Monday, June 08, 2015

The Ladies Gaga

I've been planning a major piece about the New York Times, but it will take a while to research and write, and my head just isn't in the game at the moment. So let's look at something light-hearted this Monday afternoon.

As many of you know, I'm a classical music enthusiast. No pop for me, thanks. So I really have little idea as to what to make of author Simon Trinculo's allegation about Lady Gaga, contained in a 2012 volume titled The New Conspiracy Handbook.

(Yes, even I have heard of Lady Gaga. I caught a few minutes of her on daytime teevee, singing old-school jazz. Quite good!)

The Trinculo book devotes a brief chapter to the argument that Gaga's live shows feature a multiplicity of Gagas. He describes what he saw during a 2010 show called "The Monster's Ball." 
But the most amazing thing about the show was the constant non-stop intensity of the dance routines and the numerous quick costume changes. Gaga would perform a number wearing one of her trademark outlandish costumes and then duck backstage only to reappear again just minutes later in a completely different outfit. And these were not simple costume changes; anybody familiar with Lady Gaga knows that a huge part of her act involves elaborate and over-the-top costumes designed to keep the audience enraptured. But I was witnessing with my own eyes Lady Gaga finishing a song on stage, ducking behind the curtain and within a scant few minutes reappearing in a totally different outfit. Most of the costumes were complex and it was hard to believe that she was able to change into them so quickly, especially between high-energy dance numbers that would leave even the most physically fit people exhausted.

From the audience, it was difficult to discern if Gaga was singing all the songs live, although on several occasions during the show she insisted that she was and that no pre-recorded vocal tracks were in use. Some of the tunes, especially slower numbers that didn’t feature a lot of choreography, were clearly being sung live by Gaga. On other songs, it was not so clear as the vocals sounded a little too perfect considering the vigorous dancing that Gaga was engaged in while supposedly singing. The crowd, nearly 20,000 strong, didn’t seem to mind either way, standing and cheering the entire two hour show.
Savages. In the civilized world, the audience keeps quiet until a few seconds after the performance is complete.

My questions are simple: Is there anything to this? Have Trinculo's concerns been echoed by other writers? And is it true that there was one show in which a stunt was done by an obviously male Gaga?

Whenever I catch glimpses of elaborate pop acts on television, I always presume that the singing is pre-recorded. It simply is not possible for a performer to sing and dance optimally -- especially if the performer is a smoker, as is often the case.

I can't be the only person to so conclude. Does the audience even care about such things these days? If you are paying for a live show, don't you want it to be truly live?

Unreal. Some time ago, I read an outlandish-but-fascinating book by Dave McGowan, titled Weird Scenes Inside The Canyon: Laurel Canyon, Covert Ops & The Dark Heart Of The Hippie Dream. Even though his conclusions are bizarre and lacking in credibility (even by my generous standards), I still recommend his work, if only because it contains so much entertaining local lore. Besides, McGowan writes about ten times better than does your average paranoia-pusher.

McGowan repeatedly states that many famous L.A.-based groups of the 1960s and '70s featured musicians who simply had no clue as to how to play their instruments. Real musicians, uncredited, would do the actual playing on the albums. As McGowen wryly notes, the ten best drummers of the 1960s turned out to be the same guy.

Now, I happen to know that there is much truth in McGowan's charge. I used to know someone who made a decent living teaching well-recompensed no-talents how to play just well enough to fake their way through live shows. I could never understand why so much money was going to ninnies who didn't even know the right way to hold their instruments.

Why were those drugged-up, inarticulate, lazy no-talents routinely given big, fat contracts -- the kind of deals that thousands of actual players would have died for? What was the deciding factor? The gods would point to one obscure face in a very large crowd, and they would say: "Him. He shall be famous. He shall be rich. Skill does not matter. We have chosen whom we have chosen, for reasons of our own."

Years later, I was surprised by the Milli Vanilli "scandal" of the 1980s. Why them? I mean, wouldn't it have been easier to find a couple of guys who could actually sing?

