I despise liver. But I'll eat it once in a great while, usually in the form of p at some social function, just to see if my tastes have changed. For the same reason, when the friends I was visiting for Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., asked if I wanted to go dancing the night before the fireworks, I didn't bark "No!" when they added, "Junior Vasquez is spinning."
I have nothing personal against Vasquez. When I interviewed him last year, he was funny and even vulnerable; nothing like the bitchy queen I'd been warned to expect. His singles "X" and "Get Your Hands Off My Man" still sound great. Keith Haring, whom I admire deeply, wrote about Junior affectionately in his diaries, and the Keith Haring: A Retrospective, the Music of His Time mix CD that Vasquez made as part of the Whitney Museum's 1997 Haring retrospective features some of my favorite disco cuts. Regardless, I had major Junior "issues."
My years in New York (1989- 1997) coincided with Junior's six-year run as lord of the Sound Factory, where his epic Saturday night sets lasted long into Sunday. I went to check out what all the fuss was about once: I felt like an extra from Freaks and Geeks who had accidentally wandered into a photo shoot for an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog; the room was packed with shirtless, pumped and sweaty white gay men. It was a short visit.
Despite my self-imposed exile, I never had trouble keeping track of what Junior was playing because I worked at a record store in the West Village on Sunday afternoons. After their drugs had finally worn off, the muscle boys would trickle in. They'd look over the new releases on the wall for a minute and then, as an afterthought, at puny little me.
"I'm looking for a record. You know the one . . . Junior plays it all the time." I'd muster up the most bored-looking face I could and confess that I didn't go to Sound Factory. They'd size me up again, think, "Of course you don't," and say, "Well, it goes. . . ." And then they'd sing an excerpt, something along the lines of "thump-thump-thump-whoo!"
Fortunately, one of my co-workers kept abreast of what was in Junior's crate. He'd slap on a brand-new house record, and the queen would cry "That's the one!" like a mother who just found her lost child. And every one of those damn songs sounded alike. So I hated Junior, because he popularized mediocre, interchangeable dance tracks, and the interchangeable muscle boys worshiped him for it. Spending a night listening to Junior Vasquez was my idea of hell.
But my D.C. hosts plied me with the right drugs, and I decided to give the old girl a second chance. The verdict? I can only recall one other occasion when I have danced as long to a single DJ. The one-note Junior I thought I knew was not in the booth. Instead, he played songs that he and Haring probably danced to together: "Electric Avenue," "Rock the Casbah," a snippet of "Moody." He lifted the crowd up with lyrical messages of hope and friendship, then brought us down with slow, throbbing grooves that transformed the dance floor into an X-rated Animal Planet, asses grinding like slo-mo porn shots. Beats shifted in and out of synch, unfolding into mesmerizing polyrhythms. He even dropped in a cut my friend swears is by 'N Sync; it sounded dazzling.
The diversity of the crowd was just as surprising: A 6-foot-4 fellow who looked fresh out of Marine boot camp, save for his oversized paper fan; petite Japanese girls turning pirouettes beside a burly black man in a "God Can" T-shirt. At one point, I spied the godfather of DJs, Larry Levan of Paradise Garage fame, cooling off on the sidelines. I was hallucinating (Levan died in 1992), but it was a good omen nevertheless.
The Biceps Brigade was out in force, too. I saw the cracks of so many bubble butts peeking out of sagging jeans that I wished I had a stash of pencils so I could sneak around and see if I could slip them between ass cheeks undetected. But what I noticed most was how emotionless the Brigade seemed. When the rest of the congregation would throw our hands skyward in joyous abandon, they kept on dry-humping slowly in their ketamine hell. Amidst the smiles of those swept up by the music into a state where all self-consciousness dissolved, their expressions remained blank.
Four words I never thought I'd say: I love Junior Vasquez. Thanks for making me feel sexy and beautiful, even when hundreds of the musclemen I let chip away at that part of my spirit were all around. Screw your protein shakes, boys—I'm having the p.