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ST. MICHAEL

Michael Musto, Alan Rish, Janis Savitt, Anita Sarko, Patrick McMullan, and Dianne Brill in 1986 (©Patrick McMullan/PMc).
by Anita Sarko

DISCLOSURE: MICHAEL MUSTO is one of my dearest friends. Actually, I consider him more like a brother: His family’s my family, he was the sole attendant at my wedding, he taught me how to ride a bike in the city, he visited every day when I was in the hospital last year and, after at least 30 years in my life, I couldn’t imagine it without him. Which also makes him sound (disturbingly) like a father … (My brother! My father! Slap! Slap!)

Michael and Anita Sarko at The Blonds Spring/Summer 2011 Collection. (©Jonathon Ziegler/ PMc)
If the above paraphrased movie reference doesn’t make sense to you, you’d last about five seconds in Mustoland. Movies mean so much to Michael ... particularly BAD films ... he has a longstanding movie club with Lynn Yaeger, Mickey Boardman and others. “We get together to watch enjoyable turkeys with laughable dialogue and scads of big stars being brought way down,” he explains. “It’s a way for me to relive my adolescence, when I’d go to see these films alone. Now I have comrades in my misery.”

MANY “comrades” ... New Yorkers may think this native son (Yo Bensonhurst!) is too edgy, too ... NEW YORK ... to translate outside, but that’s not so. It’s impossible to walk with Michael through the most touristy sections of town without hordes stopping dead in their tracks, staring, pointing, loudly agreeing with each other that it is in fact HIM, approaching for a photo or autograph or just shouting their love.

Michael is always warmly friendly and accommodating in return. “Tourists are thrilled to see someone they recognize from TV and are unabashed in their pure glee of recognition. It gives them something to tell the folks back home. It beats the jaded natives who think they’re too cool to acknowledge you. One tourist once said, ‘I am so honored to see you actually in the street!’ As if I should always be elevated eight feet off the ground ... actually, maybe I should ...”

Despite Michael’s depiction, what I’ve always heard from “jaded natives” is their wondering why Michael HATES them. When I explain that they’re misinterpreting his motivation for backing away when they approach, I’m disbelieved.

“The truth is, I’m painfully shy and awkward,” Michael agrees. “I grew up literally without speaking and never learned how to interact properly with people. I’m an only child! I didn’t even have imaginary friends! So I have to constantly assure people, ‘I wasn’t dissing you. I’m just terrified.'"
Michael in 1984, just before he got his column in the Village Voice with (Clockwise from top left): Sylvia Miles; Diana Ross (©Ben Buchanen); David Bowie, La Belle’s Nona Hendryx at Mudd Club (©Gene Bagnato).
Michael Alig, Anita Sarko, Michael Musto, and Andy Anderson at Invite for the first Dirty Mouth Contest at Limelight. Sometime in the late '80s (©Patrick McMullan).
Chip Duckett, Joey Stefano, Robin Byrd, and Michael.
Thankfully, I never terrified Michael. Everyone knows how talented and off-the-charts smart he is from his writing and myriad of talking head spots on TV, but, it was because of his singing ... that’s right ... SINGING ... that we first met. He had a Supremes cover band, The Must (guess who was Diana), and he knew I knew more than most DJs about Motown, because ... well ... I’m from there (AKA Detroit, for the ignorant).

Therefore, he always asked for me to deejay his shows. “We had a blast, even if the audience usually stood there as if watching Springtime for Hitler," Michael says of The Must years. “I broke up the band after I got the column and realized way more clubs suddenly wanted to book us. But I’ll drag my vocal chords out of the closet now and then when the occasion is right. Anyone need a mature gossip columnist singing ‘Love Child’?”

Michael at Studio 54 (© Allan Tannenbaum).
In addition, you might want to check out the Columbia grad’s (he majored in English Lit and “minored in Cher”) fiddling technique because Michael was a viola virtuoso!

“I opted to study viola in high school because (A), you got out of gym class and (B), everyone played violin, so I figured I’d be super special. I did end up in the All City Orchestra, and even played with them at Lincoln Center, but I had to ultimately admit that I was no better at the viola than I was at football.”

Well, the string section’s loss ...

Now that the disappearing musical careers have been explained, why did he stop throwing those insane birthday parties?

He blames the dwindling budgets of clubs: “They’d fly in John Wayne Bobbitt, Divine Brown, or the I’ve fallen and I can’t get up lady. Having the scandal star of the moment was perfect for my sardonic take on pop culture. Jerry Springer hosted the last one. But this whole gambit isn’t over; last year I had a 25th-anniversary-at-the-Voice party hosted by Joan Rivers and Michael Urie, and it even topped the old bashes. It was a reunion, a summation, and a sensation.”

What about those crazy costumes he once sported? I think I’ve seen the dinosaur coat hanging in his apartment, but lately he wears (somewhat) sensible sweaters and jackets.
Clockwise from above: Michael as Lady Gaga in meat dress (© Chad Griffith); Murray Hill and Michael; Michael and Jim Parsons; Michael with Joan Rivers.
“I stopped wearing elaborate outfits because I couldn’t compete with people half my age. I dressed like a lobster for one of my birthday parties, but a club kid topped me by walking in as a hot dog! I was furious! But, I held on to enough so that I can still occasionally work a party as a crustacean if I want to.”

Well, out with the old, in with the new-ish ... because Mikey’s just released a book, Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back (Vantage Point Books). A HILARIOUS compilation of his iconic Village Voice columns, along with some newer entries, it is tears-in-your-eyes laugh-out-loud funny.

Trust me. Or, better yet, trust HIM:

“If you like my wit, my nerve, my refusal to step down from a perch of jaundiced observation, then you will adore it. This book is your one-stop-shopping guide to our celebrity culture—how it got that way, where it went wrong, and why it’ll continue. The book is one long screed that was so cathartic to assemble I don’t even need therapy anymore.”

Think of it this way: If we support Michael’s continuing quest for sound mental health via his books, his weekly “La Dolce Musto” columns, his “dailymusto.com” blogs, his appearances on Olbermann, Theater Talk, TV Guide network, Biography channel, NBC, VH1, MTV, etc., etc., we end up thoroughly entertained and he avoids Dr. Drew!

It’s a win-win for everyone! (Well, maybe not Dr. Drew ...)
Michael (©Wolfgang Wesener/Wowe). Inset: (©EJ Camp).
Nevertheless, I am deeply ashamed and wracked with guilt because I believe I’ve gone against his most fervent wish writing this little piece: “Please don’t tell people I’m nice. That would ruin my career!”

And I call myself his friend. (Slap!)
 
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