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Personal Essay

Sipping Vodka in Prince’s Glam Slam

You can always tell how good a nightclub is by analyzing the girls bathroom scene. Prince’s Glam Slam in Los Angeles did not disappoint. I entered the opulent downtown club anointed with the neon gender-blending symbol Prince created after Warner Brothers castrated ‘The Purple One’ over contractual disputes, forcing Prince to forfeit his royal name at a time when artists barely contained a scintilla of what Janet Jackson called, “Control.” Glam Slam was a lavish den with carpeted walls, Egyptian statuettes, nude columns and a hypnotic funk so phat it shook the bone marrow of your soul.

I was in love. The DJ played a hybrid mix of hip hop, funk, 70’s R&B while super models paraded with rappers over an elaborate purple hued dance floor. This wasn’t Dragonfly, the hole in the wall in Hollywood where I danced earlier that week with Ice T until the contact high from the backyard landed me in a cracked mirror bathroom with a panic attack so intense, I had to splash tap water over my face from a filthy basin. No, this was Glam Slam, Prince’s west coast answer to his flagship club in Minneapolis. This place was so new you could still whiff purple paint raining throughout the air. Formerly Vertigo, a vault like structure that died as soon as it’s doors burst open, Glam Slam was ten months old, a decade in LA club life. Sitting just west of downtown LA, this glamorous spot included a live entertainment stage, sexy go-go dancers, and a mezzanine that circled the massive floor, where 1,200 people could do the Running Man without ever bumping elbows.

Prince’s expansive ‘come as you are’ parties contained a cross-section of LA rarely seen under one roof. Hollywood elites danced with hip hop artists, b-boys spun on the floor near guys in Armani, Cholitas in arched eyebrows danced with suit and ties, ghetto-fabulous patrolled the club in purple minks, gangbangers in blue bandanas tossed signs and gay boys were feverishly “Vogueing.” There was also a fair amount of ‘round-the way girls’ like me, eager to peek at Prince’s LA offering, marching the Rampart District in platform shoes when dirty cop Rafael Perez reigned… way before Training Day immortalized him in a movie.

Everyone partied to Prince’s cattle prod of funk, music so raw it stripped your inhibitions faster than we switch the price tags at Ross. I was wearing thigh high boots, a tube-top dress from Contempo and enough lip-gloss to paint a Cezanne. I thought I was hot. That is, until I surveyed the dance floor and saw a Jennifer Beal look-a-like surrounded by a group of idol worshipping fools grinning as if they were watching Moses part the Red Sea. When this Flash Dance wannabe thrust her arms toward the ceiling, I saw the cause of her entourage’s lust. This slut wore a top made of fishing net, the same kind you tossed into the Santa Monica pier praying for a bite, her pink nipples catching the disco light like a salmon’s iridescent spine. Both men and women surrounded her hips. Prince’s club was not the boy-girl dance club of your mama’s era. No, this was the ‘90’s. This was “Lady Cab Driver” time where Prince ruled the airways as well as MTV, releasing a stream of hits and dominating Billboard’s top ten like an insatiable S&M lover.

Prince was an androgynous, makeup wearing, big-haired, impish man, who performed topless or decked out in a suit and ruffled shirt, sporting high heeled boots and prancing around the stage in pants so tight you could read his blood type. I liked him immediately. Sometimes he donned a slicked back perm or exploding afro and signature butt pants, the ass cheeks explicitly cut out exposing two lewd melons smiling wickedly for the world to see. Who could resist a dude in that kind of outfit? Prince was the perfect combo of bourgeoisie eroticism, Hendrix free love Rock & Roll, and George Clinton funk to blast the mother ship to Mars and back. He was such a freak that both sexes wet dreamed about this minuscule superstar, including my own cousin who drove like a dope fiend all the way from Atlanta to LA, determined to marry the pint-sized funk-master. I, like most of the ‘fabulous-life’ felines, danced to our heart’s content in lacy camisoles or thrift shop couture while others held up the walls, scanning beepers or nodding appreciatively at our salacious moves. My cousin stood in the rear with the other love-struck dogs in heat, breathing steamy clouds on Prince’s glass tinted booth, hoping any minute he’d emerge, smile at his adoring fans, or offer a rhinestone boot for them to lick.

“Let’s see if the bathroom’s cool,” I told my cousin. We entered a huge, immaculate room with a row of sinks whiter than a brand new Maytag. A pin-up in lingerie, carrying a tray of thimble-sized cups, greeted our arrival with a smile. “Dollar shots,” she teased. “Wanna sip?” It was the first time I was ever served liquor inside a restroom. I picked up one of the vials, which were lined up like urine samples and tossed the fluid down my throat. Some girls adjusted their skirts. Some girls lit their smokes. Others shared the kind of girl drama a man would give his left nut to hear. In fact, my cousin suggested the club instead of my idea of a night out, which consisted of slashing my ex’s tires after I caught him giving his own Prince-like concert to this grungy runt at work. “Hey,” the shot girl said to me, “anybody ever tell you you look like Amy Irving?” Applying more gloss, I stared at her in the massive mirror. “I am Amy,” I lied. Besides dancing, one of my favorite pastimes was messing with white folk’s minds. As a light-skinned black chick, I have to admit, the possibilities were endless. “No way!” she shrieked, demanding an autograph and holding my arm. I scribbled the word “Amy” on a paper towel and kissed it, handing it back to the urine distributor. She held the sheet like a Map to the Stars, and gripped my arm until the bathroom attendant, an older black woman selling mints, mouthwash, and hairspray whisked her away. “Leave Amy, be!” she said. I was finally released when a gaggle of Cyndi Lauper types invaded the vodka tray sending the star-struck girl back to the bar to reload on piss. “Hey,” a Lauper girl asked from her stall, “isn’t Prince’s club the bomb?!”

Admiring my own clean compartment, I found on the floor what would be considered a golden ticket in club parlance. It was small magazine page carefully folded down to the size of a matchbook. One of Prince’s partygoers left this sliver of coke, delivered by the Glam Slam gods like an early Christmas present. LA was still reeling from the Rodney King beating and subsequent riot that engulfed the city in so much ‘burn baby burn’ flames the fire department quit responding. The chief of police, ignoring the riot altogether, celebrated at a fundraiser way across town. Now, a year later, LA was ready to party. I opened the magazine clipping while admiring the paneled bathroom door, “Yeah, Prince’s club is fly.”

By Pam Ward

Pam Ward’s first novel, Want Some, Get Some chronicles LA after the ’92 riots. Her second novel, Bad Girls Burn Slow, is about a serial killer working the funeral business. An award-winning author and UCLA graduate, Pam also operates a Los Angeles-based graphic design studio. Pam is currently working on her fourth novel I'll Get You My Pretty, a true story about her aunt, a Black Dahlia suspect. You can learn more about Pam at pamwardwriter.com