Dear Lady Gaga,
I get it.
Finally, I get it.
And I don’t mean like all those other times when I “got” it intellectually, or emotionally, or intuitively. Boil those adverbs down and they’re just fragments of true comprehension – kinda the same as my “understanding” of quantum physics. Which is to say, I grasp the concept, but not the underlying math that makes it possible.
But this time?
No, this time I really get it. Math-wise. Down in my brain and marrow and what passes for my shriveled heart and soul. Sure, it took 38 years and more angst than I’d like to cop to in order to get here, but at long last it’s truly sunk in and…
…I finally fucking get it.
I know you’d be proud.
* * *
Thing is, I have a penchant for female singers whose art mostly revolves around Officially Not Giving A Fuck.
Vis-à-vis rock’n’role models, my life can be timelined thus: Madonna → Tori Amos → Ani DiFranco → Nina Simone → Lady Gaga → Amanda Palmer.
So this Christmas, when The Finance gave me Lady Gaga concert tickets, I was ecstatic.
And at the same time, terrified.
I won’t go into minute detail about my preferred hermiticism, raging agoraphobia, or how the idea of standing in an arena surrounded by 20,000 people makes me want to shred my own face off with a cheese grater – but suffice it to say, I had some “issues” to deal with just to make it to the Staples Center in the first place.
Yet when I saw those tickets – not just e-tickets, abstract tickets – but real, physical tickets I could hold in my hands, I vowed I’d be goddamned before missing my chance to see a woman whose main claim to fame – besides great pop/dance music – involves telling bigots and misogynists and homophobes and bullies to fuck the fuck off. And actually using those expletives to do it.
In other words, a woman after my own heart.
But here’s the main difference between me and Gaga:
Yeah, that outfit? I’da tried that on when I was 16. Maybe. In a dressing room. By myself.
I would’ve shimmied into that bodysuit, squeezed my feet into those 8” heel-less boots, and – if you wanna know the horrific truth – probably executed a couple of vaguely titillating Vogue-like dance moves in the mirror before crashing into a wall, no matter how much circulation my toes weren’t getting, or how deep those Swarovski crystals were slicing into my nips.
But as mentioned, all of that would’ve taken place in a dressing room. By myself.
I never had the – what I imagined at the time was “courage,” though now I think of it a tad differently – let’s say, “wherewithal,” to sport maxi-strange-lithe-and-sexy ensembles out in public.
Don’t get me wrong: sartorially speaking, I could do strange. Even back in high school, “strange” was my forte. Using eyeliner every day to draw Egyptian ankhs by my eyes helped. (Fucking little emo thieves – I started that shit, and in rural Florida, no less! Where you could be bodydumped in the Everglades! Urban copycat pussies.)
In my early 20’s, I could even do the lithe-and-sexy thing (it helps when you work out two hours a day, six days a week, and your boobs only point forward). But never – never – could I quite get the nerve to pull off Gaga-levels of sexyweird fashion. Frankly, I don’t think anyone can come close – or ever has, unless you count Grace Jones in her heyday, or Madonna and Gaultier’s brief fling with the cone-bra in the 90’s.
But that’s why it works for Gaga. It’s just who she is. She’s into haute couture, artpop (not the other way ‘round, oldsters), multiple personae. And because she’s being true to herself, all that sexyweird works. Even this, while not high on the fuck-me scale (unless you’re a furry) –
– is just as authentically Gaga as this:
See, when I was younger, the problem with me (as I perceived it), was that I was NONE of these desirable things: sexy, brave, willing to suffer the slings and arrows – and blisters and bruises – for style. I could fake it for a while, but it was my fault my ovaries weren’t brass enough to carry me through the day in outrageously odd-yet-smokin’ outfits without eventually crumbling under the stares and catty comments and lewd come-ons and thence crawling back into my overlarge hoodies and socks with cartoon owls on them.
In other words, I was giving way too many fucks. Okay, so maybe less fucks than the average bear, but all the same, more fucks than I wanted to be dishing out.
