It's a Monday evening in early May, business as usual at The Rogue, a dive bar on Scottsdale Road, not far from the Tempe border. The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" is on the stereo, and the daytime bartender serves cheap beers to the early regulars.
As if on cue, the door swings open and in walks a girl named Katie Rose, all long pale legs and huge red hair, with very little in between.
Now the night can begin.
Katie Rose is wearing quite the outfit for a Monday night in south Scottsdale: blue-and-white hot pants, no longer than three inches, and knee-high black stiletto boots. For a moment, everyone in the bar stops and looks. And then suddenly Katie Rose is swamped. One guy wants to know if she's listened to the CD he gave her last week, another just wants to say hi. Another is the visiting talent for the night, a musician named Ari Shine from L.A.
Tonight is Blue Monday, Katie Rose's newest venture in her quest to make The Rogue the place to be. The night is split between DJs and rock bands, giving musicians a place to play in a city where venues for pure rock 'n' roll seem to be closing down every week.
Katie Rose greets everyone with a big smile and an air that this is her bar, even though she's just an employee. Her party takes place behind the DJ booth and the bar, tonight.
Katie Rose McCarthey, 23 this month, is famous -- if only within these slump block walls, if only because she pours a stiff drink and makes the guys, well, stiff. That's more than enough, in a culture that celebrates even the suggestion of celebrity, to make her the Valley's It Girl.
Rumors about Katie Rose range from trivial gossip -- yes, that hair is really all her own; no, she won't tell you how she gets it that color -- to really racy. Yes, she's addicted to cocaine; no, she's not ignoring the problem. Yes, she's done porn; no, there was never a gang bang. Or a fisting.
But you can own a tee shirt featuring her spread-eagle in even less than she wears to The Rogue on a Monday night. The shirt art's a still from an Internet video she made for the Web site First Time Videos, thanks to the local band Casket Life.
And it's not just negative gossip that buzzes around Katie Rose. On any given night, conversation at The Rogue centers on her: Will she move to New York City, does she have a job waiting at MTV, is an MTV show tentatively titled Lifestyles of the Rock and Roll going to feature her? (The answer to all of the questions: Maybe.)
Just like other faux celebs -- you'll find one in every city across the country, and quite a few in L.A. and New York -- this is a woman other people love to talk (mostly shit) about. She's sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, cigarettes and a strong drink, that cool girl in school who you always knew was too punk to talk to, and now, you can't help but stare when she walks into a room.
Katie Rose has never done anything of real consequence. She plays in a band that hasn't made it, she bartends, DJs, and her screen debut (other than porn) will come in a low-budget horror flick set to begin filming this month. But this town is obsessed with her anyway.
It's not about what she does, it's about what she reminds us we're not.
Welcome to the cult of Katie Rose.
Hope your liver can handle it.
If you're a member of the Class of 2001 at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, chances are you never knew Katie McCarthey. By the time the girl who attended the alma mater of David Spade and Sandra Bernhard was 16, she was living with her boyfriend, a member of the now-defunct band Slash City Daggers. Katie (she didn't start going by her middle name, Rose, 'til after high school) didn't exactly have time to care about who was dating who at her school or who was prom queen that year.
"In high school I was, like, a dork," she says. "I always played in bands. I had, like, two friends. I wasn't a socialite, I really just had my mom and I did a lot of nerdy things."
She's smart. In her senior year at Saguaro, Katie won a scholarship to Arizona State University as part of the university's Leadership Scholarship Program, where she planned to major in journalism. But midway through her first semester, Katie decided school wasn't for her and dropped out.
"I've been to college three times and I'm like, I hate it. I'm bored," she says. "I look at people who have finished college and I really respect that. It's a lot of work."
When she says she only had her mother, Katie means her mom was her closest friend. Her mother was her inspiration, and though she has two brothers, it was always mom she went to for support. Her dad's been out of the picture for years and she doesn't know where he is.
On her left arm, Katie sports a large tattoo, an elaborate design with the words "forever your soldier" cutting through the middle.
She got it in 2005, in honor of her mother, who died a month later.
"I sat for 12 hours and we did the whole outline in one sitting," she says. "When I went to visit her at the hospice, I showed it to her and she tried to lick it off. I was like, 'No, mom, it's there forever.' It meant something to her, and she didn't even like tattoos."
