Friday, August 26, 2011

The Michael Musto Interview

PHOTOS: Above: The great Michael Musto at an ACT UP Times Square rally against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell'. Below: Former NJ Governor Jim McGreevey and I at the same rally.

I have lived in New York City for approximately a third of my life and I truly don't know anyone who has been as brilliant at capturing the city's queer nightlife and LGBT revolution quite as successful as Michael Musto. Michael is usually described as a gossip maven, which might be quite alright, but I just think he is so much more than that.  We run in a few common social circles but I had never really gotten the chance to interview him. I am glad to say I finally had an opportunity to do so.  One caveat: I was just as nervous as when I interviewed JLo and might have tried to cram too many questions into the interview.

Other than that, enjoy, plus or minus a tape-recorder snafu:

Blabbeando: It took a while for it to come out but it’s finally here. I know you have a new book. What’s it called, when is it out and what’s in it.

Musto: Well, it first was supposed to come out last year on Alyson but, then I don’t know – you can read the gossip columnists for what happened there. But now it’s coming out on Vantage Point Books and it’s currently available on Amazon and the official pub date is September 1st.

It’s called “Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back” and to me the title hopefully show the way I like to throw the bourgeoisie cultural standards against the wall and to shatter everything and say ‘I may have the fork in the proper place but I’ll definitely be using the knife to stab you in the back’.

Though of course I have gotten stabbed myself sometimes. It’s a collection of some of my best columns over the years. I’ve been doing The Village Voice column now for over 26 years.

Blabbeando: Are there some new essays as well?

Musto: There are. The introduction is new and I have a new essay about social media, a new one about what’s so appealing about blind items, I have one about the celebrity closet and I have one about why I finally started blogging and what that experience has been like.

Blabbeando: It’s not your first book but this one seems to have a specific focus on the 1990’s and the so-called noughties. I know a lot of things have changed since the days of Michael Alig days and kids voguing at the West Side Piers. I wanted to find out what you felt has changed for the better and what’s changed for the worse.

Musto: Well, in the mid-90’s the club kid scene imploded and this kind of ‘Sex and the City’ mentality started taking over – a very kind of affluent, little black dress, bottle service, Meat Packing District kind of lifestyle. And it seemed like the clubs were fading from view in favor of bottle-service lounges and it was all based on credit cards and just using your expense account as a weapon.

Blabbeando: So in some ways the 80’s are coming back and people spending all that money on drinks and all the other stuff…

Musto: Well, as tacky as it is, I hope it’s coming back in some ways because it would mean that there is some money being pumped back into the scene - but nightlife is usually not about money, it’s usually about the disenfranchised people. The people who own the clubs can have money but the people who go there should be the oppressed underprivileged people who come together to create family and to celebrate and to misbehave in interesting ways so that’s what I long for.

It’s like the Meat Packing District was the enemy that was destroying the nightlife but now it’s all come together on the same plane because every Tuesday and every Thursday all the club kids go there. You know, Le Bain is the roof top place there, so it’s almost like we’ve all have found each other on the same plane.

Similarly, I used to be against people like Jim McGreevey and I thought he came out for sleazy reasons - that he had a lawsuit for sexual harassment – but now we are all on the same level because I run into him at all the same activist events so we are all fighting for the same thing - and we all end up on the same level. That’s the great thing about New York.

Blabbeando: Well Jim McGreevey is always at the ACT UP rallies…

Musto: Yeah, you know what I mean? And some of the columns in this book are me sorta screaming about Ellen DeGeneres who believe it or not wasn’t out at one point? And there was a big debate about whether she should come out and even whether her fictional character on her sitcom should come out and I wrote a piece about the absurdity of how we were debating whether a fictional character should come out of the closet. But now Ellen gets all the props for being not only openly gay but really having done so in a very fierce out open way. And Rosie, same thing.

I mean so much has changed. It’s a whole different landscape from when I started out in the 80’s. Back then there were just a handful of people who were out. I think I was the only out gossip columnist and that, of course, was pre-internet – and that changed everything. Information became available and accessible to everybody and the proliferation of cable channels changed everything because everything became visible, drag queens and a whole variety of gay representation. So this is the world I dreamed of, in a way. But there is still so much more to fight for.

But you are right about Broadway; a lot of these super-liberal Broadway shows were leading the parade for gay equality.

[In setting up the interview I had mentioned Broadway Impact and their role in the marriage equality fight in New York State]

Blabbeando: I might be wrong, but I’ve been reading your columns since the mid-80’s and I think for a while there you wrote a lot about how bad your sex life was…

Musto: [Laughs]

Blabbeando: But then something happened recently, within the last five years, and you started writing about how it’s getting better. Does get better?

Musto: Yeah, it’s weird because I am past the age when you’d see anything happening. It’s probably because I dropped down my wall. I always had a wall around myself. If someone approached me I would do anything possible to scare them away.

Blabbeando: Well, I don’t know if you mom is alive, but did she react?

Musto: [Pauses....] To me getting fucked!?

Blabbeando: Well…

Musto: [Busts out laughing]

Blabbeando: …to you writing about all the sex you’re having.

