Michael Alig: The Cynical And Southern Interview

Michael Alig. An inspiration to thousands of lost and creative suburbanites turned club kids over the years. Immortalized by Macaulay Culkin in the film Party Monster. In jail for the murder of Angel Melendez. After seeing a documentary about Alig, I, too, found myself enraptured by his story. Murder aside, I found many parallels between Alig’s life and my own — from his close relationship to a lovably eccentric mother to his escape from a suffocating small town. Somewhere in my own galaxy I empathized with the creative highs and lows of Alig’s world. I wrote a song about him. I visited him in prison while touring in support of my album Now’s the Right Time to Feel Good. We’ve become long term pen pals and confidantes. As Alig's release from prison inches closer, I sent him some questions.  

JG: Before you went to prison, the Internet didn’t exist in the form it does now. Without having experienced it yet, what is your anticipation for a World Wide Web world?

MA: Internet porn! Chat Roulette! You know, it’s been a LONG TIME since I’ve had sex, 14 years really.  I’m afraid I’m going to be one of those gay men I read about who are addicted to Internet porn and do nothing but sit in front of their computer screens all day long jerking off while on crystal meth! I can only imagine the pleasures and enticements that await me online.  On the other hand, I will probably need several weeks to google all the things that I have made a list of including old boyfriends, cartoons I remember from when I was a kid, new Lego sets, obscure TV shows like "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman." I could go on and on. Not to mention everything related to club kids, Keoki, footage of outlaw parties, the opening of Tunnel, etc. And music! I have sheets and sheets of songs I want to download, movies I’ve missed.  Seriously it’s going to take me weeks just to catch up!

JG: Say the second you get out of jail you could be teleported onto a dance floor that would be playing any song of your choice. What song would be playing?

MA: Hmmm, interesting question. How about “Celebration,” the new Madonna song? That sort of fits the mood.  Or maybe something by Lady Gaga.  I love Gaga!

JG: Is your favorite color the same now as it was before you went to jail?

MA: You’re kidding, right?

JG: Lady Gaga is a pop artist that is a common conversation piece. Her validity as an artist is often a topic of debate. I can see you two hitting it off. How much have you heard about Gaga?

MA: Yes! I absolutely adore Lady Gaga! It’s funny because just earlier today I was reading an interview she gave in the September issue of Vanity Fair where they asked her what she dressed like during the daytime, when she’s not in her outrageous outfits.  She said, “I dress like a club kid from New York.” I knew it all along! Lady Gaga is what club kids really should have been, and maybe, I suppose, seeing how Lady Gaga IS a club kid, actually are.  And what do you mean her validity is often a topic of debate? What’s there to debate? The woman is a bona fide genius. End of discussion!

JG: At this point in your life what are your thoughts on this elusive thing us humans call “love”?

MA: You know, I’ve done a lot of “growing up” since coming here, and I’m sorry to say that I’m starting to think that the kind of love I have always been searching for, that “magic,” fireworks type of love you see in music and the movies, I don’t know if it actually exists. I think that maybe these authors and songwriters are exaggerating slightly, you know, for effect. I don’t know, maybe I’m compromising, or maybe I’m just being a realist. I’m not saying real love doesn’t exist. I just think that maybe it’s a bit more realistic, not magic. Maybe some fireworks sometimes but not ALL the time. And certainly not forever! That’s the thing I could never seem to handle: the time when the fireworks stop. I always wanted that part of the relationship to go on forever and it’s just not possible. Love is like a drug and like every drug it has a honeymoon period and then wears off. If you’re lucky, over time as you get to know the person more and more, the fantasy element begins to fade and is replaced by a kind of contentment. Though this kind of love may lack the roller coaster mania of earlier courtship, it's the kind of sustaining love that lets you focus on other aspects of your life, like holding a job, for instance. Or raising kids (or pets!) Strange as it may sound, I think I’m ready for this kind of love at this point in my life.

JG: Tell us about your art work. What does it mean to you?

