Clubbing in Paris in the early 1990s was a very hit and miss proposition. The typical nightclubs, or boites (pronounced bwot) of the era combined the worst musical trends of the 1970s with the worst ethics of the 1980s. Clubbing in Paris was perhaps the worst idea you could have if you were poor, ugly, and easily bored.
Boites were frequented by professional models of both sexes, seedy politicos, French media personalities, and their respective collective entourages. The older richer clientele would literally purchase the right to sit at a table for the price of a bottle of whiskey. The bottle of whiskey was normally a middle-upper range blended Scotch variety such as JB. It was always served without any ice or coke at the cost of 500-1000 francs depending on the swanky-ness of the club and which day of the week it was.
Entry fee at the door was usually 100 francs, with the exception being well-dressed unescorted girls who of course got in free. Europe is full of boring bourgeois masses. These are not the people who go to boites, except on business trips or special occasions. The people who do hang out regularly in these clubs are normally underworldly in some manner: hustlers, politicians, union officials, drug lords, and gangsters.
The genre of music played at a typical boite could be anything from contemporary eurotrash anthems to classic Studio 54 New York disco. Once inside, since there is nowhere to sit, it is expected that you dance in front of the 40 to 50 year old businessmen who can afford a table. If you wanted a drink, you just smiled and sat down and they gave one to you. If the old men did not like you they told you to take a hike. It was not too subtle, but it was very casual. Kind of like no hard feelings but get lost. This is because French men tend to enjoy the company of young people of both sexes. And they cannot, even two or three of them, drink a whole bottle of alcohol by themselves.
Are you getting my drift? The general idea of the French club is a place where rich married French men are free to meet girls and boys who will fuck them for money or at least pretend to be their friends in exchange for letting them sit at the table and drink overpriced drinks.
This is supposed to be glamorous and it sometimes is if the club does it right. The clientele pay dearly for it, but as a an old man these are of course your only options besides picking up a prostitute in the Bois de Boulogne or never fucking anyone good looking ever again. And there is always your wife at home with her ugly poodle, saggy tits, graying cunt hairs, inexplicable neuroses, and bitter church going disposition.
Being capable of getting pussy without paying, I tended to avoid these clubs like the plague, even when I was a poorer and less enlightened student who could have used a couple hundred francs and a nice glass of whiskey. But once the drug game started working in my favor, Nina and I sometimes got dressed up in our Italian fashions and hit the town, perhaps visiting two or even three of these clubs per night in an attempt to show off our money and have a little fun.
My regular party friends almost never frequented boites unless they were on the guest list and there was some special event. Sometimes when you mentioned going clubbing they sort of gave you a worrying glance and asked ça va? which is the French way of making sure you are in your right mind.
At worst, the clubs were downright cheesy. At best, the hipper clubs like Queen and Les Bains Douches were a nice place to do some drugs and hobnob. One would often see French politicians and celebrities like Bernard Tapie and Laurent Fignon but never cool French people like Gerard Depardieu or Serge Gainsbourg who were more likely to be in a seedy bar.
More interesting perhaps were the Hollywood stars that abounded. And you could actually go over and engage them in a conversation. The cosmic energy in Paris is so overwhelming that even the biggest stars seem quite mortal. Living in Paris as a young man equals the playing field. Just being there makes you by default at least as interesting as they are. Maybe more so, because you can stay and they have to go back to Los Angeles.
The feeling of being in the underground bars like Chameleon, Les Frangins and Polly Magoo that have existed for so many years is overwhelming. I was content for hours just to down my Carlsbergs in the knowledge that Gregory Corso and Albert Camus had been drunk in these places. But given the dearth of good clubbing options and the rise of acid house, more and more underground dance places were appearing as the 90s progressed. This gave an exciting alternative to the comparatively lame standard Parisian boites.
But still youth needs to get its groove on, and since the clubs didnt offer anything that compelling, the rave scene filled the void nicely. Raves were all the rage in the early 1990s in Paris. Whether they took place in fields, airplane hangars, chateaus, or school gymnasiums; it was always much more fun than getting stuck talking to some 50 year old wannabe geezer whose entire evening of polite small talk is only building up to the point when he feels the time is right to ask you if he can take you home and fuck you up the ass. No thank you.
