An Angry DJ: The Inside Story Of Studio 54's Steve Rubell's Wild Last Night

Our Angry DJ tells the wild story of a dinner party and club night that ended up being the last time the New York clubbing community saw Steve Rubell.
Iconic disco nightclub Studio 54 New York City.

Iconic disco nightclub Studio 54 New York City.

NYC circa 1989; my "pre-dot-com boom" 4000 sq. ft. loft in SoHo was costing a measly $850 per month. I came upon the apartment listing just days after the Black Monday stock market crash, a Swedish stockbroker named Chris who ran through an inheritance his father left him was "seeking a roommate" after losing pretty much everything in the crash that year (about seven months later he killed himself in a Nicholas Cage / Leaving Las Vegas-esque drug/orgy filled Fire Island weekend, but that's another story). My apartment was fucking massive; ceiling to floor windows, private elevator, we even set up a grow room in the back quarter of the apartment where we grew enough skunk to pay the rent for the next decade. I was REALLY into black and white stripes so the entire apartment was painted in B&W stripes -- every room except for Chris's bedroom, which was completely engulfed by scribblings from Keith Haring, his former lover.

The floor below me was rented by "Billy" (we will call him Billy so his kids don't find out about all of this), a resident DJ from Studio 54 who eventually became my confidant, my lover, my best friend as well as my teacher. A typical Thursday night consisted of dinner at my apartment (I loved to cook, Billy did not) for anywhere from ten to thirty people, made up of mostly Billy's friends and associates. It was normal to see Grace Jones smoking a joint in one corner (she was always taking her clothes off, I think the woman hated clothing), Mel Cheren chatting up a young guy in another corner, and all Billy's DJ/producer friends would be there, from Frankie Knuckles, Shep Pettibone, David Mancuso, etc. Every famous NYC DJ was there at one point or another. Our dinner parties were THE place to be.

This one night sticks out in particular because Steve Rubell was at the apartment and he looked like DEATH, he looked really sick and was hitting the booze and coke HARD that night. This is how it transpired: A young David Morales came to one of our dinner parties and was going on and on about how he was playing at Save The Robots that following weekend. Billy thought it would be nice for us to show up with a crowd and support Morales at his gig, so he organized a little get together like he normally would. Rubell was there with a bunch of his gogo-boy bartenders from 54, then Larry Levan showed up out of nowhere (he came straight to the apartment from the airport uninvited, again). There were maybe a dozen of us but something was amiss, something didn't seem right that night.

Larry never warmed up to me because of three things: first off I didn't want heroin addicts in my apartment, second I was kind of jealous of his relationship with Billy (I mean, I knew they fucked, and everyone was screwing everyone back then, but Billy really REALLY liked Larry and that made me mad as hell) and at the time I couldn't care less about DJs and DJing. On more than one occasion I drunkenly expressed my disdain for their "artform," saying "you guys DJ because you're too lazy to learn how to play an instrument. Anyone can do it." Thirty years later and I think that statement is spot on, but I digress. Larry was really stoic that night, more than usual, and as mentioned, Rubell was partying like there was no tomorrow. After dinner was over, we're polishing off a few bottles of wine, 3 am rolls around and we all head over to Save the Robots. I hated that club, it was hot as fuck and there were way too many straight men. Billy got wasted and ended up getting into a fight with a security guard who pretty much knocked him out.

So much insanity went down that night, I vividly remember everyone coming back to my apartment at 9 am, the morning sun blinding us as we were coming out of Robots, the horrible walk of shame, every honk of a cab horn felt like it was piercing my brain, the pungent urine smell of the LES wafting through the air. The way Billy tells the story, he claims the security guard who punched him in the face was TV show host Craig Ferguson, and upon further digging for the truth it turns out Ferguson was actually a security guard at Save The Robots but I don’t think it was him on that occasion.

Steve Rubell, who basically escaped Beth Israel Medical Center to party with us one last time, told us he was "calling a cab" and as we were all sprawled out on the couches, massive beanbags and mattresses that were scattered throughout the apartment, wishing our high would go away so we could get some sleep, I remember Billy playing Boz Scaggs “Lowdown” on a really soft volume. There was a peaceful, almost serene feel about that song, especially after such an event-filled night. A few minutes later an ambulance pulled out front of the building and Rubell stood up and said, "Well that's my ride." He got in the elevator and that was the last time any of us saw him. Steve was suffering from kidney failure and hepatitis and eventually died of septic shock only a few days later. There was no record of him ever leaving the hospital that week.

Like most 20-something year-olds, I took most of my interactions and experiences in those days for granted. My unwillingness to appreciate the talent that was around me eventually faded and led to me becoming "one of them" -- a DJ. But at the time, I was just enjoying myself, living for the moment, looking for the next passionate experience. Little did I realize the power of music; it can conjure up long lost memories, can turn grey skies blue, or it can bring you to tears. Here are 5 Nu-Disco jams that are sure to give any crowd serious feels:

Roy Ayers - Sugar (The Reflex Revision)

Ferry Ultra Featuring Boris G Jennings - Good Times (Late Nite Tuff Guy Remix)

Kenny Summit - Dirty Lowdown

Aeroplane - Love On Hold (Dimitri From Paris ReTouch)   

Chaka Kenn & Liquid Giraffe - Disco Goggles

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