Born This Way: Doin’ Lady Gaga in Montreal

So. Lady Gaga touched down in Montreal last night.

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I like her music. I like that she seems genuinely bizarre and finds beauty in the grotesque. I don’t dig some of her outfits, but I’d rather she wore a meat dress than just showed off her T&A 24/7 like every other female pop star. I also figured that the fans would be my tribe: people who are bored by Barbies, basically.

When I heard she was coming for her Born That Way Ball 2013, I posted on Facebook, Who’s in? and my friend Dorin waved his virtual hand. I haven’t seen him since high school, and he was willing to drive from Ottawa through what turned out to be freezing rain.

Once we met up, Dorin was brilliant at cutting through the crowd, and I just followed in his taller, broad-shouldered wake. Of course, I couldn’t see anything, even though luckily, a lot of Gaga fans seem to be short. At one point, Dorin hunched down to see what I could see. Here’s a pic:

 

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He was the one who pointed out the girl who’d rolled her hair around beer cans (nice. Like rollers, only previously alcoholic).

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Dorin took this pic–see the improved perspective?

I admired the guys in sequins and skirts and the female Gaga lookalikes. The real Gaga was over an hour late opening the show, but it gave us a chance to catch up.

I hadn’t realized how hot I’d be on the floor. First I shed my down parka, then my gold acetate jacket. Good-bye, funkiness. Preventing heat exhaustion is more important.

When the curtains finally opened, I was astonished by an enormous castle that filled the stage. A door opened, and dancers stepped out. We weren’t next to the main stage, but we were maybe 12 feet away from a ring that cut through the floor section, so when the dancers pranced close to us, I was astonished to see one of them leading a black horse. The bass was throbbing through my chest, so I was a bit concerned about the horse’s reaction to all the screaming and music and mayhem, but I know horses have been through war, so a two-minute circuit walk at a Lady Gaga concert is probably easier than being steered through slashing swords. [Through Google, I now see that this seems to be a mechanical horse. Ohhhhh. But you never know what to expect from Lady Gaga.]

I didn’t know the first few songs, but a woman behind me droned along to every word. Then Lady Gaga launched into “Bad Romance,” which made us all scream, sing, film, and make clawed fingers in the air. While she sashayed toward my corner, she tossed out “Nice tits, b–.” Of course, I was too short to see anything, but I assume that someone was moved to flash her. Later in the song, she yelled at the rest of the audience, “Stand up! I’m f—ing singing ‘Bad Romance’!” And they did.

She had a rich, gorgeous voice. Dorin said that during her last concert in Ottawa, the sound cut out for 45 minutes, so she just sang a capella and said, “So you can see I don’t f—ing lip synch.” No tech troubles like that tonight, but she dropped it down for a quick version of “Wilkommen,” “Born This Way” and “Edge of Glory,” and I was impressed.

Mostly, the feeling I got was that she wanted to give us a great show, that she wanted to connect with us, and that she hadn’t forgotten what it was like to be in the trenches.

“Five years ago, I was a waitress in New York.” That was cool. I didn’t realize how recently she’d become a superstar.

“Thank you for spending your hard-earned money.” So true. I know people who make a lot less money but give a lot more attitude, like You’re my peon instead of Thank you.

Then I was curious how she’d sprung up to stardom. “Do you remember the first time you heard this song on the radio?” she asked, during the opening of “Just Dance.” “Me too. Because it brought me to you.” So yes, I realize that was her breakout song. But she also dropped a clue later: “I’ve been wearing this leather since I was 16. I’ve been writing songs since I was 11. I was singing since I came out of my mother’s birth canal.” Lady Gaga put in her 10,000 hours of practice, and it really worked out for her. I did feel a moment of “Hey, I’ve put in my time in medicine and writing, but chances are, I’ll never be rich and famous like this,” but it passed. I don’t need to be rich and famous like that. I have enough money. I save lives. I write stories. I found true love and had fantastic kids make their way out of my birth canal (not singing, though). I’m lucky.

Back to the Gagster. She also said that she used to tell herself to keep working, to keep practicing the piano and keep writing her songs, that she would make it someday. So yep, Lady Gaga used to give herself pep talks.

I think she really cares about her fans, and that part of the reason she tours is so that we can see and listen to her with our own eyes instead of whatever the media says. At one point, she called a random audience member and invited him to share a whisky with her after the show. She said that because he answered, she donated $5000 to a local GLBT shelter, and that we could know that our money had done some good in our city. And yeah, I do feel a bit better knowing that my $150 went to something more lasting.

At the end of the show, she shook hands with fans and sang “Marry the Night.” I guess one of the girls at the front was sobbing so hard that Lady Gaga whispered, “Is she okay?” and ended up pulling her and her friends up on stage, and then they all disappeared down a trap door at the end of the show. So you know, real people got to join in the after party. Again, I respect that she’s not just into VIP’s and armadillo shoes, that she knows who’s really paying her bills.

Not that she didn’t have enough attitude, too: “How many of you have to work in the morning?…Well, so do I. I earn my bread, too. So I don’t give a f—.”