I remember being mistaken for a rent boy on several occasions at clubs by drunk men who rub your ass or even worse your girlfriends ass and then you must get violent. I normally scream Fuck you, pervert, which is understandable all across Europe as a pretty decent insult, especially when accompanied by a vulgar gesture.
However European men rarely accept a slight in public since after all it is the land of aristocracy and chivalry and all that malarkey. They normally yelled back something in whatever language they spoke best. And you know what happens when I get yelled at in a foreign language. My American instincts come out and I tend to go ballistic and then there is a fracas. I sometimes wish I just could have been adult and ignored the motherfuckers.
I mean, old men have their eurotrashy clubs and kids have their raves. As long as everyone has fun, who gives a fuck? The two worlds should not collide. If this same old geezer were at a rave he would feel equally out of his element. I felt out of my element in these clubs. They just didnt make sense at that stage of my life. At the time I think I would have rather died before admitting to a life of drinking shots of whisky, listening to bad music, and getting sucked off by drug-addicted teenage models in the bathroom.
Okay maybe the sucking off part would be okay. But if I can still get it up at 50 I would want to fuck them at home or at least in the car where I could enjoy the sensations of their young flesh in my old tobacco stained teeth. Perhaps all that matters in life to the over 40 set is that they blow their load up a good-looking girl or boys ass and that is that. But no way do I feel sorry for the kids who must work these places. Deep down inside they know they are nothing but whores. And they also know they are not working day jobs. Europeans are smart enough to appreciate that tedious repetitive work is perhaps the root of all evil and the death of all art.
Thankfully, my friends were not in this group of people. My Nina and I did not need to perform live sex acts in front of old men to make a living. Most of my friends had jobs or easy money from a trust fund or a rich relative. And me, I was their drug dealer. I had more money than I knew what to do with most of the time. We were all solidly in the young and good looking fuck up category, which will take you further and make more people jealous than a Masters degree any day. You cannot suck an educations nipples and no amount of thesis work will ever make you want to get off a French politician with a stinky old cock and sagging balls.
For a laugh, even after we were well established, my Nina liked to go to boites sometimes to convert the heathens. We were not Jesus and the Apostles inventing a new religion. We were not the Mormon tabernacle choir singing Beethoven sonatas to naked tribesmen in Africa. No. It was me in my Gucci suit and sunglasses doing my best eurotrash. Rather it was us, Nina and I, who bought the bottles of whiskey and drank them all with 50 franc glasses of coke while pointing and laughing at the perverts and mocking the gay boys and overly skinny girls dancing for their paymasters.
We would snort lines off the table and tip the waiter which insured we would never get busted and even get warned if any narks or undercover policemen were around. But this was just precautionary. As I probably stated before, the French do not care if adults do drugs in clubs at 2 a.m. with their friends. It is not really even illegal. The cops, or les flics, (pronounced lay fleek) will only bust you if they have some ulterior motive.
And a flic has nothing to gain except paperwork and falling out of favor with the club owners if he busts you. The cops in Paris are educated in existentialism and do not have high moral standards like our American cops. Parisian cops are nothing to worry about. Existentialism works great. No shit. Laws are laws and lip service is lip service and unlike some other parts of the world the two are rarely confused in Paris.
Now the Rex Club, however, was not a typical Parisian boite. The Rex Club was and still is as far as I know in the 2nd arrondissement on the big wide Boulevard Poissoniére. Thursdays at the Rex was all very hush hush. Nobody who knew about it talked about it or invited their friends along. It was already popular enough; sometimes there was a long line outside that stretched halfway down the block.
The building looked quite magical from the outside and inside it was somehow modern yet cozy. The décor made you want to sit down and have an overpriced drink. It was a place to be seen but that was not its biggest appeal. It was a great place to be. Because Rex was synonymous with the birth of French house music and its clientele were an entirely new breed of people to me.