Katie struggles with some of the same demons her mother did -- like drugs.
"We were really close. She taught me guitar," Katie says. "My mom was very hippish and had her own struggles, too, but she came out of that and turned herself into a very successful woman."
It's clear Katie wants the same for herself. She says she wants to make a name for herself in music, but for now she's become locally famous more for promoting, bartending and spinning records at The Rogue, a bar at which she'd been hanging out and playing shows for years with her various bands (first the Tempe Tramps and later -- but no longer -- with Hell on Heels, one of the Valley's only successful all-girl punk bands, currently working on recording their second record with Bomp Records).
In the summer of 2004, she says, The Rogue's entire bar staff quit.
The bar's manager called her, even though she'd never officially poured a drink. He said, "We don't have a staff. We need you to bartend."
"I don't bartend," Katie Rose said.
"You do now."
And a startender was born.
The concept of faux celebrities is, of course, not specific to Phoenix. Los Angeles has the Cobra Snake, a geeky guy named Mark Hunter who snaps photos of pretty girls in American Apparel outfits and drunk people at hip bars and posts them on his Web site, www.thecobrasnake.com. Taking party pics doesn't seem like a job that could elevate anyone to celebrity status, but Hunter has managed to collect groupies, most of them wide-eyed, underage girls, on both coasts.
Cobra Snake's East Coast counterpart, Merlin Bronques of Last Night's Party (www.lastnightsparty.com), uses the same basic concept, but pushes the boundaries by featuring partially dressed, or, often, totally nude, "urban pinups" on his site, in addition to the pictures he posts from his debaucherous, and apparently very sexy, nightlife at Manhattan bars like Happy Endings, Scenic, and Don Hills.
Turns out photographing drunk people dancing to Bloc Party and posing bleary-eyed in dirty restrooms is actually something people care about -- according to Manhattan gossip blog gawker.com, Bronques has plans to publish a book full of his Last Night's Party pictures. Not only that, Sapa, a swanky midtown New York restaurant, now offers a contest where patrons can enter to win a dinner with Bronques and "the hottest DJs, scenesters, fashionistas, go-go dancers, drag queens and urban pinups downtown has to offer."
Keep in mind, these "VIPs" do nothing but drink, drug, dance and take pictures of each other. Yet somehow they've elevated themselves to celebrity status at a restaurant that also serves the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Michael Keaton.
This is the world of the downtown debutante -- people who are famous because they say they are and because others listen. Kind of like Paris Hilton, only with a better soundtrack and vintage outfits. And less money.
As far as self-made faux celebrities go, the MisShapes, a threesome of surly New York City club kids (LoveLeigh, Geo and Greg K.) and longtime Last Night's Party stars, have elevated themselves to deity status. The trio, none of whom goes by last names, host/DJ MisShapes, a Lower East Side dance party named after a song by Britpop legends Pulp.
That is all they do. And they've got the entire NYC club scene eating from the palms of their hands.
Of the three, Leigh gets the most attention. New York magazine named her one of the most influential New Yorkers, and she's the cover girl for Swedish band The Sounds' new album Dying to Say This To You.
The 22-year-old has managed to build a career on fashionable hair, a patented surly look, the fact that she's extremely photogenic, and a group of wanna-be-hip kids who follow and worship her every move.
Kinda like Katie Rose.
Katie Rose is 23 tonight, and she's lording over a table of the Valley's cool kids at her birthday party at Casey Moore's in Tempe. To her left sits William Reed (better known as William "Fucking" Reed), DJ at The Rogue's very successful Saturday night dance party Shake!, and his girlfriend Celine. Across the table is Katie Rose's boyfriend TeeRoy, designer of the popular local clothing line Debris Blanc. Dirty Dave, former Hot Pink! DJ who now works with Reed at The Rogue, sits to her left. Behind her is a table filled with girlfriends, models and fellow bartenders -- the ladies in waiting to the queen of the scene.
Katie Rose and her cadre are building their celebrity status on the same qualities as the MisShapes, only the hair is bigger and the outfits even more outrageous.
