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The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night.

Picture yourself on a horse with a woman. It's Halloween, and both of you are dressed (or, rather, undressed) as Lady Godiva. You approach the notorious velvet ropes guarding the entrance to Studio 54, that holy of '70s nightlife holies, and await the decision of club impresario Steve Rubell. "OK, " Rubell says, "the horse can come in. But you girls have to stay outside! "

Going to such (often futile) lengths to gain entree to a nightclub seems silly and outlandish in this day and age of clubs on every comer, but in the heyday of Studio 54--from 1977 to 1980--such extreme measures were the rule rather than the exception. In his fascinating book The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Might, social observer Anthony Haden-Guest (who has written for such magazines as New York, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Vogue) vividly re-creates the glory days of the New York City nightclub that Rubell and Ian Schrager opened in a former TV studio. Depending on your own past experience, the stories Haden-Guest has to tell--some hilarious, like the Lady Godiva anecdote; some incredible, such as the tales of patrons so desperate for admission that they bribed or threatened the doormen (or even climbed the walls)--will offer either a psychedelic trip down memory lane or a fantastic vision through a mist-shrouded looking glass.

It's not just that there had, been nothing like Studio 54 before--discos such as Le Jardin, Infinity, and Flamingo had already set the tone of New York City nightlife. What happened on West 54th Street was a magical confluence of time, place, and the public's readiness to party. With its cavernous interior refurbished as the most adult of playgrounds, complete with a neon man in the moon who periodically took a huge sniff from a gigantic coke spoon, Studio 54 was a place where everyman could live out his private fantasies. As gays partied with straights and the famous rubbed elbows with the obscure--the mix of patrons Rubell referred to as his 11 salad"--Studio 54 became a talisman in the pop consciousness of the day. More than a mere disco, Studio 54 was the spawning ground of today's celebrity culture, the place where the stars who needed no last names turned up: Halston, Liza, Calvin, Andy, Mick, Bianca, Grace, Sylvester.

Although Studio 54 dominates not just this dishy, juicy book but the times it chronicles as well, Nightworld--as Haden-Guest labels the society of Manhattan night crawlers--goes on without it. The arrest and imprisonment of Rubell and Schrager on tax-evasion charges in 1980 and the closure of Studio 54 itself only served to send nightclubbers elsewhere. The lessons of time and the litany of clubs that have come and gone--Xenon, Area, the Mudd Club, the Saint--merely demonstrate what true discomaniacs have known all along and what The Last Party proves beyond a doubt: You can't stop the music.
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Goss, Fred
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 15, 1997
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