If you’re anything like me, then you saw Party Monster in high school and desperately ached for the money, success, fame, and glamor that came with the Club Kid lifestyle. During my freshman year in New York (circa 2005, ah!) I was lucky enough to go to Avalon, formerly the famed church-turned-venue Limelight. You could feel the history in its walls. Now, many years later, I’ve had the extreme honor to chat with James St. James, a Club Kid legend, the author behind Disco Bloodbath and Freak Show, and currently, the host of the podcast Night Fever.
Now in its second season, St. James, along with Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (the masterminds behind World of Wonder) interview the movers and shakers from New York’s underground during the 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond.
Where did the idea for Night Fever come from? Was it your idea?
JSJ: Actually, it’s the exact opposite of that. Fenton came to me and said, “We have this idea for a podcast that we want you to do. It’s you talking to all the old New Yorkers and all the people from back in the day.” And I said, “No, absolutely not. There is nothing I’d rather not do. I’ve spent 20 years trying to get away from these people.” And he kept saying, “No, no, no, you’ve got to it’s your story— these are your friends. You’ve known these people.”
Well the minute I did one episode, I thought, “Yeah, this, this is my wheelhouse.” I have a comfort level talking to them. And I think they have a comfort level talking to me because they know that I’m not out to get them, that this is about celebrating them and the stories of New York nightlife.
How did your friendship start with Fenton and Randy? Where did you meet?
JSJ: They had a band called The Fabulous Pop Tarts and would perform at Danceteria and Limelight almost every week. So we would go support them. And then we sort of drifted apart a little bit, but once Supermodel came out I thought, “Uh, oh, I need to get back in touch with these two. If they’re making drag queen superstars, then what can they do for a club kid?”
They had been doing the Party Monster documentary for HBO and interviewed me for that. So we kept in touch. And when I came out to LA, we had dinner talking about how the body (of Angel Melendez) had just been found. So the documentary was taking a whole different turn. And that’s when I said, “Look, I have this book that I’ve been working on. Will you read it?” They said they would help me get a literary agent and work through the publishing deal and things like that. They’ve been in my life literally 35 years, both personally and professionally.
Listening to Night Fever, it feels like we’re almost privy to something that shouldn’t be. Like it’s just a bunch of friends just getting together and we get to listen in.
JSJ: If you’ve ever read Diana Vreeland’s memoirs or Truman Capote— it’s like someone taking you by the hand and whisking you through a hundred parties and sort of giggling over what idiots you used to be and how fucked up things were— but just sort of having fun with it.
Is there anyone that’s listened who’s been like, that’s not what happened, or who’s called bullshit on any of the stories?
JSJ: Well, I know Randy is always saying, “Are you just making these stories up?” He doesn’t believe any of them. I don’t think anyone has called me out for it. I do have the diaries to back all these things up. The first season was mostly just sort of laying out how I got to New York into the club scene.
Well, I know Randy is always saying, “Are you just making these stories up?” He doesn’t believe any of them.-James St. James
The first season of Night Fever focuses on you arriving in New York and getting into the club scene. What about the second season?
JSJ: We’re sort of branching out a little bit. We’re gonna go back to the seventies, we’re going back to the sixties. We’re going back to pre-Stonewall. We have an episode with Jayne County— a lot of people might not be aware of her story. She was trans in the sixties. She was a Warhol superstar. She was at Stonewall the night they threw the first brick. She was an early punk rocker. She hung out with Iggy Pop and The Sex Pistols and she toured with The Police when they were in a van going across Europe.She was a trans punk icon. She was a big influence. David Bowie used to go to her shows all the time and come backstage, like taking notes. So she has this incredible story that I’m not part of, but I want people to know of her place in LGBTQ history and punk rock history.
JSJ: We have a lot of fun, silly conversations about parties and throwing up on people’s shoes, but we also have a lot of serious conversations too.
What has it been like to revisit all these different people from your past? For instance Michael Musto. Was there anything that you remember differently?
JSJ: No, that is interesting. Especially with the Michael Musto interview because Michael and I have had so much history between us and that friendship has had so many ups and downs and there has been a lot of misunderstandings. He misunderstood some things, I misunderstood some things, and we were able to clear the air.
With Dianne Brill— who was in the first episode of the first season— I start off by telling the story about what she meant to me. And I don’t think she ever knew that she was such an inspiration. She was the reason I came to New York. And I don’t think that she ever knew how important she is to me. So I’m able to tell these people— I’m able to show them the love that they deserve.
The whole Joey Arias episode…just hearing him talk about meeting Salvador Dali. It’s amazing.
