Yes, Manhattan does still have a nocturnal pulse, kind of.
Bob Gruen’s birthday party was at Berlin on Avenue A this year. Gruen is a great rock photographer and amongst his fellow shutterbugs present were Mick Rock, Godlis and Marcia Resnick.
Others there included John Holmstrom of Punk magazine. Debbie Harry, “Handsome Dick” Manitoba, formerly with The Dictators, and Robert Gordon would soon be doing their stuff upstairs.
But then, inevitably, somebody asked if I had heard about Anita?
I had. Michael Musto had just broken the news on Facebook that Anita Sarko, the quintessential ’80s DJ—anitadj was her email address—was dead by her own hand.
The party was building to a sonic crest as I took off for what was billed as a Danceteria reunion in the Rumpus Room, a joint just a few blocks away on Eldridge.
Here the memories of Anita Sarko were more pervasive. Understandably. Anita Sarko was Detroit-born and was, she would say, always the girl who bought the records, so unknowingly born to be a DJ. She had moved to New York in 1978 and her first gig as a DJ had been at the anti-Studio 54, the Mudd Club.
A stretch at the art disco, Area, followed. Then, yes, Danceteria. There Anita had been both DJ—spinning for non-stop stretches of mind-boggling length in Congo Bill on the fourth floor—and together with Haoui Montaug, who functioned also as the doorman, had co-hosted the sporadic cabaret, “No Entiendes.” This meant “You Don’t Understand,” with or without the query, and it was ultra-hot stuff.
In 1982 Madonna gave her first live performance of her song “Everybody” at No Entiendes.
It was at the core of that lost time Anita Sarko didn’t hold back when I needed help in writing about that time and those places.
She is an illuminating presence in The Last Party, the book that resulted—she is described there as “ a frazzle-haired blonde with a tongue sharp enough to carve meat”—and she is at her most illuminating about her craft, the fundamental role that a DJ can play in the architecture of the night, when she describes how it went when, after he had rebuffed her twice, Steve Rubell called her over to what was not yet the Palladium.
Sarko described it thus: “He walked me up and up, all these stairs, and into this room that was total mayhem. I was looking around, and it just came out of my mouth. ‘My God! What I could do with this room!’
“He said, ‘It’s so funny you say that. It’s yours if you want it… He said he knew the place was a wreck. I said, ‘No, no, no. My father is a builder. I grew up in unfinished buildings. I know exactly what this room is going to be. And I know that I can make it talk.’”
That would become the Michael Todd Room, the core of the core, a repository of art by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, and Kenny Scharf, and, yes, Anita Sarko made the room talk.
Such an integral role did Sarko play in the space’s success that in the ’90s she was commissioned to work on events by designers like Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood.
Well, it is not breaking news that things have changed and that loose and lively world is gone.
But Manhattan, blessedly, is still the smallest big city in the world and over the last few years I had met up with Anita Sarko, either by accident or design, fairly regularly.
She remained the frazzle-haired blonde with a tongue sharp enough to carve meat, and who had no problem in letting me know that things were up and down, for her. Which, of course, normally means down.
Her radio show on Sirius was cancelled, for instance, but she told me bluntly that she had been paid little or nothing for her endeavors anyway. As is rather often the way nowadays.
The end, though, was shocking and unexpected. I was a friend of Anita’s and both liked and admired her, but I owe these details to the obit by Michael Musto, who had known her intimately for years. He noted, for instance, that she had been diagnosed as having cancer, both uterine and ovarian, five years before but had beaten it.
Musto noted though that Sarko’s various projects had crumbled. Indeed that whole world, the one surviving in such happenings as Gruen’s birthday party and the Danceteria reunion, is hanging on by its fingernails and the kind of jobs that would have suited Sarko were going to kids fresh out of college. Rejection, Musto wrote in a poignant memoir on Facebook, turned to despair.
It was also from Musto’s piece that I learned that she had hanged herself.
We live in a world of socially-mediated mourning, and those who were instantly heard from on Twitter and Facebook include Kate Pierson of the B52s, Mark Almond of Soft Cell and the Warholesque star, Joe Dallesandro. Another of Anita’s close friends, Trey Speegle, the artist, told me that he had been too emotionally up-ended by her death to go to the Danceteria reunion but he had heard that the mood of those talking about her had been glum. He though said he felt less studiously melancholy about her departure from the scene.
“Do you know what I think Anita was saying?” he asked me.
“She was saying I’ve been to great parties! And this sucks! I’m off.”