Which is probably why I’ve always been attracted to female performers who possess ZERO SPARE FUCKS.
And two hours before the Lady Gaga concert, at 38 years old, much to my chagrin and embarrassment, I still had a few fucks to give.
* * *
I wish I could’ve taken a picture of my costume for you.
A long black cocktail dress, combat boots, my studded leather motorcycle jacket, and some extremist Goth make-up that put my high-school ankhs to shame.
No kidding, I’d just spent an hour in the bathroom mirror applying foundation, powder, incredibly detailed and dramatic eyeshadow – and then taking my liquid black eyeliner and drawing flowing lines and curlicues and stars around my eyes until I looked less like an artist who’d created something beautiful, and more like a four year-old who’d gotten into Mommy’s lipstick without knowing it’s called lipstick for a reason.
And as I stared at that girl in the mirror, that four year-old trying so hard to be a grown-up, trying so hard to imitate her idol, trying so desperately to be anything other than what she really was, I had (you guessed it) an epiphany.
Seriously. Right there in the bathroom. Naked, barefoot, eyeliner in one hand, vague sense of “What the fuck?” in the other. I blinked rapidly, scanning my face, trying to figure out what felt wrong. I was going to a Lady Gaga concert, for Christ’s sake – it’s not like there was a “right” way to look. Gaga’s run through every physical manifestation on the planet (as well as a few off-world) so it’s not like I would’ve – or could’ve – stuck out in a crowd of Little Monsters.
Then what was it? Why was I feeling so off?
Was it because, since I can barely play Hangman, my hand just isn’t steady or trained enough to create designs as magnificent as I envisioned them? Was it because I’m not used to wearing make-up at all anymore, and I was only feeling baseline uncomfortable? Was it because the look was So Weird – and not just So Weird – but SO BALLS-OUT WEIRD – I was just having trouble adjusting to it?
And that’s when the epiphany punched me right in the mouth:
This is not who I am.
* * *
I hadn’t conjured those words on my own.
That’s the creepy part about epiphanies: they seem to appear out of nowhere, fully formed, at the forefront of your consciousness. Actually, that’s how you can tell if something’s truly an epiphany: it lands on you without warning, almost like some unknown Whatever is whispering in your ear, and you get the feeling like, Hey, you know what? It’d be really, really good if I listened to this.
I stood there for a second, still looking in the mirror, and let the words hit me again:
This is not who I am.
And as usual, that unknown Whatever was right.
* * *
As I ran the hot water in the sink, I yelled out to the living room, “Honey, how much time do we have before we leave?”
“Perfect?” his voice rose. I heard the couch cushions shift. “Why perfect?”
“Because I’m taking this stupid shit off and not trying so hard and I’m just gonna be me because that’s what Gaga’s really talking about, see? She doesn’t want us to be these little Gaga clones, she just wants us to be us – whoever we really are and that’s what I want now, too! I mean, Jesus, look at me: I’m nearly 40, I have a fucking pooch belly! I’m not this chick – I wasn’t this chick when I was 20! I’ve never been this chick, with the boots and the dress and the fucking stupid eyeliner! Even when I was pretending to be that chick, it’s not who I was! I just had an epiphany!”
“You…” A slight pause. “Are we going to be late?”
The Finance had seen the Goth face-painting (and said nothing, the doll). He’d genuinely liked the cocktail dress, wanted to make sure the boots were comfortable – wise veteran of Shondaland – and said something nice about the jacket. Showcasing one of the many reasons I love him, he said he didn’t care what I wore, so long as I liked what I wore. (Which is probably why he got me the cartoon owl socks, too.)
As I lathered up my hard-earned Day Of The Dead face, he appeared in the doorway and tried to hide his surprise.
“Wow, so… you’re taking that… and what’s happening again?”
“I had an epiphany.”
“This is not who I am.”
