NewNowNext is very excited to be the new home for column of Michael Musto, a writer virtually synonymous with New York City nightlight and queer culture. Musto wrote the long running “La Dolce Musto" column in the Village Voice and his work has also appeared in The New York Times styles section, Paper, and on Out.com, and he regularly appeared as a recurring panelist on Logo's movie show Cocktails & Classics, as well as being one of the rotating cohosts on Theater Talk. His books including the seminal non fiction guide Downtown and the roman-a-clef Manhattan on the Rocks. His new column, “Musto Unfiltered,” which launches today, will appear Mondays.
“It’s been extremely gay and extremely long and extremely big, which is everything gays like.” That’s what RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 star Jaymes Mansfield told me about RuPaul’s DragCon at the Javits Center this weekend, and it was so true. The first ever New York City DragCon was sprawling with drag stars, makeup booths, old friends, baby queens, and lots of zhooshing and tucking.
Hawking Boy Butter lube in the back, NYC drag performer Chaka Khanvict told me she’d had a hallucination for an ad that said, “Season 37—featuring Chaka Khanvict.” “And you’ll still be younger than Charlie Hides,” I replied. (Relax. Charlie makes old jokes himself—and I’m the first to admit I’m older than Charlie.)
In another booth, Season 8 star Acid Betty greeted me with, “I thought you died! In 1972!” “At least I didn’t get kicked off Drag Race,” I cracked. “At least I got on,” she retorted. All this batty badinage made me feel extremely at home amongst the kiki kooks of the night—the people I belong with!
What was Betty’s most unusual interaction that day? She looked at the candy colored set around her—complete with oversized donuts—and deadpanned, “People trying to molest me through my wall.” Security!
But I did have an ego-enhancing moment when a fan gushed to me that he’d just bought a photo of me and RuPaul for $30. I’m glad he didn’t add, “They should have cropped you out and charged $40.” Anyway, Canadian lensman John Simone, who took that photo, was on a panel I moderated later that day at DragCon, also featuring author James St. James and goddess Amanda Lepore. The topic was the “Herstory of Downtown: Manhattan Nightlife Icons,” and one of the memorable moments came when James admitted he lost his virginity as a teen to a Judy Garland impersonator. (Yikes. I knew Judy liked ’em gay, but I didn’t know she liked ’em young.) In another big moment, Amanda differentiated between drag and trans by saying she wants to do everything as a woman, including shower. “And how does a woman shower?” I wondered, sincerely. “With a vagina,” she replied, as the crowd went wild. (But to be technical, it’s not absolutely necessary.)
He's Just My Bill
I had another chance to shine for my brothers and sisters when other figures from the nightlife came together at the Cutting Room for an LGBT benefit for New York mayor Bill de Blasio. Naturally, I was enlisted to sing a version of “This Little Light of Mine” with lyrics about the mayor’s achievements. (“Bill’s reduced stop-and-frisk/And I’m gonna let it shine”). They didn’t boo! And there was so much more on that stage.
The night—hosted by Cynthia Nixon, Alan Cumming, and Taylor Schilling, with talent organized by Nora Burns—featured a mix of award winning actors and downtown personalities, all creating an edgily entertaining vaudeville show. Murray Hill, Claywoman, BETTY, Michael Urie, Mario Cantone, Rosie O’Donnell, Randy Jones, Denis O’Hare, Amber Martin, Kevin Aviance, and others, sang, emoted, and stumped for our anti-Trump mayor, who capped off the night with a speech filled with hope and inclusion. Addressing the entertainment that had preceded him, he said that it had come off half avant-garde and half high school show. (I took that latter description as a shoutout to yours truly. Yay! He noticed!)
But de Blasio declared that while he loves Mario Cantone, he disagreed with the comic’s remarks criticizing Caitlyn Jenner’s Republicanism. The mayor said Caitlyn has been brave and has educated us, and she has the right to her opinions. Well, I was uncomfortable with Mario saying, “Fuck her/him…I don’t give a fuck. I fuckin’ hate him.” But as for his comments that Caitlyn shouldn’t turn her back on Obama’s legacy, especially since what he accomplished for the T in LGBT helped enable her to come out, I’m totally with him. Yes, we have the right to our opinions too, and mine is that Caitlyn’s support of Trump is viler than the “Make America Great Again” hat she needs to finally throw out along with her disc of the Village People movie she was in (only so I can grab that marvelous mess out of the trash and watch it again).
