Auld Lang Syne with sticky glitter

by Robin Green
Toronto Globe and Mail
January 2, 1979

NEW YORK - Midnight, New Year's Eve in Studio 54, the world's most famous (and infamous) discotheque.

The wildest sound and light show in town is driving the 1,500 or so dancers crammed on the club's massive dance floor into a near frenzy. Suddenly, the music stops; a replica of The New York Times' old electronic news bulletin sign in Times Square is lowered to within inches of the dancers' heads, and it starts the countdown: 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.

The crowd roars out the numbers - amazingly, in unison.

At the stroke of midnight, every light in the place seems to blow up in a gigantic flash, and on comes the music - Gloria Gaynor singing I Will Survive.

I Will Survive has become Studio 54's theme song, ever since the big bust of two weeks ago, in which 32 armed federal agents (most of them from the Internal Revenue Service) raided the successful West 54th Street disco that used to be an opera house, confiscated all the club's books and arrested Ian Schrager, one of the owners, on a charge of possessing two ounces of cocaine.

Mr. Schrager was subsequently released on $ 50,000 bail.

The people at Gifford/Wallace, the firm that handles public relations for Studio 54, thought the Studio's doors would never open again, but that night there was a party. It began at 10:30 p.m., just minutes after the federal agents had completed their 12-hour search of the place (in addition to the books and cocaine, they confiscated a large cache of Quaalude pills which were found in the club's office safe), and soon after midnight, Steve Rubell, the club's other owner, stepped into the DJ's box and muttered a few largely incomprehensible words of thanks to the capacity crowd for having put on such a "show of support."

Then the music cut him off: the song was I Will Survive.

Drinks were on the house. And everyone said it was Studio 54's finest party. But that was before last Sunday night, New Year's eve. "This, said a jovial Truman Capote, sporting a brown felt hat, a windbreaker and round, dark granny glasses, "is one of the best parties I've ever been to. I'm having a wonderful time."

Also there and unmistakably having wonderful times were Diana Ross, in a red and black ball gown; Andy Warhol, whose great mane of white hair looked in serious need of trimming; New York Shakespeare Festival director Joseph Papp; Bianca Jagger, unusually elegant in an off-white and very much off-the-shoulder Dior gown; singer Joni Mitchell, actor Harvey Keitel; Paloma Picasso, daughter of the legend; sexy TV start Suzanne Somers; and actor Rober DeNiro, who bought 10 tickets ($ 50 each) for the party and who passed almost unnoticed when he queued up, dime in hand, to place a phone call at the club's pay booth shortly after midnight.

Mr. DeNiro is notoriously press-shy, but I managed this much of a conversation with him:

"Are you calling the family?"

"I'd rather not answer."

"I see. Well, are you having a good time?"

"I'd rather not answer."

"Why?"

"I'm afraid of what you might say."

(Later, Mr. DeNiro gave a rather more dramatic demonstration of his distaste for the press when he grabbed People magazine photographer Robin Platzer's cameras, hurled them to the floor and stomped on them, charging an invasion of privacy.)

Then, there was the rest of the crowd, the real stars of the night - 2,000 or so individuals who had done their utmost to dress as stylishly or as differently or as outrageously as they could for New York's number-one New Year's Eve party.

Drag queens, shapely beauties in see-through dresses with pillbox hats on their heads, body-builder types stripped to the waist, dozens of men in white tie and tails, and innumerable women in floor-length gowns, all pushed and shoved to make their way to the dance floor, which, as the night wore on, looked more and more like a crazed sequence from a Fellini film. These were people living out their fantasies, bathed in ever-changing and swirling, multi-colored lights, obsessed with the power of a gigantic sound system that seemed to emanate from every corner of the cavernous premises, pushing them on to wilder and wilder dancing.

And Studio 54 itself didn't let them down. Two tons of glitter were spread all over the disco floors, and pretty soon everyone was covered with it. It stuck to clothing, filled people's hair, coated tongues, clung to the skin, and like snow, made good stuff for romping through.

Members of New York's Multigravitational Aerodance Group staged a series of high-wire antics high over the dance floor, stilt walkers dressed as troubadors disco danced nonchalantly through the crowd and there was free champagne for all.

New Year's resolutions abounded. Bianca Jagger said she had resolved to do something important with her career and wished everyone much love; half the crowd seemed to have decided to give up smoking ordinary cigarets, but not marijuana (as commonplace at Studio 54 as it is at any other North American disco); and Steve Rubell said he thought that by now everyone knew what was foremost in his mind for 1979

"I will," he grinned, "survive."

The party ended soon after 7 a.m. and as the last revelers spilled outside onto the glitter-covered sidewalk, a lone gentleman paused at the Studio 54 doors, turned his glitter-covered face to smile at one of the six burly bouncers stationed outside the club, and remarked, "I always accept New Year's Even invitations, I always have a dreadful time, and I always think, 'Somewhere, people are having a fabulous time. Now, I know where to go."


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