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murderer on the dancefloor: michael alig is back

After seventeen years in prison, Michael Alig – the murderous club kid, who inspired Party Monster – will be released on May 5th, and Anders Christian Madsen isn’t sure how to feel about it. He’d better not kill the groove.

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I know it’s kind of wrong, but I can’t help but feel excited that Michael Alig is getting released from prison. While I never knew him personally and never joined the legions of sulky emos, who’ve been writing letters to him during his seventeen years of incarceration, Alig was a pretty central figure in my young adulthood – and for all the right reasons, I’d like to think. It’s not that he’s an icon, because there wasn’t anything original about what Alig did, but like so many of my peers, I landed in London in the mid-2000s just as the Nu Rave movement was taking off. I watched Party Monster on repeat and went to Boombox in whatever Jean Charles de Castelbajac I could afford. I religiously read Super Super Magazine, I listened to Namalee and the Namazones on repeat on MySpace, and I did my best at sleeping all day and partying all night, Alig style. (I was way too dull and dutiful to ever pull it off, however.)

In the eyes of all the post-teenagers, who migrated to London ten years ago, who hadn’t partied with Leigh Bowery in the 80s, Party Monster was a guidebook to a new world – although we’d never admit it at the time – and Alig, via Macaulay Culkin’s portrayal of him in the 2003 film, was the poster boy for this rave new world. The fact that he had murdered his roommate Angel Melendez only ten years prior didn’t seem to bother anyone, which is a somewhat scary realisation looking at it today. The way I see it, it had to do with two main factors: on the one hand, there was Alig’s image and the fun, festive, slightly ditzy queen, whose fabulousness essentially outshone his crime. Secondly, Alig's, in interviews, seeming lack of remorse towards the murder he’d committed, and his at times irresistible sense of humour and redeeming self-irony, were somehow infectious. You forgot that this party boy was a monster.

A third factor, which I don’t really believe speaks in Alig’s favour but feel compelled to mention, was the matter of drugs. At the time of the murder, the dismembering of Melendez’ body parts and all the gory stuff that followed, Alig was so drugged up he was out of it, in the strongest sense of the term. I’m sure his fans have told themselves countless times that he wasn’t really aware of what he was doing. And maybe he wasn’t. But he still had it in him. When you watch Party Monster: The Shockumentary – the documentary that inspired the feature film – a teary appearance by Melendez’ brother hits you like a wrecking ball, because for the last thirty-something minutes, you’ve become completely entranced in Alig’s trippy world of parties, costumes, and craziness. The murder itself even seems like another over-the-top, literally unbelievable episode in Alig’s colourful life. And bang, there it is: he actually killed his friend.

Alig would hardly be known today if it weren’t for his crime, and as wrong and alarming as it is, it’s pretty much the reason for his club kid hero notoriety. When the music was playing, the drinks were going down, and the disco queen came up in all those Nu Rave-era club kids, everything was trivialised for the sake of fun. Even murder. Until, of course, you stop and really think about it. I can’t count the time I’ve referred to Alig as ‘cute’ (sorry but he was!) and explained away his monstrous side to critics, and to myself. When, in 2007, I read about the incontinence he’d acquired courtesy of an untreated pinched nerve in his lower back, which had made him numb from his coccyx down, I felt sorry for him and kind of worried. How would such a fragile boy fare in prison? But Alig isn’t fragile at all. The very skills that turned him into the club kid of the century, who thought he could get away with murder, have doubtlessly seen him through his time on the inside relatively unscathed. Of course I’m just guessing. 

Needless to say, I don’t condone murder, and I don’t think anyone who ever found Alig fascinating did so with that point of departure. His crime has, however, made him even more fascinating to me, because I can’t recall another person in history – within or outside my lifetime – who has been able to get away with murder quite like Alig, figuratively speaking. When he gets released on May 5th, I don’t think he’ll have a hard time slipping back into his old standing on the social scene, and I don’t think his criminal past will hold him back. And that’s the really interesting thing about Alig: he’s become such a star, albeit a phantom one, that he almost transcends himself and what he accomplished and what he eventually did. And that’s why I don’t feel as bad about being excited that he’s finally going to be in the real world. All analyses aside, it’s important to say that Alig spent seventeen years in prison and did his time in accordance with the justice system.

Read Michael Alig: A Killer Club Kid Returns here.