TThe death of Vinnie Musetto, a former editor at the New York Post who wrote the famous headline “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR,” has already attracted quite a few notices, including complimentary pieces in the Times, the Guardian, and the Post itself. Vinnie, whom I got to know a bit when I worked at the Post for a couple of years in the early nineties, would have been happy about that. An aging hippie who wore his hair long, dressed in black, and, in the later part of his career, also reviewed movies, he saw headline writing as an art form, albeit a rough-and-ready one.
As Tim Hill pointed out in the Guardian, the “TOPLESS BAR” headline wasn’t Vinnie’s only masterwork. He was also responsible for “KHADAFY GOES DAFFY,” “500LB SEX MANIAC GOES FREE,” “I SLEPT WITH A TRUMPET,” and, his personal favorite, “GRANNY EXECUTED IN HER PINK PAJAMAS.” I’m not sure all of these made it onto T-shirts—the “HEADLESS BODY” headline certainly did—but they evoke a New York, and a media world, that has long since disappeared.
Or has it? In a way, the sorts of headlines that Vinnie wrote anticipated the headlines we now see on the Internet. Vinnie’s efforts were often better—as were those of other talented headline writers at the Post. But, in combining succinctness, irony, and absurdism, the Post’s headlines fashioned a model that editors at popular Internet news sites, in their never-ending efforts to attract clicks, often seek to emulate.