Backstage, Denis O’Hare told me about the movie he wrote and stars in, The Parting Glass, which is based on the real story of one of O’Hare’s sisters dying in 2010, which led to O’Hare and other family members traveling cross country to clean out her apartment and come to grips with the loss. When he mentioned that Melissa Leo is in it, I told him I loved both he and Melissa in Novitiate, the upcoming 1962-set film in which they play Archbishop McCarthy and a sadistic Reverend Mother, at odds over the Vatican’s changing policies. And believe me, he reads her rosary beads. Meanwhile, Murray Hill told me he’s seen the Amazon pilot for Love You More, starring scene favorite Bridget Everett as a cabaret singer who’s a counselor to young adults with Down syndrome. “It’s dark,” said Murray, adding that that’s a good review. Also there, groundbreaking gay singer Ari Gold, who’s been battling a form of blood cancer, told me he’s gotten a bone donor—namely his brother, the Grammy winning Steven Gold. “The guy’s finally good for something, right?” I cracked. “No, we get along,” replied Ari, calmly.
Not everyone has gotten along over Paul Alexander’s musical play Trinkets, which is in an extended run at the Gene Frankel Theater. (I caught up with it, and it’s a lively real, sweet show put over by a game and talented cast.) Paul was the deadpan MC at the legendary Meat Packing District club Jackie 60 and went on to be in the techno trio the Ones and now to pen this show about trans sex workers in the MPD in the ’90s. In case you thought de Blasio vs. Cantone was the last battle over trans, this show has ignited a little controversy amongst some trans Facebook friends (who didn’t see the show, but had something to say about it). I happen to like all the people involved, despite their weird sense of punctuation, so I’m just passing along their little contretemps. One of the complaints was that “there were no black men in dresses” selling their bodies in that area, but Alexander disagrees, saying there were all kinds of people. Posted Tiana Reeves: “Honey typical gays stealing lives of trans women…and making it a trainwreck.” Said Ava D’Abo, who was concerned about the casting: “And nowhere was Paul never saw that queen where was he hiding under a cab maricone where were you so I can understand how your ass wrote a play because you my friend were never there.” Replied Paul: “If you were too drunk and or high to remember me being around in the ’90s you would do best to keep that to yourself. Write your own fucking story. You are saying that no black drag queens worked the MPD? Ever? Never? Really? Okay, write your own story.”
In a way less noble moment, Paul snarled, “And don't refer to me out of my name maricona fake pussy bitch.” More sensibly, Paul laid out the casting thusly: “There are three trans women in the play, playing trans women. There are two drag roles, they are played by men in dresses, with padding. There is also a cross dresser character played by a man in a dress...I know the difference in drag and trans, and I am not using men to play trans women, although there’s no reason why they can’t, it’s acting, it’s pretend. Ava also said I wasn’t out there. True, I was never a hooker, but I know enough of them and their stories and a few of them have seen Trinkets and felt I did them justice in telling a story so many of them share….”
We need Judge Judy to step in here and pound a glittery gavel.
Beach Blanket Bingo
Robert Sandy Beach certainly has his own story. The longtime Philly-based performer says that he knew George Maharis—intimately. (Maharis is a good-looking Greek-American actor best known from the 1960s TV show Route 66). “Sandy” met George back in the day, when Maharis was in a production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, in which he played the sheriff. “He did have a big gun,” reports “Sandy.” I know. He posed naked for Playgirl in 1973.
Here’s some more nutty nostalgia: I just met a musician-producer-mixer who worked on Cyndi Lauper’s first album in the early ’80s, when Madonna had just started her ascent. At the time, he had never heard of Cyndi, but was told, “She’s a Madonna wannabe—but she can sing.” It’s all so amusing. Just passing it along.
Female Trouble is a new book by Chris Holmlund based on John Waters’ 1974 cult classic, in which Divine is facially scarred and doing a backflip on a trampoline. It’s the first title in the Queer Film Classic series, edited by Thomas Waugh and Matthew Hays, and it’s worth flipping for.
Let me serve you something up to the minute and just as titillating: Which cast member from that popular reality show that you all know is going to do a gang bang video with porn star Owen Hawk? I’m not telling—right now—since I’m hoping you’ll all gang up and demand it from me.
You're a Queer One, Julie Jordan
As for more legit entertainment: The upcoming Carousel revival on Broadway will star Jesse Mueller (Beautiful, Waitress) and Joshua Henry (Shuffle Along). I’m counting on a controversy over the fact that they’ve cast a black man to play an abusive carousel barker. And I won’t be fully behind the uproar. Yes, I’m against furthering stereotypes, but I feel the landscape is changing—Denee Benton did well as the female lead in Natasha, Pierre, to name just one example—so people of color should be able to play all sorts of things, including flawed characters. (August Wilson certainly wrote some.) Of course if Henry ever leaves the show and is replaced by a white man, you can expect a whole other furor of the type that happened when Natasha producers were going to replace Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan with Mandy Patinkin, leading to an avalanche of twitter twits calling it racist. (It wasn’t—it was just desperate.) No problem—I’ll be there to remind them, “But the role is an abuser, remember?” And can I tell you that when Audra McDonald played Carrie Pipperidge in the 1994 Carousel revival, one critic was up in arms that a black person was prancing around that stage, even in a lovely role? I give up. I’m dead—and not in a good way. I’m off to take a shower with a penis. It’s extremely gay and extremely long….