When you write a book, there’s a surefire way to get a lot of press to come to your book reading and release party: Be a member of the press. When Rolling Stone rock critic Rob Sheffield read from his first book, Love Is a Mix Tape , last Monday, rock critics galore joined the standing-room-only crowd, including Robert Christgau, New Yorker scribe Sasha Frere-Jones, and ex-Spinsters Marc Spitz and Chuck Klosterman, among many others. The next night, the press were out in full force for our own diva, Michael Musto, as he unveiled La Dolce Musto, a collection of his Voice columns, at Room Service. Cindy Adams turned up, as did writers from the New York Times (Melena Ryzik), New York (Jada Yuan), and the Daily News (Ben Widdicombe), not to mention the gazillion photographers aiming to get a shot of Musto with cohosts Perez Hilton and Rosie Perez. The feeding frenzy led Musto to exclaim from the stage, “It’s my favorite kind of party—a room full of media!”
But that’s where the similarities end. Though Sheffield and Musto are both writers with a knack for the giddy, witty turn of phrase, they’ve written two very different books, and held two different events to celebrate them. Sheffield’s book is a memoir that’s partly a mix tape-laden trip down a musical memory lane and partly a homage to his first wife, rock critic Renée Crist, who died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism 10 years ago. It’s not the goes-down-easy tome you might expect from a poppy, upbeat writer like Sheffield, who writes breathless cultural critiques in
Stone. But it’s not a downer either. It’s a hard tone to attain, and Sheffield balances it well. “When you’re writing about someone who is really passionate and vivid and merciful, it wouldn’t make sense to write a book that was really dour,” he says.
The mix tapes featured involve a motley crew—there’s a lot of Pavement, some Smiths and Replacements, and a lot of Big Star. Sheffield says Renée’s favorite mix tape was a “dance tape we made together in 1991″—with cuts from Innercity, Ralphie Rosario, and Prince; he adds that if she were alive today, he’d know just who to add to the mix: “Missy Elliott would have been her favorite thing.”
Though I suggested it might be neat to give out one of the mix tapes mentioned in the book at his readings, Sheffield demurred. “The point of the book is not to make you care about the same songs,” he says. “It’s to make you think about songs you do care about. If you cared about Babyface or the Grifters as much as I do, that would be disturbing and scary.”
At least one of his rock critic friends understands this notion. At the afterparty at Black and White—which included James Iha and fellow Stone-mates like editor Joe Levy, writer Jenny Eliscu, and blog babe Elizabeth Goodman, Spitz gave Sheffield a mix CD that featured a picture of Yaz on the homemade cover but was oddly “Yaz-free,” as Spitz explained. Instead, the mix included songs like Thompson Twins’ “We Are Detectives.”
“I don’t remember that one,” says Sheffield, who is newly remarried. “Having a new Thompson Twins song in your life is like having a new friend—a new three-headed friend who can’t really sing.”
The next night at Musto’s party at Room Service, there were no mix tapes—just a mixed bag. Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny’s crowd—which, in addition to all their press, included Randy Jones (the Cowboy from the Village People), Ivana Trump, Joan Rivers, Justin Bond, Larry Tee, Amanda Lepore, Murray Hill, Dirty Martini
, and Julie Atlas Muz—mingled in the adjoining room, which happened to be the strip club Tens, wherein real-life strippers gave real-life lap dances to real-life men. It made for an interesting match—especially after Dirty did a burlesque routine to Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer” wearing pasties that said “For Sale” while in the corner, a girl did her completely sincere I’m-making-a-lotta- money-by-grinding-this -guy’s-crotch-all-night routine.
It was fun, but it must have paled greatly in comparison to Andy Warhol’s funeral in 1987—an event depicted in La Dolce Musto. As Musto recalls it, it was like a scene straight out of Zoolander, except real. “Can a memorial service really be fabulous?” he wrote. With Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, Yoko Ono, Timothy Leary, and Grace Jones in attendance, yes, it can. “The Warhol funeral was unbelievable because people were treating it like a photo op—people were handing out invitations in the back of the church,” Musto says now. “Halfway through, I realized I was criticizing everyone, but I was dressed like Ronald McDonald, so I was part of the problem.”
So much in New York has changed since Musto started his column in 1984. Warhol’s death was “the first shocking event that signaled the fact that change had to be in the air,” he says. “Without him, nobody knew when an event was validated. His presence made an event worth being at. Now, it’s more like who isn’t there. If someone from Project Runway or MisShapes—or Donald Trump—isn’t there, then you’re in the right place.”
It’s crazy to think that not that long ago Rosie O’Donnell and Ellen Degeneres were in the closet, and AIDS was infuriatingly treated like a mystery best left undiscovered so gays could die like flies. In between writing about frivolous parties and magazine launches, Musto outed celebrities and raged against the government’s inaction against the disease. In the book, “I go from squeamish to screaming PC nightmare to someone more at peace with the gay landscape,” he says. “People don’t remember how invisible gay was at one point. I was the lone voice screaming in the corner.”
As for Rosie (who he outed), “Now, she’s such a hero, I can only applaud everything she’s doing. If it’s making Barbara Walters uncomfortable, that’s great!” Of course, these days Musto’s joined by bloggers galore (he’s a fan) like Perez, who not only join him in the outing game, but often beat him to the punch with the tap of a key. Still, there are some benefits to the blog brigade: “I don’t come off that nasty anymore. Celebrities who used to run from me, now think I’m kind of endearing.” Ironically, Musto says Rosie’s new nemesis, the Donald, took the column’s barbs like a man. “After all the times I trashed him, he came up and said, ‘You do a great job.’ It was a classy way to play it. The angrier you act, the more you are egging on someone confrontational like me to take it to the next round.”
While he has no regrets about anything he’s written, Musto has a regret about something he never wrote: “I had my serious doubts about JT Leroy. I had a very strong feeling that the person there pretending to be JT looked like a girl in a wig. At readings, JT was literally shaking, and I felt that person had no connection with the JT that was emailing me,” he says. “When I started realizing it was a hoax, my response was to just blacklist JT from the column, rather than pursue it. I’m all for a good hoax, but JT Leroy claimed he had AIDS and was asking for money. That took it to a low level,” says Musto. “Normally, I’d be delighted by a media hoax. It exposes the vulnerability of all of us who run with what we believe rather than what is the truth.”