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Waking Up to New York

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Rufus Wainwright, musician
Arrived: 1994
My New York life didn’t really begin until 1999, but I first moved here in 1994, after I’d fallen in love with a heroin addict in Montreal. I was still smarting from that failed relationship and had to get out of the vicinity of my dark love. So I came to New York and worked three jobs: at Film Forum; at Lion’s Head, on Sheridan Square; as the houseboy for a Broadway producing family who lived on Park Avenue. I would also perform here and there, mostly at an old jazz club called Deanna’s, in the East Village, but I couldn’t make enough money or any friends. Nobody was interested in my point of view. I tried to perform at the Lower East Side club Sin-é, but they refused my tape three times. I’d go to the old Crowbar to see Misstress Formika, during the East Village Renaissance that I had absolutely nothing to do with.

So I moved back to Montreal and started doing a lot of shows there. I was signed to DreamWorks Records and made my first album while living in L.A. When I came back to New York in ’97, DreamWorks got me a gig at Fez, which was a bit of a nightmare. I opened for a folksinger named Jonatha Brooke, who is very nice but whose fans are assholes. I think they would purposely speak louder when I was onstage. One time, a bunch of people came in on Rollerblades and sat in front of me really drunk while I was trying to sing about dying opera divas.

I ended up hanging out a lot with this girl Lisa, a really party-hearty hard-core Sex and the City person. Lisa was in advertising, and her crowd wasn’t necessarily an artistic mélange. We’d go to the Wax bar in Soho, and I was their gay-artist mascot. But one night I saw Kiki & Herb do their Christmas show at P.S. 122. It was earth-shattering; it gave me a focal point of where I wanted to go.

I went back to L.A. to write my second album, Poses. L.A. was also where I learned how to drink and do drugs, how to scope out the dealer and get into the party, and how to drive drunk (which I don’t do anymore). So when I finally returned to New York, in the summer of 1999, I was like a heat-seeking missile to find out what was happening, where was the fun, where were the goods, and who I wanted to go home with. I had very long hair and wore Greek caftans and posed as a romantic, almost Pre-Raphaelite androgynous person. I moved into an $1,800 closet-size apartment in the Chelsea Hotel. I met this guy Walt Paper, who brought me into the remnants of that Club Kid world, which had just collapsed. We met the drag performer Lily of the Valley and a fashion designer named Zaldy, and the four of us became a quartet who were at every party and in every hot tub and on every beach.

We went to the Boiler Room and Beige and the Cock, where Miss Guy would D.J. this eclectic mix of rock and roll, Nirvana, and Dolly Parton. I drank a lot, starting around noon and going on till four. I was so blissfully ignorant of any kind of danger or defeat. I was so confident that I was brilliant and indestructible and could drink and sleep with people as much as I wanted. I no longer have that magic blankness. But when I think back on it, I’m proud of having cracked the code of living life to the fullest, and that it didn’t take me down—though it very nearly did in the end.


Amy Sedaris, comedienne
Arrived: 1993
The first thing I saw when I came to New York was a man leaning up against a wall, shitting. Perfect! I was never scared in Chicago. Here your fear was sitting right in front of you. But I loved it. I started waitressing at Marion’s, and then got a job at Gourmet Garage. My brother David and I would go to Balducci’s and look at their prepared food and then go home and try to make that. We shopped at Western Beef all the time. Waitressing was always fun. I like to wait on people, I like to work around food, I like to make cash, and I like to hear people complain.


Richie Rich, designer
Arrived: 1993
The first night I moved here, I met Madonna. She walked up to me at the opening of Club USA with a lollipop and a beer, and she was like, “Hmmm, you look cute.” And I was like, “You’re Madonna!” I’m like, This is New York. Wow.


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