There's a huge nightclub scene in Scottsdale, complete with velvet ropes and VIP rooms. But Katie Rose and her friends would rather drop dead than bump and grind to Top 40 radio hits at a Scottsdale super-club. So they've created and promoted their own scene.
Reed, who's helped create a sense of nightlife at least on Saturday nights, says building a scene in the Valley is something along the lines of a DIY project. Shake! came about out of sheer boredom.
"Shit, back in the day, 18 months ago, we were sitting around complaining about how there wasn't a fucking thing to do on a Saturday night," he says. "And one day we were just sitting around getting sordid in her [Katie's] pad and we came up with this idea and went with it. It's nice to at least think we're contributing to the nightlife scene in Phoenix -- giving people an option of something to do."
Robert Sentinery, editor and publisher of Java, often seen out and about with a camera in hand for the ClubCam pages of his magazine, says Katie Rose and company give the Valley what it craves -- exciting people to talk about and follow.
"They're definitely the trendsetters. They know what's going on in other cities," he says. "Some of the stuff they do gets really wild. It's very avant-garde. People know they know what's up, so they have their followers -- people who realize these guys are on the cutting edge."
Indeed, even her close friends are sometimes taken aback by Katie Rose's ability to tune in to what people want.
"Sometimes I look at her and I'm like, 'How am I in this girl's inner circle?'" says Luis Tamayo, manager of Sunset Clothing Exchange and sometime DJ at The Rogue on Thursday nights. "Then I remember that this is Katie -- the girl who I eat tacos with at four in the morning."
Wherever Katie Rose pops up -- whether it's a drag bar in Phoenix (where she found the new drummer for her band), the Palo Verde Lounge, Casey Moore's or The Rogue -- it's a given that the rest of the Valley hip kids are soon to follow.
Katie Rose was a key part of The Rogue's transformation in the past year and a half. The Rogue of parties past was quite different from what it is today -- 50-cent Pabst was the drink of choice, and Social Distortion's loser-punk anthem "Story of My Life" was the bar's unofficial theme song. Under its former name, Sneaky Pete's, and even in the building's first few years as The Rogue, it was a punk rock dive, full of Bettie Page wanna-bes and blue-collar dudes. The thought of anyone dancing anywhere, let alone on the bar, was laughable. If a guy walked in wearing an all-denim jumpsuit (one of Shake! DJ Reed's favorite get-ups), he was likely to be called a fag -- at best.
Enter bar owner Mark Maertens, who bought Sneaky Pete's in 2001 and dubbed it The Rogue. By 2004, he was itching to change more than the name.
"It seemed like the punk scene was kind of stalemating and not going anywhere," he says. "It was time for a change."
Still, at that time, business wasn't exactly booming for The Rogue. Katie Rose and her friend, local artist Joe Oursland -- who's shown work all over town (from the downtown Phoenix gallery monOrchid to the mural that covers one of The Rogue's walls) -- were the only two employees. Saturday nights, when Katie Rose bartended alone, she says there were about 12 people in the bar on a good night.
But she had an idea to increase business, promote her Saturday night, and increase her profit in tips -- she talked her friend William Reed into DJing and made some fliers to let people know. The two met when they were neighbors, along with Devon Rodgers, their behind-the-scenes partner/promoter, at the same downtown Phoenix apartment complex. At the time, Reed was not the party god people see him as today -- Katie actually had to talk him into DJing.
"He was like, 'I'm not a DJ. I don't want to be called a DJ,'" she says. "But William is one of the most knowledgeable people about music I've ever met. He really knows his shit, so I was like, 'Dude, just try it.'"
The initial few weeks were slow -- the first night their audience was a small group of punk rock girls who spent the night screaming at Reed to "turn down the suck" -- but among the three of them, there was a big enough social network to grow the night.
"For the first year, it's been tag-team phone calling, trying to get people to come, trying to get DJs in here. We just started using our connections," she says.
And it worked. The venue was packed, with literally no room to move, for Shake!'s one-year anniversary in March, and in early May, when they brought in U.K. super DJ Paul Epworth (he produced Bloc Party and The Rapture, two perennial hipster bands), The Rogue was again bursting at the seams with the black eyeliner/big hair set.
Since Shake! began, The Rogue has experienced a surge in business, something Maertens credits at least partially to Katie Rose. These days, everyone associated with the bar, from its nightly DJs to its bar staff, is a friend of hers. She's built an attractive staff, making the bar the place to be seen for a certain social group.
