"Disco mutated into house at Larry Levan's Paradise Garage. Crafting mixes especially for his own dancefloor, Levan might be the greatest remixer of all time as his versions of Instant Funk's "I Got My Mind Made Up," Gwen Guthrie's "Ain't Nothin' Goin' On But the Rent," and Inner Life's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" prove. It is his own production of The Peech Boys' "Don't Make Me Wait," though, that remains dub's greatest gift to disco (or visa versa)."
-Peter Shapiro, "Disco: Playing With A Different Sex" from "Modulations: A History of Electronic Music" (Caipirinha Productions, New York, 2000), p. 46.
XV. GRAND OPENING: THE GODS SAVE THE PARADISE GARAGE
A. MONEY 'N MUSIC
One of the most appealing qualities, for me, of the early underground rave subculture was that parties were given for love, not money. Most everyone involved in the creation of music and dance events -- DJs, crews, promoters, etc. -- worked at regular jobs and funded these events out-of-pocket or charged a nominal fee to cover (barely) some of the expenses.
Malcolm Forbes believed that the perfect life was one in which you made your living doing what you love most. This is a wonderful, idealistic belief. In actuality, however, one very often finds that when one turns one's great passion into a business, that passion ends up being driven by the needs of the spreadsheet, not the soul.
As any musical subculture grows and matures there are those who decide to take Forbes' advice and become professionals. I respect that choice. Making an honest living from music and dance is not an evil thing in itself. To my mind it's at best like working for a non-profit or a church. As long as one keeps one's ideals and passions up front and avoid compromising too much for the bucks one can provide genuine good to the EDM community: better productions and sound; opportunity for innovation that lead to more varied musical genres; extraordinary venues; and more accessible musical products. Someone had to pay for Larry Levan's state-of-the-art sound system.
There is a dark side to all this, however. There are many examples of the negative impact of the corporatization of music. Rock. Hip Hop. People begin musical careers with the best of intentions, but find that music is a business like any other business. You take investors' money, you must live to create value for the investors -- real fast. Compromises must be made to satisfy the needs of investors. Freedoms are lost. One can become jaded and greedy very quickly in modern business culture. Those who have invested all their time and money in music sometimes see themselves as owning something they cannot possibly own -- the non-quantifiable spiritual and bodily energies of the community they serve. They become alienated from that energy -- the community -- they helped create and, at worst, end up destroying everything they once loved. Much of the negativity and divisiveness in the current rave subculture, I believe, arises from those who have come to see music and dance as only business opportunities.
I have been a DJ, promoted parties, worked on crews, given parties and funded and opened small clubs. All this I have done as an "amateur." Like many I have funded my love by working in a business world I have come to dislike, if not hate. And for every dollar I've spent on music and dance I figure I've lost two. For me, those economics have worked (so far). I have much admiration and respect, though, for those who are professionals and who give back to the community more than they earn. These are extraordinary people.
1. The Economics of the Paradise Garage
Michael Brody was in hock up to his gold earring to everyone for expenses connected to the renovation of the Paradise Garage and the purchase of the unmatched sound system Larry Levan demanded for the venue. One of his major sources of funding was Mel Cheren, Michael's ex-lover and founder and President of West End Records. So there was intense pressure on Michael to produce some of the disco gold that was flowing into clubs like Studio 54 and Flamingo.
The crowd at the PG construction parties had been growing steadily due to the efforts of Larry and his little band of devoted followers, altar boys really, like me. This was a tribe that was gathered selectively to maintain the underground, black spirituality and pagan energy of the early innovative disco scene. These people were DANCERS. Fashion, attitude, pec development, and social status were secondary to these folks. They lived the music. They worshipped on the dancefloor.
I, personally, was quite happy with things as they were. Small, dirty space, so what? We had each other and the music. Now Larry, he was interested in sound and would have slept with Richard Nixon to obtain the best sound system in the world. He wasn't interested in money, per se. But to get that system meant that we all had to move forward with heavy commitment to open the rest of that grand dancing space to thousands rather than hundreds.
