Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer
I can’t get enough of the ever-radiant, unrivaled Salzburg. While hopping about Europe, the AIDS-Hilfe (AIDS Help) organization invited me to present my seminar, “Condom Capers: How to Have Rubber Fun,” in Salzburg. Enthusiastically I trotted back to my favorite Alpine village. When I hit town, I rent a Mercedes from Klemens Hofbauer, the handsome owner of Rienhoff Hertz, and settle into the dreamy Villa Auersperg, a gem of a hotel built in 1892. Once ensconced in my large homey room, I decompress on the eggshell-colored sofa. With its light-blond wood floors, Treca bed, hi-tech lighting, and a photograph of the Rat Pack on the wall, these digs are both casual and a bit spicy. Even the elevator walls are artfully decorated with the Villa’s original architectural drawings—a very pleasant touch.
On my way to the buffet breakfast the next morning, I pass through the stylish bar area and a black-and-white photograph on the wall strikes me. It’s a fifties street scene of three well-dressed Italian teenage boys on bicycles engaged in conversation with their backs to the camera. Next to it is written: “With a friend at one’s side, no road is long.” It makes me homesick for my sister Alexis and my fiancé Rudy, who’s back home fighting fires for the City of Burbank, California. Oh, well, I have all of Salzburg with its lovely pastry shops to quell my sorrow.
I settle at a table near the dripping fountain in the Zen-inspired garden terrace. I guess I look a bit forlorn as a fellow American traveler asks if I’m okay. He’s friendly, cute, and we begin to chat. His name is Michael Tronn, though when he was a Club Kid in New York City he spelled his first name “Mykul.” Yep, he was one of the original Club Kids! And he knew the real-life disco boys from the Macaulay Culkin film Party Monster, Michael Alig (who’s now in jail for murder) and James St. James (author of Party Monster). Michael appeared on the March 1988 cover of New York Magazine along with Alig. Today he produces and creates art; he’s an accomplished photographer and writer, and he produces films and special events. Currently, Mike is penning his autobiography, For Me It’s Still Yesterday, For You It’s Already Tomorrow, and he’s also writing an AIDS-themed screenplay called Heaven’s on Fire, about the personal heartbreak of a once carefree global community now ravaged by the epidemic.
Ruby Comer: What was it like being a Club Kid and in hindsight what did you learn?
Michael Tronn: Being a Club Kid was a Technicolor whirlwind of acceptance, camaraderie, community, friendship, creativity, and, for a long time, love. I learned that life is about more than just looking good and being a celebutante. It’s about substance, which in some ways the Club Kid movement lacked. I also learned about balance in life and working toward goals that are beyond the now.
Ah, yes. Of course. What comes to mind when I say the word “AIDS”?
As a teenager in New York City in the eighties, I was in the epicenter of the AIDS crisis. It was not fun. AIDS affected everything—from the arts to science to the environmental movement. So much passion, integrity, creativity, emotion, empathy, and future-centric vision has been lost. It was an awful thing for me to witness because I was part of a subculture where originality and self-expression were paramount.
Have you lost anyone close to you from this disease?
I’ve lost people who were very important and instrumental in my formative years. The closest person I lost was Keith Haring. Also Haoui Montag, the doorman at Danceteria and Palladium. He was very important to me as a young clubgoer since he was very supportive of my creativity in the outfits I’d wear to the clubs he worked at. His funeral was attended by hundreds of people.
How do you deal with all of this?
It makes me angry and vengeful. It also makes me wonder what the point of it is. I figure there must be lessons somewhere. Ever since my own bout with cancer I look for meaning. With HIV/AIDS, I figure it’s a challenge to love, to respect, to be more selfless, and to honor the soul.
Tell me about your cancer.
I had testicular cancer when I was nineteen. I felt so much shame that I felt foolish and inappropriate. But my doctor said my feelings were very common. I soon believed there was a reason for my illness and that having Club Kid notoriety served a purpose. I merged the two and publicized my cancer to help other terminally ill people overcome shame and the need to hide. I believed it would be a year-long dance to my death. I intended to do photo shoots with funny wigs and hats after my hair fell out. I even had a pre-chemo party prior to the start of my chemotherapy at Sloan-Kettering. Hundreds of people came. [Michael excuses himself, goes to the buffet for seconds and then returns.]
So what happened?
I had some surgery and CT scans showed that my cancer had metastasized into my abdomen. It was for this cancer that I was scheduled for chemo. Sloan-Kettering had a three week waiting period due to overcrowding so I explored other avenues. I was raised with lots of New Age stuff like taking trips to the Siddha Yoga Ashram in the Catskill Mountains. The spiritual leader of the ashram is a woman named Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, a guru who has a lineage dating back some 1,300 years. I met with her and she sent me to an energy healer who did a treatment of “broadcasting,” which is similar to Reiki. A second CT scan was performed and the cancer was completely gone! My doctor at Sloan-Kettering actually used the word “miracle” to describe what had occurred and said I could just go about my life normally.
Wow! There’s something to be said for trying alternative methods. It’s empowering to say the least.
Yes. You know, Ruby, it was a shock to hear that I didn’t have cancer anymore. I mean, one day I’m told I have metastatic cancer—I think I’m going to die—then I learn that I’m fine! It was alarming and confusing. I felt lost.
What a tailspin that must have been, Michael. [Finishing breakfast Mike and I move up to the rooftop where there’s a sauna, steamroom, and a gym. The sundeck ambiance is fresh and tranquil. We look out over the village. Soft classical music and light jazz, piped throughout the hallways, can be heard.] Mike, early on in our conversation you mentioned producing events….
Since 2000, I’ve produced events for Care Resource and The Task Force at the White and Winter parties in Miami. Yoko Ono performed at one of the events and Junior Vasquez [A&U, July 2006] and Tony Moran have deejayed. For me, producing a big event to raise money for HIV/AIDS organizations is the best way to make a maximum contribution. I’ve also produced fashion show events for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Miami.
Thank you for that. I hope you continue! [He sits in a lounge chair as I begin to depart for my seminar. We embrace. He’s a good hugger!] It was so nice to meet with you this morning, Mike….
I enjoyed meeting you as well, Ruby. Before you leave, let me just say that I would encourage your readers to seek out knowledge of treatments that go beyond Western medicine. We need to be proactive in our own treatment and to explore all alternatives.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home.