Reed agrees that the night he and Katie created has transformed The Rogue.
"Shake! has helped popularize the venue in general," he says. "They've reaped the benefits above and beyond Saturday night because of Shake!. I can back that up without sounding arrogant -- just look at the numbers."
When Shake! took off, suddenly Katie Rose was everywhere. When she started bartending at the Palo Verde Lounge, a Tempe dive bar, she created another night called The Donkey Show, this time with her boyfriend, TeeRoy, and his roommate Jared Donkersly behind the decks. The flier designed to promote the night touted her as a "celebrity bartender," feeding the image that was starting to surround her.
"I didn't even make that flier," she says. "My friends made so much fun of me for that. Everyone was like, 'Oh, can you sign my flier?' It was kind of embarrassing."
A few months later, when wanna-be party monster/glamour-puss Jonny Noir launched his now-defunct party Filthy/Gorgeous at Ain't Nobody's Bizness, his flier advertised "appearances by William Fucking Reed and Katie Rose." The flier didn't advertise that Katie would bartend or Reed would DJ. It simply advertised their presence was expected.
To Reed, it makes sense that people pay attention to Katie.
"There's no one else like Katie Rose in this town," he says. "She a startender, but she's also just Katie Rose. She's a musician and entrepreneur. When she wants something, she gets it. One day she's going to be on the cover of Rolling Stone."
Being the Phoenix hipster set's most recognizable face has its pitfalls. There is enough scandal surrounding Katie Rose to make Lindsay Lohan look boring. Surprisingly, instead of trying to deny what people say, she ignores it and/or admits to it, depending on how true the rumor is.
"I'm fucking used to it by now. It used to make me insecure, and I have a lot of social anxiety. But now I'm like, 'Fuck it,'" she says. "I understand how rumors are. You see someone making out with someone, and it gets translated to you saw them butt-fucking in the alley."
One rumor Katie Rose openly confirms is the cocaine addiction for which she just did a stint in detox.
"I used coke every day. If the sun went down, I had already scored. Oh my God, did I just say 'scored'?" she says, taking a long drag on her Camel Silver cigarette, from her perch in a black corner booth at The Rogue. "It was a $40 to $80-a-night thing. If it was dark outside, I was probably high."
She admits to using the drug off and on since she was 17 or 18, but says her use got worse over the past year, peaking when her mother died of cancer six months ago.
"I've noticed myself slacking on things I really want to do. My fuse started getting shorter and shorter. I've been getting in fistfights," she says. "That's so bro of me. Who am I? A college bro? Am I going to start building beeramids? It's embarrassing."
The day before she enters detox, she sits on a barstool at The Rogue chain-smoking and drinking vodka, trying to figure out how she got there. Her usually enormous hair is covered in a newsboy cap. She looks drained from a doctor's appointment earlier that day. Her mother is very much on her mind tonight.
"My blood and piss reek of cocaine," she says. "I'm thinking my mom's probably pissed off at me for doing this to myself."
She takes another deep drag and sighs as she thinks about what she has to do tomorrow. At the moment she looks like anything but a "celebrity." She looks partied out and ready to go home.
A week later, she's back at The Rogue, fresh from rehab and in top Katie Rose form. In hot pants and full makeup, she alternately sucks down cigarettes and Bud Lights and announces she has been drug-free for one week. She made it through Shake! a few days before without touching drugs -- quite an accomplishment in a scene known for its cocaine use -- and says she's been to a few N.A. meetings since she left detox a day ahead of schedule on early release, per the detox center's team of doctors. She's called all her dealers and told them not to call or text message her. She's told her friends not to bring drugs around her.
"I was worried about coming home and having people say, 'What, she doesn't party anymore?' but they respected it," she says. "My huge debate was should I be sober and use nothing, like no alcohol. But I decided as long as I stay on track and keep going to the N.A. meetings, I would be okay. I'm scared to go too extreme because I'm afraid of snapping."
A stint in rehab is a given for most party girls -- hell, everyone in Hollywood has been addicted to cocaine at least once -- but Katie seems sincere in her commitment to kicking the drug.