At any rate, there may well have been more than one Lady Gaga doing those concerts, the way Criss Angel used his brother to help out with some tricks. Guess it doesn't matter. In the end, she really can sing.

One last point: Let me get something off my chest. When people learn that someone is a classical music enthusiast, they often presume that only an individual from an upper-class background would develop such a bizarre preference.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I've been poor most of my life. As a youth, I encountered the great composers by way of Fantasia and the films of Stanley Kubrick. You know what I discovered? Listening to classical FM stations was just as cost-free as listening to the pop stations. The library circulated classical records for free. Back in the 1970s, each classical label had a budget line which allowed one to build a library of terrific performances for $1.98 a disc. The cheapest seats at the Hollywood Bowl went for a buck. I soon learned how and when to sneak into the perpetually unused box seats near the front, which is how I got to hear an amazing performance of the Mahler 8th on my 18th birthday.

Meanwhile, my acquaintances of the rock persuasion would brag about spending upwards of a hundred bucks for scalped tickets to see whatever was the big draw back then.

Today, whenever people learn that I prefer Anton Bruckner to Katy Perry (or whomever), they think that I must come from a swankpot background. Why? Why do people jump to that conclusion?
As the child of two musicologists, I have but one question:

Who is this "Katy Perry" of whom you speak?
"The 10 best drummers of the 1960s" was surely a guy named Hal Blaine. He was part of the Wrecking Crew, the group of session pros who played behind Sinatra, Elvis and Simon & Garfunkel. They are portrayed in a recent doc called "The Wrecking Crew" and in the fine new biopic about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, called "Love & Mercy."

As for the fake Lady Gagas, I vote yes. Until a couple years ago, you never even saw a photo of Lady Gaga in civilian garb, so onstage she could have been anybody.
“One last point: Let me get something off my chest. When people learn that someone is a classical music enthusiast, they often presume that only an individual from an upper-class background would develop such a bizarre preference.

Nothing could be further from the truth.”

My father was self-educated. He was a carpenter with six kids. It was an honor, a treat, to have him come home early at 10 PM after starting work the same day at 8 AM. Six days a week - and sometimes Xmas day off early at 6 PM. Blueprints for construction were memorized. Answers to mathematical questions came as soon as a person dropped their last syllable. He loved classical music – and so do I.

Although I enjoy all types of music to suit my then-current mood, I have to say that for me, classical music is like mathematical musical-notes being played by maestro-magicians. Imagine Einstein writing out his theory of relativity in musical form – a symphony of perfect balance and cadence. An orchestra then plays out the symphony – and then the listener who is familiar with the piece, smiles as a slight pause occurs near the end as the harmonious equations are played in musical form – and then the whole orchestra in perfect unison strikes the very last notes: E=MC2 !!!!!

And that, Mr. C., is how I view classical music! ;) j

Glad to see you cite Dave McGowan. He is very ill right now, cancer with a bad outlook. As a baby-boomer with insight into both the gatekeepers ( my father was a major medical researcher with early ins on the computer world,etc ) and as a working musician ( 40 years and going ), I find many of Mr. McGowan's conclusions to be right on, if bizarre to outsiders. In fact, I believe if my generation ( I'm 57 ) understood half of what he's saying, there would be quite the outrage at that a-ha moment. As for Gaga, arena rock is such a spectacle that it could be anybody down there gesticulating. Perhaps there is no one Gaga at all. And how do you make out a check to " Lady Gaga " anyhow ? And how do you get everybody to just go along with calling you such a bogus name ?
I didn't know McGowan was ill. Very sorry to hear that -- and had I known, I would have chosen a kinder way to say what I said. I liked his work because he forced me to look at things a new way -- even if I could not ultimate agree.
The best drummer of the 60s was Ringo Starr.

Pity about MacGowan. Does good work.

Lady Gaga has a real name, I think Stephanie, and a background as a classical pianist.
I also feel terrible about Dave's illness. I reviewed his "Weird Scenes" book and exchanged friendly e-mails with Dave.

