Peter Gatien Video Interview On ‘Limelight,’ Drugs, Michael Alig
He’s the former New York club king who was relentlessly dogged by Guiliani. Now, Limelight, a new documentary about his battle with the government, tells his side of the story. Peter Gatien talks exclusively with Uinterview.com.
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Over the years, I've been approached, off and on, by some serious people, some not so serious, and, you know, my daughter, who's actually become a pretty accomplished producer in her own right. She basically found the dollars, approached me and obviously, you know, she's family, and I love her to death, and I agreed to do it with her.
I worked with Michael for over four and a half years. The first four years, he was actually almost drug free, and he didn't do drugs at the club — not because he was this terribly principled person, but he liked acting the clown and being in command of whatever he did. At most he would do, you know at the end of the night, he would take his ecstasy and he would go home with his lover and he wouldn't come to work the next day. Four years later, he crossed over into heroin. And I have no friends or have experienced anybody that was crossed over to heroin. So, when I heard he was on heroin, I actually [said to him], “I'm hearing this story,” [and he said,] “No, no, I just snorted a couple times, whatever, whatever.” And then he almost disappeared. So finally, I told him, you know, you gotta go to rehab, end of story. I made arrangements for him, and he actually skipped out on it. So I met with his mother, and I remember saying to his mother — her name was Elga, and she was something else — [I said,] “Elga, you have two choices: either he goes to rehab or [he gets] fired, but if he doesn't go, I gotta fire him. You understand, if I don't fire him, it means absolutely nothing.” She's crying, “No, you can't fire him, if you fire him, he'll hang himself, it's his whole life, whatever, whatever.” I have a thousand employees, doing nineteen nights, so as much as I like Michael in my business world and personal world... If somebody had come up to me and said, “Listen Peter, one of your staff killed somebody at his apartment last night, who do you think it is?”, Michael Alig would have been the 995th person on my list. He was small, he was non-violent, he didn't carry a knife or a gun or had gotten into a fight, or whatever. But I guess, you know, he crossed over into a world, where obviously, really bad things can happen. So I was shocked, in disbelief. Michael weighs like 140 pounds soaking wet, I've never seen him in a fight. In fact, I've seen him take, sort of, abusive BS from people, and you know, just laugh it off in a sarcastic, caustic way, and get the better of the person by just being so quick on his feet.
Gratifying, in a lot of senses. Gratification wasn't, like, Mike Jagger showed up or Slash showed up tonight. Gratification came from small things like standing obscurely in the balcony and watching 1500 to 2000 ear-to-ear smiles and hands up in the air, you know, energy just blowing through you and that kind of stuff, or people exchanging phone numbers at the end of the night, and in the back of your mind, saying, 'Geez, I wonder how many people I'm responsible for getting laid tonight.' You know, just little stuff like that. I'm really proud of the diversity of the crowds we drew on any given night, plus the diversity of formats that we had. You gotta think in your mind, like, Limelight had a legendary Sunday called 'Rock and Roll Church'. That crowd, we brought everybody from Slash from Guns and Roses, Billy Idol, Pearl Jam...I mean, so to that world, Limelight represented, almost a raison d'etre – what they had to do every Sunday. So to that world, they couldn't have given two hoots about Michael Alig's club night or the techno night on Friday, or whatever. On Tuesdays, we used to have this Industrial Night, and actually I just did an interview with a guy who used to deejay there, where you know we had everyone from Smashing Pumpkins to Nine Inch Nails, so that was a kind of goth, alternative music crowd. Wednesday we did the Michael Alig club kid thing in the front, laced with strays, laced with tourists, to the circuit gay, more traditional crowd in the back, with different type of music. Thursday was more of a radio fashion night. Friday was techno, which we incorporated with the back part of the club being gay and they are sort of mixed in the center. Palladium had a legendary Saturday night, with Junior Vasquez, [which] started at 11 o'clock at night and went to 11 o'clock the next day. So different demographics, each club meant something totally different. Hip Hop Sundays at Tunnel, in fact, you know one of the hottest songs right now is 'Meet Me at the Tunnel,” and that's like ten, fifteen years later, it's done by major artists, it's an anthem song. We had everybody from Jay-Z to Mary J. Blige, to Puffy, to Cam’ron. Every time they had an album, they'd get credibility on the streets, they'd get all sorts of record deals made, artists signed, that kind of stuff.
