs, which he would take in the back seat of their car. [In his own account, Gatien adds even more examples; my favorite is the witness they “turned” on Gatien who was abused so much by his Fed handlers he turned again and wrote a letter to the judge demanding protection from the government.

[38] [111] And let’s not forget fellow Ellis Islander Giuliani. “I was beginning to wonder if there was an Anglo-Saxon name left in the Department . . .” (William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch [London: Flamingo, 1993], p. 171]).

[39] [112] “Not once, in all those tapes, was my name mentioned in any context. I finally understood Ben’s plan of defense, using the government’s own evidence to blow up the prosecution’s case. Eight hundred hours of painstaking surveillance, he pointed out, that yielded exactly zip.”

[40] [113] I was wrong, there were nine counts. Also, Gatien, who recounts of his time as the Great White Defendant in a real-world Bonfire of the Vanities with the shellshocked incredulity of Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History [114], more carefully notes that “racketeering charges are deemed proven or not proven,” while the conspiracy counts were guilty or not guilty.

[41] [115] About the Donald: he was always around but “he was always uncool.”

[42] [116] See “America’s Health Fix: Case & Deaton’s Deaths of Despair [117]” by Michael Walker. Another Aryan trait is that Gatien doesn’t tend to hold grudges or delight in the downfall of his enemies; he writes with compassion about Anita Bryant, who caused some trouble for his club in Miami, but was ultimately bankrupted not by “gay activists” but her own side, after being spotted dancing with a gay evangelist.

[43] [118] I’m reminded of what Trevor Lynch recently said about T. E. Lawrence: “there is a strong element of Nietzschean self-mythologization: what Aleister Crowley calls ‘auto-hagiography’ and the Arabs call ‘blasphemy’.”

[44] [119] Alluding perhaps to fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell‘s song “Woodstock”: “We are golden/Caught in the devil’s bargain/And we’ve got to get ourselves/back to the garden.” If so, this continues the motif I’ve identified here and earlier, of a reassertion of paganism against Christianity. In “Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’ Best Captures The Festival, But She Wasn’t Even There [120],” Leah Rosenzweig writes that “In her book, Break, Blow, Burn, an analysis of several hundred years of western poetry, Camille Paglia calls Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’: ‘Possibly the most popular and influential poem composed in English since Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”’ [while] claiming Mitchell’s hymn to show an understanding of what it meant for thousands of people to have merged together without question or violence. ‘From that assembly rises a mystical dream of people on earth and of mankind’s reconnection to nature,’ she writes.”

[45] [121] C G Jung, ‘Wotan’, Essays on Contemporary Events (London: Kegan Paul, 1947), Chapter 1. See Kerry Bolton, “Wotan as Archetype: The Carl Jung Essay [122].”

[46] [123] For my brief reflections on Casino, see my “Essential Films … & Others [124].” Perhaps Gatien’s time producing A Bronx Tale, which starred Robert De Niro, is yielding additional benefits. There’s a clear reference to the world of Casino in the book: “As with a top-level gambling casino, we had a whole hierarchy of controls in place to prevent leakage. Bar managers watched the servers, busboys, and barbacks; assistant managers watched the bar managers; managers watched the assistant managers; and I kept watch on them all. We lacked only a Vegas-style ‘eye in the sky.’”