Winter in Detroit. Leland City Club. Early 1998.
Lauren picks me up from behind Noir Leather in downtown Royal Oak, our usual rendevous point, at about 10:30pm, even though the club's been open since 9:00pm. We drive to a liquor store on 12 Mile Road and pick up some Newcastle or Honey Brown (which Lauren prefers because she says it tastes like pussy; she, like me, is bisexual), or, if we're feeling particularly ghetto, 40 ounce bottles of King Cobra, and cloves, and then head into Detroit.
She takes I-75 south almost directly into the club's parking lot. She parks at the far end, thus minimizing the chances of hotel security (the club is on the second floor of a 20-story building occupied by a Ramada Hotel) or the Detroit Police toying with us. She leaves the motor on, pops in a 4AD mix tape I made for her earlier that day, and breaks out the beer and smokes. Just at that moment, our mutual friend Marisa and her boyfriend Nick knock on my window. I smilingly let them into the back seat and hand them each a Newkie.
For the next three or four hours, we all sit, drinking, smoking, laughing, talking, listening, kissing, dancing (inasmuch as it is possible to dance while sitting in a parked car), and in general, having a grand old time. At midnight we tune into 96.3 WPLT's 1980s night, which is broadcast live from a club in not-too-far-away Pontiac (a suburb north of Detroit), and dance some more, making the car jiggle wildly on the outside, which lends an air of perverted glee to its occupants.
By the time we're out of beer, it's closing in on 3:00am. We pack up the trash and slide it beneath the car parked next to us, and stumble drunkenly into the club. We cautiously navigate the three flights of stairs up to the club entrance, and pass a steady stream of people leaving on our way in. We go through the normal Detroit club ritual, which includes paying a cover charge, having our IDs checked, and getting frisked by the in-house security people. Due to the festivities in the car, we head into the girls' bathroom (all four of us, guys included) to fix our makeup and hair. Most of my lipstick has come off from drinking beer by the bottle and kissing Lauren, so I select a tube of dark purple lipstick from my ammo box (which, in those days, most goths (regardless of gender) carried as purses) and apply several fresh coats, and then seal it with lip gloss. I finish first, so I light a clove and lounge around on the sofa in the bathroom's antechamber, where I make casual conversation with the other club-goers, all of whom I know by name. They're the only ones still here after last call (2:00am), which is normally the cue for non-regulars to leave.
Everyone else finishes freshening up and we head to the dancefloor, where the DJ is just getting into an industrial set. Being swirly-girly goths as we all are, we don't really feel qualified to dance to this, but we do anyway, stomping around in our skirts, big hair, big boots, fishnets and makeup, leaving a trail of cigarette ash and glitter in our wake. Lauren sidles up to me and we start grinding against each others' thighs in an obscene parody of the traditional rivethead stomp. Marisa and Nick join us a few minutes later, and we turn toward them, and they laughingly join in. Before long we're all trading kisses, grinding ever so much harder, now feeling the lower bass scale of the music as much as the shuddering dance we're all inflicting upon one another, all the while being glared at by the rivetheads on the dancefloor, who as usual are taking themselves far too seriously. Before long we all make our way to the side of the stage area, where it's mostly pitch dark despite the window overlooking the parking lot. It's deathly hot on the dancefloor so we crack open the window and smoke. We continue what we started on the dancefloor for the remaining hour the club is open (another classic City Club ritual occurs at 4:00am, when the club staff wanders around the place, shouting at everyone to get the fuck out), until we're each confronted by the security people, who menacingly shine their flashlights in our eyes and tell us to get the fuck out, right on cue. The music has stopped and we make our way back to the coat check, all blinking wickedly in the bright lights suddenly assailing our eyes. We suit up, and head back downstairs and outside into the harsh, filthy Detroit winter, our decadence postponed once again until next Friday, as always. We walk back to Lauren's car, slowly through the bitter cold, hugging out skinny bones, talking about tonight, about how pathetic we are to come here every week despite the recent influx of normal college kids, and start planning for next week.
Goth clubs transcend music, alcohol, society and manners; they're a world unto themselves, despite whatever disturbances they encounter. They're made from the worst stuff on earth (no, not Clamato; usually just decrepit old buildings), and are attended by relatively normal people who pride themselves on being into rather abnormal things (BDSM, cross-dressing, any and every drug, arousal for every sexual identity, etc.), but you can't help but adore it in all its ubiquitous drama and flashy ugliness.
...Until it gets old. And... then, long after you stopped going for whatever reason, you age enough to miss all its intricacies, and you come to longingly remember all the nights you spent soaking up its dirty glamour.
Epilogue: 10 years later
With the retrospect that comes part-and-parcel with age, as I write this afterthought in 2007, nearly 10 years after I left Detroit, I recognize City Club as the place where I transitioned from a child into an adult. It was where I found my individuality, true friendship, fleeting love, good music and the foundation of how I judge whether or not something or someone is aesthetically appealing. It has had an enduring influence on my taste in music over the years, too. Up against the problems that arise as I slide into middle age, it seems like a lost paradise.
I still talk to Lauren and Marisa, after having gradually lost contact with them over the intervening years only to find them again thanks to the knowledge afforded to all by the internet. Lauren, now a comitted lesbian, lives in Chicago and works as an editor for a magazine. Marisa left Detroit shortly after I did to attend New York University, and my time in NYC (late 1998 to early 2000) coincided with hers for a short time. She now works as a lawyer. Though we all look back on our City Club-going days with nothing but fondness, not one of us is still a part of the goth scene (and although I won't presume to speak for them on the subject, I'll always consider myself a goth).
City Club was (and for all I know, still is for someone, somewhere) a place for phone numbers written in eyeliner on the backs of club fliers, and of anonymous snogging with strangers virtually guaranteed to be accompanied by an invitation into their home for the express purpose of fucking, with no commitment or emotional baggage expected or given.
Above all else, it was about fun. And though I haven't been there since my last visit to Detroit (my home from birth to age 22) in late 2000, there's still a darkened, noisy, dirty, gorgeous place in my heart where my memories of City Club live in immortal splendor with my younger self: big hair, black clothes and all.
There's more on my relationship with Lauren here.
Pictures of a different era:
Me in May 1998
Lauren and me in February 1998
Marisa and me in February 1998