Thursday, January 25, 2007

Michael Musto on Clay Aiken

I just got his book. Can't wait to read it. Musto is hilarious!

Michael Musto has been anointed plenty of titles during his 22-year career writing "La Dolce Musto" at the Village Voice-"The Queen of New York nightlife," "The world's most outrageous gossip columnist," "The Margaret Mead of the party set." Rosie O'Donnell even once called him the "gay Nazi." What's his preference?"

Any of those terms are wonderful," Musto told me the day after the soiree celebrating his new book, named after his infamous column. "I'm delighted to be called anything. Basically, I'm a ho."

After digesting the quirky collection of columns, which have taken on an extra delicious "trip-down-memory-lane" appeal, I wish to add another label to the list-"The guru of incongruity." Isn't it ultimately the surreal contrasts that intrigue, as much as the newsy tidbits?

"I totally accept that," Musto said. "It's not like I'm looking for the surreal, they're serving it on a plate for you. I'm relaying it to the reader. You saw [at my book party] the mixture of people-the fabulous, the wannabes, the has-beens, the never-weres, the club zanies. They're all surreal without even trying. You just can't wait to run home and put it all in the computer. It can't help but make for great copy.

"To be sure, his splashy fĂȘte, held at Room Service on East 21st Street in conjunction with the weekly ambisexual Susanne Bartsch extravaganza, seemed tailor-made for his column. In addition to co-hosts Rosie Perez and fellow gossip Perez Hilton, I rubbed elbows with Mariel Hemingway, Justin Bond, Ivana Trump, Cindy Adams, Joan Rivers, Amanda Lepore, porn god Michael Lucas, and Village Person Randy Jones hawking his new CD. Drag King Murray Hill, named after the nerdy neighborhood where Musto lives, presided over the festivities. Naturally, Patrick McMullan, photographer to the stars, was on hand to document the delirium.

This querulous New York City fixture, who claims to be painfully shy, clearly relished being the locus of attention, and being the reported as well as the reporter.

"I had a great time, which is unusual at your own event," he admitted. "It feels good to be on the other side. Yet my mind was working on how I was going to cover this [for my column]. It was a huge tribute to myself, planned by myself. The ultimate act of self-adulation.

"More and more, Musto finds himself in the media spotlight. You can't switch on a program about celebrity culture on VH1, E!, or MSNBC without seeing his smirking, bespectacled mug pontificating about Lindsay's massive parties or Britney's missing panties. But it wasn't always like this.

"I've gone through different waves of acceptance," Musto recounted. "When I started, nobody cared. I got nastier and nastier and I was cut off from all the lists. Then New York magazine did a cover story on gossip columnists and gave me a good rating, so I was back on track. Now people call me a legend or verging on obsolete. Both of these things mean old.

"One key to his success is that he's unafraid to add politics to the snark, lending his work an unexpected heft. He was one of the first to champion gay causes such as AIDS awareness, and outing celebs at a time when queer role models were sorely lacking. Back in the day, he wrote about such entertainment giants as George Michael, Ellen DeGeneres, and Rosie, when they were still trembling in the closet. You'll find plenty of examples in the book.

"That's been my number one pet peeve," proclaimed the longtime out-and-proud scribe. "In the gossip world, all the columnists have no problems about going there when it comes to any other private issue. It seems hypocritical to me, projecting their own biases. They act all squeamish when it comes to gay celebrities. I'm delighted to see the landscape has changed.

"The self-deprecating dishmeister's favorite closet cases live in an "open-door closet," because they try to live a fairly honest life without declaring their sexuality on the record. Jodie Foster and Sean Hayes are prime examples. Perhaps in part due to Musto's efforts, Ricky Martin and Clay Aiken have both finally stopped playing it straight, and seem to be in an open-door closet as well. Of course, Aiken would never admit to some of the antics reported in "La Dolce Musto," like barebacking with anonymous hookups on the Internet.

"When Barbara Walters asked Ricky Martin on TV about his sexuality, that was a huge breakthrough because before that, everyone was pussyfooting around it, as it were," opined Musto. "After Barbara did that in such a big-scale way, it moved everything forward. Larry King will ask a guest now. Larry King is now the voice of reason. Wow, what a world.

" According to Musto, 2006 was a banner year, with luminaries like Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris, and T.R. Knight declaring their queerness to the world. He credits the explosion of Internet gossip sites as the impetus for driving them out.

"The whole world reads this stuff," he explained. "In the old days it was just me screaming in a corner in an alternative weekly. Now I'm online and I reach more people. These celebrities have to come out, because everybody knows already.

"So, with all this over-the-edge honesty, has the gossipmonger ever gotten into trouble?

"In 22 years, I have printed zero retractions and I have never been sued," he declared. "Which is amazing since I always forget to bring paper and end up scribbling [my notes] on stained napkins and toilet paper.

" As for his knack for staying relevant in the face of amplified competition, Musto offers a candid assessment.

"My job is endlessly fascinating. My secret is professionalism. Half the battle is turning in clean copy on time. Despite the fact that I'm constantly going after celebrities with a verbal pickaxe, deep down I'm a fan. I actually love celebrities and I love what I do."