Michael, however, had this vision of a Studio 54 in SoHo -- a hybrid uptown/downtown club where, at least as he verbalized it, often heatedly, all the fabulous people would come together to dance with the home boy ass movers and everyone was gonna' be in paradise.
On the surface, a nice ideal. Knowing as I did both the uptown and downtown scenes, though, I didn't see how this could happen realistically. My belief was, and still is, that if Michael had his way the unique vibe of the PG would be destroyed or seriously diluted.
It was moving towards grand opening time. That big dance floor was beginning to reveal its power -- and we were all working on speed.
Who was going to be invited to this splendid opening? That was the question. The answer was Michael was sending invites to all the "A" list people from the Studio and Flamingo that Larry, I and everyone else on his team were not down with. Our tribe, it seemed, would be on stand-by.
The ongoing tension. Whose club was it? Michael got the money together, but Larry was the musical and spiritual force. This divisiveness was always there, and resulted in often very violent arguments over control issues.
Michael got his way with the invitations, of course, because he had access to the money.
So we all hoped for the best, while fearing that success as defined by Michael would result in a glitzy refurbished garage that was no paradise. I took two weeks vacation from my job at a publishing house to work day and night on the final preparations.
B. IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT: THE GRAND OPENING
Sometimes the gods, the fates, karma, decide what will be, not people.
The Paradise Garage officially opened in January, in the middle, as fate would have it, of the great blizzard of 1978. Those who lived in NYC at the time remember this massive, freezing snow storm vividly. The great city was brought to a standstill for a few days. There were people skiing in the streets. The snow turned into mountains of ice when sub-zero winds came in from the north. It was brutal.
There was no heat in the Garage yet and we were working with gloves to keep our hands from freezing.
The snows moved on over the northeast and airports were closed everywhere. Larry and Michael had ordered the new, most excellent sound system to be installed before the opening. It was stranded somewhere out in the Midwest, and by the time it arrived in NYC there was only a short time to rig everything before the best and most glamorous in NYC arrived.
What a bloody mess. A reasonable person would have postponed the party when it was evident that the key component of a dance club, the sound system, wasn't going to be ready. But no, we pressed on. I had to take my gloves off to work with the equipment and my fingers were numb. I cut myself several times and had to run out for band aids for myself and others who were injuring themselves.
An already stressful situation turned to outright panic. It was a couple of hours before launch and nothing was working right. Michael screaming and crying. Larry throwing things about and making it clear he wasn't going to spin unless everything was flawless with the system. I just kept shouting: "Send the fucking people home until we get this fucking shit together." That was the most intelligent thing said that evening.
For they were gathering outside at that very moment. The glitterati of the NYC club scene. Standing in the bitter cold, on icy sidewalks. Thousands of them. Opening time had passed. The sound system was no where near ready by Larry's standards.
Hours passed. It seemed like an eternity. I went outside to see what was happening. In all the chaos the door wasn't being managed well and all those fabulous people really had their frozen tits in a wringer. Many were leaving. Others were so angry I supposed all that emotional heat is what saved them from freezing to death.
By the time Larry agreed to spin all hope of having a wonderful party had vanished. The crowd was insulted at having to wait in the cold for hours. The staff was exhausted. Larry was in an evil mood. There were still many glitches in the system. Everything that could go wrong did.
I didn't dance at all that night. Too busy running around fixing this thing and that. Don't even remember if the music was good or bad. But I'll tell you, the vibe was hell. It didn't matter what Larry was playing -- there was no redeeming that evening.
Finally, to add more flames to the fires of this disco hell, the coat check operation had managed to mislabel hundreds of the patrons' coats. Wish I had a recording of all the comments made by these "A" list invitees as they were leaving the club. It would have made a compilation of the most ugly insults known to humankind.
This disco nightmare was really, to all who cared about the future of the Paradise Garage, a great blessing from the gods. One doesn't keep New York disco divas standing in the cold for hours and expect them to come back for more. And they didn't. Larry in the end got his way.
It was thus that the future of the Paradise Garage was determined. Because of a snow storm the PG would continue to be the downtown side of disco and a haven for passionate dancers and their innovative music. Had it not been for nature's intervention the PG might have been just another version of the Studio. Blessed Be.
NEXT: PARADISE REGAINED