Who's the Star Here?

Wink Musselman's Quartet of Shame will never work in this town again.

“You really have to know your audience,” the random blonde was saying through her nose. “People were very offended.”

“But we're the Quartet of Shame! That's what we do! That's why they hired us! We're not the Quartet of Niceness,” Wink was explaining rather drunkenly but with his trademark panache. Heck, they had even toned it down for the party, performing only one ballad about child molestation and keeping the Karen Carpenter bulimia jokes under wraps during “Close to You.”

“I'm not talking for myself,” the blonde said, lying through her teeth. “But people were very offended. That was the owner's wife you said that to! And, yes, that's what you do, but if you want repeat business . . .” She let her sentence dangle there, threatening and knowing. But Wink Musselman's Quartet of Shame would not be cowed.

They'd been hired to play a private Christmas party for a Hollywood management company-we'll just call it “Artist Direct”-at the Electric Lotus in Los Feliz. And despite what the fabulous lounge band kept intoning, there were neither fabulous celebrities (besides the Quartet and ourselves, naturally-they'd invited us to the show without mentioning we were crashing a private party; of course, Keanu Reeves was there) nor a lot of love in the room. In fact, everyone was determinedly paying no attention to the Quartet of Shame-until it was time for the gift-exchange raffle, which somebody had the bright idea to let the band emcee.

Until those fateful moments, the captive audience had been talking loudly-noticing only once in a while that the band was covering songs such as Captain & Tennille's “Muskrat Love” with drunken razzle-dazzle. The be-rhinestoned Wink's smiling patter, delivered in his trademark bronchial Snagglepuss phrasing, at first brought laughs-and then dead silence-while people opened their gifts. As he said things like: “Oh, grocery-store coupons! What a fabulous establishment! What a classy company! Ladies and gentlemen, they are givers!” people cracked up, albeit nervously.

When he commented that a woman was beautiful and sexy and probably had a very warm, nice vagina, people started getting really mad. We don't know why-everyone knows Wink is more into pretty Asian boys and big black men than warm, nice vaginas, although he says he does have a woman every once in a while “just to share the love.” Why? Because he's a giver!

Stand-up bass man Mario Barmosca got a drink over his head from a guy who didn't think it was funny when he unwrapped his gift of an 18-inch salami and Barmosca commented (in an announcer's voice usually reserved for shouting, “It's a BRAND NEW CAR!”) “Ladies and gentlemen, he'll be fucking himself silly all night!”

We thought it was funny.

Shortly thereafter-actually, in the middle of a song-Barmosca had his bass packed up and ready to go. We had suggested going out for drinks before the band got themselves killed, and Barmosca apparently thought that was a fine idea. Wink prevailed on Barmosca to unpack for a few more songs but then had to call for “Security!” (although as poised as ever) when some guy wanted the last present, which Wink had just given away to one of the uninvited as a token of his esteem. “We can't have drunk people onstage,” Wink admonished the guy, while on the floor behind him, four broken wine glasses tinkled; he had set them down while they were still intact and then crunched them underfoot doing karate kicks and punches to the theme from The Love Boat. “Who's the star here? Huh? Who's the star? That's right!” he breathed, as the guy finally backed down.

Another successful night for Wink Musselman's Quartet of Shame. Wink had managed to smuggle out a full bottle of Johnnie Walker Black.

The former child star of the television show What Would the Neighbors Say?-in which a precocious white child is adopted by a prominent black couple-Wink knew early on the kind of lifestyle afforded fabulous celebrities. But a Corey Feldman/Corey Haim-like brush with drugs ended those halcyon days.

Now, as he and his little helper, Barmosca, triumphantly enter the Dresden Room to cap their evening, they are met not with applause but with a frightened hush-like when the Hell's Angels blow into town in some stupid USA Up All Night movie. The locals who are there to see lounge legends Marty & Elayne are nervous around lounge's Young Turks. And Marty & Elayne seem threatened, although Wink and Barmosca want only to pay homage. “Look at all the fabulous celebrities!” Wink says dreamily. “There's a whole lotta love in this room!”

Wink and Barmosca are resplendent in their velvet and rhinestones, but never ask Barmosca for the time, or he might pull out his shaved penis. And you thought it was obnoxious when people answered, “Half past a freckle.” Barmosca is not polite-he won't open a door for a woman unless she's wearing a dress, and he often shouts, “No one said, 'Woman, speak!'” in a most unsettling manner-but he plays one hell of an upright bass and makes sexy tiger faces.

The other members of their quartet are not here tonight. Don on keys is in his 70s. When Wink starts crooning about his father making him bleed, Don is likely to start tinkling through “I'm in the Mood for Love.” And Billy Blaize, on drums, is not allowed to talk. Nobody wants to hear anything a drummer has to say.

When Marty & Elayne finally let Wink sit in on “Witchcraft,” the crowd is oddly listless. The song is beautiful, Wink's rhinestone jacket is beautiful-heck, Wink is beautiful-and no one really cares. But there is a lot of love at our table, and that's all that really matters.

Go see Wink Musselman's “Happy Birthday Jesus Christacular” at Java Lanes, 3800 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 597-5558. Sat., 9 p.m. $5. 21+.

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