Though kicking the habit has been made glamorous lately by Kate Moss' recent stint at The Meadows, a high-end rehab facility in Wickenburg, Katie describes her experience at a downtown Phoenix detox center as anything but.
During the first 23 hours, she says, she spent her time avoiding tweakers in a large room called the crisis center. Men and women are mixed together in this Army-dormitory-style room, where their vitals are checked once an hour and most go through the worst withdrawals in a very public forum before being admitted to the actual detox center the next day.
"I will not use again," Katie says. "When I was in there and heard other people's horror stories, I realized two things: One, I wasn't as bad as I thought, and two, I'm glad I caught this when I did. The first 23 hours just reeked of misery and failure."
Even if it was a miserable four days for her -- no boyfriend, no parties, just her, her journal and her sobriety -- Katie keeps her sense of humor about rehab.
"They don't let you have any caffeine. All you can have is water. And I fucking love caffeine," she says. "When I got out, I was like, 'Fuck drugs. I don't even care about drugs anymore. I want a fucking Diet Coke.'"
Later the same night, she's no longer waxing about rehab and overcoming addiction. She's just having a good time. There are about 100 people in the bar -- a pretty good crowd for a Monday -- and Katie's behind the decks in the DJ booth, for Blue Monday.
Katie Rose drops the Detroit Cobras, followed by The Who. She slugs back the beer. When she's done DJing, she works the room, flirts with her boyfriend. Someone tells her she looks hot.
She says thanks. She should probably say "duh."
As the night wears on, Katie gets some upsetting news. One of the major skeletons in her closet has come out, legs spread, across a tee shirt.
When she was 18, Katie Rose appeared in her first porn. When she was 20, she left the business -- for good, she says. Four days before her 23rd birthday, she's just found out some members of Casket Life, a local punk band, got ahold of an image of her from the Internet and printed it on a tee shirt to sell as merchandise at their shows.
And she's pissed.
"Who fucking does that?" she asks. "Why would you do that to someone local? I mean, our bands have played together before."
Unfortunately for Casket Life, Katie Rose owns most of the rights to the porn she made, and depending on the image used, the band could be in some legal trouble.
Members of Casket Life declined to issue a real comment, though they did say in an e-mail signed "Casket Life" that they'd "rather not make a big deal out of it," and "we're not looking for any attention for something like this."
The band adds that it only did a "small run" of shirts and that it made them because "one of the band members was a fan of her work."
Regardless, the tee shirt incident has forced Katie Rose to realize that this is a skeleton that's probably not going away anytime soon. Not that she's ashamed of the porn she made -- she says she isn't -- she's just tired of all the rumors.
"It's always going to be there. I wouldn't take it back for the world. The experiences and the people I met, and the things I saw, have given me insight to people and sexuality," she says. "It was fun. It just gets annoying when people make stuff up. Maybe if you did something interesting you wouldn't have time to talk about things I did three years ago. I've heard that I've done everything from gang bangs to fistings, and I'm like, 'Oh, really? Where was I? Show me.'"
Here's what really went down, according to Katie Rose. When she was 18, she was engaged (to Abe from the Slash City Daggers, for anyone who's been around the Valley long enough to remember those guys), and the two of them got into porn together.
"It was something we did as a couple because we thought it was fucking hot, and then we got smart about it and figured out we could kill two birds with one stone and start making a lot of money," she says. "Most everything I did was solo, and then I had one or two shoots that were with another girl. If you see me having sex with a guy in a video, that's my [former] fiancé. And you're going to see a big Katie Rose tattoo on his arm."
She says that in addition to the Internet videos she made with a Web site called First Time Videos (www.FTVgirls.com), she also worked as a model recruiter and as a model for some of the fetish magazines under Larry Flynt's Hustler brand.
As far as porn goes, the FTV videos are not too extreme -- for the most part, Katie plays the role of a teenage Lolita, masturbating, kissing another girl, the stuff of your typical amateur porn video. In some of her later work on the site, she gets kinkier -- there are a few scenes involving marbles, a speculum and some stockings (not necessarily all used together) -- and Katie says she actually preferred the work that was more fetish-oriented.
"A lot of people only know about the Internet stuff," she says. "I did a lot of fishnets and tights and bondage and heels. I have a letter from Larry Flynt saying I was one of his favorite fetish models. That's what I prefer to do. Everything that's portrayed as an innocent young girl was just to pay the bills."
