Clublife: Thugs, Drugs, and Chaos at New York City’s Premier Nightclubs — Rob the Bouncer

Clublife is a rare example of a book weaker than the originating, (and eponymous) blog. The blog used to be filled with posts containing subtle and sometimes surprising points about bouncers and standard bump-n-grind clubs. The book has some of that, though perhaps less subtle (“I’ve never met anyone who goes to clubs who’s worth a shit” or “They come to these places and toss aside the conventions of a civilized society, doing shit you wouldn’t see them do anywhere but there”) than the source material. Many of the later blog are about blogging instead of bouncing.

The major fringe benefit of being a bouncer appears to be hitting on the women in the clubs, or being hit on by them. If you’re not interested in that—and Rob isn’t—one of the prime reasons to work in that environment goes away. It’s like staffing a restaurant where you don’t like the food. Many people don’t want and aren’t interested in casual sex with strangers. Which is okay, but disliking that activity is naturally going to make clubs seem bizarre and stupid; English departments must seem bizarre and stupid to people who don’t like to read. Regardless of the quality of the experience to someone who enjoys the experience, it’s going to be crap for the wrong sort of person.

Rob is the wrong sort of person. Everyone else at the club seems to be working an angle, either sexually (in Rob’s words: “looking for a place to park their genitals for a night”) or by selling drugs. Not working one of those two angles defeats the point of the club experience. I want to encourage Rob to read Camille Paglia, who is so fond of socially sanctioned Dionysian excess.

Rob depicts the business this way at the end of the book:

Taking, after all, is what the nightclub business is all about. It takes and takes and takes, and gives nothing back. The entire thing is a setup. It’s a scam. It’s a great big mound of shit, all painted up in pastels and fluorescents and hosed down with enough cologne and perfume to disguise the stink.

The scatological metaphor is effective—Rob is good and often very good on a sentence-by-sentence level—but he’s only partially right about nightclubs: they do take. But they also give people a place to sleep with or attempt to sleep with strangers. How many men in particular achieve their purpose there is less clear: presumably some do but many don’t. The minute you don’t want that, then a club is “a scam.”

The book eschews the random, disconnected format of a blog and instead uses a memoir narrative that shows Rob getting into the business and going through the lifecycle of a single club. But the narrative seems forced and false, and a Diary of an Unlikely Call Girl-style reprint might’ve been an improvement.

The Rob we see in the book has a long “history of screwing things up for myself,” which is okay, but he seems to hate everything about what he’s doing and to have built a decent shell of bitterness and resentments that may or may not reflect the real person. He especially hates the many “guidos” who populate New York nightlife for whom he “stands on a box and plays zookeeper [with] for eight hours.” His disdain for guidos occurs primarily because disdain for most racial and ethnic groups is now politically incorrect, and for good reason; imagine that every time he uses the word “guido,” he uses the term “black.”

Still, there’s a lot to be said for first-person accounts of unusual, poorly understood market niches. To some extent my father and I are doing that for grant writing and nonprofits in Grant Writing Confidential, but the dearth of lascivious or potentially lascivious detail means that few people who aren’t involved in trying to get the money are going to be interested. There are things to like in Clublife.

One response

  1. Pingback: The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory — John Seabrook « The Story's Story

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