Strange things go on here at 4 in the morning. A siren blares. A subway tunnel smokes ominously deep beneath Broadway. And a young woman squeezed into a rubber dress seeks guidance from Jesus in a nightclub.
"Where is Delmonico's?"
She wants an address.
Jesus gazes blankly above her blond bouffant. With his beard, sandals and long white robe, he completes the picture -- a long-suffering Christ, pupils rolled under eyelids, palms cupped upward, feet barely touching the surface of a small pool above the dance floor. He appears to walk on water.
"Is it on Avenue B?"
Under ordinary circumstances Jesus would not respond. Albert Joseph Bernard III, impersonator extraordinaire, prides himself on self-control. Over the past two years in the monthly themes that have made the nightclub Area a hit among those who go out at night, Bernard has assumed roles ranging from Quasimodo to Queen Elizabeth I to Christ, without so much as flinching at what might hurtle his way.
But the woman speaking to him is no ordinary woman. She is Dianne Brill, the 25-year-old star of Andy Warhol's music video for the Cars and sometimes designer who with her Rubenesque figure and push-up brassiere, her four-inch Louis XIV hairdo and five-and-a-half-inch Jayne Mansfield high heels, could set women's liberation back a quarter century -- or forward a quarter century, depending on your point of view. A request from Brill, it seems, must be answered.
Suddenly Christ moves.
"Third between B and C," he whispers.
"Thank you, Bernard," Brill gushes, and in a whirl of swishes and kisses she makes her way out of the dark club, past the topaz glass pope's ring, past the plastic light-up Vatican, past the voodoo room, the Dia de los Muertos diorama, the Zen prayer chapel, the mezuza nailed to the wall, past all the props that have given Area a new look called "Faith" and Dianne Brill another backdrop for her role as Queen of the Night.
She walks like Marilyn Monroe.at10
There has always been night life.
Not since the go-go days of the early 1960s, however, has there been so much night life.
Consider this: Last fall the city of New York took on the night. Two years in the works, the upshot is known as the Quality of Life Nightsquad. Whereas once two inspectors looked for possible after-hours violations, the force now numbers 13 full-time inspectors working the 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. beat six days a week.
"New York," says Councilwoman Carolyn Greitzer, the moving force behind the night squad, "is increasingly a 24-hour city. You can avoid the law here for a long, long time."
"People who live during the day," Dianne Brill says fervently, "should not make rules for those who live at night."
"There are two worlds in New York," says Annie Flanders, editor of the fashion magazine Details. "Nine a.m. to 5 p.m., and 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. It's never been more true. Both groups go at it with equal gusto."
Call them victims of Every Night Fever.
You might see them on Saturday, but you are as likely to see them on Wednesday or Monday or Tuesday or Thursday or Friday, even on Sunday. You might see them at Area, or Danceteria, or you might see them anywhere: Beulahland; Cat Club; 8 BC; Kamikaze Club; Limbo Lounge; Limelight; Nirvana Club One; Paradise Garage; Peppermint Lounge; Pizza-A-Go-Go; Private Eyes; Pyramid Club
You could have seen more than 3,000 of them last Tuesday night at the opening of the Palladium, the 104,000-square-foot multimedia extravaganza designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki and decorated by artists Francesco Clementi, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
You might wonder why there are so many nightclubs. You might not know that nearly all of these clubs have one thing in common: art. They are called art bars. But in the loosest possible terms.
"Artists," says Steve Rubell, the nightclub impresario who ran Studio 54 until he was convicted of income tax evasion and today bills himself as a consultant to the Palladium, "are the stars of the '80s. They are as rock stars were to the '60s and designers were to the '70s."
Obese pizza eaters are artists. Photographers' assistants are artists. Good artists are rich artists.
A recent "exhibition" at Danceteria saw the walls of the multilevel new-wave extravaganza lined with Brazilian comic book drawings of the sort that get smudged by pubescent fingers.
A recent "performance" at Area featured stylists from all over downtown twisting and knotting and shaving hair into multicolored spiky creations. Is hair art? "You bet," says Brill.
Everything and everyone is an artwork. "I don't think of Dianne Brill as a designer like Halston," enthuses Joey Arias, design director of Fiorucci, somewhat cryptically. "Everything she touches turns to magic beauty. She is a walking, talking work of art. She is the woman of the future."
