This is not an insult. Stefani Germanotta is a person. But Lady Gaga is obviously a sort of persona of Stefani’s; an act she puts on; a kind of character she plays. If there was no other evidence, there would still be thesimple fact that what she does is literally staged. Doing things on stage for an audience is inherently artificial; inherently planned. So, even if Stefani would dress and act like that in private, doing it in public, for the public, makes it an “act”.
But, what is the act? The characters that musical performers invent and play are just as much artifacts as their lyrics and melodies, and just as subject to consideration. Like Bruce Wayne, Stefani Germanotta, Jeffrey Hyman, and the rest have become ideas.
Very much like Bruce Wayne too, because the ideas they’ve become are rather vague and emotive. Batman did not become the design for a new air-conditioner or a convincing argument for practicing virtue. He became a scary, dangerous, man-shaped bat that hurts criminals. When Batman strikes people, the idea he represents doesn’t do so with any clarity. But it is definitely an idea, rather than a man. And whatever idea Lady Gaga is produces visions of nightmarish horrors and bondage, and leaves behind catchy dance beats.
Jeffrey Hyman’s idea is a bit easier to discern, but it is still seductive and vague like a dream or a feeling.
In case you are not a fan of punk-rock (or haven’t googled him yet) Jeffrey Hyman is Joey Ramone. Before researching this article, I didn’t realize how well the Ramones supported my point: none of their surnames was Ramone. They didn’t even use their first names in the band. They cultivated not only individual personas, but a group persona (as many bands do) with a strange sort of familial connotation.
I’m not sure what all having the same, fake, last name is about, but what The Ramones and punk-rock are about seems about as clear as such things get, and it has my sympathy.
The Ramones are angry. But the anger is a pervasive, slow burning anger. They aren’t angry the way a death-metal band is. They are angry the way the people of an occupied nation might be. They are hemmed in, oppressed, and focused on the unbearable nature of the current situation even if they aren’t clear exactly what’s wrong, or have a clear alternative in mind. The Ramones’ technique, in the face of this, is not to give a damn about anything.
Sunglasses (drawing the shades on the windows to the soul), ripped jeans (the clothes could fall off their backs for all they care), unkempt hair, blank expressions, and the distinctively careless quality of their music all convey this. They exude nonchalant, lazy destructiveness.
This is an attitude adopted by many a young person. Some people might try to blame the Ramones’ for putting the idea in kids’ heads, and while I’m sure they did propose it to kids who hadn’t heard it before, that reaction to perceived (and actual) oppression is an obvious one. Jeff and his gang just staged it and became its icon.
The thing about the ideas these bands represent is that they aren’t necessarily good ones (even if they are natural), and the fuel that keeps them going is emotive without needing to be rational. Both a serious militant anarchist and his opposite would disapprove of wallowing in frustration because you feel oppressed.
© 2013 John Hiner III