Most interview subjects on the US east coast don’t request phone calls at 4pm, Sydney time. Given the time difference, this makes sense: 4pm in Sydney falls on the stroke of midnight in New York City.
But New York gossip guru Michael Musto is no ordinary interview subject, and his life is no ordinary life. Midnight, for him, is the middle of an average working day.
Musto started writing his La Dolce Musto column in The Village Voice in 1980, turning his queer eye onto the more outrageous sides of New York’s nightlife. His outright gay style, as well as his talent for getting jaw-droppingly good quotes has made him a celebrity in his own right.
These days, he tells the Star, he’s invited to just about everything. The opening night of every Broadway show. Any club or nightclub in New York, with full VIP treatment. They don’t care what I write about them.
Which is lucky, because Musto has a gift for snark. Current targets include John Travolta’s upcoming drag turn in Hairspray, the non-sexiness of the Brokeback Mountain cowboys and George Clooney’s Hollywood is leading the way Oscar acceptance speech.
He describes his job as performing a dangerous highwire act, writing copy that’s funny but not nasty. That doesn’t mean he won’t step over the line occasionally. He’s happy, for example, to describe Liza Minnelli by the quality of her breath: Somebody asked me what celebrity has the worst breath, and I said if you light a match in front of Liza, you’ll become gay toast.
And he’s more than happy to claim responsibility for the outing of Rosie O’Donnell.
People don’t remember that for years she was not out and on her talk show she’d go on and on about how she loved Tom Cruise and she kind of portrayed herself as an ambiguous single mother, he says.
And I was going on and on in my column about -˜come out, you dyke’. One year she was hosting the Tony Awards, and during an ad break she made some remark that was mildly lesbionic but only the live audience heard it. After the telecast she came up to me and said, -˜I hope that remark will satisfy you and shut you up about my private life.’ I said, -˜Well, no, it won’t.’
Then after she came out she went on Larry King and called me a gay nazi. But we’re friends now.
Despite this tightrope act, Musto has never been sued. In fact, most of the La Dolce Musto columns get past the Voice‘s lawyers without any questions.
And I’ve written so many incendiary outrageous things, he says.
But you can’t argue with the truth. I have the best sources, and everyone knows that I have so much more on these people that if they sue me so much else will come out. It would be a disaster for them.
As you’d expect from someone who’s been at the forefront of club culture for 26 years, Musto knows the New York scene inside and out. He wrote a Voice cover story in 1987 about the death of downtown; he was openly gay when the scene was decimated by AIDS; and he survived the puritanical clean-up efforts of Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Now, along with the rest of New York City’s thriving gay scene, he’s celebrating.
We’re finally coming out of the dark ages of clubbing now, he says. I’ve been writing about a club called Happy Valley, which feels like a return to the clubs of the 80s and early 90s.
Giuliani was responding to his own desire to make New York a really glitzy, Disney-esque place mainly for tourists rather than residents. And as a result, the rents went so high that it became impossible for bohemians and struggling artists to live here any more. They all went to live out in the boroughs and other states.
Nightlife reflected that for a while -“ it became very soulless and very glitzy, money-based, bottle service took over and you had to order bottles of Dom Perignon to even get a seat in a nightclub.
There’s a reaction against that now. It’s as if, by sheer will, people have recaptured some of the old flavour of nightlife.
Musto became the voice of The Voice when he applied for a gossipy, nightclubby writer’s position. His first column was very similar to his column now -“ I haven’t grown at all, he says -“ and he has approached every day since in the same way he did his first: Despite all the layers of jaded cynicism in my column, I approach everything with a freshness and a fan mentality, he says. I really get excited to go out.
And from the beginning, Musto has set out to be outrageously gay in his columns.
I sort of did set out to do that deep down. I thought it would make me stand out, and it did. I was the only out gay columnist at the time so I was able to break down doors in celebrity reporting. I wasn’t hiding anything about myself, so I felt like it wasn’t hypocritical to write about the private lives of celebrities when I was open about my own life.
I’ve written so much about myself. I’ve written about my seizure disorder -¦ anything that happens to me becomes fodder for my column. I’ll definitely dish on myself before I dish on anybody else.
Read La Dolce Musto at the Village Voice website.