For the release of the World According to Wonder, PAPER co-founder and old pal David Hershkovits sat down with Fenton and Randy to talk about the book, their current projects, and a bashful young ingenue named RuPaul.
David Hershkovits: The New Museum has an exhibition called “NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star,” what they identify as a pivotal moment when everything changed. You’re celebrating 20 years of World of Wonder. What was it like for you starting then?
Fenton Bailey: We started in ’91. That was when we’d moved our office to Varick Street and RuPaul came into see us and was like “lets do this thing.”
What was this thing that he wanted to do?
FB: Ru had been a big downtown drag queen for a while but he wanted to take it to the next level and really do music.
So he came to you for music?
FB: Not really for the music but to actually manage him.
But why would he come to you for that?
FB: That’s a good question, you know, because we had our band and we hadn’t been particularly too successful.
Randy Barbato: We knew him, we worked with him on his Star Booty album and we always took him seriously and when it came to all of our club friends I think one of our distinctions was that we always had day jobs. We would go out at night but we also always got up early in the morning.
Fenton, you had a day job too?
FB: I worked at Drexel Burnham Lambert in the video department. They had a film and video department making videos about junk bonds and high-yield securities and zero-backed mortgage coupon bonds and things of that nature.
RB: I think that the day time jobs saved us from…
Descending into the K hole!
RB: Yes, we never got lost at Disco 2000… And Ru, even though for a while he was partying more than we were, he also was quite happy to get up at 9 and to take a meeting. He loved talking about what was going on. He was in the nightclub scene but also loved to step back, he was also the observer of the scene.
1993 was the year that I did the cover interview in Paper with RuPaul.
RB: I remember that photo shoot so clearly too. It was fun. It felt like a big moment.
It was! Gay culture was emerging on TV and here and there, little signs of what had previously been completely ignored in media was suddenly appearing and RuPaul was the one who was going to really bring it out, which he did with his show.
FB: Right! Downtown had always been bubbling up. Madonna kind of came from downtown and Deee-Lite too.
Everyone kind of knew each other. It was like 200 people and you would bump into each other somewhere inevitably.
RB: There are so many people from that time who we are still very closely connected to, like Lady Bunny, James St. James, RuPaul and Stephen Saban. We know and see these people pretty regularly. Michael Musto. And Lisa Edelstein is out in LA.
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