Help! I just found myself glued to VH1’s ‘Behind the Music’ about Styx—that
feather-haired ’80s band that turned out turds like ‘Babe’ and ‘Mr. Roboto’—and being utterly, inexplicably compelled by it. At their peak, the group was a minor—no, major—irritant in my life, but here I was, wincing when a critic equated their work with ‘a parking lot full of whale vomit,’ biting my lip when the band members fought about the shlock-rock direction their music was taking, and sobbing as bored arena audiences threw things during the pretentious playlet that preceded “Mr. Roboto.” And then I watched it all over again! about the shlock-rock direction their music was taking, and sobbing as bored arena audiences threw things during the pretentious playlet that preceded “Mr. Roboto.” And then I watched it all over again!
The smash series takes personalities you never could stomach and makes you care about them because 20 years later, they’re suddenly being honest about their rotten grievances and failures. They’re fessing up, they’re throwing up, and I’m listening up. But I’ve got to give it up already because I don’t have time to learn why Wang Chung finally separated or to discover the truth behind Stacy Q ‘s newfound spirituality. Well, I do, but I need to plant my ass more firmly in the moment and search for gossip with a more contemporary, dangerous edge. (Let’s face it: At this point, Styx and Stones can’t hurt us.)
Let’s start with an episode of Behind the House Music, shall we? That genre seems to have spawned dropping-a-house music, and it’s all getting ickier than a Styx reunion. See, I recently raved about Maya Days , who plays Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar and was featured on a couple of club hits, “Wanna Drop a House on That Bitch” and “Feel It.” But a musician named Heather Leigh West wants to drop a house on her now. West tells me it was she who actually sang on those records and was replaced by Days for credit and appearances. (You don’t have to wait 20 years for the VH1 show on this saga; all the bitterness is available right this minute.)
Neither of the songs’ writers, Jim Dyke and Steve Gittelman , returned my calls for comment, but Days herself got on the phone and insisted that she’s the star singer on both records. “This is the first I’m hearing about her,” she said, referring to West. “I just asked Steve Gittelman and he told me she was a session singer. The chorus of ‘House’ used background singing, but I’m the lead vocalist. And on ‘Feel It,’ which is a remix of ‘House,’ I’m the only vocalist.” That seemed to calm the twister—until West chimed in again, reassuring me, “I have the voice on the record—all of it—and ‘Feel It’ is all me except for the sample, which is the Jackson Five!” Judge Judy (Garland), take it away.
And now let me be the judge as to whether presidential farce is doing well enough to merit an Off-Broadway play, if not a cable documentary. High Infidelity, starring John Davidson as a wannabe prez and Morgan Fairchild as his woebegone wife, starts so lamely I was convinced I’d bolt halfway through and make it home in time for a third showing of the Styx special. But when the characters got into hateful squabbling about their sordid differences, I shut up, stayed put, and enjoyed the downright angst of the peppery performances. Domo arigato.
On Broadway, something wonderful happens in Act III of the revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner. (For my opinion of the whole production, check out Ben Brantley ‘s Times review; it’s all true). Lewis J. Stadlen virtually cannonballs onto the stage as a wacko comic named Banjo and suddenly confetti’s dropping instead of houses. Stadlen floats, stares, pratfalls, gesticulates, and charms, and it’s all so fluid and inspired it shocks audiences into submission. The quickie performance is the brightest burst of welcome energy since Dole first took Viagra.
The character’s based on both Harpo and Chico Marx, the Queens-born Stadlen told me in our own private Behind the Muse, “so I’ve attempted to make him what Harpo would be like if people heard his voice.” Stadlen uses a Chico-esque “satyrlike laugh” that he first tried out a few months ago in the Encores! version of Wonderful Town (which he said isn’t coming to Broadway after all). He borrowed a “maniacal smile” from his dog George, who happens to be named after Dinner‘s coauthor George S. Kaufman. “And I also steal liberally from Jimmy Durante [the movie version’s Banjo],” he confessed.
It all adds up to someone you’re extremely happy to see, and Stadlen’s all right with it too; the doubly Tony-nominated actor, who’s played Groucho twice, seems thrilled to be going off his Marx. “Banjo is a lighter spirit than Groucho,” he said. “It’s not a cynical or skeptical point of view. He’s totally anarchic. Somehow Harpo figured out that if he played only by his own rules and did it brilliantly, he could get away with anything and live a fulfilling life. He’s the happiest of the Marx Brothers.” You certainly never heard him complain.
But this column needs a darker climax, maybe something serious enough to make even the whales stop vomiting. It can’t be my insider gossip that Erica Kane’s daughter Bianca on All My Children will soon be revealed as a lesbian—that’s positively inspiring, even though I hear Erica ( Susan Lucci ) will respond by snarling something like “But you’re a pretty girl!” How about how the pretty odd Rex Reed just wrote in The New York Observer that, in the dispiriting Cecil B. Demented, “homosexual couplings of every description” contribute to “the generally rotten taste”? Gee, Rex, thanks for equating gay sex with bad taste! Did you forget that you’re a big, old homosexual coupler? Are you having another “senior moment”?
I know I am—here’s a good, depressing finish—over the way First Amendment activism seems to have narrowed its targets. I held my breath and waited two weeks to see if there’d be any uproar over that NAACP leader being suspended (he later quit) for making anti-Semitic remarks about Joe Lieberman . I thought maybe someone would invoke free speech or claim it’s a witch-hunt to deprive the guy of his income just because he said something utterly horrific and biased. Well, guess what? There wasn’t a fucking peep. Nobody rallied to his defense, not even anti-Semites, and no one started a fund to compensate the moron for his loss in the wake of his verbal bravery.
So why, when Dr. Laura Schlessinger trashes gays in a similarly hate-mongering manner, is it considered an outrage for us to drop a house on the lady by asking advertisers to pull out or Paramount to cancel her? Sure, Paramount isn’t a civil rights organization, but it does generally strive to be responsible, doesn’t it? I mean, I bet they wouldn’t give that NAACP guy a talk show on which to spew his poisonous views on a daily basis. Well, come on, Paramount, show your balls and do it! Grace your fall syndication lineup with The Jews Are Money-Grubbers Show and don’t back down in the wake of all the inevitable protests. Only then will I believe you’re an equal-opportunity offender whose commitment to freedom of speech is worthy of serious consideration. And while you’re at it, give Styx a talk show, why don’t you.
Read this and past La Dolce Mustos at villagevoice.com/musto.