Dave's account of Laural Canyon in the 60's does draw some edgy conclusions, but he sure has a few things right. The fact that Jim Morrison's Dad was in charge of the Navy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin incedent, Frank Zappas folks worked for the army designing poisen gas, David Crosby and Bruce Dern are related to U.S. Presidents - hell, Dennis Hoppers dad worked for the CIA. I mean it goes on and on.

He also draws on the serial killer scene in California, the Laural Canyon Nazi compound and the government's secret movie propaganda studio in the hills. Great stuff from a nice guy that we may lose soon.

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Okay, Dojo: So much for the spirit of Nil Nisi Bonum. I now have to argue the other side.

The problem with guys like McGowan is that they draw massive conclusions based on insufficient evidence. The basic premise of his Laurel Canyon book is that the whole bohemian enclave in that canyon was a CIA experiment. Ridiculous. Bohemia establishes itself geographically for all sorts of reasons. I'm sure that if I spent half an hour looking into it, I could find out why a bohemian enclave sprang up on the Parisian left bank -- and I wouldn't have to concoct some insane theory involving the Deuxième Bureau.

While reading McGowan's book, I kept thinking: "What kind of gonzo conclusion would this guy reach about ME?" My father was an engineer who had worked for a NASA contractor (and who died at a very young age), as a kid I used to hike above Chatsworth Park (and encountered some possible Mansonites), my unbeloved stepfather was one of Jay Sebring's "clients," and he knew all sorts of musicians of that period. Later in life, I dated a woman who lived on Laurel Canyon blvd...

You know damned well what kind of paranoid crap McGowan would say about me, based just on the above.

In the 1990s, I met a lot of guys like McGowan -- guys who see conspiracies everywhere. At first, I thought those people would be fun and eccentric and interesting, but I eventually learned that they are IMPOSSIBLE to deal with. I came to detest their company.

A lot of 'em have a history of substance abuse. That's the big secret of their little community. I've never done drugs, and -- far too late in life -- I finally learned to avoid people who have that kind of history, even if they have been clean for a while.

Also, they are arrogant. It's an arrogance born of insecurity, because they can't prove their more outrageous views. They cannot concede, even for a second, the theoretical possibility that they might be wrong about anything. That's why they become extremely belligerent with any heretic who asks for better evidence. Basically, we're talking about a community of hyper-macho assholes.

Back in the 1990s, these conspira-clowns would call me up day and night to voice their inane suspicions: " went to UCLA for a while? Isn't that where WESLEY LIEBLER taught? Just what were you and your pal Wesley getting up to, hmm? Oh, you say you never met the guy? Riiiiiiight...."

Finally, I asked myelf: "Who ARE these creeps? Why should I have to justify myself to them?" They sure as hell weren't fun anymore. They weren't teaching me anything. They just made my fucking skin crawl.

So I said a very harsh adios to all of 'em. I got a girl and a dog and tried to live a quasi-normal life.

Now, whenever I read something that reminds me of the time I wasted dealing with those idiots, I STILL get angry. It's like having PTSD. No: It IS PTSD.

For the past fifteen years, I have lived a very sedate life. Everyone knows me as that quiet, portly, greybearded fellow who keeps to himself and never raises his voice. That's the way I like things now. No more adventures.

But whenever I read material like McGowan's, or listen to a podcast in which such a person is interviewed, the memories come flooding back. I recall how ANGRY I was, every single day. My face gets red and my teeth clench and my fingers slowly curl into fists...

