You know you’re on a party plane when announcements come not from the pilot or flight attendants, but from one-half of the design team known as Heatherette.
“Hi, this is Richie Rich,” the pixie-ish glitter meister intoned over the loud speaker. “Jenna Jameson left her rings, including a Hello Kitty ring, in the bathroom and now they’re missing. They really mean a lot to her, so if someone could return them to her up here in the third row, it would make us really, really, really happy. And we’ll give you an extra fruitcake.”
The party plane in question—chartered by the Life Ball 2007 organizers and helmed by People’s Revolution PR poobah Kelly Cutrone—was making its champagne-soaked journey from New York to Vienna for the world's most flamboyant annual AIDS charity event, which raised $1.5 million last year in the ongoing battle against AIDS. It was the kind of flight where you couldn’t swing a Chloe manbag without hitting a high-profile transsexual or gay former-boy-band member. The hairdressers never stopped screaming, the models never stopped primping, and the overly-titillated flight attendants never stopped cock-teasing. Everyone on the plane oozed fabulosity and clinical narcissism.
After eight hours of insanity and first-class food, we touched down on the Austrian airport’s runway and were instructed by an on-board Life Ball hostess to “get fluffed” because there were paparazzi waiting for us outside the plane. The dowdy journalists among us were not amused. “It’s 6am New York time and we’ve had no sleep and too much champagne and they want us to pose for photos in blazing sunlight?” This did not stop transsexual superstar Amanda Lepore from making a dramatic descent down the plane stairs and onto the red carpet that had been unfurled on the tarmac, rivaling Jayne Mansfield’s giddy deplaning in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Also keen to strut down the carpet was Alan Cumming, who was greeted by autograph hounds bearing 8 x 10 glossies of the quirky actor. When Lance “I’m GAY!” Bass made his way past the phalanx of photographers, I swore I heard crickets chirping. But the Heatherette boys were barraged with flashbulbs and questions—and they gamely responded by explaining how their fight against AIDS involved glue guns, sequins, and organza jockstraps. After a strange, wake-like “welcome party” in the airport VIP lounge—featuring apple juice and spoons filled with dollops of foie gras—we were bussed over to our ultra-chic, uber-designy hotel, Le Meridien.
Moments after checking into our hotel my friend Lee and I decided to break rank from the perilous party brigade and do a bit of sightseeing. After a quick look-see at the gloomy interior—Vienna is chock-full of gloomy interiors—of Saint Stephens cathedral (pictured above) we headed for a nearby bier garten where we slowly but surely began a Patsy and Edina-style rampage through the living mausoleum of a city—a descent into boozy Teutonic madness, if you will. While enjoying some local Austrian pilsner, we were chatted up by some older British couples on holiday. When we told them we were in town for the Life Ball, a portly man in the group, who reminded me of Onslo from Keeping Up Appearances, cracked “Remember: You can’t get AIDS from a handshake—unless another man is sitting on your hand!” We thanked him for sparing us from the same fate that apparently felled Wayland Flowers—all those years of fisting a puppet, some surmised—and decided to go in search of Vienna’s gay happy hour.
Above: "Bush Go Home" seemed an unlikely slogan for a lesbian neighborhood.
Our first stop was a dank, deserted little place called the Café Savoy. With its 19th century, chandeliered interior spruced up with some shiny fabric that looked like it had been ripped from the loins of a Heatherette model, the saloon possessed a tawdry, Fassbinder-like glamour. There was no happy hour, or happiness, to be found here, but there was no shortage of perfectly acceptable local beer. The fussy proprietor, who ran around feather-dusting the decrepit sconces and turbaned African slave statuettes, suggested we wander down the street to the decidedly more lively Café Willendorf (a lesbianic nod to the Venus of Willendorf, no doubt; a subject discussed at length by my friend Camille Paglia in her book Sexual Personae.) Sitting outside in the café’s lovely garden, Lee and I became acquainted with a very Visconti-sounding cocktail which bore the baleful moniker “Death in the Afternoon”—a conspiracy of absinthe (imported from the Czech Republic), a drop of soda water, and more absinthe. Despite the fact that Lee said he felt a surge to his heart after just a few sips, we happily forged ahead through two rounds. We were now more than ready to make our entrance at the champagne welcome party back at our hotel.
Above: Scene from the Life Ball, which I will eventually get around to describing.
The Le Merdien party consisted of everyone who was on our plane from New York: Mya the singer was looking stunning, the svelte Alan Cumming was spending much-needed time at the buffet table, Patrick McMullan was snapping wildly, star DJ Larry Tee was grinning broadly, and the 0% body fat models were getting increasingly more twisted on the free champagne. After a glass or six of bubbly, we ran into Miss Guy and I became nostalgic. “I’ll never forget the time I saw you and Connie Girl on Robyn Bird in 1987,” I cooed, recalling my first exposure to Manhattan Cable TV when I was in the 3rd Grade. Kelly Cutrone orchestrated the paparazzi as photographer Mario Testino and Italian Vogue editor Anna Piaggi made their entrances. I saw one of the stick-thin male models almost eat something before spitting it into a gilded cocktail napkin. He snarled at me when I complimented him on his shoes. We then decided it was time to go party with some authentic Austrians. Why fly all the way to Europe to get shit-faced with the same crew you’ve been rubbing rouged elbows with at Beige and so forth since 1994? After some drunken Googling in Lee’s room, we decided on a gay discothèque called Why Not? (I loved the name because it was a phrase that had become infamous in my social circle in the late ‘90s when Bruce LaBruce and I were invited to attend Warhol film director Paul Morrissey’s annual Christmas party at his apartment. When I introduced Bruce to the host, Mr. Morrissey responded, “Bruce LaBruce. Why not?”)