Musto: Well, you know, I don’t really tell my family that much of anything. The less you let them know the better. Thank God they don’t read my column or if they did they’d have a heart attack.

Blabbeando: Going back to marriage equality and all that other stuff: I know there is talk about a new gay metropolis hotel with a huge gay dance club and we might have a lesbian mayor in Christine Quinn and all the gays are getting married and, you know, isn’t it a little bit much?

Musto: [Laughs] Well, I would never complain about it because it’s the world I fought for and dreamed of but as gay becomes more and more common-place there is a risk of it being a little bit banal. I think thanks to Lady Gaga and “Glee” and all that stuff ‘gay’ is kinda, you now…

[OMG, I know this makes me a Luddite dork but the cassette tape stopped at this point. Yes. Cassette tape. Don’t ask. Michael and I began discussing ways in which there are a plethora of issues that have yet to be tackled before achieving full equality, including transgender rights and the alarming issue of homeless LGBT youth. So, in other words, ‘we join this interview while already in progress’ as they say in the news biznez]

Musto: We are never going to be able to say ‘Oh, we’re there, we’ve arrived, we have a place at the table’. No way. To this day gay marriage is a huge issue, Christine O’Donnell just walked off Piers Morgan’s show because he asked her about it. So it’s absurd that we have to fight for the right to be human. It’s like we are living these incredible lives, we are doing all the things that we want and yet there are still people who think we have to prove our right to be American citizens? It’s so ludicrous.

Blabbeando: For a while there, all these channels - VH1, The E! Channel – everybody was rushing to do these talking head gossip shows and I know you were invited to be part of some of them but sometimes you’d get booked and then be dropped. What was that experience like and do you get recognized more out on the street for being on those shows.

Musto: I’m still all over TV. Just in the last month alone I was on talking head shows on Current TV, TV Guide Network and Biography Channel and then I pop up on Theater Talk, and I was on Keith Olbermann, so I’m still getting massive recognition from being on TV.

The funny thing is none of these things pay so you are basically a free unpaid whore and you have no rights. They can cancel you at any moment. Or you can do a two-hour interview where they grill you about every aspect of - let’s say Lindsey Lohan’s career - and then they’ll just use one sound-bite that you could have done in your sleep or you could phone it in. But ultimately it’s worth it because it is kinda intoxicating to see yourself on TV and people respond to it in a way that they don’t necessarily respond in print. You know what I mean? When they see you and they recognize you from TV they really wet themselves. And it’s nice for me, I get a nice feeling about it because I have low self esteem [laughs].

Blabbeando: OK, you now this is coming and I am going to ask for a reaction. I’m going to read something that Anderson Cooper read out loud live on TV sometime last week. He was reading a Tweet about himself and he said:
Watching Anderson Cooper giggle is like watching a unicorn fart rainbows. 
Did he come out?

Musto: He said that?

Blabbeando: Well, Is he now officially out? --- or not?

Musto: Well, he giggles like a schoolgirl every New Years when he’s on with Kathy Griffith

Blabbeando: Or like a hamster…

Musto: Or, like a gerbil, maybe, I don’t know, but he's in what I call a glass closet. In other words, he lives a gay lifestyle but he won’t say on the record that he’s out and I’ve always had a problem with it. And I think Don Lemon coming out kinda showed, obviously, you can be a CNN anchor and be out. You can do it.

Blabbeando: Well, I just felt that going out live on his show and mentioning ‘unicorns farting rainbows’ was pretty close to saying "Yes, I am".

Musto: That pretty much, yeah, that says it all. That’s basically his coming out. I thought the giggling itself was his coming out but the unicorn remark just confirms it.

Blabbeando: And, finally, I know you’ve taken to blogging and also to Twitter and I wondered if you had any advice for newbies who wanted to start.

Musto:: I would say first of all, to really find your voice and you can only do that by doing it, by writing. The more you write the more you’ll be able to find your particular tone as a writer. And also don’t just write about anything. If you don’t have any passion for a subject don’t even address it. I mean, I’m not gonna write about the Superbowl. I don’t even know when it is. I may write about the half-time show. But people can tell if you are faking it or if you are just doing some kind of rote, routine blog or Tweet. So just send out stuff you care about. And don’t blog or Tweet every time you go to the bathroom - unless it’s a really major bowel movement.

Blabbeando: And do you have any favorite bloggers that you read?

Musto: I try to follow as many celebrities on Twitter as I can. I just love reading Paris Hilton, Jane Fonda, Roseanne, anybody famous. And I think in a way Facebook took away from blogs, like it’s kind of a new blog. People that in the past would have had a blog or a website now just put their brainfarts on Facebook all day. So that’s where I find myself drawn. I post my blog posts all day there and it’s fun to see the conversations that you start when you throw an idea out there into the blogosphere.

Blabbeando: Yeah, and once you start blogging then there is something new, there’s Twitter and then there’s Tumblr, and whatever comes next.

Musto: I know! And my fingers are like in agony. All that linking!

Blabbeando: So anyway, thanks a lot for the interview, Michael.

Musto: Thank you so much.

  • Michael Musto's column at The Village Voice here
  • Michael Musto on Facebook here
  • Michael Musto on Twitter here

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