HIV/AIDS and Crystal Meth Are a Disastrous Mix Says DJ Junior Vasquez
by Paul E. Pratt
There’s an art to interviewing Junior Vasquez. He does not open up to just anyone, it seems. During an initial interview, Vasquez enthusiastically discusses his chart-topping work with everyone from Madonna to Beyoncé and Mariah. He even shares candidly about his recovery from addiction to crystal methamphetamine. And even though he volunteers at God’s Love We Deliver and has spun for countless AIDS benefits, getting the super-producer to talk about HIV/AIDS, really talk about it, that is, is almost impossible.
Despite nearly two decades as one of the world’s most famous club DJs, Vasquez values his privacy. Getting to the core of the disease’s impact on his life means moving into territory he seldom discusses—not even with his twenty-four-year-old boyfriend—and takes time and, perhaps, finesse.
During a follow-up interview, Vasquez is more relaxed, at ease. One might imagine some trust developed. Whatever the case, he slowly opens up. In many ways, the process mimics one of the super-producer’s remixes: a long, steady build, slow enticement before the heart of the matter leads to an electric crescendo. Not unlike his music, Vasquez’s story proves more than worth the wait.
“I’ve had three very long-term relationships in my life: six years, eight years and four years,” Vasquez, fifty-eight, finally discloses. “All of [those partners] contracted AIDS after our relationships. Later on, I was contacted when they passed away. I’ve received photo albums from two of them.”
Unlike the first telephone conversation—when Vasquez called from his vacation on Fire Island—this time he is sitting in his New York City home. A hush falls over the line.
“I’m staring at the one photo album right now,” he almost whispers. “I’ve opened up a whole Pandora’s box now. This is going to be much more than 600 words.”
These days Vasquez plays gigs all over the world. In 2006 alone he’s played dates across the United States and Canada as well as in Australia and Japan. In the fall he hits Israel. One of the most-loved remixers by musicians and listeners alike, Vasquez is a regular at NYC’s top clubs and a gay circuit party staple. Wherever he goes, he is treated like royalty. It’s a far cry from the life Vasquez remembers thirty-plus years ago.
“I [literally] lived in a bathhouse with my first boyfriend in the early seventies,” he reveals. At the time, New York’s infamous Continental Baths was just starting out, Vasquez remembers, and “everyone went there.” His boyfriend at the time worked as a towel boy in the facility, allowing the pair to share a room there for three months.
“I saw what went on there, but I didn’t get caught up in it,” shares Vasquez, who says his chemical makeup probably makes him not as sexual as many he knows. “I didn’t particularly like that kind of thing, but he did. I was with him six years. After we broke up, he contracted HIV and died.”
When asked why he did not share this information during the first interview, Vasquez acknowledges it is a sore subject. Though he does not “avoid” it, he admits only discussing those days if they are “brought up.” Even then, the DJ attempts to shift the conversation to other subjects.
“I would rather talk about seeing Bette Midler for the very first time,” he says. “Sometimes I don’t want to open that whole can of worms because it’s so deep in my brain, but I was there. I was in the bathhouse, seeing Bette Midler starting out, during the free, gay sex of the seventies. I know first-hand where that led.”
Calling himself “of-the-moment,” Vasquez admits often “suppressing” the nostalgia of that era. “I don’t know if that’s a bad thing, but I just don’t want to relive it,” he admits. “Now that you’ve tilted my memory, it’s all flooding back.”
The seventies were a wild time for gay men—for everyone, it seems. “My boyfriend wonders how I escaped AIDS being around in those days,” he shares.
“I tell him it’s because I’m a top and I’m not promiscuous.”
Vasquez says his interest was more in the music than the free sex. He was engrossed in the nightlife, the music, of the disco era. “Damn,” Vasquez says, amused, “I remember wearing platform shoes for the first fucking time in the seventies....”
Laughing out loud, he lifts the interview from the pall which befell it.
The levity is short-lived, though, as Vasquez soon turns serious again. From discussing those early days leading to the devastation of gays at the hands of AIDS, the DJ turns his attention to a new epidemic facing the community and fueling HIV infections.
“AIDS is no longer killing gay men,” Vasquez asserts, “Crystal meth is.”
Vasquez knows all-too-well the seductive—and destructive—powers of crystal methamphetamine. Other than a string of hits for Michael and Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and everybody who was anybody in the music world, he has little memory of the last seven years. He admits most of that time was spent in a drug-induced fog.
The DJ was unwittingly introduced to meth by acquaintances in the club scene during the late nineties. Though the drug was first put in coffee without his knowledge, the self-professed workaholic who traded in dating for his career in the mid-eighties willingly continued his drug use to sustain his breakneck work schedule and pace.
By the time he realized he had a problem, his addiction was in full swing. Says Vasquez, “I got to the point where I didn’t think I could do anything without it.”
Unlike many “tweakers”—a name used to describe those who use meth—Vasquez contends his drug use was not linked to sexual activity. Instead it allowed the mix-master to spin his hits for long stretches at parties around the world. “The last thing I wanted to do was fuck when I got home from work,” he says, “I’d just shot my wad, so to speak, by playing for eighteen hours at a time.”