Now, you might find that "you are not the kind of person to be in a place like this," as Jay McInerney wrote in his roman a club "Bright Lights, Big City."
You might find that no matter how many times you look through the recherche' periodicals covering this scene, you don't get it. Back issues of Details, Eye, Talk and Paper may form piles around your bed, but a spread on the contents of Monique Van Vooren's evening bag may escape you.
Parties studded with celebrities named Kiri Off Broadway, Gina Coconut, Billy Idol, Miss Demeanor and Holly Wood may leave you feeling like a latter-day Malinowski among the Trobriand Islanders.
Then again, you might find, as Dianne Brill did when she abandoned herself to Every Night Fever, that you simply like the idea of breakfast before bed.
You are sitting in an Art Deco office at Broadway and Houston, a Sam Spade sort of office complete with a pane of milky glass set into the door. Behind a desk sits Dianne Brill in what she calls her "day clothes" -- a red fox-trimmed 1940s-style suit and a pair of four-inch heels strapped tightly around her ankles.
You are amazed. You discreetly inquire about her measurements. You think of "The Big Blonde," Dorothy Parker's short story about a woman who "suffered for her vanity."
Jayne Mansfield. You think of her. And Anita Ekberg in "La Dolce Vita." You don't need much prodding -- over the desk are two blown-up photographs of the stars. She says, "We love them."
You have heard about her, Dianne Brill. You have heard about how she came to town four years ago and suddenly surfaced as the queen of the night. You have seen her in the Cars' video, smiling her Pepsodent smile as the camera focuses on the words "hello again" spelled out in black tape across her chest.
You have heard people say, "All she does is dress and eat." You have heard that she is married to Rudolph -- just Rudolph -- the pale Berliner who looks not unlike David Bowie. Rudolph owns Danceteria.
So you are surprised by her businesslike manner. Here it is only noon and she is already in her office.
You think of Pat Buckley or Betsy Bloomingdale, organized socialites with crowded calendars. Again, you need little prodding. Brill immediately tells you, "I support the New American Rich. I mean, tongue in cheek. Over-the-edge opulence. I love it!"
"I want the old Hollywood," she says longingly. She means the Hollywood she saw on TV. "Poodles and heart-shaped swimming pools. I mean, Doris Day," she says and melts. "Sheep dogs and daisies. Not Sissy Spacek and mud!"
You learn that she "supports the new rich" through two lines of clothing she is designing for a show in August. One line is called Jailbirds or Prisonwear, she's not sure which name she will use, the other line the New Millionaires Club.
"You know, like even if you don't have it, spend it," she says. "I love all that phony luxury. Deluxe! I'd like to design something both Liberace and Ronald Reagan could wear. I am doing ascots with dollar signs on them. Satin ascots. A lot of richness, but new rich, like tongue-in-cheek money. Look like a million bucks."
You think she might be on to something. What, you are not sure. She tells you she grew up in Tampa, Fla., playing with Barbie dolls and drinking chocolate milk. She is a member of the first adult generation to have done so.
You ask her who she is.
"I guess I am an image first," she tells you. "Second, I am a designer. But I am trying to change that. The New York Times calls me the reigning monarch of the downtown scene . . . which is fun, fabulous. But now it's time to apply it to something that matters . . . that I can put in my pocket."
You ask her about her image. She ignores you.
"I've seen a lot of people, a lot of Andy Warhol's girls, that were really in the hip scene. They don't apply it. They just get old and they remember the days of yore -- you know, way back when. It's just such a waste. If they took all that publicity and attention and applied it to something tangible . . . "
You ask how she leads two lives.
"I am a Coffee Achiever," she says fervently. "I love those commercials. 'The movers and the shakers, the Coffee Achievers,' " she sings as she moves and shakes.
"I don't drink," she says, beginning a litany. "I don't smoke. I don't do drugs. I don't eat meat. I just drink coffee. And eat vegetables. Vegetables are good for the skin and eyes."
You wonder: Does she exercise? Jog?
"Being Dianne Brill is exercise," she tells you.
