“Born” yesterday

So the backlash has begun: Gaga’s “Born This Way” has been met with a disappointed chorus of “Heavens to murgatroid” from her own fanbase.

The most brazen swipe? It’s too gay – or, to be more precise, too condescending in its attempt at To Kill a Mockingbird-style outsider ingratiation. (This despite Gaga’s claim that she’s attracted to both men and women – which is just a longwinded way of saying, “I am an NYU graduate.”)

The more politic complaint is that the track is too overt a lift from Madge’s “Express Yourself” – a charge that dovetails nicely with Qualm No. One, since the ability to Name That Madonna Tune in less than four notes is as sure a sign of homo-hood  as being seen hanging around CPAC past 10 p.m.

Brian Moylan over at Gawker has an interesting theory that Gaga erred by appropriating the rhythms and chord patterns of a relatively recent moment in pop history, when reaching back a few decades farther would have helped her couch “theft” as “influence.” But I think he’s overestimating the extent of the general public’s (as opposed to Stefon’s) cultural memory. I’d love to live in a world in which the average teenager had even a passing knowledge of what the pop landscape looked like 10 or more years before she was born. But I know that I don’t.

I find it personally ironic that Moylan ends his piece by namechecking Warhol. Sometime in the early ’00s, I decided to dress as good old Andy for a Halloween party, and I made the mistake of asking the young salesperson at a Spirit store where I could find an “Andy Warhol wig.” Whereupon her face went as white as the headpiece I was seeking.

“Is that something from before my time?” she queried, tremulously.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I answered.

“Whew!” she exhaled, and quickly vamoosed. She was so disinterested in learning about anything that even slightly predated her own lifetime that she actively avoided said edification -- even though her job, at that moment, sorta depended upon it.

Now imagine that kid’s younger sister, and ask yourself if the latter is likely able to recall the melody of a No. Two hit from 1989. Me, I think not – and the ultimate marketplace performance of “Born This Way” will tell if I’m right. Because after the aging dance-floor experts have had their say, it’s the purchasing power of the Littlest Monsters that matters.

Memory is just a funny and fragile thing, and none of us is exempt. For example, I was stunned when the trailers and TV spots for the upcoming Take Me Home Tonight prominently featured N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton.” What was an unabashed “’80s movie” doing exhuming quintessentially ’90s gangsta rap?

Good thing I did some quick fact-checking before going public with my mystification. What I found: “Straight Outta Compton,” released Aug. 8. 1988.

I should have remembered that. Not only did I dig that record a lot when it was released, but I can vividly recall discussing it with the members of 24-7 Spyz when I interviewed them upstairs at the old Beacham Theater during my first stint at an Orlando resident (mid-’89 to early ’90.) Yet in the interim, my brain had, logically enough, associated the entirety of N.W.A.’s oeuvre with the ’90s, a decade whose stylistic achievements they pioneered on a number of levels.

Eras are just not constrained by calendar dates, a truth that sometimes attains bizarre proportions. When I attended the aforementioned NYU a few years back, I was stunned to hear a professor (and not an especially young one) wonder out loud if the first James Bond movie had been released in the early ’60s or late in the decade. She just couldn’t recall – which struck me as ludicrous, given those movies’ almost unparalleled status as Cold War artifacts.

But when I shared my incredulity with my classmates – most of whom were in their mid-‘20s – they couldn’t see what the big deal was. To them, “the ‘60s” were just another 10 years that hadn’t happened under their watch. It was useless trying to impress upon them that, from a sociocultural standpoint, the difference between 1961 and 1969 is as vast as that between the Dark Ages and the Roaring Twenties. (Or, as Steve Martin used to say, the ‘60s began in 1962, when The Soupy Sales Show was canceled.)


I was talking about Lady Gaga, wasn’t I? It’s hard to focus when you get to be this age. I guess the overall point I’m trying to make is that all remembrance is subjective. Which, when you really think about it, is going to exert a curious counterpressure on the nostalgic impulse that drives much of the entertainment industry. Can “Born This Way” truly be considered retro if a huge chunk of its target audience doesn’t know what it’s aping? Is homage possible when its object has vanished into the mists of the week before last?

The old adage, it seems, holds true. Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to


Crap. Can I phone a friend?

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