HIV-negative, Vasquez says drug-driven, unsafe sex was not part of his personal experience. Still, the link between crystal meth and HIV/AIDS infections is not lost on the DJ. “You don’t have any inhibitions,” he says, describing the feelings when high on meth. “So I can totally see how it happens.”
The media agrees with Vasquez’s assessment. Crystal methamphetamine—known on the streets and in nightclubs as “Tina,” “Crystal,” “Chrissy,” “T” and to many as simply “The Bitch”—is wreaking havoc on the gay community at large.
In addition to headlines across the country declaring meth abuse among gays at epic heights, they also strongly correlate crystal use to infection rates for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Vasquez, who has worked with GMHC on a meth education campaign, hypothesizes spikes in infections relate to a combination of crystal usage and Web sites enabling hook-ups for anonymous sex.
“They encourage [drugs],” he says of Web sites such as ManHunt.net and Men4SexNow.com. Such sites generally include wording which seem to suggest safe-sex practices and discouraging drug usage. Vasquez feels it’s all just lip service.
Several such sites allow patrons to choose preferences for sexual practices such as “safe,” “bareback,” or “needs discussion.” “That’s why there’s still such an [HIV/AIDS] epidemic,” Vasquez offers. “There’s mostly only tweakers on there,” he contends. “They get high and spend hours on their computers looking for sex.
“They’re not being safe. They’re not using condoms,” the DJ declares. “[On meth] you can have multiple partners, have sex for eons, for days! You just lose track of everything you’re doing.”
Vasquez knows about losing track all-too-well. The last half-decade at least is a blur. “People tell me stories, but I just don’t remember,” he admits sadly. “I was getting so banged up before going to work, the whole time at work. Then there was the aftermath at home, being secluded, getting out of shape and not eating.”
The musical genius barely recalls his trips around the world, the parties he’s performed at or people he’s met. He confesses his addiction to meth required Xanax to “come down” and sleep. He needed Vicodin because his muscles and bones ached from lack of rest and proper nutrition. Ultimately, he admits, “my mind didn’t know if it was coming or going!”
He refers to his days at New York City’s now-classic Twilo nightclub as his “crack years.” Around that time Vasquez says he “became so beligerent” about his drug usage, crystal meth went everywhere with him. “It would be all over the DJ booth, scattered all over the records,” he recalls, an element of disgust in his voice.
“I was so proud to be a meth-head, nobody was going to talk me out of it,” he relays. “That’s how you get until you hit a personal bottom.” For Vasquez that came in February 2005 in a Texas airport. During a meth-induced seizure, the DJ nearly bit through his tongue. At that point, he called it quits.
“I’m not going to kill myself slowly—or quickly like that—and be selfish toward my friends and the people who love to hear me play,” says Vasquez, whose sobriety date is February 11, 2006. “I have a responsibility.”
Early on, Vasquez feared coming clean about his drug dependence and subsequent recovery. Detractors thought speaking out against meth and its effects on the club community, music and audience might be seen as biting the hand that feeds them. Even if the response had not been so overwhelmingly positive, Vasquez says he had little choice. The DJ notes, “Whether in my life or music, I have always paved a path.”
Though saying he’s not “struggling” with the recovery process, the DJ admits it has taken considerable work to move past mental and physical reliance on meth. “I had to reeducate myself,” he confesses.
“I did this for twelve years without doing any drugs,” he says of his career before meth. “I made a personal choice. I made up my mind that if I couldn’t do this without hurting myself and my health, then I wouldn’t play those hours anymore.”
Though he is back to spinning up to eighteen hours at a time without the assistance—or interference—of crystal meth, Vasquez realizes his drug addiction took serious personal and professional tolls. One of the most serious is how he scarcely recalls losing both his parents during those years. Vasquez admits he might not have mourned the losses yet, revealing solemnly, “I don’t even remember burying them.”
“I was so unattached to everything, and my music reflected that,” he says. “It was detached, sporadic, boring and angry. Crystal makes you feel that crap. When I was using, I hated my job. I hated everything.”
Now happily drug-free, Vasquez is looking to the bright side of his life, career, and recovery. “I don’t regret my experience,” he says. “It was something I had to go through to be where I am now.” Today he is “rediscovering” the joys of the simple things, from his relationship—Vasquez met his boyfriend while using but they have only dated since he got sober—to his music.
“I love playing records now. I’m challenging myself again, and it shows in my gigs,” Vasquez beams. “My music is as good and enjoyable as it was when I first started. It’s like being reborn.”
Meanwhile, Vasquez says both crystal and HIV/AIDS can revolve around judgment calls. “I think people can make choices, but when your mind is ruled by a substance, it’s hard to make the right decisions,” he declares. “After all I’ve been through, I think I’ve made some pretty decent choices.”
For more information about Junior Vasquez, log on to www.JuniorVasquezMusic.com.
Paul E. Pratt is a San Francisco-based freelanceentertainment journalist contributing to over a dozen regional LGBT publications in addition to A&U. To read more of his work, including recent A&U cover stories about actress Shelley Morrison and choreographer Carrie Ann Inaba, log on to www.PaulEPratt.com.