NY Mirror

The breathless call came in from Sweetie: "You've got to come to the Park Side Lounge to catch Steve Friday, a straight cross-dresser who does cover versions of '80s hits as Lisa Jackson." Enough said, darling: I promptly put on my finest Bangles and got ready to Go-Go. The act? Sporting a diagonal dress and mall-ready rocker-chick hair, big-lunged Lisa ripped into attitudey classics from "Heart of Glass" to "99 Luftballons" like a wedding-band singer (in Vermont or Hawaii) crossed with Hedwig playing the seafood circuit. The audience lapped it up, especially Lisa's side trips to the '70s (an impassioned cover of "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves") and the present (her original song about the beauty of being a freak). She's got the beat!

A biological woman who's got the part of '60s legend Janis Joplin in Love, Janis, Cathy Richardsongrew up worshiping those lusty, busty Heartbarracudas, though aspiring rockers can now look up to Richardson herself; she's a powerful belter and has admirably trilled her way out of the closet. The Windy City songbird's been open with loved ones for ages, but told me that "a few years ago, a Chicago interviewer asked me why I had never come out publicly. I explained why and the headline turned out to be 'Cathy Richardson Comes Out.' So I guess I'm out now!" Still, the overused term "lesbian singer" drives her even nuttier than it did Joplin. "Lesbian-comma-singer would be fine, though," Cathy said; it's all about punctuation.

Love, Janisdoesn't touch on Joplin's having been a bisexual-comma-singer, but Cathy—who alternates in the role—said the show doesn't pretend to be an all-encompassing biography. She's convinced Janis was indeed bi, though, and said, "I wonder if that was one of the things she was so miserable about, because she was obviously very unhappy, to be drinking and doing heroin. I never did heroin, but I drank and was very self-destructive." Me, too—I downed peach schnapps just to fit in!

Richardson's new addiction is trying to determine just who the kooky Love, Janisaudience consists of. Sometimes she'll spot an obvious Woodstock survivor in the crowd—"and her 16-year-old daughter, who has her hand on her face, thinking, 'It sucks. I can't wait to go home and listen to Britney Spears.' " More proof that our education system is in complete shambles!

The judicial system's doing just fine, though. In fact, I just did jury duty and found it to be an East Coast version of Sundance, with celeb attendees like Zoe Cassavetes(who looked a bit demoralized when they called her name for a trial) and director Todd Solondz, who told me, "I'd love to be chosen for a jury, but I was just rejected!" So was I, after revealing that I'm a lefty liberal Village Voicebeatnik and couldn't possiblybe objective in a housing case.

What we bolsheviks are comfortable assessing are house parties—like Bow Wow Brazil, a Southampton blowout in some rich lady's mansion benefiting ARF (Animal Rescue Fund). That's an organization that saves woebegone critters, though the staff doesn't seem nearly as compassionate toward humans. In fact, a gigantic sourpuss greeted my arrival by screeching, "There isno Michael Musto on the list! Not for dinner!" Suddenly I was dying to be on a jury. Once past the bee-otch, I was treated to plantain salads, surgerized socialites, and those wacky Hilton Sisters, who would surely vanish like Shangri-La if there wasn't some buffet event or other to go to. Here, they were circling around like well-groomed Afghan hounds, never realizing they've already arrived. I love them!

Nikki Hiltonwas on Marcus Schenkenberg's arm at the Opremiere, though there were more urgent modeling issues at hand. The film's updated Othello, Mekhi Phifer, told me he was so naive when he started acting that, when he needed to submit headshots, he'd go to the photo booth at Woolworth's! I know the feeling, having done entire fashion spreads there.

Another depressing yet photogenic romp, the remote The Deep End, is being criticized for being gay-negative, so let's form a really fun jury and discuss, shall we? The plot has a young guy falling for an evil gay, who's found dead, after which a blackmailing porn tape of the two in action turns up to the horror of Ma (played by Tilda Swinton), who's protective if grossed out. But Swinton's said her character's simply jealous of the son's sexual freedom. If you don't buy that, at least there's a sicko straight guy, too, though some feel the subtext is that he'sinvolved with his thug underling. I'm confused.

Subtext galore is surfacing in two pop careers, thanks to photographer Steven Klein(who infamously captured Brad Pittas street trade in W). Klein told me he recently shot 'N Sync's Justin Timberlakein a Long Island house (no, not in Southampton) for the cover of the Brit magazine Arena Hommes Plus, and the spread will startlingly present Justin in the role of "a suburban kid, kind of violent." Justin—who's being pegged for the lead in Spike Lee's movie of Rent—is clearly rethinking his squeaky clean veneer. "You have to kill to have a rebirth," explained Klein, who's also jazzing up the timeless icon Britney Spears for her next CD cover. "She's looking harder and more rock," he revealed, admiringly. Is the stomach still out? "The stomach's still out," Klein said, laughing.

In other midriff news, I'm convinced that Mariah Careyfled the clinic way too quickly and went right back onto the PR treadmill that got her there. (You have to kill to have a rebirth.) Proof that her release was rushed—that makes 101 free luftballons, if you're counting—is that the instant Mariah was out, she was reportedly worried about the way her hair looked in a Postphoto. The woman needs to develop stronger inner resources, not better hairdressing. She needs to have learned something from all this!

And what have I learned? To say yes to everything, including the chance to MC a Fez reading celebrating gender-bender-comma-author J.T. Leroy, who notoriously doesn't show up at his own events. Whether that evasion is a shameless stunt or a guileless necessity, it drew a crowd, and it's not like J.T. doesn't work for it; he faxed me lengthy intros he'd written for each of the celebrity readers, passages I sat backstage trimming and slicing so we'd get out by dawn. The readers addressed the absentee author with remarks like "I want to meet you someday. No, really!" But Matthew Modinesaid he wouldn't wear the raccoon penis J.T. sent him—"I haven't crossed that road yet"—and prefaced his reading by quipping, "I thought my childhood was fucked up." J.T.'s adulthood? I hear he has a new baby named Thor and a boyfriend named Astor, who also dates the baby's mom, Speedy. "Come and knock on our door . . . "

Similarly ambi- (or maybe namby-pamby-) sexual, Andy Dick enforced a lot of erroneous stereotypes with his recent statement: "Sexuality is really a choice and you can act on it or not. Right now I'm completely straight and I think it has something to do with sobriety." Gee, Andy's lady loves must feel really secure knowing that one little cocktail and he'll be taking it up the ass again!

As for me, I never had a cross word with Chandra. Oh, I mean I never did a crossword with Chandra.


musto@villagevoice.com Musto can be heard weekdays at 3 and 7 p.m. on Voice Radio.

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