Much Ado About Gaga

Over on the Evangelical portal Karen Zacharias Spears weighed in on Lady Gaga, and I thought it all sounded a bit familiar:

“Elvis can’t sing, can’t play the guitar, and can’t dance. Yet two thousand idiots per show yelp every time he opens his mouth, plucks a guitar string, or shakes his pelvis like any striptease babe in town.” — Herb Rau, Miami Daily News, Aug. 4th, 1956

“It is a frightening thing for a man to watch his women debase themselves… It’s hardly original but if any daughter of mine broke out of the woodshed tonight to see Elvis Presley in Empire Stadium, I’d kick her teeth in.” — Mac Reynolds, Vancouver Sun, Aug 31st, 1957

And the fans?

“If you had half the talent Elvis Presley has, you might be good enough to shine our shoes. If anybody’s a bit sickening, it’s you.”

“Just because you don’t dig jive and are too old to rock to his music, you have no reason to call him down like that. I think you’re jealous.”

“I’ve never in all my life heard of such a dirty rotten deal for someone so great as Elvis Presley. You are the most selfish and jealous person I’ve ever heard of. Everybody could have did without those lies, but it takes an old rotten bag like you to say something like that. I hope your proud of yourself.”

“We feel sorry for old harpies like you. We sure do … Presley is the greatest ever. Anything you say about him will not turn us against him.”

“You are the bum, not Presley. I bet you are jealous because you can’t sing, shake and look as good as him.”

Elvis was a “vulgar no-talent”, his fans were “idiots” and this dynamic continues down through the history of pop music. Was it high-art that had parents in a fury and fans in a swoon? No, it was pretty bland lyrics sticking it to the status quo paired with a bouncy beat.

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Ever since Elvis there has been a demand for a pop musicians who push the envelope: The Beatles, The Doors, and The Stones all followed him with crazy outfits and hair, and even more outrageous lyrics and statements. John Lennon said The Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ, Mick Jagger was crooning out Sympathy for the Devil and Jim Morrison was actively trying to recreate a Bacchanalia in his live performances. They all wanted us to free our minds and bodies, to strip away false preconceptions and engage life as it really is. They made a pretty penny doing it too.

Gaga is derivative. She has taken notes from Madonna, Marilyn Manson, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, etc…  and created her own style. Remember, there were buxom blondes long before Norma Jean created Marilyn Monroe. Gaga is the torchbearer for this generation, because let’s face it, even Madonna isn’t Madonna anymore. Now the person finding that thin line between sexuality and religion and crossing it is Gaga, and she’s inspiring a frenzied following like every Dionysian musician before her. That’s a good thing.

As Christopher Knowles writes in his book The Secret History of Rock and Roll, the need to free your spirit, mind and body through music, particularly in a religious context, is ancient. Humans are born to boogie. It’s a very human need to drown ourselves in music and “let the sound take you away.’

As a Wiccan, it’s practically a religious imperative to embrace the freeing nature of music, to celebrate the body, and the holy innate sexuality we are born with. There’s nothing wrong with being sexual, with being different or with parading around onstage in your undies. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating those things. In a couple of weeks I’ll be dancing around a fire to pounding drums with folks in wildly diverse dress, including people who are nude, and I can tell you right now it will be a righteous and holy experience.

The truth is, you can call Mother Monster what you like and your vitriol will dissipate. Her Little Monsters will love her all the more fiercely for your ridicule. They will continue to find sustenance in her transgressive image and beats, and they will blossom in her messages of love and acceptance. They will learn to love themselves for the way nature made them, just like Elvis fans did, and just like The Doors fans did and just like Nirvana’s fans did. She fills a very human need that Christianity doesn’t address with the exception of some Pentecostal churches. Heck, she’s even made abstinence seem cool, which is something the church has been trying without much success.

The fans don’t care how much money she makes, because the service she provides is valuable. They don’t care about her age, or background. They don’t care if she performs in a burqa or a bikini. They know it’s not about sex, money, class, privilege or even marketing. It’s about that feeling somewhere deep between the beats and far below the melody that transforms your soul.

There’s something about Judas that I see, and I’m pretty sure all Little Monsters see: it’s Gaga’s assertion that one does not have to choose between flesh and spirit, and that there is beauty in that which those who see the world in black-and-white revile. Like in The Last Temptation of Christ, Judas is a necessary, holy and love-worthy individual despite all his very human faults. Without him there is no Christian Salvation for mankind. Gaga demonstrates that the spirit is not separate from the carnal, your body is not separate and closed off from your spirit and any attempts to create false divisions deserve betrayal.

