Michael Musto is a longtime entertainment and nightlife writer for the Village Voice. Musto has written four books, appeared on countless TV channels and streaming services, and has been named one of the Out 100 of the most influential LGBTQs in the country.
“… while you have all this wisdom about how to behave, those situations tend to not happen again, so the wisdom is useless. You can try passing it on to someone younger, but they don’t want to hear it any more than I craved advice from my grandparents.”
In late 1979 I was a Production Manager for the “alternative” newspaper New Times Weekly in Phoenix. I’d just done a stint at the Santa Barbara News and Review as a production artist, so this was a step up for me plus my gang was running wild in Phoenix and I didn’t want to miss out on that.
While the Art Director took a vacation I got to step into the role for a special issue on Disco. I remember that it was a real big deal for me at 22. While putting the editorial together, I worked with a creative gang of freelance photographers, stylists, models, and other creative types. They were a few years older than me and took me under their wings.
There was symbiosis from the start.
The most gregarious was Jimi, a photographer that was making a name for himself in the dusty old cow town. He persisted and ended up in New York managing photo studios and expanding his portfolio.
There was Carole who traveled the world modeling and joining in the theatrical antics of “art band” The Tubes. Her brother was the synthesizer player and did some very cool airbrushed pieces for the performances.
Then there was Ed who I knew informally from his vintage shop “Sunset Boulevard.” He had a keen eye as an art director and stylist. He also dressed me since I was mostly wearing wrinkled army fatigues in those days. I was nearly stripped of my gay badge, but Ed quickly remedied that.
Ed’s business partner was Lee who had east coast sensibilities and also weighed in on my disheveled look. To this day he’s one of the smoothest dressers I’ve ever met.
For a minute I am reminded that I have known these … more
Ed, Todd, and I were all working in the photo studio of the Emporium Capwell department store in downtown San Francisco. The budgets were over the top and the Art Director hired me to build and paint special set pieces for the ads and catalogs. The largest undertaking was building a faux stone patio. I used mountains of masonite, glue and crumbled styrofoam and then weeks of painting it. I think it was used once. I built it on the rooftop of the Emporium which used to be home to a Christmas village for kids and there were still pieces of that history long-ago abandoned.
Ed was a fashion stylist who played by the rules during the day and at night and on weekends we were able to use the studios with photographers who wanted to experiment.
Ed had become friendly with the two founders of the hip Martin-Weber Gallery, which is still around as Artists’ Television Access.. They let him know that the enormous warehouse next to theirs at 8th and Howard was for rent by a very artist-friendly lawyer named Mark Rennie. We quickly rented it and named it Tons of Meat.
The place was so big we even installed a trapeze and a bathtub in the middle of the place. Todd built his own room floating a few steps up. Ed was bunking in a bed up on scaffolding. I slept in a loft and had a sprawling office setup (seen above). I built a two-story set for over-the-top theatrical entries. I filmed a friend Jan Taylor as a “seen-better-days” singer with a slow, boozy performance of the Doris Day song “Let’s Be Happy.” Boy, do I wish I had that video.
Mark was running an “art restaurant” at 9th and Folsom. He was tuned … more
After moving into the lower Haight Street flat of my then saxophone-playing boyfriend, I soon found out he was having a romance on the side. I suppose that I made him so miserable that he eventually moved out of the sunny apartment and it was mine.
I enjoyed the raw art scene happening in the neighborhood.
There was a marble sculptor on the ground floor. A friend down the street had a storefront selling his futuristic “Bodyware.” He had a great record collection so the vibe was always happening in the place. Another friend had a storefront art gallery that sometimes became an after-hours scene when the bars closed for the night.
From my 3rd story deck, there was a staircase down to the ground floor where there was a small room with the heaters and gear that made the building run. It became my painting studio. I was making 3-dimensional paintings from illustration board scraps I got from my job and built *stepped-up layers from stacks of square bits to elevate one level to the next.
One piece lit up in a box with floating painted shapes. I then played with the shapes being 3 dimensional. More and more complex to piece together seamlessly. Hot glue bonded it all. I would continue with this direction when I moved into a huge studio downtown and made full-sized room facades with the pieces.
In the late 80’s it was a good idea to settle my ass down after a debaucherous run in San Francisco’s fast-paced art and nightlife scene.
I ended up in a little cottage in North Oakland behind four apartments. Without the distractions of city lights and easy vice, I put my hyperactive energy into a bland plot of lawn.
From the street, it was hidden, but by taking a few steps up, a few steps down a pathway, and then through a gate I would enter my retreat. A narrow sidewalk around the cottage and along the property line formed a long L. And there was a stoop that served as my surveyor’s perch for the next couple of years as I dug in.
The yard was approximately fifty feet by two hundred feet of mostly old grass and a few struggling bushes around the edges. There was a perimeter bed that was dense and deep with ivy and its notorious complex root structure. Over six months I dug up that web of the relentless vine. In some spots I probably went three feet deep to stem the invasion. I did save some as I went along. I had time to consider it and it became a living foundation for what would come.
There were also some hydrangea bushes. One blue-purple and the others pink. They ended up being quite showy and good producers. When I first found them they had stopped flowering much and were in need of some pruning to have a new start. I took it a step at a time.
Just outside of the entrance was a long-neglected Fuschia. After a brave edit, it flourished too.
I began the process with small experiments with pansies and such. I knew there … more