Michael Musto, the legendary chronicler of NYC nightlife, the man who was once synonymous with the wild rollicking style of the Village Voice, is getting old.
And he’s not taking it well.
In the same crotchety whine as your grandfather talking about walking to school uphill both ways, Musto laments the bygone days of the 1980s saying that nightlife in this town just isn’t this same, in this morning’s New York Times.
For a city that prides itself on not sleeping, bars and clubs seem to be peaking earlier these days, at least from my vantage point. And from what I’m hearing from various creatures of the night, it’s partly because everyone needs a paycheck to stay afloat in the flush, moneyed city.
That’s a far cry from the 1980s, when “You’d better work” was an exhortation to party harder. In that fabled decade, I woke up around noon every day, having spent the previous night out till at least 4 a.m., acting out a nearly pathological escape from the potential tedium of daylight.
It helped that there was so much vital clubbing raging on into the wee hours, with seemingly no one watching as you cut up and carried on with other festive loons.
He even complains about social media (without which we wouldn’t have things like this — a live 25-hour dance party streamed from Mexico City, but OK).
Musto is likely feeling especially nostalgic because last night, NYC celebrated the 30th anniversary of legendary ’80s nightclub, Area. It was a true club — an art space, a performance gallery, a hangout for weird kids and princesses and business types and everyone. And after Area closed, revelers could head to NYC’s after-hours spots and rage until daylight.
Now I bow down to the legendary clubs of old — to Paradise Garage, to Danceteria, to The Loft. I recognise that they inhabited a time and space in NYC history that (like all history, you know) will never be repeated. It was special and it was epic. The friends I have who went there, who DJ’ed there, are some of the most creative, interesting people I’ve met in my life.
But they, like Musto, have gotten old. They’ve stayed in their Manhattan apartments and watched that part of the city turn into a glorified hotel. Or they moved on and put their kids through college (some, after that, have even returned to the scene).
But they accept that it’s not the way they left it. After 30 years of change — of Giuliani, of rising rents, of fussy community boards, of financial crisis — how could it be?
That doesn’t mean the scene is dead, though. It just means it’s different.
Instead of lamenting the past — a useless activity if there ever was one — Musto and others of his ilk, if they have the stamina, should do what they did 30 years ago and find the party.
If you want to stay out til dawn in NYC, you can do it in Brooklyn and Queens. New nightlife heads like John Barclay over at Bossa Nova Civic Club in Bushwick still know how to throw a weird party that emphasises culture and sound over being seen. They’re dealing with the bureaucracy and the headaches of nightlife because they know that it is something that deserves space.
That is something that hasn’t changed at all and it’s the only thing that matters. It’s a deep NYC desire for expression, even if its central command has moved to another borough.
For better or for worse, New York is a bigger, meaner, more diverse place than it was when Musto left it. Money runs Manhattan, that’s true, but no one comes to this city to live easy. When RuPaul said “you’d better work,” she didn’t just mean on the dance floor, as Musto says. Ru is one of the most complex ladies out there. She meant that there’s no half stepping if you want to live where it’s exciting — no half stepping if you want to express yourself.
Simply because nightlife isn’t the way Musto left it, doesn’t mean it died. In his story, he quotes Amy Sacco, the proprietor of the now defunct, bottle-service celebrity-fest Bungalow 8. That former queen doesn’t sound too happy either.
“There’s no more naughty in New York,” she said. “No more of the charm and grit that made this city mysterious and interesting. The city that never sleeps took an Ambien a long time ago.”
No Amy honey, you just got old. And you stayed in Manhattan. Your mistake.