Junior Mint! The Return of Vasquez
Was the moon in the 7th house? Did Jupiter align with Mars? Is peace really guiding the planets and is love steering the stars? Is this the Age of Aquarius or the rebirth of DJ god Junior Vasquez? The answers were provided this past Sunday night at a memorable Memorial Day party at Cielo. Junior Vasquez performed at a level befitting his legend. Fernando, our favorite door demi-god, walked me into the DJ booth to say hello. Entry into Junior’s booth is a great honor, which I was reluctant to accept as I recalled Junior’s aversion to such invasions. Fernando whispered in my ears “He’s back,” and I disagreed because he is different now.
Junior once took the mic and told the audience that he wasn’t going to play until all the fish were off the dance floor (a reference to the fag hags, lesbians, and other women who had come to be part of the greatest party on earth). He once laughed and corrected me when I asked him if this actually happened — he told me what he actually said was far worse. The old Junior was the undisputed best DJ on earth. Then, the world changed: clubs closed, the music went in another direction, and the worshippers dwindled … some just withered under the pressures of a decade or more of partying, and some just settled down and didn’t do it anymore. Then came depression and bad management. One “in the know” fellow told me it got so bad that Junior had to buy his own records back from his management.
The old Junior isn’t back. The demons have been purged, discarded, and abandoned. Just a look at him and you could see how his face has changed. He’s relaxed and happy with a new boyfriend and new management. A “school of fish” — a bachelorette party — settled right in front of my table to the right of his booth, and this incarnation of Junior was pleased to meet them. They gave him their “penis necklace,” and he honored them by wearing it. He played the Donna Summer classic “I Feel Love,” and we all knew that we could. Song after song spoke of love, unity, and peace. He could still punch like that other J.V., and the crowd cheered and reached for the sky as they were swept away in his new vision. It was beautiful that night in Cielo. The room filled with familiar faces reveling in the love pouring out of their Junior. We always suspected that he loved us. It was a closely kept secret that he loved us like a father loves his unruly children, for that’s what we were. Junior demanded that his thousands of fans — with so many attitudes, foibles and personalities — give up their much-protected and sought-after individualism to unite in giant, orgasmic rushes on his dance floor.
I’ve known Junior for over 20 years. I booked him at The World when he had an act called Ellis D., and that must have been in 1988. Over the years, Junior has gathered a rough, tough, no-nonsense, no-quarter reputation. At Sound Factory or Twilo as the crowds poured in, they would ask, “What kind of mood is he in tonight?” That has been his positive rep as well as his negative. If in the right mood, he was the best by far; but sometimes when he wasn’t in the right mood, he’d be even better. He was an orchestra leader, the boss, the king, or the wicked bitch of the best; he lifted the crowd high in the air and squeezed them, lectured them, told them who they were. He taught them how to rise as one entity in the power of a track. This was every Saturday night at places like Twilo or Sound Factory. It wasn’t a club night; it was a lifestyle.
Back in the day, he would whip us into shape; now he lovingly shows us the way. I was texting Pacha chief Eddie Dean about what was happening. Eddie was in Tao Las Vegas for a monster Eric Morillo-DJed party. Eddie was happy that Junior was so on. A friend pointed out that Junior was playing a Danny Tenaglia track, while another reminded us that Junior had once had Danny tossed from a club as an invader. Pacha instigator Rob Fernandez offered that “last night a DJ saved my life,” as Junior kept a crowd which had planned to slip away to Algeria on the floor until the end.
It ended with that Tracy Chapman song and a standing ovation. He raised a beer and saluted the corners of the room with a peaceful, professional, calm face. He was satisfied. Months before, I had interviewed him and he was searching for himself, not sure where his head was or where he was going; he revealed to me a human side that few were allowed to see. He seems to know who he is now. Maybe he doesn’t have to be the stadium act or the king of kings. Maybe now, just playing a great set to a loyal and appreciative crowd is satisfying. The anger is gone, yet the passion remains. Moments before, he had played the house anthem “Devotion.” The lyric “I want to give you devotion” was a tribute to a loyal crowd celebrating the legend — a god who for so long had prided himself and indeed separated himself from the crowd. Now he was no longer that god, but a man who seems to have found himself in the truth that he is no better or no worse than any of us. Junior Vasquez seems happy with this role, and the set that I heard on Sunday night was nothing short of legendary.