“That clrbblbil dress and jackblrtbbrl and fucking makeublrrblp—”
“You wanna wait ‘til you finish?”
“Yeh, gimme a crbbll sec—”
Of course it took more than a couple seconds to scrape off the mortar and paste I’d just spent a careful hour layering on, but when I finally looked up, cheeks and eyelids scrubbed raw, the Finance was still leaning against the doorway, waiting patiently to hear what his psycho Financée was doing completely reversing fashion course a mere half-hour before we were due to leave.
“You all right?” he asked.
“I’m awesome,” I grinned cheerfully, drying my face with a towel. “This thing with the outfit and boots—”
“Which are comfortable, right? ‘Cause we’re gonna be standing—”
“Fuck the boots, I’m not wearing the boots. I’m wearing my Nikes.”
“With the dress?” He looked confused.
“Fuck the dress, fuck all of it. I’m wearing my baggy pants. Because those? Those are me.”
“Yes…” he trailed off, his voice going, If there’s a right answer here, I am totally missing it.
“I’m telling you, I just had an epiphany.”
“I got that part.”
“And all the clothes, and weird make-up? I mean, I haven’t worn those combat boots since—” I slathered on some moisturizer. “When’s the last time I was in fucking combat? I wear Nikes. Every day. Those are me. Baggy pants are me. And I’m going to wear one of my Sherlock t-shirts because I’m a fucking nerd and that’s who I am and I’m finally, finally fine with it!”
I may’ve grown a little overly emphatic at that point, as he lifted his hands and said, “Whoa, not fighting you!”
“That’s the thing, though! The thing I just realized!”
“That you’re a nerd?”
“Yes! No! Sort of, but yes! I mean, Gaga’s always saying be proud of who you are – and with the cocktail dress and fuck-all, who is that? None of that is me! I looked like a fucking corpse – a poorly painted corpse – and none of it is really who I am. I mean really, really who I am!”
“And this is the epiphany.”
“Don’t you get it? I was trying to dress up like Lady Gaga – but I’m not Lady Gaga!”
The Finance kept staring at me, like, I sure as shit hope she didn’t think she was Lady Gaga, ‘cause then we’d be in a whole new world of crazy.
“And yet here I am trying to look like her, trying to look like some girl that coulda been my daughter if I’d been knocked up in junior high. Fuck that! I’m me, and I like this me, and I’m not gonna be afraid to be me, nerdy and all.”
“So no dress.”
“Nikes are comfortable.”
“GOD, YES. And my socks that say, ‘Admit it, psycho is hot.’”
“And a Sherlock shirt.”
“That is my single Gaga concession,” I admitted. “I’m wearing the one that says, ‘Ordinary people are adorable.’”
As I reached for the powder to tone down the shine on my nose (something that really is me; me and my fucking oily skin), the Finance came in and kissed me on the top of the head. I’m pretty sure he was just thrilled at the prospect of not having to walk around with a poochy Morticia Addams, but what he said was, “I like you nerdy and all, too.”
* * *
So I get it, Gaga.
I finally get it.
I love the way you look. I love that you’re a motherfucking rock star who dresses like a motherfucking rock star. I love your music, and your message, and I love them even more now that I’m starting to love who I am, and have stopped feeling inadequate, like I’ll never be as cool as you.
Because I’m not a motherfucking rock star.
I’m a motherfucking writer.
I’m a motherfucking writer who wears baggy pants because they’re more comfortable for marathon sessions behind my computer. Who wears nerdy TV show shirts because I’m a giant TV nerd. Who wears Nikes because high heels cause me such pain they make me Hulk-out angry.
A motherfucking writer who wears cartoon socks because I think they’re hilarious.
And while I love you, I honestly don’t give a shit if you, or anyone else, thinks my socks are funny. Because after spending my entire life listening to you and other strong women tell me to be myself – and to be happy being myself – I can definitively tell you:
Me and my pooch have ZERO SPARE FUCKS to give.
Tales from the Actual Concert
With Cool Photos Like This: