Nelson Sullivan, the obsessive documentarian who used to follow me and other downtown freakazoids around with a grin and a video camera, has finally nabbed the recognition he deserved back when he was feverishly roaming Manhattan, his lens serving as a magnet for the flamboyantly needy. Nelson died of a heart attack in ’89, supposedly after being romanced by a young stud with cocaine on his schlong — what a way to go — but he left behind his own stimulating legacy, which is now being unspooled at Gavin Brown‘s Enterprise in all of its kooky, bemused glory. Nelson got off on capturing club creatures being self-indulgently annoying and totally free — this was pre-Giuliani — his camera making him privy to the finest of New York nightlife at its sickest. The show serves up a Rabelaisian history of colorful cutups — everyone from RuPaul to Leigh Bowery to my wanton, debauched parents — all clutching at stardom, and buffets.
At the opening, a gaggle of club survivors came to see if they’d pop up on-screen, then ran for their lives when they did. Rock legend Jayne County fled the room in horror when she turned up in a video. “My hair’s awful,” she shrieked. “The wig looks dead. They’ll start calling me Deadwig!” That remark was a play on the fact that Jayne feels Hedwig and the Angry Inch ripped off — sorry, drew inspiration from — her life story. It’s enough to make you want to fuck somebody with coke.
To bring my own legend up to date, I moderated a fashion panel at the Gay Center, where, once again, the conversation quickly soared to a genital level. We esteemed panelists deep-dished designer Randolph Duke, only to have an audience member, as it were, raise his hand and say, “I’m Randolph’s publicist and he was never accused of sexual assault — just sexual harassment.” Interestingly, the remarks we’d made about Duke’s alleged bragging about penile implants were not addressed at all!
Moving on to the next course in ding-dong school, I’m still reeling from the wedding of Diane von Furstenberg and “confirmed bachelor” Barry Diller and the coded coverage of it in the Times, which hinted around the bush by saying the happy couple was thought to have had a platonic relationship. (Well, at least they alluded to those doubts; hardly any of the other goo-goo-eyed write-ups went near them.) All sorts of unmarried people turned up to celebrate the “merger,” no doubt throwing Judy Garland records instead of rice, and with attendees like Calvin Klein, David Geffen, Sandy Gallin, Joel Schumacher, Fran Lebowitz, and Annie Leibovitz, it was practically like a night at the Ramrod. A jubilant Calvin was quoted as saying about the wedding, “It’s been 26 years. It’s about time!” (I guess he pinned down his fag hag much quicker.) And that gigantically gay fashion editor André Leon Talley gushed, “It’s everything that’s romantic, everything spiritual, and everything that it should be…” Couldn’t you just vomit, darling?
At least Barry and Diane really like each other — not all legal twosomes do. And at least they’re adding to the roster of marrieds now vacated by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman — yes, the balance of nature goes on. (Oh, what did you make of that Post interview with an attractive male friend of Tom’s, who said, “Nicole wants all of him. He’s not able to give that much. She gets hurt”?) But getting back to the quease-making, let’s move on to Hannibal, which is effectively creepy and way better than, say, Halloween 2, but so contrived you suspect the material’s been cannibalized one too many times. Amazingly, it still manages to appall, as The Silence of the Lambs did 10 years ago with its stereotypical queer killer, though this time it’s Hannibal himself who’s got a gayish tinge. (Mercifully, he’s not married.) In one icky scene, Hannibal has an s/m rendezvous with a guy who loses all control after one whiff of our star psycho’s poppers. (Funny, the last time I did poppers, I didn’t cut my face off with glass and serve the flesh to the dogs on command, but hey, I’m not one of those kinky gays.) There’s also a homophobic FBI bigwig tossing off biased remarks, though they’re quickly squelched by Julianne Moore‘s righteous Clarice Starling, who never seems to have any love interests, by the way. We could start protesting again, but it’s just so absurd you have to give in to the ludicrous camp value of it all.
The film’s premiere was crawling with celebs, and they were all buzzing, schmoozing, and networking as part of the evening’s true suspense thriller. Two seats over, Lorraine Bracco cornered Francis Ford Coppola and boomed out, “I have to say hello. Lorraine Bracco.” Later, when the softer-spoken Ron Eldard and Julianna Margulies tried to get past me to their spots in the same row, Julianna smiled and said, “Sorry to bother you. We’re those obnoxious people from TV.” (And I’m Michael Musto.) At the after-party, there were no fava beans or Chianti, but a reasonable buffet — not that anyone was eating it — and plenty more obnoxious people from TV. Leaving, intimidated, I stumbled down a stair step, only to have a British lady behind me say, “Are you all right, darling?” It was Emma Thompson! My heart pounded with terror — she’s nice!
Even more potentially tense was the next night’s dinner for Grammy-nominated country singer Lee Ann Womack (“I Hope You Dance”) in a back room at Cowgirl Hall of Fame. This was très off the beaten path for me — there were no poppers, just deep-fried chicken and cowboy boots — though my inch quickly got less angry thanks to Lee Ann’s home-cooked charm. She performed for the tiny but powerful crowd — 10 critics and a photographer, basically — casting a spell on the jaded room with her lilting voice and sob-story songs. (You can’t beat stuff like “I’m a little past Little Rock, but a long way from over you.”) The woman’s a bridge between the old-style Reba and the new sexpot stars like Shania and Faith, and when I told her that, she said, “I do think I’m somewhere in between because I like fashion but I also like real rootsy country.” (Gee, I prefer fashion, but then again I’m Lorraine Bracco.)
As I started to leave, Lee Ann eyed a plate of ice cream shaped like baked potatoes and said, “It’s not right! I’ve got to try on Grammy gowns tomorrow.” Well, my Grammy gown had already been picked — it’s a size 16 — so I sat my ass back down and indulged. It was so right.
Twenty pounds heavier, I finally caught up with the interactive disco drag Shakespeare romp The Donkey Show at El Flamingo because on Wednesdays it now features ebullient cable queen Robin Byrd as herself (which I don’t think was in the original play by the Bard). At a peak in the show, Byrdie barrels out to introduce some wildlife-related “adult entertainment” sequence that redefines animal husbandry. (Yes, there’s sort of donkey dick and even coke!) But the real animal in me got excited by the item in the program asking audience members to apply for roles. (Could you imagine a Playbill saying, “Do you want to be part of Judgement at Nuremberg? Call us now!”) Alas, though I’d gladly play the donkey’s rear, I’m already booked as the third flesh-eating wild boar from the left in Hannibal 2. It’s everything that’s romantic and spiritual!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 13, 2001