LGBT NEWS: Life After Meth

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  1. NOVAJock

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    DJ/PRODUCER JUNIOR VASQUEZ, THE HIGH PRIEST OF DANCE MUSIC, REFLECTS ON SIX YEARS OF ADDICTION ON THE EVE OF A BLOW OUT BIRTHDAY IN NYC

    Anyone with an affinity for club music will agree that an opportunity to get into the head of Junior Vasquez is nearly as exciting as, say, an interview with Madonna.

    After three decades, Vasquez, 55, has become the high priest of the New York club scene, he is far and away the most accomplished producer of dance music in the U.S., and nearly every other DJ on the scene today says that his or her inspiration came from hearing Vasquez play at a club like Sound Factory, a venue he revolutionized in the early ˜90s.

    So, my first interview with Vasquez, a year ago, was a memorable one - because it was so disappointing. Junior will be the first to admit that he doesn't remember the chat, or nearly any other conversation that he had at the time. The interview was rushed, Vasquez seemed annoyed by my questions, and his answers were not only tinged by his infamous air of celebrity, they were angry.

    Vasquez was angry ¦ and probably high. In fact, for six years until he began his own recovery last February, Vasquez was a crystal meth addict and it wasn't just his interpersonal skills that were affected. His music was even angrier than he was, it was punctuated by paranoia and a frenzy that typified a long night out of gnashing teeth, agitated dancing, and a ritualistic need to keep the party, no matter how dark it became, going for as long as possible.

    Most people in the industry had already noted that Vasquez was self destructing. Already in his 50s, his use of meth was leading to seizures, paranoia and bad judgement.

    By last February, Vasquez had had enough, and, in June, on the eve of what would be his first sober New York Pride gig in years, the fabled DJ candidly discussed in a self-written article for NEXT magazine that his party with meth was over.

    "Before crystal, I never had a problem with any substances. Drugs never appealed to me - I don't even drink. It's an age-old story. I didn't do crystal because I wanted to have sex. At the time I wasn't in need of any added euphoria - I mean, come on, I was already the most popular DJ in New York City. I did crystal to stay awake and focused ... at least, that's what I told myself at the time," Vasquez wrote. "I didn't realize it then, but the real reason I was doing crystal was because I hated my job. Hated. I was over the long sets and, to be brutally honest, I was getting tired of the scene. But for five years I couldn't admit it to myself, so I put myself in a walking coma in an attempt to enjoy it. It didn't work."

    During his six-year binge, Vasquez lost both of his parents and his sister: he doesn't remember the funerals. One senses that the profundity of THAT effect of the drug on his personal life was one reason Vasquez knew he had to stop, but there is more.

    "I want to see colors again. I want to hear things again," Vasquez emoted in his NEXT confessional. "I needed to love music again. Now that I'm clean, I can."

    What's more, he can give a lucid interview, but he does stop short of evangelizing about his drug use and demonizing those who do use. Vasquez does join the chorus of those who believe that crystal is not only destroying club life, but is also imperiling the gay community and the music that gays love.

    "I don't want to preach, but I saw what it was doing," says Vasquez who concedes that he's once again enjoying his status as a superstar.

    "I'm at a point now where I really enjoy the fact that people look up to me. I don't think there's a whole lot more that I can do professionally, so I get off on it. I think that I'm here to inspire now, and that's pretty cool."

    Junior Vasquez - born Donald Mattern in Philadelphia - went to New York in the early '70s and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology. According to remixmag.com, his aspirations didn't pan out, and he took jobs as a hairdresser and fashion illustrator.

    When he landed a job at Manhattan's Downstairs Records, he "immersed himself in the culture of New York dance clubs like the legendary Paradise Garage," where Larry Levan, Francois Kevorkian and Tee Scott were revolutionizing dance music. All the while he collected 12-inch dance singles, and played the ubiquitous house parties for friends. As his desire to spin and produce professionally took hold, he decided to let go of his birth name.

