Society Angels in America

By
Photography Patrick McMullan

Published March 25, 2009

“. . . an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.” —George W. Bush’s inaugural speech, January 20, 2001, borrowing from a possibly illuminist letter to Thomas Jefferson from John Page

During the maudlin final days of the Bush administration, I glumly wondered if New York would even survive until O-Day, January 20, 2009. Twin Towers gone, Wall Street tanked, Hamas bombing Israel and vice versa. Allah is apparently just not that into us. And then a lone angel alit: Sully, the pilot who landed the bird-struck US Airways jet on the Hudson. And miraculously the mood changed. Hope broke out.

And it was with glee that I accepted an invitation to the Barack-mitzvah, as comedian Jeffrey Ross christened the Barack-alypse of balls and fetes in D.C. To sweeten the deal, my A (for Angel)-list host, Joe Andrew, former chair of the DNC, a college bud, hired Anwar, an amazing driver, who comes with Batmobile GPS, which proved a godsend as the key roads and bridges into the capital were barricaded and it was tricky to navigate from F St. to G.

But first, a slightly easier-to-negotiate Sprouse moment happened in New York, an homage flashback to the late designer (now likely wearing Day-Glo camo in Nirvana) hosted by Louis Vuitton andDeitch Projects.

“We went in to see the Stephen Sprouse fashion show. It was early but it was mobbed already. My seat was gone, so I took Charivari’s. Teri Toye, the transvestite, was in the show. And everybody was saying it was like the sixties. The show wasgreat, really the fashion is so good again with these disco kids, they have a real look. Like the boys with thestraight cut over one eye. So extreme now.”—The Andy Warhol Diaries, May 1, 1984

Andy adored SS. At Interview back in the day, he was family. I remember skating with him and Paige Powell at Wollman Rink. He always talked really slowly and kindly, and he listened carefully, as if he were having trouble following what you were saying.

On January 8, 2009, designer Marc Jacobs opened his Vuitton boutique homage to SS in SoHo. The floors were tagged with Day-Glo SS script. TheJacobs-designed sneaks with Velcro claspswere SS to the nth, and the sale of SS-tagged skateboards benefited Free Arts nyc. A few blocks away, at Deitch Projects, the hired AH’s at the door weren’t listening to anyone, creating a velvet-rope S&M situation. They didn’t let in JamesReginato from W, and even denied access to Paige, SS’s BFF. Still, the Deitch show of SS’s art and fashion felt historic, as if his canvas of Iggy Pop on the cross were some undiscovered religious artifact. Rock on, rock angel! Later, Vuitton transformed the Bowery Ballroom into an SS tribute venue, complete with vintage video. SS’s family commandeered one fork of the VIP balcony, where his angel mom in a red leopard-print scarf waved at Debbie Harry, another SS BFF, onstage. Both Harry, a punk angel, and SS’s mom have similar broad and beautiful faces. Paige’s cousin Hilary stood on a Plexi cube for a better view of Debbie, but some leather dudes shoved her off the box to grind one another. What AHs! When I asked Paige about Cal, -Stephen’s model friend,another rock angel, she told me that he had died -recently of a brain aneurysm. “Only the good die young” doesn’t begin to -describe the S&M downer of Stephen and Cal missing this insanely wonderful SS moment.

On Saturday, January 17, I arrived in the District of Obama. That night, Joe Andrew -hosted heady cocktails at a manse with a dreamy Rothko room. At Joe’s suggestion, Gilberto Ocañas, who handled the Latin vote for the DNC in 2000, invited me to the Dem fete at the Smithsonian. SS would have loved Lincoln’s last top hat on display upstairs. Ran into Shaggy, the legendary hirsute crasher (D-NY). And my buddy Lisa Anastos was with Kim Kauffman, a hot fundraising angel, also tight with Gilberto. Al Franken, no angel, but now nearly a senator, was mobbed by fans with cams. Sunday, I felt like the Secret Service agent assigned to protect Mandy Moore in Chasing Liberty. Joe sent me with driver Anwar and Meredith, Joe’s teen -angel daughter, to the Obama concert. But -Anwar and the Batvan were stopped by gis at Watergate. Soldiers and Humvees blocked off G St. for ticket holders—very The Day the Earth Stood Still. Meredith and I walked in eerie quiet down G to the Lincoln Memorial where the millions who had camped out were squished behind stanchions. We witnessed one unconscious young angel carried off by soldiers. Yikes. Across the frozen reflecting pool, minions were hemmed in by a wall of Porta-Potties. To escape the crush, some guests climbed trees. Meredith’s world-weary expression was . . . “Really?” As in, “You’re gonna climb a tree? Really?” The mob would chant, “Climb, climb,” as an athletic-type shimmied up a branch and then, “Jump, jump,” when they made it. Really? Still, it was the concert of a lifetime. After the Os descended the gleaming steps of the Lincoln Memorial, R&B angel Mary J. Blige in a white pantsuit followed, her fierce image plastered across a wall of JumboTrons. MJB later told me, “I was nervous when I first walked out, but Michelle was cheering me on. And the kids were cheering me on. And Obama was standing up!”

Blame it on Slumdog, but hundreds climbed Porta-Potties to see the show. Really? Springsteen rocked the stairs, along with Stevie Wonder, will.i.am, and Pete Seeger. Even Irish angel The Edge gave it everything, though the soundsystem distorted Bono madly. Between acts,everyone in Hollywood took a mike and recited a -historic footnote—including Denzel and Tom Hanks. At the end, pop angel -Beyoncé belted out “America the Beautiful.” Backstage, after the show, while chatting with O, Bruce Cohen, who produced Milk, said he was so excited he didn’t realize, as he discovered in photos later, that O had his hand on his shoulder. Really?

