It was the turn of the century, the start of a new decade; it was the party that smashed my preconceived notions of what Toronto was capable of. The party organizer was a young man named Will Munro, a pioneer artist who established himself as an incredible DJ and event promoter with the party Vaseline. Will had a clear vision and worked to create something inclusive for the community that would be unlike anything happening in the city’s nightlife at the time. He asked me to be a go-go dancer for the night and I agreed because I love Will and I love rock and roll. For seven years I danced at one of the most outrageous and legendary parties in Toronto history and will do so again this Halloween when Vaseline returns.
Will was 25 years old when he started Vaseline. He had just graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design. I met Will three years earlier; mutual straight friends introduced us with the intention that we would fall in love. I did, although we never dated; it was a different bond we formed and he quickly became a massive influence on my life. Together we enjoyed dancing, becoming freaky creatures of the night, making art, sharing music, night swimming, double-dutch, and riding our bikes through the back alleys of the city.
Will knew Toronto much better than I and he really knew how to get people together and show them a good time. Whether it was punk wedding ceremonies in industrial areas, getting dressed in drag to go the CNE, or birthday parties that took over a subway car, no night out with him was ordinary. Will is determined to create his own entertainment and with Vaseline he did it on a grand scale that was inventive, cheap, dirty and for everyone to enjoy. He is a supreme song selector and rocks the dance floor with his DJ abilities. He knows exactly what to play to get people to abandon their inhibitions and established a party without rules. Dykes, fags, trannies, straight people, artists, rockers, ravers and nudists, as well as those in outlandish costumes, celebrated together.
There was kink, camp, studs, spikes, butches, femmes, leather daddies, and young queers all in one party at Vaseline. I think Will is like a gay mom to the community. He knows how to host the party and makes sure that everyone feels welcome and taken care of once inside.
Vaseline began in January 2000 at the El Mocambo on Spadina Ave. The club is an old rock ‘n roll venue where The Rolling Stones, U2 and The Police have all performed. The building with the large, light-up palm tree hanging outside had certainly never directly catered to the queer community before. When Will asked me to be a go-go dancer for his new party I did not know what to expect. When I arrived that first night it was already packed with people, many of whom I had never seen but over time would come to know them as the Vaseline crowd. In its third year, the party outgrew its venue and successfully moved to Lee’s Palace on Bloor St where it remained till the party ended. The growth of Vaseline created trouble for Will because the petroleum jelly makers threatened legal action if he did not stop using their brand name. Heaven forbid that Vaseline and gays be associated. The party changed its name to Vazaleen or Club V in order to continue.
Will did most of the work when it came to organizing Vaseline but the event required a team of people he selected to make the night complete. We were a staff he would bring to each party to make sure the night would be strange, surreal, fabulous and freaky. Tawny LeSabre was one mean queen hostess and would usually wear the most provocative costume in the room. Andrew Harwood was also a mainstay hostess, a ferocious fag who didn’t hesitate to take his cock out and piss on the dance floor or fuck a watermelon for our entertainment. Princess Coco Superstar was my fellow go-go dancer; men and women fell in love at her feet as they watched her dance the night away. She would sew and create all her own costumes and was the belle of the ball, presenting fantastic burlesque routines on stage.
I had the opportunity to become whatever I pleased: cowboy, teenage werewolf, or Liberace on a gold bed carried by four strong men. Rawbrrt and Miss Barbarafisch joined Will in the DJ booth spinning hot and heavy electro, punk, and rock’n roll. Roxanne Luchak projected a collage of imagery on the walls of the club that titillated and intrigued. Michael Comeau designed the posters for the street and Cecelia Berkovic artfully made collectable cards for promotion. The bar was taken care of by Lynn McNeil and Patricia Wilson; they were fast at serving and poured the drinks strong. This crew of queer misfits comprised the regular staff of Vaseline.
Will managed to bring an astonishing pantheon of musical artists to play the party. Nina Hagen, Lady Bunny, Rough Trade, Hidden Cameras, SSion, ESG, Jayne County, Lesbians on Ecstasy, Jackie Beat, Cherie Curry, The Gossip, and Peaches all entertained the packed club nights. I was exposed to an incredible legacy of performers, many of whom were queer themselves. The DJ sets included the music of artists such as David Bowie, The Clash, Le Tigre, Joan Jett, Miss Kittin, Missy Elliott, George Michael, Hole, Blondie, Judas Priest, and Guns N Roses.
My band, Kids on TV, were honoured the first time we were asked by Will to perform at the party. I created Kids on TV after dancing at the party for three years because I was so inspired by the music I was surrounded by. The band was my response to experiencing the rock and roll high school that Vaseline was for me. Although I worked at Vaseline as a dancer, it was still a big deal for Kids on TV to be asked to play because the role had been filled by so many spectacular artists before, it felt like a real accomplishment for us.
Vaseline had a huge impact on Toronto. The queer community often creates so many subcultures and niche groups within it that it was incredibly exciting to witness the broad range of people who came together for Vaseline. Whether it was to hear music that would not normally be played for the queer community, to dress up, to take all your clothes off in public, or simply to have a chance to dance with wild abandon, Vaseline was the place.
There are many stories circulating about Vaseline. And a new chapter will be written Oct 31, when the party is revived for Halloween. Resist the homogenization of queer culture; come and experience the party that truly rocked my world.