MA: It’s weird because I never could have imagined I’d be able to paint a stick figure let alone an actual portrait. I’d never so much as picked up a paint brush before I came here. Now it’s all I want to do. I paint day and night, sometimes staying up until four or five in the morning sitting on my bed listening to Godsmack and Lady Gaga on my walkman, painting portraits of Leigh Bowery, James St. James, Amanda Lapore. I wake up craving painting the way I used to crave heroin. It’s hard to say what it means to me. Artwork is supposed to convey a feeling, an emotion without words. I think having to explain it in words would sort of defeat the purpose and ruin other peoples’ ability to form their own judgments. I’ll say this though: Painting has changed my life; it gives me a feeling of accomplishment. It’s like, I’ve made this piece of art that other people can get some enjoyment out of by looking at it. That makes me feel amazing.

JG: You have always been close with your mother. Has your relationship strengthened over the past 15 years?

MA: Well, yes, of course it has. I mean, this has certainly been rough on her, perhaps in some ways  more so than on me. I don’t have any children so I can’t say how my coming here has affected her. I can only imagine that it can’t be nice seeing your kid going to jail after committing such an awful, senseless crime. A lot of the pain I experience in here is generated by my knowing the pain I’ve caused other people. My mother. Angel’s family. The friends I’ve let down. In some ways this experience has brought me closer to my mom and some of my older friends. Just them being there for me after the terrible thing I did, after all of the destruction I’ve caused in people’s lives, how could I not be grateful for that and become closer to them for sticking by me? Of course, closer friends or not, if I could take back what happened, I would do it in a second.

JG: What is your biggest fear about coming back into the world?

MA: Wow, where to begin? I suppose my biggest fear is that people will see and think of me the way I used to be: a selfish, self-centered, egomaniacal drug addict. I am not that person anymore. It’s going to take some time, I know, for people to get used to the new, sober, more patient and empathetic me. Acceptance isn’t going to happen overnight. For some, it might not happen at all. I’ve led a life of indulgence. The first half of my life was all about me, me, me! I’m going to have to counterbalance that. I believe in karma. The second half of my life is going to have to be more selfless. I’m going to start having to do for others. It’s the only way I’m going to be able to start forgiving myself. So I guess my biggest fear is that people won’t allow me the opportunity to show them a different side of me. (Well, that, and wrinkles. But wrinkles can be taken care of with botox injections.)

JG: Back in the 1980s and 1990s you were very influential in the club/party scene. Are you still interested in that world or do you think your priorities and interests have shifted with time?

MA: Yes, of course I am still interested in that world. How could I not be? That “world” is where everything starts. It’s ground zero for new ideas and styles. I’m not going to be playing the part in that world that I played before. It wouldn’t make sense now. I’m no longer a “kid,” so I think it’s a bit ridiculous to call me a “club kid”. I think I can still be interested in that world, and do what I do, maybe be influenced by what I see coming out of it or whatever. That’s why I love people like Madonna, Joan Rivers, Betty White, who are still relevant well into their senior years. I mean, really! Imagine being so completely cool and hip and “knowing” at 77. Or 88! How fucking cool is that? Even look at Ozzy Osbourne. He’s maybe even a higher one — more than any other current rock artist. I’m not saying I’m going to be wearing blue polka-dots at 61; I’m just saying there are ways to be influenced by and maybe even be a part of the underground scene without letting yourself become absorbed and sucked in. I want to paint, and make movies, documentaries, maybe open a restaurant one day. Whatever I decide to do, I’m going to be influenced, in some way, by the club/party scene.

JG: We are now in a world where gay marriage is starting to be accepted. Gay rights have come a long way in the last fifteen years. What does being gay mean to Michael Alig?

MA: You know, I’ve never really understood this whole notion of labeling ourselves, determining what kind of person we are by who/what we sleep with. It’s just so crazy to me, like having a name for people who have foot fetishes. What the hell does it matter to anyone who or what you like to sleep with? To me, gay liberation is all about doing away with those kind of old-fashioned ideas, mixing seamlessly with straight society so that everyone is truly equal. I know it’s cliche, but because you know, I truly believe there are very few 100% straight or 100% gay people. I think that sexuality is more fluid than that, more like a continuum, with totally hetero on one side, totally gay on the other. Most people, I believe, fall somewhere in the middle, or maybe more toward one side than the other. And you know what? We’re all the same! We should all have the same rights. Luckily, I think it will happen in my lifetime. This next generation, the one coming up, they don’t care about sexual labels so much. Sooner or later the old fogies who are running (ruining?) things right now will be gone, replaced by people who are cool, smart, tolerant, and yes, fabulous!

Here is the song I wrote for Alig:

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