Monday, Lisa Anastos hit a great après-ski party for Montana Dems with automated snowboarding. Meanwhile, my guideAnwar inched throughcarbon-belchingtraffic to Al Gore’sGreen Ball. When we arrived, John Legend was crooning in the courtyard. Everyone was thinking that the O-weekend could have been Gore’s big moment eight years ago. But I ran into ozone angel Al at the Producers Guild Awards in l.a. the following weekend and he said he found the O weekend “Inspiring . . . fantastic.” Really?

The Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue was the site of the Huffington Post ball. HuffPo is how Washingtonians annoyingly truncate it. And it took three hours to squeeze in beside Sharon Stone and the Jonas Brothers. Did e-angel Arianna card the J-Bros? Really? “I was dancing until four in the morning,” KerryWashington told me later, “and I had to get up at 6:00 a.m. to go to the mall.” Tuesday—O day—Denzel was the first to arrive at the Capitol, at 6:00 a.m. Anwar left Potomac, Maryland, at 7:30 a.m. At a security checkpoint, -people who recognized Joe were shouting “Mr. Chairman” for help, like refugees screaming as the last helicopter left Saigon. “I so had it going on,” Lynn Whitfield told me the next night at the Creative Coalition ball. “Foot warmers, hand warmers,” she said, “it was like our political Mardi Gras.”

Rosari-O Dawson, the nyc-born angel who hosted the Latin-O gala at Union Station the night before with J.L-O, told me, “I got up at 7:00 a.m. and trudged out there. I was having an argument in my head: ‘You’re tired. This is so cold.’ ” First lady portrayer Laura Linney (HBO’sAbigail Adams) said thaton the podium she wasseated near the Os. “I found I couldn’t look over at them for very long. It’s sort of like looking into the sun.” Borscht belt angel Joan Rivers had a different take: “What about Biden’s wife looking like a hooker? When was the last time you saw a miniskirt and boots?”

My ticket, Joe’s last, led to the more democratic Silver section nearby, where I was nearly crushed in a corridor of cement barricades. But eventually the mob stampeded a plastic fence, and we spilled out onto an open meadow littered with trampled sandwiches where Girl Scout angels were passing out flags to the multitudes. Back at the Creative Coalition ball that night, Lynn Whitfield said of the vast gathering, “You could tell how long it took for his words to reach people, because you could hear the delayed roar.”

Suddenly, a croaking, deep voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, President George W. Bush.” And two million people booed. Really?Afterward, Jeffrey Ross told me at the Creative Coalition ball that as he and two million others searched for nonexistent exits, “all of a sudden you heard pft-pft-pft-pft . . . George Bush’s helicopter flew out. And everybody got so happy.” So happy they sang the “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye” song. Icy-gray Washington reminded me of Dublin on Bloomsday. Hookers were officially banned. Really. But whole streets were taken over by Odetritus vendors.

Restaurants near the crimson Chinatown arch brimmed with the half-frozen. And near the White House an armed townhouse appropriated by soldiers recalled The O-mega Man. That night, near F St., Beyoncé serenaded the Os in the crush at the Neighborhood ball. At O-prah’s request, DJ Cassidy created playlists for all 10 official balls, including “At Last” by Etta James (who later commented, “I can’t standBeyoncé!”). And Calvin Klein hired the band of Britmodel angel Jamie Burketo play at a dive on V St. You try to get there!

After midnight, the arctic walk from the Creative Coalition ball on F St. to the Google ball (where we saw Ben Affleck and Sarah Silverman) took half an hour, and I watched platoons of street cleaners zip about in the dark with forklifts, removing 20-foot mesh barricades. The occasional lim-O screaming by was escorted by SUV gunboats.Later, at Posh, angelSharon Stone huddled

with Baseball Hall ofFamer Dave Winfield. And very late, Spike Lee commandeered the restaurantJosephine. Forest Whitaker, Maura Tierney, and Dana Delany were up until 5:00 a.m. at the bar at theSt. Regis. “We just didn’t want the night to be over,” Delany told me. “We just kept going, closed the bar, and told dirty jokes.”

The next Sunday, backstage at the SAGs, I spotted Harvey Milk—I mean, Sean Penn—making out with a shiksa angel, and then real-ized it was Robin Wright Penn. Really? Phew! He said that Milk must have changed him “because for the first time, I noticed that the [SAG] statues have big packages.”Apparently pushing my luck with the L.A. angels, I caught an A.M. flight to NY. Kevin Bacon and Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock were sitting in first class. Twenty-year-old angel Katrina Bowden was with me inTabloid. Sadly, halfway across the country, an elderly woman had a stroke, and we had to do an emergency landing in Pittsburgh. Hi, Andy.

Two weeks later, Iwas back in L.A. for the Grammy whirl. At aVerizon party Friday night on Sunset, Chris Brown was wearing a diamond–encrusted Darth Vader -medallion around his neck. “I’m feeling loose, just having fun,” Brown told me. “I got the old Storm Trooper’s head from Star Wars. I’m a big fan of them.” This, a night before he turned to the dark side and allegedly beat Rihanna. A half hourlater—an SS moment—Timbaland walked in wearing a Sprouse-tagged shirt for LV. Really.

And Saturday, at a fun Cash -Money Records blowout for Lil Wayne at Montage with loads of women dressed up like Vegas showgirls, the dreaded Los Angeles Fire Marshall blocked the door. I followed my buddy Mike Heller and Rachel Hunter through a kitchen into VIP. And across the dimly lit room—nod to SS—in heiress angel Paris Hilton’s booth, her leggy sis, Nicky, had on his endless Day-Glo–tagged Vuitton heels. R.I.P., SS.