I often find myself drawn to the darkest, most disturbing, bursting-with-salacious-personal-details of memoirs I can find. There’s just something about a life lived in an impure way that’s so compelling to read about. When I watched the movie Party Monster and then discovered it was based on a book, how could I resist?
Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland re-released under the title Party Monster: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland is a 1999 memoir written by James St. James about his life as a Manhattan celebutante and club kid. The book specifically chronicles his friend Michael Alig’s rise to fame and his subsequent fall after the murder of fellow club kid and drug dealer Angel Melendez.
James St. James (born James Clark) was a club kid of the crazy Manhattan club scene in the late 1980s/early 1990s. He was notorious for a lifestyle of excess that included heavy drug use, partying, and bizarre costumes. St. James was Michael Alig’s mentor in the scene and one of his closest friends leading up to Alig’s murder conviction.
When Party Monster was first published, it was a storm of controversy. Apparently people just weren’t ready for its vivid, striking, often disturbing, and always outrageous depiction of the hedonistic world of New York City’s club kid scene. The book is an inside story of life in clubs like The Tunnel and The Limelight and the drugs, sex, music, and mayhem that existed during the heyday of the New York City club culture written by the man that more or less started it.
That’s only half the story though. The other half of the story revolves around Michael Alig, the gay kid from nowhere special who came to New York and blew up the club scene to the hedonistic levels that they’re known for nowadays. You learn a lot about his character through St. James’ recollections about him, and even though he’d been high through a lot of it, his descriptions are anything but lacking. He was a selfish and semi-sadistic kid who let his sudden fame go to his head. How did all this turn into the murder of a fellow club kid? Drugs of course. When Angel Melendez got angry at Alig for using all his drugs without paying, Alig fought back, killing him in the grisly manner and then dismembering him. From that point to the point of his arrest, Alig told anybody and everybody he could that he had, indeed, killed Angel. St. James says that he was told a few days after the murder while doing drugs with Alig at his apartment.
But while St. James's flashy approach is artful and engaging to this macabre tale of murder, St. James has no sympathy for the victim of the crime. Alig, after being sentenced to up to twenty years in prison is reeling with regret and shame. The closest thing to emotion on display is St. James's obsessive need to document the highs and lows of life with Alig and his own self-pity at the end of his carousing days with him.
All this is told in a stylish and very campy prose of a self-proclaimed rather needy diva and Alig’s best friend. St. James has a way with his words that makes it seem like all this happened just last week and not drug-induced haze years ago. There are funny parts where you can’t help but laugh out loud, and the description of Alig’s murder is gruesome and ghastly to no end. St. James's account of the rise and fall of Michael Alig is, truly, a most unconventional contribution to the body of true crime. Mixing outrageous exploits of club queens with the running commentary of a babbling drug addict, St. James fuses humor and narcotic enthusiasm with pure camp and the result is a flamboyant and engrossing first-person narrative.
My final thoughts on Party Monster are that it’s highly enjoyable. St. James tells two stories: one his own about the club kid life full of all-night parties and uncountable drugs and one of Michael Alig, the maddeningly selfish, mostly crazy murderer that not only made St. James’ life, but also ruined it. His story, despite its gruesome subject matter and frequent, shocking lucidity, has a chatty and anecdotal quality that's compelling, endearing, and human when it comes right down to it. St. James’ comes off as shallow and full of self-importance, but why not? It’s how he’s felt about himself since his club kid days! It’s an entertaining red full of salacious giddiness, queeny commentary, and decadent details. If you’re looking for a fuller account of the Alig/Melendez murder, look elsewhere. It’s an insider’s take on events, not factual accounts. Treat this book as it was meant to be treated: a technicolour-lurid portrayal of addiction, self-delusion, narcissism, and depravity that shows that murder was never so much fun!