The photographer once dubbed NYC’s “paparazzo from hell” has two photo retrospectives happening in Toronto during WorldPride. The shows feature New York club-culture icons from 1987 to 1990, including RuPaul, Leigh Bowery, Quentin Crisp, James St James, Divine and, of course, “Party Monster” Michael Alig.
John Simone — who from 1995 to 2005 was the writer of Xtra’s Xposed column, under the nom de plume Johnny Paparazzo — left Toronto for New York in 1986 and started working for Club 10-18 (now The Roxy), Details magazine (including Details’ influential nightlife column by Stephen Saban), Vanity Fair and The Village Voice. The magic really started happening when Alig appointed Simone chief photographer for his Project X magazine.
Sissydude recently visited Simone in his Toronto studio apartment to get a glimpse of his gorgeous photos and to talk about his subjects.
Sissydude: A young Harry Connick, Jr. He’s a baby!
John Simone: Yep . . . wait . . . wait . . . performing at Peter Allen’s birthday party! He was 21 years old. Now here’s Leigh Bowery with the It Twins, who were famous for never wearing the same outfit more than once.
Did you hang around with these guys?
Yeah, we were all friends. This is the night I hired RuPaul for a birthday party of the first Caucasian person who was in the House of Extravaganza: Marlon De La Ungaro.
Throughout our conversation, Simone runs around the apartment searching for photographs that are perfectly organized in neat piles on his pink dining-room table or framed and stacked on his hardwood floor. Practically every picture is a winner.
How different is your show at The Gladstone from the one at Buddies over Pride?
Twelve big images at the Gladstone. Over 50 images at Buddies. Here’s Divine’s last club performance at 10-18. He was dead a month later. Here’s Miss Perfidia; she won an Emmy Award for HBO’s Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway, and she’s now doing the wigs for Hedwig.
Did you have to tell these girls how you wanted them to pose? When you took my picture at a party at Buddies recently, you said, “Move your head to the left,” “neck up,” and I looked great.
That’s because I spent five years at Princess Cruises. No, but these people are professionals. Here’s Sister Dementia.
Yay! Pickle Surprise!
You know Pickle Surprise? This is the night she won the Queen of Manhattan contest — her and John Sex. Here’s event producer Susanne Bartsch’s discovery of Lady Hennessy Brown — flames in the pussy — pulling out magicians’ hankies from her pussy. Hundreds of them. She would lactate on the audience.
Oh, here’s Michael Alig.
Did we like Alig?
Oh, Michael was not on drugs when I worked with him. He gave me my start as a promoter. We’re in contact. I’m going to be providing him with photos for his memoir, Aligula. A filmmaker named Ramon Fernandez is in the middle of making a documentary about him called Glory Daze.
Did you have a favourite subject?
Leigh Bowery. There are more shots of him in my shows than anyone else. It’s not a coincidence that Leigh Bowery is considered a patron saint of the club kids. He led the way in so many aspects of inventing a new reality for yourself. You are never limited if you believe that there are no rules in art and fashion. Leigh lived that.
On to another picture . . .
John Stamos! I heard he’s a swinger.
He told me he had sex with Paula Abdul and she was a lousy lay!
So many great photos, John. What do they mean to you?
They represent crazy memories, wild personalities and a time in New York when the city was still gritty and real. It was before mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg actively campaigned against nightlife. I’ve got enough pictures for 20 more shows!