“FORK ON THE LEFT, KNIFE ON THE BACK” (and dish all over…): Michael Musto’s Greatest Hits.
How could you not love a writer who once described a new nightspot (Mars, back in 1989) as “a multi-floor exercise in fun motifs supposedly inspired by ‘Blade Runner‘, but actually more reminiscent of ‘Desperate Living’; it’s retrofuturistic rather than truly forward-facing, which is fine by tomorrowphobic me.”? Author Michael Musto beckons you from the blindingly pink cover of his new book, daring you to open it: It’s the pop culture junkie’s equivalent of a peep show window. Frankly, I didn’t know exactly what to expect with “Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back“. Was this Musto’s autobiography, chronicling his rise from “the only Italian American only child in history” in the bottom part of Brooklyn to America‘s most wanted culture vulture? Nope. (Hallelujah! I love celebrity bios, but can’t stand the perfunctory first few chapters about their childhood… unless they spent that childhood being pawned off at sex parties or on the floor seizing from an overdose.) Is Musto’s book a bitterly opportunistic expose of the entertainment biz, finally revealing the names behind the “blind items” that he regularly titillates us with? Nope again. (And hallelujah again! I couldn’t stomach the thoughts of Musto becoming an industry pariah, my own self-serving desire to read such a book notwithstanding…) Indeed, Musto’s book drops more celebrity names than Jackie Collins synthetically injects into her new novel. But while Collins’ latest book forces a character (a young gay club-hopper) to say heavy-handed lines like, “Do you think Chace Crawford will be there?” in an effort to sound very “2011“, Musto was likely at that A-list club while Crawford was engaged in some behavior that’s, shall we say, NOT A-list…) Michael Musto is one of the only journalists, incidentally, who could mention Chace Crawford and Joan Crawford in the same column and make it work.
“Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back” is actually a collection of Michael’s favorites from his Village Voice column “La Dolce Musto”, with some of the columns dating back as early as 1985 (The hilarious “Sad Sade and other Singular Sensations”) and 1988 (“Sandra Bernhard Seeks Sperm Donor With Sense of Humor”). It’s a testament to Musto’s skills as a writer that these articles still entertain us, even though seeing a name like Pia Zadora or Marilyn (Boy George‘s ex) can indeed make us realize how much time has passed since Patti Reagan posed for “Playboy”. That said, Musto makes us realize that loyalties to NYC hotspots are always shifting, and celebrities may drop from our radar… but the club scene, in essence, doesn‘t change much (only the names of the clubs do…), and celebs have a funny way of resurfacing, for better or for worse. His “2010 In Review: Googoo for Gaga” concludes with “Everyone‘s switching seats on the same plane these days– and there are Muslims, too. And not only does President Gaga approve, Secretary of State Katy Perry thinks it‘s totally cool.” (Snap!) And of course, there‘s the chapter “Legally Blind”, featuring Musto‘s famous “blind items“ which will set the readers‘ brains into spasms as they try to figure out who he’s talking about. Good luck!… although I guarantee that anyone even remotely on the periphery of New York City’s nightlife scene can guess a few. (from 2006: “What heartthrobby young actor was told by his publicist to lose the gay friends because that’s how rumors start? [The rumors may have also started because the actor is indeed a big, old faygeleh bottom, which some find a shame seeing as his dick is even bigger than his ego.]”) (Snap again!)
As said before, Musto’s book isn’t a bio per se, although some of the best columns involve Musto’s own experiences as a commentator and counterculture star in his own right: “It‘s all so wildly glamorous and exciting, but you’ll quickly find that as a professional talking head, you’re the world’s only whore who doesn’t get paid.” Alongside the gossip and Musto’s interviews with the likes of Paris Hilton and porn czar Michael Lucas, the writer makes some very keen observations on everything from the dearth of NYC nightlife (written, prophetically, in 1987 and more relevant than ever today) to Marilyn Monroe’s legacy as sex symbol. One of the last passages in the book is a March 2011 column called “Why I Hate NYC! 41 Angry Reasons”, which concludes (sort of…) with “But the main reason why I hate New York is that, despite all of the above thirty-nine reasons, it has such an unbreakable power over me that there’s no way I’d ever dream of leaving. Besides, I can’t drive. Mwah, city!” I love happy endings!
Loaded with an infinite number of priceless zingers, “Fork on the Left, Knife on the Back “ is the equivalent of the cocktail hour at a gay wedding (officiated by the ever-enduring Lady Bunny, natch…) where Tony Award winners and aging Hollywood legends mix with go-go boys, porn stars, and self-aggrandizing pseudo-celebs. As we all know, he cocktail hour is always more fun than the long, boring sit-down dinner anyway… especially with Michael Musto as host.