Lady Gaga seems to be on all the cool kids’ minds at the moment. “She’s a performance artist,” they say, explaining why they love her, even if her music is cheesy.
So, I go on-line, and watch a few of her music videos, and just don’t get it. There isn’t anything that makes her stand out from any of a hundred other over-produced music videos. Puzzled, I let it drop.
And then someone sends me an article, and I finally understand what she’s trying to do. She wants to be the Andy Warhol of music. And perhaps she is succeeding. I must admit that I have never been taken with Warhol either, though now in both I can appreciate that there is thought behind the art.
And even as homages to Warhol’s Monroe portraits have permeated our culture, so have covers and explorations of Gaga’s music. Often times, I see more worth in the reflections than the originals — yet in a way, that’s the point.
Here are three Poker Face videos; first, the original as reference for anyone who hasn’t seen it:
That last is the ever extraordinary Amanda Palmer, with an extremely meta cover/critique of the whole Lady Gaga phenomenon. Which brings me round to a point, which is maybe my whole point.
The amazing thing about Gaga, and Amanda (and since I just watched Kurt and Courtney, Courtney Love) is not their music, but the drive that took them to the top. It’s a tough world out there, and most people never have fans outside their families, but there are some people who have a need to be Rock Stars and love them or hate them, those who make it are to be admired.
It was the summer of 2003, and for some reason, I ended up at the launch of the short lived record company, 8ft. Records. They had just been formed to put out Amanda’s first Dresden Dolls album, and the attending crowd was a mix of curious industry people and friends of the artist. Amanda glowed as she made her way around the room, and when she got to me, it was as if the whole room brightened, or disappeared, maybe both. She has this way of looking at you, super direct, as if you are the only interesting thing, and you have her complete and undivided attention. Of course, I was a nobody, and as soon as she had determined this, that all consuming focus turned to the next lucky person, and that blaze of light was gone. “Wow,” I thought, “my soul has been read and judged, and now I know, absolutely, that I will never be important.” It wasn’t just that she had moved along, and judged me not worthy of more time — it was that I could never do what she had just done.*
Through the years since then, I periodically check to see what Ms. Palmer is up to, and so I’ve watched from a distance as she climbed that crazy mountain to indy-stardom. Each person she meets who helps her on the way, I empathize with — I know the force of those eyes, the wish to be enough that you can hold them for just a moment more.
I’ve never met Lady Gaga, or Courtney Love. But reading around the stories, the way they meet the right people at the right time, and the way they climbed… I bet they have that same magnetic power.
* I in no way intend to imply that Ms. Palmer does not have time for people who cannot raise her up, I also saw her be a true friend, and give as much help as she ever got.