Friday, March 26th, 2010

People You Know: Michael Musto, 25 Years In

A PARTYThe Village Voice's newsroom, which has gradually been consolidated onto one floor, was eerily quiet when I went to visit Michael Musto. Cubicles had been folded down and stacked near the windows, leaving empty space. A trio of people in suits-speaking to each other in hushed tones-patrolled the maze. Blown-up Voice front pages marked another era. Musto said that he saw "depressing" trends towards corporatization all over New York, but he renounces easy nostalgia trips. Although he already has fond memories of the most recent boom.

"At first I thought it was too glossy and Disney, and too aimed at tourists and condo owners," he said. "But now I'm getting a little nostalgic for the New York of a few years ago, before it was sort of ratty, and filled with closed storefronts. I'm like, 'Sorry I complained about the girls in black dresses with the credit cards.'"

"You know, they weren't so bad," he said.

Musto was going through all the swag on his desk as we talked. The pile included a thermal undershirt, and a letter from a prison, and a gift card to Dunkin' Donuts; that one would go in the trash.

Since 2006, when a band of Phoenix-based raiders gobbled up the Voice, Musto's franchise has existed at the pleasure of corporate executives. He said they don't interfere in the column. ("No one is saying, 'You know, that's an advertiser, how dare you,'" he said, "or 'that's a friend of the boss. Stay away.'") Around him, regular purges have claimed longtime writers from rock critic Bob Christgau to fashion reporter (and Musto's close friend) Lynne Yaeger. "I have all kinds of survivor's guilt. It's like I'm indestructible," Musto said. This was a dual reference to AIDS and to recent newspaper bloodbaths.

Musto took the weekly gay-friendly gossip beat from Arthur Bell (also a serious journalist who investigated a string of unsolved murders of powerful gays) who died in 1984. He started off hitting hard. "I hadn't really found my voice yet. I originally was too nasty and too snarky. I thought the way to make waves and to make a name for myself was just to trash everybody and everything," he said.

In 1986, he was crowned "King of Clubs" at the Limelight. "This is my year," Musto then told Advertising Age.

And then in October of 1989, he was profiled in Newsday, by Frank DeCaro, who described the column's style as "bubble-bursting bitchiness": "A bold-face mention from Musto has become the equivalent of the cover of Time magazine for the young glitz-hungry stylemongers known as Club Kids. As one devoted reader put it, 'It means they matter.' Even if only to one another."

In January of 2010, two decades and 3000 Voice columns after the Newsday profile, he was profiled in the Times, and nothing much had changed except for his lowered drug intake. Also now, as the Times noted, he has the opportunity to blog about the experience of getting a colonoscopy.

What gets omitted from these historical accounts is his longer-form essays and political work. "In the mid-80s, AIDS was raging amongst my whole circle, so that turned me into this screaming, politically correct gay activist," Musto said. "So then I kind of channeled the rage into writing more about politics, at that point. But that also had its drawbacks, because I just was so ultra-PC that nobody could say anything or do anything without invoking my rage."

Musto works alone. (He refuses to use interns. "They're available for whatever, Xeroxing or getting you a Diet Coke," he said, rolling his eyes. "I can do it myself.)

"Do you think if you were a kid now, you would be a blogger?" I asked.

Yeah," Musto said. "I mean, it's like in a way I was the original blogger. But now everyone in the world is a blogger, which means everyone on earth is a gossip columnist. I used to compete with maybe five people, now you're competing with like five billion people."

"I'm sorry," I said, "that's sad."

"It's not sad, it's kind of fabulous," he said. "It certainly makes me scramble harder to stay relevant, but it also means everyone in the world has a voice."

Even as his wit has grown more exact, and more regular, there have been setbacks and a certain crossover appeal has eluded Musto. He is bothered that the publishing date of his new collection, "Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back"-which was already pushed back by Alyson Books-is still up in the air. The other week, "230 Fifth," a Midtown office tower's rooftop enclosure, pulsated with the 550 people Michael Musto called his "best friends." This was a planned book party, and now it was a party to celebrate his 25 years at the Voice.

Nightlife's wilder species predominated: elderly cruisers, famous trannies, fag-hags, runny-nosed Chelsea Boys and ditzy fame whores. Musto had left an equally deep impression on the few non-scenesters in the room. Larry Keigwin, the choreographer, had read Musto as a confused suburban teen. He was with his partner, a patrician in a gray pinstriped suit. "The Voice has been part of my identity for 20 years," Keigwin said. Even now? "Even now," he said.

Musto attended stag. His last "serious boyfriend" was a six-month fling three years ago. ("I'm a little bit afraid of intimacy, so I'm much more comfortable just having sex — not even having sex, just making out in a night club or something and then just discarding them and going home," he said. "I don't like bringing people to my house.")

Joan Rivers was there, though. "He's a genius!" she said. "How come nobody in America knows him?" Her glassy-smooth features contorted to convey dismay.