"No," she says, cutting the air with her hand. "I mean, you dance and you sweat and your hair gets disgusting and I am always wearing things that are very low-cut."
You wonder: Why does she go out?
"Business contacts. I make one or two a week. Plus, you see, in a nightclub environment it's almost surreal. I mean everyone is really dressed. We are being so fun and theatrical and animated, it really is attractive.
"So people tend to come toward me. I know people I wouldn't have been able to meet . . . our paths would not cross. So that's what nightclubs are helpful for. It's all a formula."
Once you get in, that is. Some art bars screen potential patrons.
"I'll let them in in green polyester if they look like fun," says the doorman at Area.
One night Christopher (Superman) Reeves, it seems, didn't look like fun. He stood outside the renovated warehouse in the bowels of lower Manhattan for more than 30 minutes before someone allowed him to enter.
"My location," says Cornelius, who runs 8 BC, located on a block of abandoned buildings on Eighth Street between Avenues B and C, "is my door policy."
Or once you find the place. Some of the new nightclubs are so exclusive that only the chosen few know their whereabouts.
Item: A bowling alley in Greenwich Village holds dances on a very irregular basis. They are, however, very hot dances.
Item: A man in Gramercy Park holds what he likes to call "charity balls" in his loft. Donations are taken at the door.
Item: Dianne Brill could not find the new Delmonico's, no matter how many addresses she tried.
Item: Last month Vito Bruno, the manager of Paradise Garage, threw a party in the 28th Street station of the Lexington Avenue IRT subway. Some 200 nighthawks showed up before the party was closed down.
"This is what we are trying to stop," says Councilwoman Greitzer. "They come and they go. We can't be there every night to see if there is a party going on illegally. Neighbors complain. The noise bothers them. It's not the type of noise we can monitor -- the low beat of the bass is what bothers people."
You might go on the wrong night. This is worse than not going at all. And each week there is a new slate. One week Brill might hit Danceteria on Tuesday, Limbo Lounge and Limelight on Thursday, and so on. The following week her calender might be reversed.
Says Greitzer, "The lines bother people, too. There are always lines of people outside these places. Lines at 3, 4, 5 in the morning. People trying to find cabs on their way out. People trying to get in."
You might go at the wrong time. The rule of thumb is, the later the better. "I always wind up at Area at the end of the night," says Brill. Where before? "Depends."
"Dianne who?" asks Greitzer. "No, I've never met . . . been to any of these places as a paying customer. I have no idea who these people are. I have nothing against them per se."
Legions of young professionals in fluffy parkas and L.L. Bean boots are marching by, heading home from the city's nerve centers. You are on the Upper West Side, Coffee Achiever land, home of the $1 chocolate chip cookie, designer toys for the perfect child, designer perfume, designer hair, designer towels -- in brief, a caffeinated designer wasteland. It is your first stop in a bout of Every Night Fever.
You are here because Dianne Brill is here. She is in the Charivari Workshop -- one of several seriously trendy stores that clothe Mick Jagger, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Boy George, nearly every rock star imaginable -- to preview the New Millionaires' Club.
Marilyn Monroe is singing "Fever" over the sound system. Big gold dollar signs are scattered around the shop. Sandwiched between racks of cool minimalist Yoshio Yamamoto and wildly hued Scott Crolla designs is the Dianne Brill section -- for men only, rows of paisley and plaid suits and silk ascots, attended to by none other than Brill herself.
"I love men," she tells you. "I am the perfect one to design clothes for men's bodies."
She greets each of her friends and supporters, planting red lip marks on cheeks like a glamorous aunt. Jon Weiser, one of the owners of Charivari, calls Brill "the best thing in American designers since Calvin Klein." He says he discovered her in Danceteria four years ago, "modeling her clothes."
"Gina!" Brill yells across the room. "Gina! Gina! Gina! It's the Gina Coconut! Ooooh. Ahhhh." Gina Kaegei, who is married to August Starr, lead singer of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, wears a fake zebra coat, platinum hair and black-and-white hose. She walks, or rather shimmies, over.
"Look at your hair!"
"Let me see your legs!"
"A total eclipse of the legs."
"I've known Gina since my birth," Brill tells you. "My rebirth, that is. We were in a movie together. We've done videos together. We've shared tears, but never pulled each other's hair."
