Going Gaga

12 Nov

Suddenly, I’m gaga over Gaga. Which makes me feel like the guy who shows up at the party looking for a drink, and the only thing left is the half-empty bottle of lukewarm beer with a cigarette butt floating around. A late arrival, I am, and not at all fashionably so.

Until just a few nights ago, I was proud to proclaim — loudly, I might add — that I had never heard the music of Lady Gaga. But of course I had.

It’s not like I was lying, though. I just had no idea.

When I switched on the TV ridiculously late the other night, hoping to catch some scores on SportsCenter or maybe an episode of Iconoclasts, I happened to notice in the on-screen listings that there was a nine-hour special about Lady Gaga on some station named Fuse. Nine hours! What could they possibly say about this barely-out-of-her-teens pop phenom to fill nine hours? And what was Fuse, anyway? I’d never watched that channel. I clicked over to check it out.

Now, I did have one other reason lingering behind my curiosity. I was at a class reunion a couple of years ago at my old Catholic high school, and someone asked if I remembered a kid named Joe Germanotta. I didn’t. It turns out he was two years ahead of me in school. And it also turns out that, among his other post-high school accomplishments, he sired a daughter named Stefani, later to be known as Lady Gaga. (And here I am, father of a second grader and kindergartner, as always a step behind.) I felt a connection, however flimsy.

Anyway, I wasn’t 30 seconds into the Gaga special before I found myself thinking, Hey, I recognize that song. Now, I never, ever listen to commercial radio, other than waking up to the morning show on our local AAA station, WRSI, which I don’t believe has ever gone Gaga. And I never, ever watch MTV, except the occasional online clip of Jason “Mayhem” Miller’s Bully Beatdown. So how did this Gaga music penetrate the fortress I’ve erected to protect my soul against vapid pop culture, from music to movies to “reality” TV? I have no idea. But it happened again when they played the next Gaga song. And the next.

I kept watching for maybe an hour, fascinated not so much by the spookily familiar music videos but by Lady Gaga’s lengthy chat with a Fuse interviewer who himself seemed a bit gaga to be in the lady’s presence. She was a lot deeper than I expected. For one thing, she approaches her music more as a performance artist than a pop singer, sort of akin to the David Bowie of my youth. I liked that. And while her songs don’t necessarily resonate with me, Gaga’s overall approach — her devotion to art as freedom, her embracing attitude about her fans, her sincere and not showoff-y activism in support of equality for gays — did strike a chord. And I loved that she considers John Lennon her hero and proclaims herself a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen. (Hey, Daddy Gaga is from Jersey.)

So while I don’t think I’d be adding “Poker Face” to my iPod if I owned an iPod, I do come away from this encounter with a humble understanding that not every popular cultural icon is worthless commercial drivvel. I’ve had to step back and wonder why I’m so puffed up about never having watched American Idol or Survior, or seen Avatar or Titanic, or listened to Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift.

What it comes down to, I have to acknowledge, is not simply my discerning cultural palate but also my unflinchingly contrarian way. If everyone else is taking the elevator, and especially if the mainstream media and advertising manipulators are urging people to climb aboard, I’m taking the stairs. I might even walk up while everyone else is riding down. I don’t follow the crowd.

I like to think of myself as an anarchist, but while I love the sound of that — it’s activist, political, mysterious — the label doesn’t truly fit. When I’m in a situation where all the rules are being broken, I can’t help but lose touch with the sweet freedom while becoming obsessed with all the injustice that invariably is swirling around in the chaos. And in my day-to-day life, as much as I disregard orderliness, I can’t honestly deny that it serves me well. So no, I’m no anarchist, just a contrarian. And I can’t even stay true to that path now that I have a Lady Gaga song stuck in my head.

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7 Responses to “Going Gaga”

  1. Molly @ Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce November 12, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

    I want your love and I want your revenge. You and me could write a bad romance.

    You know that I am gaga over you, Jeff. Don’t tell Sarah.

  2. dennis caraher November 12, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    Interesting piece Jeff. My daughter (19) speaks of Lady Gaga in reverent tones and I’m afraid I judged her before really listening (“her” refers to both Oe and Lady Gaga).

    I was a relieved to see you refer to yourself as an antichrist because that’s how I’ve always seen you but never have brought it up.

    • Jeff Wagenheim November 12, 2010 at 7:09 pm #

      My kids speak of “Radio Boy” in reverent tones. But I think it’s just commercial drivvel.

  3. Bruce Kennedy November 12, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    Jeff,
    You ignorant slut! I stole that from Dan Akroid, did you watch Saturday night live, at least? So you don’t watch American Idol, Survivor, Avatar or the Titanic all of which I have and do! What exactly do you do? I know it’s not meditation or yoga!
    By the way go see “Inside Job” so you figure out we are down to one political party……..it’s called Wall Street and if you’re not in that top 2% club you’re F____D
    So anyway I’ll listen to a Gaga song on itunes now because of you.
    Your loyal follower,
    Bruce

    • Jeff Wagenheim November 12, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

      I would have gone on to a life of yoga and meditation if only you hadn’t distracted me from my destined path. You, me and a flock of curious birds, sitting in a hilly field outside the ashram at dusk, getting high on the grass.

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