While Musto's wardrobe usually leans towards pink cowboy shirts and paisley felt jackets, he had dressed up for the occasion: slim cut gray-plaid suit, pink shirt and gray striped tie. He spent much of the night in a long-perfected stance: a hand cupped over his mouth, whispering sly one-liners to a succession of friends. He would periodically walk over to check up on his 90-year-old mother. I went to say hello, and she pulled me in close. "I'm very, very proud," she said softly.

Matt Harvey is a New York City-based writer who writes primarily for New York Press. He has also contributed to the New York Observer, the New York Post, Time Out New York, Chelsea Now, the Villager, and

21 Comments / Post A Comment

Vulpes (#946)

Michael Musto is a National Treasure.

Brian (#115)

Matt Harvey ain't bad himself.

HiredGoons (#603)

This was a really great piece Mr. Harvey.

You can't go five minutes without running into Michael Musto and I LOVE IT.

Man is a treasure and a sweetheart.

KarenUhOh (#19)

There are never enough words celebrating Michael.

Thanks for mentioning Arthur Bell. He was a jewel. (As is Musto. Classy and sweet.)

Vulpes (#946)

I've loved MM since the old Gossip Show on E!, but what really cemented him as a sweetheart in my eyes was the fact that he came down to Philly (I live in the NJ burbs) and did this absolutely awful public access-ish gay show with a terrible host that I used to watch. He was charming and funny and he was THERE.

berthamason (#740)

Have to chime in with the Michael love. You wouldn't think the words "nice" and "considerate" would apply to a guy in his line of work, but that's part of what makes him so special.

How could someone just THROW OUT a Dunkin Donuts gift card?

Rod T (#33)

With a flick of the wrist. Agreed though, it should have gone to a homeless person across the street in Cooper Square.

Rod T (#33)

I have a love for the Musto, but I like him out in nature, free-range if you will. A sighting of him on his bike or on the ferry to Cherry Grove with Ms. Yaeger just makes you feel good for some reason. (I secretly wish they had made a baby at some point.)

That being said, I actually removed him from my RSS feed earlier in this week. Maybe I'll correct that error later tonight.

Before internet, Musto was the party. And is that Robin Byrd? Nice piece!

Sheila M (#2,375)

hey, Notanderson!

re: this piece: MOAR like this, please!

Hamilton (#122)

Serious quality journalism going on here. Joan Rivers is gonna fuck you up though.

joeclark (#651)

He came to town for a day and a half a few years ago. The iTouch had not been invented yet to remind me of events like this by quacking like a duck. I found myself within a few metres of the venue without knowing it, going all the way home, and then, some time after the listed time, realizing with a start that I was missing it.

So what did I do? I stayed home. Man, what a total fucking loser.

I learned later that only one or two people had bothered to attend, and that Mr. MUSTO had seemed melancholy and unhappy. I too almost grew up reading his columns (he, like Spy and Frank, informed my sensibility, and much of Mr. SICHA's) and I wrote for the Voice for years. Ever since that day I have felt I let myself down massively.

When else am I going to get to meet Mr. MUSTO?

HiredGoons (#603)

Also: helping get Michael Alig busted for a crime against a minority the cops-could've-gave-two-shits-about = WIN.

anildash (#487)

I remember showing Michael Gawker around Christmas of 2002, right before it launched, after Nick had given me a preview. I don't think he considered himself a blogger then. But, he is definitely a very nice guy.

ljnd (#86)

I came to NYC in 1986. He was at the Voice then. Just beginning. I, of course, thought he'd been there forever. He was reality, as I was supposed to know it. So I was there – at Downtown Beirut, at the Pyramid Club, at clubs whose name I never even knew because they were only there one night. I was where he was. Just never at the same time. To me…he is the unicorn.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I love Mr. Musto and continue to hope that one day Spike Jonz will direct a Andy Kaufman-written buddy action flick with Musto and Robin Leach. BUT: "in a way I was the original blogger…" Michael, please.

RonMwangaguhung (#3,697)

I've been reading Michael Musto for 20 years. Absolutely adore the man.

jobbotch (#3,528)

I worked at the Voice in 1998-1999 and also have warm fuzzy memories of the man, with his bike and his then-ubiquitous Teletubby tote bag. I suspect, though, that we love Musto so much for one simple reason: that he's never made it all that big, strictly speaking. And it's not like he hasn't tried: he almost made it to Queer Eye as the "culture guy" and got callbacks for Tucci's role in The Devil Wears Prada. So we love him like a college band that's still playing clubs after 25 years – not Anvil but, say, Luna – and I wonder if we would if he actually broke out of the local circuit.

hugesunglasses (#2,696)

I was first introduced to Michael Musto via the older VH1 clip shows, before the "I Love the ___s" and Chuck fucking Nice. As a suburban teenager, I hated him then. Appropriate, as I hate the suburban teenager I once was.

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