Whenever someone famous or very popular dies there is a rush of people jumping on the stage to shout, “I knew them the most/best/longest!” I don’t want to do that here, I didn’t know him the most, or the best, or the longest. But I would be remiss if I didn’t blog about this lovely man who died yesterday.
I knew Don for about 25 years. I wasn’t his closest friend; we didn’t talk on the phone regularly or get together for dinner, but he was a friend and I loved him.
I met Don at the Cat Club, which he managed, in the 80’s. He was always friendly and generous with the beer, and he had a first hand seat to watch the Cycle Sluts form, perform, get loaded, pick up countless rock dudes, fight like cats, get a record deal, and break up. One night I freaked out on my constantly cheating boyfriend and smashed some glasses and caused a general ruckus. Don didn’t get angry over my behavior, he just talked me down and told me it wasn’t worth it. No matter what maelstrom was spinning around him, he was even and solid, a comforting presence. Years later he would joke about “that time you beat up your boyfriend at the Cat Club”. He would always say, “That guy was a jerk anyway.” And then he would laugh and order us more shots of tequila.
During the 90’s another equally wonderful friend, Michael Schmidt, created a new party called Squeezebox, and he enlisted me to go-go dance. The party was held every Friday night at Don Hill’s. Don was “one of us” and a fair and honest club-owner, without the gigantic ego that usually comes with that title, so it was a natural choice of venue.
I shook my half-naked ass every other week in his club for years. Here’s a visual for you:
I know, always the lady… During breaks I would do a quick shot with him and we’d marvel at whatever was going on around us. It was such a fun, fantastic, groundbreaking party and he gave the promoters free rein and enjoyed the circus as much as anybody. I spent so much time around him in my underwear, as did many of us at Squeezebox, and I never once felt naked. He always made me feel comfortable and appreciated, he was a safe space in the crowd.
When Jesse Malin and I broke up after a long relationship, some people chose the Jesse side of the fence, even though it was an amicable split and we remained close. Jesse is famous so you know how that goes: he received the wedding invites and I did not. Don was always a bit closer to Jesse, they were both club-owners, both guys, they simply had more in common. But Don never made me feel any less loved. He invited me to anything he was doing and rolled out the red carpet upon my arrival. He was so natural and easy about the whole thing that the idea of sides and loyalties never came into play.
In the 2000’s, well after Squeezebox ended, I would show up at his club to see shows and would inevitably spend the entire night at the end of the bar with him, drinking tequila and gossiping like a couple of old ladies. He was very fun to gossip with and I couldn’t help but park myself next to him whenever possible.
Recently after things were getting pretty slow at the club, Don acquired new partners, and they turned the joint into the kind of place I hate, full of rich-parented social brats and models and everyone so busy taking pictures of themselves in front of the band that they don’t even notice the music. Prior to the changeover Don confided in me that it was happening, and I was flattered that he took me into his confidence and happy that he had found a means to continue. I never questioned his decision or loyalty to the “old school”. A man has to eat, and it was the right thing to do for his business. Crappy hipster blogs crowed about this “finally happening” venue, it stuck in the craw but if it brought the crowds, then more power to him. He was no dummy and his presence ensured that it was still the coolest club in town.
One of Don’s partners is the kind of guy who will shove you out of the way to get to someone he thinks is more important. His name is Nur, so I call him Nurdemort (an homage to Harry Potter, for you non-Potter fans).Every single time I’ve visited the club since he arrived he has spilled alcohol on me in his rush to grope the nearest model or Jagger offspring. He has never once noticed that he has elbowed me, poured beer on me, or stepped on my feet. Don would always cluck a bit as I sputtered angrily, hand over some napkins, wave at the bartender to get me another drink, and pull up a stool for me as far out of the fray as possible. And there I would sit next to him once again, until it was time to go.
Last night a friend let me know about Don’s death right before we left the house for a gig that Drew had at Lit. I called Jesse and left him the sad message, and then threw on something slutty and ran out for the night. I found myself crying hot tears as I watched Drew play, but was glad to be out anyway. It seemed appropriate. Many people went to Don Hill’s afterward for a farewell toast, but the idea of walking into that room and not seeing him seemed far too painful at such an early stage in the game. It is still too new for me to completely grasp that I will never get to spend another night drinking and shit-talking with him.
This morning I woke up and cried it out for a while, as I’m sure many of his friends did. We lost a dear, decent, kind, fun, wonderful, generous, honest, beautiful man. It is the end of an era for New York nightlife as well. He was a gift to our city and I’m proud and grateful to have known him.