Although she says she has no regrets, her face hardens when she talks about the rumors, and she makes it very clear that she has no desire to return to the adult industry.
"People make up the craziest rumors. It's kind of expected. And I'm not saying I didn't do anything kinky or dirty, it just gets annoying. I'm always amazed when I hear new things," she says.
And for anyone who's still convinced she did the gang bang, she's got this offer: "I will give you a thousand dollars if you can show me a video or a picture of a gang bang."
She says joining Hell on Heels was what ultimately convinced her to stop making porn.
"I totally left the [porn] business because I felt like more of my energy was being focused on that than my music," she says. "They were like, 'What do you want? Is this going to interfere when we tour?' I was like, 'No. I want to do music. I want a name in music.'"
Hell on Heels did give Katie the start in music she wanted, though she is no longer with the band. Both sides are tightlipped regarding why she left, but they say they remain friends.
"We just went our separate ways. Me and Paula [Monarch] are very much the same -- we're really good friends, but we're both really strong people, and we both want to write songs," she says. "Paula knows I'm going to be happier if I'm fronting a band, and I know she's going to be happier without my fiery attitude. Plus at the time I was doing a lot of drugs, so, you know, I was hard to get along with."
Paula Monarch, who fronts the band (which is still together and going back to the studio soon), says giving Katie the boot was a tough decision, but one the band members knew they had to make.
"We were just going down different paths," she says. "This was the first record label and legit band for Katie, and the first actual tours for Katie as well. So she was excited about things that weren't important to us -- we've been there, done that. She wanted to hit every after-show party there was, and the rest of us just wanted to move on to the next town."
Still, Monarch says she respects Katie Rose and thinks of her as a little sister.
"I expected a lot of her because I could see a lot there," she says. "She has come a long way, and I'm very proud of her. She seems to have more focus and takes care of herself more -- she used to let people push her around, and there's no way she would let anyone do that now. She's awesome, and once you get to know her, she's the nicest person you could meet. I'm glad she finally got her shit together."
Katie says music is the biggest passion in her life, something she credits to her mother, who taught her to play guitar when she was 6. Still, she admits she's not the best player in the world, considering how long she's had the instrument around.
"I'm not a good guitar player, really. For as long as I've been playing, I should be way better. I should be like Jimi Hendrix, but I'm like Meg White on the drums on guitar," she says.
She's now playing with a band called the Night Shift.
The band hasn't played many shows in the three months it's been together -- Katie says she's focused mostly on getting a demo together -- but she did manage to get the band on the bill at the Clubhouse Music Venue when The Subways played in March. Not bad for a first show, and a definite indicator that despite the drama and rumors that follow her, Katie Rose is someone people listen to.
And there's no denying she's also someone who gets attention. In the past month, she's managed to get herself cast in a horror movie alongside Calico Cooper (Alice Cooper's daughter) and says she has been courted by MTV to possibly have her life taped for a new show tentatively titled Lifestyles of the Rock and Roll.
(No one from the production company returned calls.)
Though she was rumored to be moving to New York soon to work for the network, Katie says she's put those plans on hold for a while.
"After my mom died, I just wanted to go. Everything I drove by was a memory. I thought that changing my location would change what I was feeling," she says. "But I don't want to move to a bigger city where there's just more people and more drugs. I just want to get my shit together and be sober. I want to know that I can be together. I want to have a things-to-do list."
So why does anyone care about Katie Rose? For the same reason the same people obsessively downloaded Paris Hilton's porn and constantly speculate about Lindsay Lohan's weight.
She's cooler than us and she's not even trying. She's beautiful, untouchable -- and incredibly flawed. And the flaws make for delicious gossip.
The fact that she'll spit in your face if you piss her off -- just ask the guy who called her friend a slut at Casey Moore's on her birthday -- and she doesn't care what you say about her only makes people love to hate her even more. And she knows it.
"I was either going to let it break me and make me crumble, or I was going to rise above it," she says in true faux-celeb fashion. "If you hide from other people, you're hiding from yourself, and you will do that forever."
Welcome to the cult of Katie Rose.
Admit it. You're hooked.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.