JSJ: Joey is one of those people who has been at everyt single part of LGBTQ history— he’s had a front row seat. And so many of his stories are just like going to the movies with Andy Warhol.
And that Freddie Mercury story Arias told— I’m still recovering.
JSJ: I fell off my chair so many times. He can tell a story, boy, oh, boy. That one was really fun. I was worried about that one, cause I didn’t know what his interview style was, but once he started, we were just off and running.
Are there any legal ramifications that come with this? For instance, the aforementioned Freddie Mercury story.
JSJ: Well, that is interesting, cause I don’t know that we’ve actually ever thought that. Oops. I guess we do tell some pretty raunchy stories about some celebrities.
You name names. Is it a say it first and apologize later sort of thing?
In the show’s introduction, it’s mentioned that everyone has a Madonna story, and everyone has a Freddie Mercury story. What are yours?
JSJ: It’s funny cause my first week in New York, when I was at NYU and living in the dorms, I would go out every night and just sort of explore. That first week I saw Jackie O walking out of a restaurant with two men in tuxedos on either arm. And she looked at me and smiled and sort of nodded and threw her head back. Then the next night I saw Madonna and Jellybean walking down the street and I said, “I love your belly button!” or something really ridiculous. She stopped and giggled and talked to me for a second. That was my first week in New York— seeing those two people.
Oh my goodness.
JSJ: I have run into Madonna a number of times over the years. One of the stories I tell is when I was doing the door of The World and she came in with a little baseball cap on and nobody recognized her. She waited in the crowd for like 45 minutes before someone let her in. She paid, she didn’t say I’m Madonna. She went in and was just dancing on the dance floor. At one point she took her hat off and shook her hair and the entire club screamed and started chasing her. She ran out and the entire club— 3,000 people— poured out and she’s running down the street and she stopped and turned back and laughed like that Who’s That Girl scene. Then she dove into the limousine and took off. And I will never forget that. I have another quick Madonna story, and then I’ll stop.
No, no, tell me! Gimme, gimme, gimme! I love it!
JSJ: I was in LA visiting. There was a round table at a party and at the table was Lady Miss Kier and Joey Arias. So I just plunked down and I started talking and I was like, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” doing my James St. James thing. And there was an old woman sitting next to me and I was sort of pawing at her and grabbing her by the arm— and I noticed that all around the table every jaw dropped and there was just silence. Eventually I looked over and this little old lady was Madonna, and I was sitting there grabbing her and hugging her as I’m talking. Everyone was mortified.
Was she dressed up like an old lady?
JSJ: I’ve seen her a number of times when she doesn’t have her makeup on and she’s just sort of in a tracksuit and she’s very tiny, she’s like three feet tall and so wow. You see her, you just, you don’t think glam— she just looks like an Italian girl from Brooklyn or something when you first see her like that. So I was just, “Blah, blah, blah, blah!” Not even thinking about it. And then I got shit about it for the next month and a half.
She could have said something, or she probably appreciated being treated like a normal person.
What about a Freddie mercury story?
JSJ: I don’t have a Freddie Mercury story. What year did he pass away?
I think ‘91.
JSJ: So many of those Brits would come over and we would meet them all, but he was one that I never got to see.
What would you say to readers who haven’t heard about this podcast? Why should they listen to it? Who could benefit from it?
JSJ: So many of these stories— if they don’t get told now, they never will. They will die out with the people from this scene. So it’s important to remember your icons. Remember the legends, remember the different people who came before you and how they’ve influenced the scene today.
We were all standing on the shoulders of giants and these are the giants that you probably should know about. If you’ve never heard of Diane Brill or Joey Arias— I mean, I can’t imagine not knowing Joey Arias. It’s just about giving voice to a lot of people who need to be celebrated.
It’s queer history. It’s New York history. It’s like a college class but obviously more fun.
JSJ: So much of it is goofy. The drugs we did, the boys we fisted in the back room— but there’s also very serious conversations about our place in queer history. I think the young twinks love it, and also the old aging legends who will see themselves in it too. It sort of spans a lot of different types of people.
100%. And even while listening, I’m like, oh, I need to look up these people they’re talking about. Even if you’re well-versed in queer history there’s still the chance to learn.
You know, it’s funny cause when we first started that was one of our concerns— we’re just throwing a lot of these names out that people don’t know. But then we thought, that’s what Google’s for. And if you’re interested, if you hear a name and you think, “I want to learn more,” then go and find out about these people. Each and every name that’s dropped is a story.
Night Fever can be streamed wherever you listen to podcasts, or watch the interviews on WOW Presents Plus.