It was during the cab ride to Why Not? that we became terribly lost—not lost in Vienna, but lost in the world.
Me: Where are we going again?
Lee: Uhm, I think we’re going to Tom’s Leather Bar.
Me: Oh, that amusing place we went to in Mexico City?
Lee: We are in Mexico City. I think.
Me: Really? Those buildings don’t look very Mexican. I think we’re in Turin.
Lee: Why would we be there? What happens there?
Me: Wait, look at the architecture over there. I think we’re in Paris.
Lee: For the collections, right?
Me: That would make sense. We’re in Paris. I mean, didn’t we just see Anna Piaggi back at the hotel party?
Why Not? was crowded and fun; a charming little dump with a parlor-like ground floor and a small dance floor downstairs. Upon arrival, we were immediately adopted by a zaftig fag hag who supplied us with shots of unidentifiable liquor. “We have to enter a lottery to go to the Life Ball!” she complained to us. “You’re very lucky to have been invited.” I considered selling her my press ticket—did I really need to go to another AIDS benefit with battalions of drag queens trying to upstage each other?—when she grabbed us and dragged us down to the dance floor. “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer, inarguably the best dance record every made, was throbbing from the speakers as we began to cut some proverbial rug. Before I knew it, I was dirty dancing with a handsome and athletic Austrian man and a few hours later I woke up in a bed that was not my hotel bed, again wondering what city I was in. Considering the company, it didn’t matter.
Hours later I stumbled back to the hotel and squeezed myself into my slim Raf Simons suit, much the way Karl Lagerfeld squeezes himself sausage-like into his suits, and donned my silver leather Common Projects sneakers (all from Seven New York) and a semi-sheer white Burberry shirt (selected by Barneys sales associate and nightclub historian Tim McKlusky) and headed over to Vienna City Hall with Lee for the beginning of the Life Ball (yes, finally.)
Crushed in the middle of a crowd of body-painted, pierced, naked, sequined, tarred and feathered freaks, we awaited the arrival of Sharon Stone. I couldn’t help thinking how reviled Stone was by the PC gay establishment back in 1992 because of her portrayal of a coke-snorting, poontang-flashing bisexual murderess in Basic Instinct. (I had actually crossed a ‘queer’ picket line with a gaggle of skinheads and Bruce LaBruce in Boston, during a gay writer’s conference, to see the film on opening day.) Now she was being praised as some kind of queen of the gays. I hope her publicist gets some Bulgari and Beluga every Christmas for orchestrating that little career move. So while we were waiting for the opening pageant to begin, we had a Seinfeldian moment (remember the episode where Kramer walked in the AIDS Walk and was harassed and ostracized by AIDS activists because he didn’t feel like wearing a red ribbon?) “Why aren’t you wearing the ribbon?” an Austrian man in a black sequined tuxedo demanded. He bore a large satchel of red ribbon pins. “They only cost five euros. Don't you care about AIDS?!”
“We don’t have any money,” we lied. I mean, hello? We were covering the event and in effect, contributing to AIDS awareness (and FTR, I was an AIDS activist in the late 80’s/early 90’s). “We’re journalists. We often don’t carry money.”
“Ah yes, that does make sense,” he said before moving on to his next victim. I couldn’t help thinking of something my friend Camille said in the ‘90s, during the one year that everyone wore red ribbons to The Oscars: “Those pins ruin the lines of the clothes!”
After waiting for a few more moments in the Wigstock-meets-the-Mermaid-Parade-meets-Sally-Bowles-on-acid mosh pit, Mario Testino puttered down the long runway Shriner-like in a gold glitter bedecked VW Buggish sort of thing—a “baby buggy from Mars” as Sissy Goforth once put it. This was followed by Sharon Stone who had a humpy Austrian man in tow—it was unclear whether he was her husband or merely her rent boy for the evening—and then began the bizarre opening performance. Playing on the Ball’s theme of fairytales, the production consisted of a mad Icecapade-like show, with skating and dancing dukes and duchesses and fairy princesses with dialogue entirely in German. It was something like an imaginary collaboration between Walt Disney and Leni Riefenstahl, if Leni had possessed a sense of humor. The climax involved a nice bit of eye candy: a naked, slightly hairy, handsome “king” who held a royal orb between his legs which barely concealed his impressive family jewels. He saluted us by turning around and bending over, sending the mostly ass-loving crowd into a delirium of erotic frenzy. After the show Lee and I headed for the backstage area, accessible only to a handful of VIP journos, to watch the Heatherette team prepare for their big fashion show. We quickly discovered it was the place to be at the Life Ball, away from crush of uncomfortable crowds.
Jenna poses with some circuit queens from the North Pole
Jenna looking stunning and yours truly looking very The Day After Death in the Afternoon
Above: Porn empress and glamour puss, Jenna Jameson and Richie Rich of Heatherette