The Saint Goes Marchin’ In: Trippin’ on the Moon II Brings Back the Legendary Club Sound
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there existed a magical place. Every Saturday night, it would come alive with thousands of beautiful men dancing into the next afternoon to truly beautiful music.
The time was the 1980s, and the place was Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where the Saint brought a totally new sound to the newly buff legions of gay men. It was a brief period--only for a few years, because its existence coincided with an insidious new disease that in the beginning so struck its members that it was called "Saint’s Disease" before the acronym "AIDS" stuck to it.
But during that period, there was a sound. It came out of Disco, but it added a rawer emotion. It had the deep backbeat of what became House, but with a stronger melody line and more emphasis on instrumentation other than bass.
Robbie Leslie, who, with Michael Fierman, discovered and played and mixed the discs at the club in its heyday, points to certain songs that were, it seems in retrospect, only played at the Saint.
OK, so maybe we should add the Probe in L.A., the Pavilion on Fire Island, and a handful of other gay nightspots. But where else would you have heard--and have you ever heard again--songs like Sharon Redd’s "In the Name of Love" or "Alive With Love" ("I can make you see me/I can make you want me/I can make you know that I want you"); or "Saving Myself" ("What did you think I would do/Sit all alone by the telephone"); or "Back to You" ("I’ve got to get back to you/If it’s the only thing I ever do").
I came late to the party, but I remember hearing these gorgeous melodies and being transported. With the exception of a very, very few artists today (Lea Lorien, Amanda Wilson, the unstoppable Martha Wash), well, girlfriend, I’m just not feeling it.
That’s what makes Trippin’ on the Moon such a very special evening. Christina Visca is bringing Saint veterans Leslie and Fierman back for one evening. On Oct. 11, the Sunday before Columbus Day (come on, tell the boss it’s the Italian-American national holiday!) at Santos Party House, on Lafayette Street just south of Canal Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown, you can dance to songs by Erasure, Abba and everyone in between.
Visca is herself a veteran of New York’s gay club scene. She’s been promoting and producing around town for 25 years. She was one of the original spirits behind the first Sound Factory--you know, the one where Junior Vasquez laid it down on Sunday morning while Kevin Aviance and the Uptown crowd vogued at the flashlight-enhanced back bar.
More recently, she was hosting Disco Tea nights at Splash. She was also producing Baseline with Junior Vasquez, and a night at Delicatessan restaurant with Hex Hector, among many other projects.
The indefatigable Visca, who looks amazing for all those late-late nights (hate her!), also manages to sandwich in charity work, like the legendary 50th birthday party for Keith Haring at Pasha. A member of Paradise Garage founder Mel Cheren’s inner sanctum, she has been instrumental in keeping that other Downtown Manhattan famous gay club alive.
"I thought I have to do this for my Saint crowd," Visca says of the upcoming Trippin’ on the Moon. The Saint at Large parties, while totally fun, have pretty much moved beyond the original Saint records.
"That prompted me to do it," she says. People came into the original party, held in May, from as far away as Australia. "It’s so great to hear those old sounds again," she says of her first "Trip." "It was amazing."
The first party certainly attracted survivors (that’s the right word, considering the times) of the original Saint. But there were also several younger people. Some were fan dancers, some brought by older friends, some merely wanted to experience great music.
Visca herself has been going out since she was 16 years old. The first party she produced was at the Limelight, under the guise of the notorious club owner Peter Gatian, in 1983. She also did the door at Gatien’s Palladium, and gay night on Sundays at 1018, in West Chelsea. She even did a stint at Studio 54 door toward the end of that club’s reign. Then she became very involved in The Saint and the Garage.
A real estate broker in her day hours, she has managed to stay in touch with the DJs who perfected our music--names like Frankie Knuckles and Victor Calderone.
Robbie Leslie remembers Studio 54 as well, but it’s the Saint (along with the Sandpiper, the predecessor to the Pavilion on Fire Island), with which he will forever be associated.
The supremely talented Leslie fondly recalls the first "Trip" as a "tremendous success. It’s the closest thing to the Saint," he says. "The energy and spirit in the room was like what I experienced at the Saint.
"There are a lot of people out there who don’t get a chance to hear that music, especially in the style we used to do it," he adds, "starting easy, getting more intense, a little drama here and there, and a beautiful downtrip."
He and Fierman don’t do any "dueling DJs" routine or hand off to each other; instead, the two complement and work with each other throughout the evening. "We do the party together," Leslie says. "Actually, we complement each other: Michael’s taste is a little more English, hard, mid-’80s. My sound is prettier, early ’80s. a nice mix. We work well together. Our musical taste isnot monotonous."
Leslie sees "not a lot of musicianship" in the new music coming out now. "Back in the day, there was a lot of talent putting out this music," he says. "Dance music per se--it’s all pretty much done on computers. There’s not a lot of creativity."
Instead of creating music, it involves a lot of sampling of old stuff (how many time have you heard bars from Chic’s "Good Times"?). "Now it’s Victor Calderone or Ralphie doing stuff on their computer," he says, "cannabilized from older music."
A tribal celebration
It’s funny to think of dancing to music from the 1980s. It’s comparable to people in the Swinging ’60s Beatles Era dancing to Benny Goodman and the Big Bands.
Or is it?
There have been surveys that have shown that taste in music doesn’t have the same "generation gap" of older times. People in their 20s and 30s often enjoy the same music as people in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s. The Beatles are a good example.
But anyone who has seen a crowd that crosses several decades collectively throw their hands in the air when Ortheia Barnes (and Cut Glass) testifies that she’s never going to make it "Without Your Love" knows that this music crosses generations. Oh hell, it crosses genders, sexual identities, nationalities, because this is music, like Bach and Garland and Coleman are music.
It’s something that Leslie noticed at the May party: "There were people who had been to the Saint and don’t typically go out dancing anymore, and people bringing younger friends and people genuinely curious about sounds other than the Circuit culture they’re used to now."
Parties like "Trippin’ on the Moon," then, are far from those nostalgia concerts you see during Pledge Week on PBS, when AARP members are rocking to the oldies.
"This expresses continuity," Leslie explains. "Instead of just the flavor the month, it’s a way to show where our roots are and where we came from. Some think it’s just Studio 54 and the clothes. But if you dig under the surface, there’s a lot of interesting and great stuff there."
Trippin’ on the Moon will be held at Santos Party House, 96 Lafayette Street (just below Canal; take the E, F, A, 1, J, M, R, W or 6 trains to Canal) on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009. Tickets are available from WantTickets or at the door (if available). Part of the proceeds go to several AIDS-related charities.