Maybe people like this have existed for centuries in Europe, but I have never read about them in great works of literature. They were young and rich and ready to party. But not uptight, just sexy. The entry code was strictly enforced at DJ Louis Farniers request. You see what I mean? No you probably dont. It was not like a small Parisian Studio 54 without the pomp. It was something new. A place where the music mattered as much as the fact that everyone was young and sexy. It was the promise of jazz combined with jouissance, new money, and chemistry. It was the unplanted seed of an impossibly beautiful boite resurrection.
And it was not about appearance. It was about the positive dance sex vibe revolution. Yes every single old rich guy in the world would give up their money to be 22 again. Youth and determination wins out over age and impurity. We can change the world by dancing and emoting love. This is not only possible; it is inevitable.
Like proper young Parisian socialites, we never waited on line. Luckily my mates Jasper and Marianne knew the bouncers and also the son of one of the owners. It was not too hip to be American in Paris in the early 1990s because of the Gulf War, so we all kept our English to a minimum. I was pretty good with my French by then. The only thing that threw me into a loop of misunderstanding were the 100% born and bred Parisians who talked so fast their entire sentences sounded like one word
Parlez plus lentement, Sil vous plait!! (You must speak slower, please!)
Sometimes we were invited to the basement to get high in private. The Rex Club was not the ideal place to huff lines off a cocktail table. Sometimes we even refused the invitation. After all, we had pills and the music always sounded best in the main room.
To say the Rex was a good crowd would be an insult. To me it was the only crowd. It helped make me believe in Sartres concept of being. Being anywhere in particular had never much mattered to me before The Rex Club. That Thursday club night with DJ Louis Farnier changed my life by showing me a higher ideal. Before that I felt it was all the same old shit no matter you went. I felt everything was petty and replaceable. They had somehow brought the rave atmosphere to a club filled with models and overpriced drinks. And that was a vibe I could get into.
DJ Louis Farnier, the French dance master, was on the decks. His records are still some of the most listenable house tracks out there. Farnier spun records every Thursday at the Rex Club and would often try out new material there. He produced and created many of his own tracks from scratch. Artist yes. Top notch. I dug him like a father and a brother and a friend. The man is a sage and a prophet and one of the greatest French men ever to have lived. BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM. Whats not to like about that when you are out of your head on pills and powder at 3 AM? What we take for granted in the 21st century was completely new in 1992.
I was jealous of him, yes, but mainly a good fan. And most of all, just happy that I was there to enjoy his vibe. Deep inside yes I wanted to be him. He had the whole package. He was Parisian, immensely talented, good-looking, and underground. Wowee. The whole enchilada. Or the whole banana nutella crepe. Or whatever.
At 5 am, when his set was over and the next deejay came on, he would come out onto the dance floor and mingle with the crowd or dance by himself. Guys would approach him to congratulate him on his set. Girls would go over and kiss him. He was like the crazy young uncle of the kids at Rex. Everybody loved him. Groovers would come for the atmosphere but stay for the music. Thursday night became a spiritual service of fuckupedness and was kind of like church to us. A church with good music, drinks, and pills.
The pills were available from a club-sponsored runner who would casually go from person to person and ask them in French and then English if they wanted any extase. Almost everybody, including us, said yes. Ecstasy is the best drug for the club environment. Its safe, effective, and puts everyone in a good mood.
Nina and I came out every Thursday because we wanted the Rex Club to do very well so it would stay open forever. Thursdays was the only big night for the Rex and DJ Louis Farnier commanded a hefty price tag because he brought in throngs of good looking loaded kids.
But even good clubs go out of business all the time. Sometimes the owners are only opening them to clean their drug money. And although I never went on another night, I bet the rest of the nights at The Rex Club were rather more like the same typical bullshit you would find at other boites.
The main drug runner at the Rex most of the time was a wannabe tough kid named Marcel. He was probably early twenties but he looked late teens. Marcel had tried to grow a moustache on his pimply face, but it was really just a dark wisp of hair under his nose that made him look even more sketchy than he would have looked without it.
Marcel was especially attentive at bothering everyone in the club. He became well known for his particularly annoying antics. He would try to sell pills to every single person, and also steal drinks from the bar for the few girls he managed to chat up. Sometimes people would complain to Pierre, the enormous bouncer. Pierre would attempt to sort Marcel out, but it was obvious Pierre pitied him and was moreover sympathetic to his predicament.