The heart of what is happening with the Lady Gaga phenomenon has little to do with Stephani, or money, or sex, or glamour, but a very human need to unite the disparate parts of ourselves into a whole, and humans have done this for centuries through music. I find the idea suggesting Gaga’s upbringing invalidates her art disappointing. Money, like sex, isn’t evil, and certainly no gauge of the soul.

Mother Monster is hardly Hitler (who murdered gays and theological dissidents alongside Jews), hardly the first to have middle-aged white people foaming at the mouth and shaking their fists, and certainly not the first to fulfill the Dionysian urge of human youth. Someone has to help kids “break on through to the other side“, and for this generation it’s Gaga. Her message isn’t a lie: it’s love, it’s acceptance, it’s community and it’s something that’s missing in mainstream religion. Those things aren’t antithetical to having a strong character and values. If you can’t get that, then I don’t think you get religion and I certainly don’t think you understand young people.

I’m not a big fan of Gaga, but when I look at her I see the Dionysian current of love, acceptance, courage and the doctrine of Original Blessing. If all you see is a spoiled Nazi brat in a bikini, then maybe you judge too quick and love too slow.

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About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://twitter.com/digitalflaneur7 Arden White

    Euoi! Euoi! :D

  • http://twitter.com/digitalflaneur7 digital flaneur

    Euoi! Euoi! :D

  • Abracadaver

    I don’t know…there is something about her that puts me ill at ease. Under the whole “be yourself” schtick is a message that is all about shallowness and consumerism. It’s all surface and no depth.
    Nevermind her musical forbears that she is “inspired” by, she is ripping off her visuals from so so many contemporary artists working now, artists and magick-makers who are putting their very soul into what they make only to have it “borrowed” and thrown away asa one-liner in her carnival act….and if you look at the occult subtext of what she’s doing, hoo-boy…

    I don’t like her, but I don’t think it’s because I’m out of touch with “the kids” or whatever. I don’t find what she does to be particularly transgressive (there’s not much art in it. Being “weird” doesn’t make it smart or soulful). What worries me is what this is in service to (besides vast sums of money) and where it’s taking the culture. 

    My two cents.

    • Rua Lupa

      I remember hearing somewhere that mimicry is the greatest compliment (or something along those lines). I also cannot think of one thing or another where art or culture hasn’t borrowed from somewhere else. i.e. Roman art having Greek and Egyptian influence

  • Abracadaver

    I don’t know…there is something about her that puts me ill at ease. Under the whole “be yourself” schtick is a message that is all about shallowness and consumerism. It’s all surface and no depth.
    Nevermind her musical forbears that she is “inspired” by, she is ripping off her visuals from so so many contemporary artists working now, artists and magick-makers who are putting their very soul into what they make only to have it “borrowed” and thrown away asa one-liner in her carnival act….and if you look at the occult subtext of what she’s doing, hoo-boy…

    I don’t like her, but I don’t think it’s because I’m out of touch with “the kids” or whatever. I don’t find what she does to be particularly transgressive (there’s not much art in it. Being “weird” doesn’t make it smart or soulful). What worries me is what this is in service to (besides vast sums of money) and where it’s taking the culture. 

    My two cents.

    • Rua Lupa

      I remember hearing somewhere that mimicry is the greatest compliment (or something along those lines). I also cannot think of one thing or another where art or culture hasn’t borrowed from somewhere else. i.e. Roman art having Greek and Egyptian influence

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

    When our society is confronted with someone like Gaga, we tend to ask ourselves “Is this someone of real talent OR a self-serving manipulative bullshit artist who’s learned to manufacture “controversy” and transform themselves into a “phenomenon” far out of scale to what they actually produce”?

    I would submit that both can be true…

    • http://lifencompass.com Scott @ Lifencompass

      The truth of anything is ever more than one sided. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=586268271 Makarios Ofiesh

    FYI, the Vatican doesn’t like Lady Gaga either. I don’t know why the Christian right feels that it has to express its opinion on every bloody thing in the world, whether it’s any of their business or not. Don’t like Lady Gaga? Don’t listen to her. Problem solved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=586268271 Makarios Ofiesh

    FYI, the Vatican doesn’t like Lady Gaga either. I don’t know why the Christian right feels that it has to express its opinion on every bloody thing in the world, whether it’s any of their business or not. Don’t like Lady Gaga? Don’t listen to her. Problem solved.