Giuliani is quoted in the movie, a little clip; basically, he’d get together the state, the feds, the liquor boards or whatever. New York 1 and Fox News were nothing but a newsletter for Giuliani, and in America, unfortunately, the justice system is set up where every prosecutor wants to be Giuliani, take down someone big if you’re going to run for politics, et cetera, et cetera. My case was a career-making case for a prosecutor. I was acquitted in 3 hours after a 5-week trial which as great as Ben Brothman is, who probably is my favorite person in the world. He won that case because the jury just saw the theory of this case does not make sense whatsoever. So, after I was acquitted…if I had to do it over again, I should have left New York City, but I was naïve enough to believe that there is justice in America, they got their trial, I beat them at the finish line, “Now, they would leave me alone and I’ll be able to reconstruct my life.” They actually campaigned against me and that just intensified where we would get closed down.... We’d go to court 3 months later, every time we got closed down, then another hearing, so by the time we were before a judge, our license would get re-instituted. I remember one time the judge looking at the prosecutor, and said, “Listen, I listened to all the testimony here. He’s clearly doing continual drug use.” This was at a time when for a judge to stick their neck out… posting a picture of a judge when Tunnel reopened calling it a “Tunnel-vision Judge.” For judges to stick their neck out for a night club, just again reinforces how mean-spirited this campaign was, but eventually financially it just crushed me.
Exploring ways to go back to the United States…I really do miss New York, I spent my most formative years there, a lot of friends, a lot of family, a lot of business contacts.... Having said that, Toronto’s a pretty good city. We have national health care here. It’s a pretty fair society. Do I miss New York? Yeah, I miss it a great deal. So, what I’m working on now, I’m developing a TV series, basically a slash Entourage, slash [The] Wire, slash little bit of Sex and the City, takes place in the '90s, New York in a club scene, 5 primary characters, 7 secondary characters, and I want to really discuss social issues, like war on drugs, police, gay, straight, racial issues. I want to intertwine the political world and have a mayor that’s similar to Giuliani where he actually believes his world is holier-than-thou and beyond honorable, and flip it over the night club world where probably a lot of people will be fired over the years that, in my mind, is a much more ethical world where the perception is only sort of scummy people or marginal people work in night clubs, sort of just intertwine it.
I opened a club here 3 years ago and it’s called Circa. It’s funny; I was talking to a friend in the film business the other day… and I have virtually no capital and we were sort of talking about when I found investors… I guess it was comparable to this guy who'd just done a film was saying the kind of people he had to solicit for dollars, they just don’t understand the vision you’re trying to do. There were a lot of people that I was involved with. Their prime interest was getting laid and partying. My focus was creating culture. I had an incredible art department, we did quality installations and we transformed it every few weeks, and it did spectacularly well. I left a year and a half later, just because there was too much inter-fighting on the vision where I think they would have been happy having a Hooters-type concept where all the bartenders were beach blondes and big boobs. Where mine was that everybody that worked for me were aspiring artists, aspiring musicians, aspiring fashion kids, aspiring film people, video guys, that kind of stuff. So, I left a year and a half later and they kept for another year and a half and it went bankrupt, because it’s not as easy as what people think it is. Somebody’s flying me out to Russia in the next 3 weeks to Moscow. I’m gonna take a look at it. For me to be interested, it has to be a market, a real foundation of creative people. I’m not interested in doing a Hooters-type or just a really generic, one-dimensional club… and that’s another thing I’d like to see. It may not be immediate, but the wide demographics that went to our club… your club could be good in gold, but it’s the crowd that you draw that makes you an institution.