Yes, Pierre was the bouncers name. And Pierre was huge. While I think the name Pierre has wimpy connotations in America, (perhaps all things French have a wimpy connotation in America but I may be wrong) Pierre actually means rock or stone in French and sometimes this rocks methods went to far as you shall find out. For some reason he took a liking to me, which was good because he often worked the door. Approaching the Rex and seeing him there was great because he let us skip ahead in line and sometimes even get in free.
Late into the night, Marcel the drug runner would start to substitute speed or even aspirin for the ecstasy pills. He did this so he could sell the real stuff to someone else off hours and make a lot more money. I suppose his line of reasoning was that we were all a bunch of silver spoon fed rich kids. He must have thought we were not likely to notice, much less complain, with all the other drugs in us.
So if a clubber looked naïve, or young, or just fucked up,Marcel would sell them a dud. This worked perfectly almost all the time for him. I figured it out one night but did not say anything to anyone and just started bringing my own. I guess I thought since I knew the owners it was not my place to criticize their runner. Why? I learned as a kid that people always kill the messenger anyway. Drug buyers get what they deserve. You have to be stupid or desperate to buy pills in a club off a stranger. And at some point all runners end up in jail, so you really have to pity them. And so I did Marcel.
One night, on perhaps my 15th visit to the Rex on Thursday, I met an English kid named Danny who was talking about The Stone Roses. He showed up late and asked me where I could score a pill. I called Marcel over and the deal went down right at the bar. Well since it was his first pill of the night, Marcel should have been smart enough to sell him a real one. But he wasnt. He didnt even give him speed, just an aspirin or something else with no effect. I mean, amphetamine is not an expensive drug to produce. It probably only costs about 10 francs a hit wholesale anyway. But aspirin as we know is just about free and Marcel was as thick-headed as a two day old baguette.
So anyway it was about 3 a.m. in the morning and this Danny kid wasnt getting off on his pill. He was starting to bore me telling me all about Ian Brown and how he had met him once and how he loved him and how much his songs meant to him. Then he started going off on John Squire being such a prick and doing too much cocaine and wanting to sound like Led Zeppelin and breaking up the band.
The Stone Roses seemed to Danny to be the only important issue in the world. I loved him for it. It was so real to him. Much more real and true than the Labor Party or his parents generation. Thats passion for you. But then he started complaining about the pill and I told him that Marcel sometimes sold duds to tourists to earn extra money and that he had been duped. Danny didnt believe me. He told me in Manchester you could get killed for that. I told him to relax and pulled a good pill out of my pocket and gave it to him. He popped it in his mouth but had a stern look on his face as he glanced in Marcels direction. I sensed trouble but didnt want to interfere. Hes a cunt sometimes but a good kid, I think I said. Danny didnt even hear me and his gaze was transfixed in the direction of Marcel, who was trying unsuccessfully to chat up perhaps the only fat girl in the whole club.
Then Jasper came over to the bar and ordered two Becks for us, which was nice, because I had just finished mine standing there talking to Danny endlessly about Madchester and how mental everything was.
After taking a sip from my beer, Jasper and I went to the bathroom to do a line and then joined the girls shimmying on the dance floor. We danced for about forty minutes when I gave the girls some money to go back to the bar and get us all another round. Nina took my money and headed off the dance floor. I sunk back into the music like quicksand.
40 minutes later Jasper was getting thirsty and started complaining to me that the girls were sitting down and talking to Jason Priestly, or at least someone who looked like him. I was upset because it was now 4 a.m., over an hour since I finished my last drink. I hated it when the girls didnt listen to me. I had the taste of bitter lines and sweat in my mouth, which is not a good combination. If this kept up I would be too thirsty to make it through the last hour climax of Farniers set. Jason Priestly, as far as I was concerned, could suck my fucking dick.