Later, she said, “Are you having fun?” Cheers. “Well, if you’re not having fun…” She bent over and pulled her bodysuit up inside what doctors call the gluteal cleft. “I don’t give a f—” I had to laugh at that.

The dancers really amped up the show. One of the women kinda bared her teeth and hissed at one point, and I thought that the edgier and weirder you are, the more Gaga will be Gaga for you. One of the black male dancers queened around (“Mm mmm!”) and Lady Gaga said, “Looks like someone was born this gay.” It belatedly occurred to me that a lot of gay dancers must pose as straight for their entire career, but again, Lady Gaga embraces them for who they are. I also appreciated that there were two black male dancers. Even in 2013, if you look, too often it seems like, “Oh, we already have a black man, so we can’t have two.” I’d like even more diversity, though.

The castle set was amazing. Not only was it built three stories tall, but the sides opened and closed to reveal inner chambers. Three guitarists posed in the windows at various times. The top floor had a black and white striped dressing room with a rotating clothes rack. Dancers cavorted. Lady G played a portable keyboard built to look like a guitar (she had two, one pink and one black with black claw-like keys).

The costumes were impressive. I’m not sure how she managed such lightning-quick changes, but I liked the range from classy vintage outfits to more alien, helmet-like outfits, and I liked the dancers’ outfits with the criss-crosses, and how they contorted around and on each other during “Bad Romance.”

The only minuses? I wasn’t crazy about the holographic head that says “Kill the Bitch.” (It seemed like the story of the show was Lady Gaga escaping from the prison/castle and the head was leading the team hunting her down.) I realize that the head allowed time for costume and set changes, but it looked bizarrely not-quite-human, and at one point, it was spouting some philosophy that probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The downtime for all the talking got a bit long, which dribbles away the energy of the show, and the wait time for her encore was interminable. “She likes to make you wait,” observed a girl next to me. “I need a shower,” said her friend, and another one said, “Come on, Gaga, I’ve got school tomorrow.” And these are her core fans, the ones who’ve paid big bucks for the floor section. Since I was overdressed, carrying my down parka, and had just finished a monstrous number of shifts and come down with the flu, I actually thought I might pass out. So I was not amused by the blackout, followed by the lights blinking in the castle for what seemed like 15 minutes before she came back.

But overall, I always go out for adventures and for stories, and I got plenty of those last night. Kudos, Gaga.

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What Lady Gaga Can Teach You About Writing

In one word:  voice.

A lot of people don’t know what voice is, just that editors are looking for it, so let me and Gaga tell you all about it.

Step one:  what kind of story do YOU want to tell?

I’m a Lady Gaga Fan because she is so darn odd.  Not just smearing herself in blood and pretending to hang herself at the VMA concert, but just basic things like dressing up like Queen Elizabeth I when meeting Queen Elizabeth II or saying, “I know.  When I go on Oprah, I want my hair to look like sea urchins while I urge people to donate money to Haiti!”

She’s just not like anyone else.

I like that.

That’s what voice is.  That unique you-ness.

I’m not saying you should try too hard, but if a certain phrase or idea catches your fancy, run with it.  Or, as Anna Quindlen put it:

“…each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had. And that is herself, her own personality, her own voice. If she is doing Faulkner imitations, she can stay home. If she is giving readers what she thinks they want instead of what she is, she should stop typing.

But if her books reflect her character, who she really is, then she is giving them a new and wonderful gift. Giving it to herself, too.

And that is true of music and art and teaching and medicine.”

Or Gaga-ing.

Voice is tricky because it’s so natural to you, you can’t see it.  Plot, character, setting are all concrete, but voice is just you stringing words together in your own unique way.  At its most basic level, you can differentiate a character who says “What’s up?” from “Good evening, gentlemen,” but it’s something that pervades your whole work:  the characters who appeal to you, the way you decide to begin, unfold, and wrap up the story.

Step 2:  Slog it out.

Okay, great.  You’re unique.  Now what?

The good news is, some editors will like it.  And some will think you should be locked up.  So you have to keep submitting until someone gets you.

Akon says, “At this point, she deserves every bit [of fame]…. “If anybody went through grassroots, it was Gaga.”

He says, “We were holding on to Just Dance for a year before it became a hit. It was a huge club record but radio would not pick it up and I couldn’t understand. I was like, ‘This is the biggest club record on the street.’ I knew we just had to keep pushing it and in the end it was the fans picking up on it that put it where it went, not the radio execs.”

Hear that?  Persistence.  And while you’re submitting, you’re writing and improving your craft, so when you really hit, you hit.

Step 3:  Even if you make it big, someone will hate you.  Get over it.

Lady Gaga haters even have a Facebook group.

I love this parody, too.

Writers get flack too.  As Geoffrey Cotterell wrote in the New York Journal,

‘In America only the successful writer is important, in France all writers are important, in England no writer is important, and in Australia you have to explain what a writer is.’

So, to sum up:   find your voice.  Use it with pride.  Shake off the haters.  Peace.