Rudolph stands in a circle of his wife's fans. Someone is talking about hair, a skit called "Highlights of Hairdo History." Rudolph laughs with a German accent. Everyone, with the exception of a man who has just returned from Jamaica, is very pale. Ashen, in fact.
Someone is explaining the Dianne Brill phenomenon: "The woman is a Big Woman. There is nothing skinny about her. She is a sexy woman. She is bringing sex back, but with a twist -- the new old woman. She is not a stay-at-home. She uses her body, but she doesn't sell it. In matters of love, she is a comparison shopper with a shrewd sense of market value."
You are thinking about Wonder Woman comic books. You are thinking about Barbie dolls for the second time in your life.
"My favorite party was my own birthday party," Brill tells you. "Rudolph invited 150 for dinner at Danceteria. The Shirelles sang 'Happy Birthday.' It was like heaven."
She is being interviewed. As her friends feign disinterest, two reporters from The New York Times and one each from New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, Women's Wear Daily and WCBS Evening News crowd around her and her clothes. She handles the questions deftly, but you see she is nervous, perhaps thinking life is much easier downtown.
Someone is handing out invitations to parties. Parties in art bars in lower Manhattan where ashen is de rigueur. The one to Paradise Garage is printed on a parking stub. People talk about going to Mary Paul's and Beulah Land, art bar/restaurants on the Lower East Side. People talk about a private party in a town house in Greenwich Village, exchange addresses, kiss each other on both cheeks.
You are standing in the middle of a culture crunch. The fourth floor of Danceteria has been turned into a bazaar, and you are confronted by the results. Someone is selling East Indian clothes. Someone is cutting hair in American Indian Mohawk styles. Someone is selling phosphorescent Chinese sweets. Everyone, it seems, is wearing multiple strands of jewelry. Even the men.
At the center of it all is Dianne Brill, wearing a black rubber dress and white fur-trimmed black leather jacket. "Dianne, I want to tell you something," says a small boy looking up at her and smiling. He hands her a rose.
"He said he loves me," Brill tells you. "I don't even know who he is."
You are walking down the stairs to the next level of the four-floor club. Here in the dark are throngs of teen-agers doing the pony to the sounds of U2. You think it looks like fun.
"Take care of him," Brill commands a 200-pound man who looks not unlike Mr. T. You wonder why you need a bodyguard. Around the circular bar off the dance floor are harmless looking boys in flannel shirts and earrings, girls in toreador pants tight as sausage skins.
"Bridge and tunnel," Brill pronounces as you look for a cab on Sixth Avenue. A light drizzle has clogged traffic for blocks. Her hairpiece is falling apart. "I mean, I have nothing against people from Brooklyn and New Jersey. If I lived there I'd go out on Friday night, too. But they have nothing to offer -- no business contacts, no social contacts, no style."
The bridge and tunnel factor, it seems, is one of the main causes of Every Night Fever. "No," Brill says, "I don't usually go out on Friday or Saturday nights. The crowds are insatiable. You give them more and more and they want more, more, more."
You are entering and exiting parties and bars. But all you can remember is the back of a blond bouffant. You are listening to total strangers ask your date for an introduction to Laurie Anderson ("I barely know her"), Andy Warhol ("I can't"), George Plimpton ("someone took our picture together once").
You are watching Dianne Brill ask Jesus for directions to a nightclub.
"Hey, Hollywood! Mira! Mira!"
"Dianne, I looove you."
The men call out to her. Five, 10, 20 of them, all young, all restless, nightbirds in pegged pants and leather jackets, hair slicked back, huddled under the yellow lamps of lower Manhattan like so many Jets.
"Anita Ekberg, we love her," she says, easing her svelte ampleness into the back of a Yellow cab.
Anita Ekberg! The more she talks, the more she seems a self-parody, a Holly Golightly, a Baby Jane Holzer, a Viva for the '80s. As though she were telepathic, she whispers softly, "I am not one of those Andy Warhol girls."
Her rubber dress squeaks across the vinyl seat. Even though it is past 4 in the morning, there are just a few more clubs she wants to hit before the night ends.
"It's just constant noise," explains Councilwoman Greitzer.