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Drudge speaks fondly of frequent teenage visits to an aunt living in New York City; he had immersed himself in the early and mid-Eighties downtown club scene before he'd even finished high school. He recalls listening to legendary DJ Frankie Crocker on WBLS-FM and late nights at Danceteria and the Roxy, where races, sexualities, and musical genres all bumped up and ground against one another. Chestnuts from that era often turn up on his radio show as closing theme songs.
In a recent issue of New Yorkmagazine, columnist Michael Wolff talked of two nations coming into focus before us. There is a schism between "the quicker-growing, economically vibrant, but also more fractious and more difficult to manage, morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventuresome, sexually polymorphous, and ethnically diverse nation (Bill Clinton's America, if you will). And there's the small-town, nuclear-family, religiously oriented, white-centric other America, which makes up for its diminishing cultural and economic force with its predictability and stability (the GWB-ies)."
New York's downtown milieu left a lasting imprint on most people who passed through it, and while the experience may not have transformed them into flaming revolutionaries, it usually left them comfortably within "Bill Clinton's America" and injected a healthy fear of the "GWB-ies." To hear Drudge throw in his ideological lot with the latter tribe simply seems unfathomable, particularly when he glides from effusive praise of borderline reactionary Georgia Rep. Bob Barr to singing the lyrics of the house classic "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" -- a veritable gay-nightclub anthem. Drudge says there's no inherent conflict. "I take this music seriously," he insists. "In fact I take this music so seriously that I don't want to see some shirtless freak tweaking. That kind of ruins it for me -- club music is the classical music of our age."
Drudge may embrace the music, but he refuses to embrace its explicit gay, black roots, a refusal that has prompted controversy in the past. MSNBC correspondent Jeannette Walls, in her book Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip, profiled Drudge as someone who "hung out with a crowd of promiscuous, openly gay men and dated several of them." She interviewed one purported ex-boyfriend, David Cohen, who recalled that "[Drudge] loved to do wild, provocative things to draw attention to himself," including getting tossed from one Washington, D.C., nightclub after tossing a full pitcher of beer into the air.
After Dish's publication last year, Walls and Drudge traded insults via New York City's gossip columns. Drudge claimed Walls's entire account was fabricated: "Jeannette, dear, slow down and come up for some air. You are becoming a laughingstock. Even by MSNBC standards."
In response Walls told the Daily News: "I'm not passing judgment. But I think his duplicity is relevant to his character as someone who has built his career on exposing other's private lives." Contacted by phone recently, Walls reiterated that both she and her publisher, HarperCollins, "absolutely stand by every word I've said." She also said Cohen has offered to sign an affidavit attesting to his comments.
At the mention of Walls's book, Drudge turns visibly angry, characterizing Dishas nothing less than an attempt to spike his career. "I go to bars," he explains with a perturbed edge. "I go to straight bars, I go to gay bars. [Walls] never said there was sex; she said there was dating. She never had enough to go that far."
Does it bother Drudge to be portrayed in the media as gay? "No, because I'm not," he answers firmly. "But I'm not going to be a Bert Fields and sue people for $100 million for printing this stuff," he adds, referring to Tom Cruise's attorney and his defamation lawsuit against a gay porn star who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with the actor.
So does he fear a backlash from homophobic fans of his radio show and Website? "It's not an issue with me," he replies, growing weary of the topic. He leans back in his chair and opines, "I think I told the Daily Newssomething like, “My youth is a blur.'" He laughs in self-appreciation: "That's a good out."
For Drudge there's more at work here than "Is he or isn't he?" Questions about his sexual orientation, he argues, simply are more examples of liberals attempting to use culture, even dance culture, to advance their agenda. "When did synthesizers married to a drum machine become a political movement?" he asks in exasperation. "What does a Peter Rauhoffer instrumental have to do with [liberal values]? I haven't missed an issue of Billboardin eighteen years, but I hate it when their columnists mix phrases like “club culture' with the dance scene. It's so phony; it's wrong. It's a record. It's a record you play as you're mowing your lawn, swinging on a swing. I don't understand why dance-music writers get so obsessed with “community.' Maybe it was AIDS, a sense of coming together of the underground." He mutters that last word with obvious distaste.
"I think more people died of AIDS during Clinton than during either Reagan or Bush," he continues. "I don't think there's anything a president can do [about AIDS], especially a president who is encouraging oral sex.... If we all just have our pants down, if we follow our urges in everything we do, society is going to go down."