As I headed towards the table to scold the girls, all of a sudden Danny the pissed off English kid ran up to Marcel and punched him in the nose sending him flying across the club, bouncing off a bass module, and then hitting the floor in a disheveled pile. I looked around for Pierre the bouncer. He was nowhere to be seen. Like almost everyone else deep down inside, I love a good fight. This one looked pretty evenly matched. Two skinny teenagers with boundless adrenaline and energy. Could go five rounds. But give the English kid an edge because he got the first punch in. He wasnt afraid to fight, that much was clear. Those mancunians are a rough bunch.
What with the ecstasy pill and all the coke in me the violence gave me an adrenaline rush and it pushed me over the edge into seventh heaven. Jasper was oblivious. He was perhaps the last person in the club to notice the fight. He was too busy dancing his goofy German techno dance. I cant properly describe it, except to say he generally flailed about like a nazi zombie resurrected from the fall of Nuremberg.
It was the only time I ever saw a fist fight in a club in Paris.
I screamed again at Jasper, Its a fight. I cant believe it.
Japser was too high and primally teutonic to respond to my stimuli. I had seen him like that at raves on three or four es but never in a club before. It was that good, The Rex Club. The spirit of rave transformed into a Parisian boite. It felt too good to last for long.
Blitzkreig! I yell as loud as I can and wave my arms.
Other people look at me and then I decided to ignore Jasper and focus my attention on the fight.
Marcel got up off his butt and socked Danny in the nose and then they grabbed each other and wrestled to the floor. Everybody in the club, no matter how high or into the music, stopped drinking and talking and dancing. Everyone stared at the melee. DJ Louis Farnier even noticed from his deejay booth and started playing some chill out music.
Finally when the music changed abruptly, Jasper snapped out of his dance trance and breaks the tension in the air by laughing in his big dorky German voice
Der har har har! Marco, look at zee two children fighting! Der har har har.
Then Pierre the huge bouncer as wide as tall comes bounding past me, nearly knocking me on my ass. I feel a whoosh of whiskey breath air move by me and it feels cool as it rushes against my sweaty face and hair.
I manage to get out of the way. Pierre the bouncer grabs Danny the pissed off kid from behind. He lifts him off the floor, letting Marcel get in a few free punches. Then Pierre grabs Marcel as well and starts shaking the two of them and yelling
Arretez-vous tous les deux!. (Stop this you two!)
Pierre, not a man of many words, now had both kids by the neck and he continued shaking them and shouting. The rough translation of what Pierre said to them was:
What the fuck is going on here, you pieces of shit, this is a business and it is my job to make sure these things do not happen. Do you want me to lost my job?
Danny could not understand French at all and he looked at me for help. I shrugged my shoulders, indicating that he had gone too far and nowhe was on his own.
This kid sells bad drugs! yelled Danny to no one in particular.
There are no drugs in my club, right? says Pierre the bouncer in English, which is about as silly a statement as I could bear to hear without laughing out loud. I realize I am too close to them and I step back and Nina kisses me on the cheek and hands me my overpriced bottle of Becks.
It makes me feel like royalty to have nothing to do with this predicament and just watch it all high like a roman emperor. I think for an instance that they should have fights in clubs all the time as a side event. Get back to the decadence of Rome. Nah.
I take another step back and fill my mouth with the Becks. It
is refreshing and bubbly and oh so very yummy. I wash what remains
of those lines down the back of my throat into my stomach. I know
my hangover is going to be lulu if I keep partying. I decide I will
continue to drink a few more and then head home. My normal routine
for dealing with a hangover is to sleep until mid-afternoon, rent
some movies, and order a pizza. Of course that is not a cure but
a treatment. The only real cure for a hangover is to start drinking
again. And when there is no steady job to be had, then there is
only fun to fill the day. And nobody would argue that a hungover
day at home is worse than a normal day at work.
Pierre stops yelling and he and Marcel start playacting. They are working in tandem as employees of the club, but to the casual observer they must appear to be enemies.
Are you selling drugs in my club? Pierre the bouncer asks Marcel.
Never. I am here to dance.
Liar! yells Danny and punches Marcel in the face not once but twice. Marcel is definitely getting the worst of it. He is still too shocked to retaliate. On the third punch Danny ends up connecting not with Marcel but with Pierres left pectoral muscular tit.