  • http://lifencompass.com Scott @ Lifencompass

    I can give a big fat rats ass what any religious group thinks of any musician or artist. May the rats fart in their general direction. 
    If you want to talk about vapid sell outs put up Britney, or Christina, or the that degree’s band or even what’s her face, “nothing but a T-Shirt on” girl. Their message is nothing more than I’m Hot, you left me, I want to dance. 

    Don’t get me started on the 1 millimeter depth of most country music, or the white noise of “Christian Rock.”

    Irregardless of our feelings about the [admittedly created by artist] persona that is “GaGa,” the message is clear; when a song about being Gay and that’s okay is the top seller in 25 of 26 countries that allow the downloading of western music. As a single.

    It’s not all the “best music in the world,” certainly it’s a generational thing but I’d go with your Dionysus any day over the obvious “join the hate” movement against someone who is actually using her hip-thrust to galvanize acceptance. 

  • http://lifencompass.com Scott K Smith

    I can give a big fat rats ass what any religious group thinks of any musician or artist. May the rats fart in their general direction. 
    If you want to talk about vapid sell outs put up Britney, or Christina, or the that degree’s band or even what’s her face, “nothing but a T-Shirt on” girl. Their message is nothing more than I’m Hot, you left me, I want to dance. 

    Don’t get me started on the 1 millimeter depth of most country music, or the white noise of “Christian Rock.”

    Irregardless of our feelings about the [admittedly created by artist] persona that is “GaGa,” the message is clear; when a song about being Gay and that’s okay is the top seller in 25 of 26 countries that allow the downloading of western music. As a single.

    It’s not all the “best music in the world,” certainly it’s a generational thing but I’d go with your Dionysus any day over the obvious “join the hate” movement against someone who is actually using her hip-thrust to galvanize acceptance. 

  • Wes Isley

    I could rave about Gaga all day long, but I’ll try and restrain myself (or would that be counter to Gaga’s Dionysian influence?). I think you’ve hit on part of why she is so popular. She does tap into that need to let go, to reach another “altered state,” if you will.

    When I first heard Gaga, I detected something special that came through in her music. I can’t really identify what that is, but I think it’s more of an emotional quality, even an authenticity that’s missing from some other artists. Regardless of whether anyone thinks she’s talented (seriously? she can actually sing, write songs, dance, play the piano and she isn’t afraid to look the fool) or a rip-off, Gaga understands something we often ignore in this culture, that we all have the capacity to create, that we all have different expressions of beauty and intelligence and talent, and that there are many different ways to live a fulfilling life. I do think this parallels what many in the pagan spiritual community already know. We’ve already had to re-examine our lives through this lens and decide that, yes, we want to express our spirituality in a different way. So for many people, Gaga is doing the same thing.

    I think Gaga is showing how to embrace all your quirks and gifts in order to live a great life. Sure, others will disagree but, in the end, whose life is it?

  • Wes Isley

    I could rave about Gaga all day long, but I’ll try and restrain myself (or would that be counter to Gaga’s Dionysian influence?). I think you’ve hit on part of why she is so popular. She does tap into that need to let go, to reach another “altered state,” if you will.

    When I first heard Gaga, I detected something special that came through in her music. I can’t really identify what that is, but I think it’s more of an emotional quality, even an authenticity that’s missing from some other artists. Regardless of whether anyone thinks she’s talented (seriously? she can actually sing, write songs, dance, play the piano and she isn’t afraid to look the fool) or a rip-off, Gaga understands something we often ignore in this culture, that we all have the capacity to create, that we all have different expressions of beauty and intelligence and talent, and that there are many different ways to live a fulfilling life. I do think this parallels what many in the pagan spiritual community already know. We’ve already had to re-examine our lives through this lens and decide that, yes, we want to express our spirituality in a different way. So for many people, Gaga is doing the same thing.

    I think Gaga is showing how to embrace all your quirks and gifts in order to live a great life. Sure, others will disagree but, in the end, whose life is it?

  • http://lifencompass.com Scott K Smith

    The truth of anything is ever more than one sided. 


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