You know what? Fuck McGowan. That asshole thinks we never went to the moon, and he thinks that Damien Echols really IS a devil worshiper. Yeesh! I'm sorry I mentioned him on my blog.
Well, some of what you say about McGowan is obviously true. Some of it I think you are basing on past bad experiences, not on the man himself. Now, I don't know him personally, but I've been reading his stuff longer than I've been reading your stuff. I find you more credible, and more open to conflicting evidence (you admit if you were wrong or on the wrong track). Something I haven't yet seen McGowan do. However, he also has a low opinion of many conspiracy fanatics like you describe and seems to at least try to not be totally obstinate in his conclusions. Here's the thing.....I read Weird Scenes, and I don't really think he actually presented any conclusions. He implies a lot of things, but he doesn't really tell you what he thinks is the reason for those things. Maybe I need to re-read it, but I that was my general thinking reading the book.....that he doesn't really come right out and say what he thinks the deal was. Anyway, I respect your position on him regardless, and won't try to convince you of anything regarding him (because I'm not convinced I have any reason to defend him anyway......just presenting my perspective).
Well, Gus, you're probably right. I overstated things. Chalk it up to bad memories.
I don't think MacGowan would find your background at all suspicious in itself. He generally provides that information in Strange Tale as background to the odd happenings in the life of an odd person, like Jim Morrison, or as an aside about a minor personage in the story where the point is not "This person having these connections is suspicious", but rather "yet another one of these people having these connections is suspicious.

I'm paranoid of your background, but I'm a paranoid man. I used to read a column by someone calling himself Nessie, his main point was always that you shouldn't read his column, but think and research for yourself. Because he might be one of THEM.

McGowan doesn't really give conclusions, but you can still tell easily enough what he's getting at. He's not Alex Jones, shouting his conclusions as loud as he can, McGowan just presents his evidence and the selection of the evidence leaves no doubt as to the point being made, at least among those of us in the know. He seems a thoroughly nice chap. If he's a lunatic, he's very much the acceptable face of lunacy. The Noam Chomsky of lunacy.

Still, if you've read his previous book, Programmed to Kill, his position is quite clear, although he doesn't say it in so many words. The main part of the book is similar to Strange Tales, lots of insinuations about connections to child abuse, the Phoenix Programme, scientology, Vacaville, cults and so on, but with serial killers rather than pop stars. Two worlds linked, of course, by George Hill Hodel, procurer and drug supplier to the stars and acquitted of pimping out his daughter, who he impregnated and a man also suspected by his song, LAPD homicide detective Steve Hodel, of being not just one serial killer but several, the Lipstick Killer in Chicago, the Black Dahlia Avenger, the Manilla-based Jigsaw Killer, the Zodiac... The first bit of the book, though, is a competent defence of the SRA phenomenon: McMartin, Dutroux, Franklin, Craig Spence, the Presidio and Michael Aquino. The latter part of the book is a history of similar phenomena: Gilles du Retz, the Marquis de Sade.

The main reference to all this in Strange Tales is the story of Phil Ochs. He's positing induced dissociation as a form of mind control, citing Estabrooks (or was it Bryan?). People are given alter-egos to make them effective spies. His embrace of the history of the phenomenon implies he accepts the whole generational-cult, trauma-based mind control stuff.
A lot of this is crap, and I know the territory far better than you may know, Stephen. I learned a long time ago not to associate with the creeps who become obsessed with that kind of material. They never do any good and often do harm. (See my recent comments about "Guccifer."

But I do like your line about the "Noam Chomsky of lunacy."

I got sick of dealing with "paranoid men" (such as yourself) because I got sick of dealing with their shit -- their incessant phone calls, the bizarre conclusions they would leap to because they didn't like the way I crossed my legs or combed my hair, their domineering ways (as in: "You shouldn't write about THAT. I want you to write about THIS.") Christ, why should any human being put up with that bullshit? If I wanted to be forced to justify every fucking molecule of my life on a 24/7 basis, I would have stayed with my ex.

The hell of it was, back then I was the most open guy in a subculture filled with secret squirrels. Everyone had my phone number and address. I let pretty much anyone go through my files and "borrow" my books. I had no secrets. The more open I was, the more paranoid horseshit those fuckers would spew about me. There was just no pleasing those nutcases.

McGowan icks me out because he reminds me of a part of my life that is OVER. And anyone else who reminds me too heavily of those bad old days should probably comment on some other blog.
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