    "I just wanted to develop a persona," Vasquez told remixmag.com. "I wanted a nickname, and at that point it felt like ˜Junior Vasquez' had good street appeal. The last name came from my best friend - I took his name and he took my name. I finally changed my name legally a few years ago after I felt I had something to prove."

    At about the same time, in 1989, Vasquez got a gig at Sound Factory, and the torch had officially been passed from the likes of Pettibone and Scott to Vasquez.

    In the years that followed, the name Vasquez became mythic, and Vasquez rode the wave with style until 1998 when things began to fall apart for the workaholic.

    "It was toward the end of Arena, and it I used right up through Twilo. But I didn't do it to go to sex parties and all that shit, mostly just to stay awake. I wasn't really aware of what I was doing or the toll that it was taking on me or my life," Vasquez told In Newsweekly from his vacation on Fire Island in New York.

    "You know, I buried both of my parents in the last few years, and I was so high that I don't even remember the funerals. That's just not fair to them and what they meant to me. I can't get any of that back, but I can make things better."

    Vasquez now intimates that the loss of his parents during such a dark period in his life has caused him to think inward, to consider spirituality, and to simply take things slower. And, says Vasquez, he's not above regret.

    "God, I couldn't even think straight. It's sad that I have been to so many amazing cities and I don't remember any of it. I mean, I'm this guy with a massive career and I was really destroying myself," he says.

    "So, I just needed to pull it together because I wanted to enjoy that part of it again, I wanted to love the music again because it got to a point where I hated the music. Now I know that it wasn't the music that I hated, it was the drug."

    It's almost trite. Having interviewed dozens and dozens of DJs, the phrase "my sound is best described as tribal" is bested only by "The first time I went to Sound Factory and heard Junior play, I knew I wanted to be a DJ."

    Even if you've never been to a club, chances are you're heard of Vasquez, and, for better or worse, Junior has ignited a spark in many a would-be DJ superstar. That's why it's particularly poignant that this legend of production and the dance floor is taking pains to fess-up about his participation in what has been identified as the foremost contributor in the decline of club life and the resurgence of HIV and other STDs in the gay community.

    And, while Vasquez is adamant about the fact that his drug use was primarily a means to stay awake, he concedes that it ruined his music for a long time.

    "Drastically, because what you're playing is a refection of how you feel, and I was paranoid and tweaked and frantic. I mean, I always thought that I was playing great, but it was really a disaster and it was disgusting," says Vasquez, who played his first sober Pride in six years a few weeks ago.

    "Prior to that, I was so banged up that I don't remember any of them."

    Vasquez was more than banged up - he was cheating death.

    "God, I had a seizure on an airplane in Texas on my way back from Las Vegas! Then I was in the hospital, I bit my tongue, I had a blood clot in my eye - my body was just full of crap. It was disgusting," he admits, saying the recovery for him was deliberate and swift. "You know what, it wasn't a problem quitting. I just did it. I wasn't in the game."

    For newcomers to the club scene, a night out in New York these days with Junior at the decks might be a little shocking if what you're used to are his binging days. Preparing for a gala birthday, Vasquez says that he's back in form ¦ and back on top.

    "When you see me now, I'll be sober. I kinda hate milking that, but I guess that every gig I go into this year I'll be milking it a little bit," says Vasquez, making note of his birthday fete later this month.

    "It will be a big celebration for my followers and for those who only know me from the past few years, it will be a lot less angry. It will be more genius, more precise and far less over the top than what people are used to. It's not going to be tweaked, it's going to be concentrated, because now I'm digging back in again and giving people exactly what they want." •

    Join Junior at his annual birthday celebration at the ROXY in NYC on Saturday. Aug. 27. Doors open at 11 p.m. and close at noon on Sunday. Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door. For more information, connect to www.juniorvasquezmusic.com or www.roxynyc.com.
     

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