Village Voice: The Sober Bunch

Larry Tee is making a cappuccino in his Williamsburg loft. His dog Nelson, a rambunctious white-and-brown rat terrier, bounces like a jumping bean around the kitchen while Tee heats up milk and pours a round of espresso into his mug. The ceaseless self-promoter, known to the most recent batch of clubbers for electroclash, is never one to pass up credit for a trend. “I invented this!” he quips in his trademark squeaky voice, only partially joking. Tee helped Princess kick and lent support to *BOB*; he takes friends to NA or AA meetings. Sometimes people ask him about the meetings and never go.

During Disco 2000’s heyday, Tee lived above Twilo, another debaucherous super- club of a bygone era, where he enticed pretty straight boys with pills in exchange for thrills. In those days, he’d wake up at two in the afternoon, crawl to the post office, do a bump of ketamine, and call it a successful business day. “I was wasted and pathetic,” he says. “I couldn’t make music.”

Tee says that after he quit drugs, his career went from being on life support— provided by the royalties of his biggest hit, RuPaul’s “Supermodel”—to the kind of career every DJ dreams of: getting songs in movie soundtracks and jet-setting around the world. Now he plays not one but three of the city’s biggest parties every week. Those who still indulge, he says, are missing out on the most fabulous moments of their lives. “They won’t appreciate it when it’s really gorgeous, when life is just sumptuous,” he says. “They’re sleeping before their big gig in Brazil, like with a million people wanting to meet them and fuck them. And they’ve got their hands in their heads going, ‘Oh, my life is so hard.’ ”

He makes another cup of coffee. “One of the fears that I had is that getting clean would be miserable, that it’d be like the end of the road,” he says. “The party’s over, because it’s so much a part of being a rebel and all my rock-star heroes were drug addicts.”

With that he echoes a common sentiment and an accepted fallacy—propagated by popular wisdom and the work of bohemian heroes like William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Hunter S. Thompson—that the best art is made under the influence, that cool is derived from drug counterculture. So many musical subcultures are intertwined with drug use; so many records are made high or are best experienced while high. Try to separate the druggy associations from records like Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction (an hour-long love song to dope), Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” and every jazz record ever made. And would the rave revolution ever have happened without Ecstasy? Tommie Sunshine admits that his first drug experience was sitting at home stoned, watching The Wall. “So stereotypical,” he says.

“I allowed myself to be an addict because I saw it advertised as part of the counterculture that was part of my being an outsider,” says Kenny Kenny. “Really, in the end, that was a fool’s game.”

If drug addicts want to suspend time, as Leland purports, sober hipsters want to make as much use of it as possible. They are making up for lost time. Once they quit, their careers take off: “Opportunities have opened up for me that I couldn’t have imagined before I got sober,” says *BOB*. “I went from being a nightclub personality to a performer. I used to go to Squeezebox and go-go dance and be drunk out of my mind and have so much fun. But in the middle of the night, when the drag queens got up and sang with the band, I was sitting there thinking, ‘I wish I could do that.’ But I could never remember a song. I could never sing with a band. I could never practice. It was too much of a commitment. I’d be too hungover. I’d be too scared.”

The best part of clean living is the next day. Promoter Patrick Rood, 25, who’s never drank in his life and goes out as many as five nights a week, says, “I don’t know what a hangover feels like.” Like Rood, promoter Mike Nouveau never drank and has no regrets. “If I see someone passed out on a cold sidewalk in their own vomit,” he says, “I’ll be like, ‘And people ask me why I don’t drink’—or when my female friends end up naked on Last Night’s Party.”

While their partying counterparts are nursing hangovers by sleeping in all day, taking more pills, resorting to hair-of-the-dog strategies, and downing greasy burgers, sober hipsters wake up—if not exactly bright eyed—clear minded. “I go out so much for work, and I see the same people every time I go out, and they are all drinking and doing drugs,” says Yavari. “How do they do it every night? I come to work so tired and exhausted and feeling like crap, and I didn’t even do anything.”

Murray Hill cautions, “There are kids, who shall remain nameless, that haven’t got off the express train and they don’t look so good after six years. You notice that. The kids that are doing the coke—there are a few more wrinkles than I remembered.”