Janet's Biggest Fear: Usher's Coming

Janet's Biggest Fear  | Bill Murray Snorkels  | Elaine's | Air America

Janet's Biggest Fear: Usher's Coming

After Monday night's botched launch party, getting bleeped on Letterman, and MTV ignoring her new video, you'd think Janet Jackson had pretty much cornered the market in trouble for one week.

Guess again.

Officials at her record label, Virgin Records, are chewing their fingernails over the sales of Janet's new album, "Damita Jo." Here's the problem. This week, Usher, the young R&B star, sold a million copies of his new album, "Confessions," and of course, hit No. 1 with a gong.

This week, "Damita Jo" will debut and go head-to-head with "Confessions."

"We're even more worried now about Usher's second week," one of Janet's record execs confided to me the other night. "Because if Usher's off only, let's say, 60 percent in his second week, that's 400,000 copies. He may still beat us to No. 1."

"Damita Jo," at the rate things are going, will be lucky to sell 300,000 copies this week, going head-to-head with Usher. That would be enough in a regular week to hit No. 1, but probably not this time.

Jackson, mind you, seems as insulated from the outside world as her brother Michael does. When she pranced into Spice Market restaurant on Monday night it was clear she didn't have a clue about how to deal with fans, even invited ones. She cut through a group of them and headed to the "private room" — which really looked more like a dungeon — faster than O.J. Simpson used to sprint across an airport. Or Brentwood on a cloudless night.

One thing is certain, however: Janet is being scapegoated for her Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction." This momentary display — whether a mistake or done on purpose — has now become a mantra for everything wrong in the world. Imagine that MTV, where illiteracy and lewdness thrive most of the day, would banish Janet's new video because of her "reputation."

Who are they trying to kid? Of course, MTV is a corporate cousin of CBS, where the original snafu happened. But that's just a coincidence!

Bill Murray Snorkels His Way to the Top

You thought "Lost in Translation" was behind us, but it's not. Last night, the Museum of Modern Art had a seminar and dinner honoring director Sofia Coppola, with New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell moderating the panel.

Claire Danes, Rosario Dawson, Jimmy Fallon, Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch were all spotted at the after party at Metronome.

"Lost in Translation" star Bill Murray — who is still quite close to Coppola long after this project has wrapped up — told me about his next movie, Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic."

"It's the hardest work I've done in my life. We were at sea on a minesweeper in the Mediterranean for months. And the last part, which was shot underwater, was the toughest. We had scuba gear, but every day you had to deal with the weather, the tide, the water. Getting each shot was rough."

Murray told me that he doesn't have a new project planned yet. "I could do three movies right now if I wanted to, but I don't," he said.

"The Life Aquatic" has burned him out for the time being. When exactly did it wrap, Bill? "An hour ago," he quipped.

Everyone's Going to Elaine's

Tonight it will be sardines at Elaine Kaufman's famous restaurant beginning around 6 p.m. That's when every known A-list person in the world will try to jam themselves into Elaine's narrow eatery to celebrate the publication of A.E. Hotchner's gorgeous must-have book, "Everyone Comes to Elaine's," the first-ever memoir of life at this spectacular club house, published by HarperCollins.

Elaine, I can tell you now, will be situated on her own stool behind the bar, just to the right of the cash register. The sweet memories of George Plimpton, Noel Behn and Neal Travis, among others, will be hovering as a mixture of the elite and the neat, not to mention the neighborhood locals and the regulars all gather to toast Hotch, Kaufman and photographer Jessica Burstein.

I've been paging through my signed copy of the book all weekend, laughing and enjoying the great stories Hotchner has pulled together. First and foremost is Elaine's own narrative as we learn about the early days of the restaurant. Elaine got her start at Positano's in the Village before taking over the lease at 88th Street and Second Avenue — mostly because it was a cheap location. Very quickly she developed a following.

There many reminisces too, although I suppose the one people will be interested in the most is from the customer most associated with Elaine's: Woody Allen. (I don't want to ruin it for you.) And, with her usual candor and aplomb, Elaine herself tells the story of her brief but harrowing marriage in the early '80s.

Hilariously, Elaine recounts one story in the book about the place's early popularity almost doing her in. The story goes that on one night no one would leave the first seating — they were enjoying themselves too much and kept on talking while more diners waited impatiently. What could Kaufman do? She turned on the exhaust fan in the kitchen and smoked them out, claiming a grease fire had started.

Another story, typical of Elaine's sense of humor, concerned Mick Jagger and a girl he brought in one night. "I'm making a movie," the girl cooed to Elaine, and went on and on. "That's as much as Mick could take," Elaine remembers. "He put his hand on my arm and said, 'Hey, Elaine, I'm going to do a movie, too.' And I said, 'Oh, Mick, that's wonderful.'"

If you're not here in New York, or not up on all this, you may wonder: Why does everyone go to Elaine's? I will tell you: It's not about the food, which is very top notch, or the service, which is excellent. It's all about Elaine. People come to see her, even if she doesn't want to see them. She's an earth mother, a fabulous conversationalist, a great gossip and a better friend. Yes, there are regulars, but Elaine doesn't like that idea so much. She's always ready to make new friends. And I think tonight that's going to happen a lot.

Air America Prepares to Bait Our Bill

Al Franken's Air America liberal talk radio launched last night with a big party, lots of proclamations, and two celebrities: Tim Robbins and Yoko Ono. It was a little odd, to say the least.

Franken is calling his show "The O'Franken Factor" just to bait Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. At least that's what Franken keeps saying to anyone who will listen. It's a funny idea but it's a little worn out already and the network hasn't even flipped the on switch yet.

Left-wing liberal radio may turn out to be just as annoying as right wing conservative radio, something that no one has quite thought out. Franken does a good Rush Limbaugh imitation, and did one last night calling his show "the first drug free radio show. I don't know if it's done before." I'm no Rush fan, but Franken had better have more up his sleeve than non-stop Rush bashing. He's not worth it.

No one I met last night could explain how this network took the name, "Air America," a title better known as a so-so Mel Gibson movie. Gibson is probably the last person Franken and friends would want on as a guest, which adds to the irony. As for our Bill, I'm sure he can take the joke. After all, he has the No. 1 news and talk show on cable in this country.