Punk performance artist Dean Johnson was found dead this weekend in an apartment on 16th Street across from Meridian Hill Park. Johnson was well known in the New York City music and gay scenes as the founder of a series of rock-and-roll parties, and the front man for the bands Dean & The Weenies and The Velvet Mafia.
Friends of Johnson’s have publicly speculated that he was murdered while visiting Washington, D.C. from New York. That may be plausible since another gay man was found dead in the same apartment, in the same week. Additionally, the New York Post’s Page 6 reported Sunday that Johnson had been routinely visiting D.C. to “to set up weird sex parties for a wealthy Saudi guy” according to a friend.
Johnson is credited with helping propel the gay rock scene in New York over the last two decades. Johnson was an early performer at Wigstock, which largely launched the careers legendary drag queen Lady Bunny as well as Alexis Arquette (the tranny sister of actor David Arquette). The 6’6″ Johnson also founded several gay rock parties that eventually became the foundation of the city’s gay rock scene.
According to The Velvet Mafia Website, Johnson turned to a friend in 1986 to declare “this town really needs a rock and roll fag bar.” When his friend pressed him for a name, Johnson replied “I would call it ‘Rock and Roll Fag Bar’.” The Rock and Roll Fag Bar party would eventually become a staple party of the now-closed CBGB club.
The rock scene fostered by Johnson in New York would prove to influence both the punk and gay movements in the city, as well as make an impression on the electroclash movement of the early 2000’s. Today’s gay rock parties in D.C. (such as TAINT and CRACK) are also largely influenced by the marriage of punk and performance art that Dean Johnson helped to create in New York.