Much Ado About Gaga

Much Ado About Gaga June 8, 2011

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.

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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