Pierre makes no reaction, not even grabbing the area where he was punched. Pierre calmly engulfs the entire head of Danny in one hand and then folds his left arm behind his back with the other hand. This causes Danny much pain in the process. Then Pierre starts to torque Dannys arm every time he tries to speak or squirm away. Pierre is good at his job. He nods to me to assist him. I smile and oblige. He walks Marcel towards the door. I follow behind at a distance.
Hes a fucking fake drug dealer, Danny yells at everyone in the place. But in Europe making a scene is much worse than drug dealing and everyone regards him in the worst of lights.
Pierre keeps torquing Dannys arm to shut him up. When he gets him to the front door he yells No drugs in my club! and then Pierre kicks him against the thick metal door. Danny bounces back and swings wildly. This time he somehow manages to miss Pierre entirely.
With twice the force as before, Pierre bounces Danny off the door again and then punches him in the head on the rebound which sends him flying backwards into the door for the third time. Now Danny does not bounce back. He merely crumples to the floor.
Danny is knocked out cold. Unconscious as a fried fish stick. Pierre picks up the lifeless Danny and motions for me to open the heavy front door. I oblige. Pierre throws Danny out onto the sidewalk. Then Pierre motions for my bottle of Becks. I give it to him. I think he is going to drink it but he doesnt. He pours it over Dannys head. In a moment Danny awakes, and sees us standing there. He looks horrified. He scrambles to his feet and dashes off into the early morning Boulevard Poissioniere traffic. There is a sound of screeching tires and a loud thunk.
Holy Shit! I scream to Pierre.
Danny is sideswiped by a bus. Empty of passengers, it continues onwards. Danny does not move. A street cleaner in a green uniform rushes over to help him.
Pierre looks at me and says in French, Did you see that stupid kid run right into the bus? He certainly didnt need any more drugs...
Yeah what a retard, I say and we laugh and go back inside.
The bouncer returns to Marcel who was sitting in the corner licking his wounds. Farniers set was over and the chill out session was underway. The deejay seemed concerned and walked over to Pierre to ask for an explanation.
What the fuck is going on in here?
Marcel announces that he was attacked for no reason by a crazy kid from England. And then he imitates him in broken English
Mental. You sell me bad pills and for no reason. Give me my money
back. Mental. Im English and I work too hard for my money. Mental
Then Marcel continues in French stopping every so often to sop up the blood from his head with a Heineken bar towel.
DJ Farnier and Pierre and Marcel and I all share a laugh; then Marcel frowns and holds the rag over his nose to stop the flow of blood that suddenly erupts. He starts to head off towards the bathroom.
Pierre grabs Marcel by the shoulder and spins him around, gazing at him sternly.
Yes, but what he said about the pills, was it true?
Marcel does his best to look the innocent victim.
No. I mean no one else was complaining, right?
Pierre tried to be diplomatic.
Well consider this a warning. That kid just got hit by a bus. So I hope you are not selling bad pills because that would be stealing. And since I never got a cut you know very well that I have to report things like this to the proprietor.
Marcel reached in his pocket and handed Pierre a crumpled 200 franc note.
Pierre the Bouncer looks out at the club over his massive pectorals and laughs, Thats more like it, kid. Cmon Marco, the clubs almost closed. Ill get you another beer.
But deaths at the Rex were quite rare. It was mostly lovey-dovey. The kids danced in groups and there were hugs and everyone felt the communal waves of chemical euphoria from the cocktail of drugs. It made you forget the tediousness of life and trying to figure out your role in all of it.
However I did have some idea what I wanted to do after my life of crime was over. I was pretty sure I would use my drug money to establish a tourist business somewhere in France or Italy. After all, tourists always have money and they are always looking to spend it somewhere. It seemed like a good idea. Much better then where I ended up as a Q&A advisor for Chrysler with a wife and kids.
But when I looked honestly at myself, 22 in 1992, I thought I would still have 10 to 15 years of fun ahead of me before such things would become a reality. I was more interested in fornication than anything else. But perhaps I thought I was still too traditional for this crowd. Until the night I wasnt any more. What? Let me explain. Or as the French would say, Laissez-moi expliquer!