How do you solve a problem like Lady Gaga? Give her a penis, apparently.

Image via Jezebel

I’ve been thinking about Lady Gaga. (But who hasn’t?)

I first became aware of the seemingly unstoppable pop sensation when Gawker sister-site Jezebel began posting paparazzi images of her back in January. (They’ve just published the year-in-Gaga anthology of images; definitely worth a looksie.) She emerged—to me—as a mute, mysterious image; a person fixated on being fixated upon. I didn’t know who she was or what she did, just that she was obviously creating a spectacle that was enticing enough to already leave a gossip trail. And to be honest, I thought the stage name was a little heavy handed.

My first encounter with her music was actually facilitated by Carmine Covelli and Adrienne Truscott during one installment of Kenny Mellman and Neal Medlyn’s outlandish and outstanding Our Hit Parade at Joe’s Pub (the final shows of the year are tonight, and you should try to catch one). Covelli voiced a pre-recorded cover of “Poker Face” while a video of Covelli’s face was projected onto Truscott’s naked torso; her bush serving as occasional soul patch to Covelli’s grinning lower lip. The performance was fun and strangely moving; the song, as rendered by Covelli, had a plaintive, humble urgency. I didn’t know it was Lady Gaga until I heard her version on the radio while driving up 3rd Avenue in Gowanus one weekend with my boyfriend.

Now that we’ve seen Lady Gaga propel herself from fringe pop-star to outright megastar in just under a year—culminating with an interview with Barbara Walters and an introduction to the fucking Queen of England—it might be fun to ruminate some on the artist, her work, why her work works (or doesn’t), and where it comes from.

I will admit that I have resisted Lady Gaga for one reason: The appropriation of queer (specifically gay male) culture that is then recontextualized within a framework of heterosexual theater (regardless of her private sexuality or personal activism,–I know Lady Gaga is an activist for the gay agenda!–the overarching erotic narrative in her music and videos is heterosexual).

Her look draws almost exclusively from drag—whether it’s referencing the freak-drag legacy of Leigh Bowery, the fantasy glam of David Bowie, or literally donning the couture drag of Alexander  McQueen, but her cultural situation is one of either a swollen female object of male desire, or an obsessive addict to the heterosexual male’s cold shoulder. It is possible to perceive Lady Gaga as a stand-in for the homosexual male’s position within the erotics of our society, in that she both sexualizes the heterosexual male (which he is uncomfortable with) and then is abandoned by him and left to suffer the impossibility of long-term attachment (because he is in control…isn’t he?), so she plunges into the role of freak, of outcast, and theatrically manifests her condition through costume, camp, persona, and subjective exaggeration (e.g. the persona of Lady Gaga is superficial, only interested in money/sex/power, etc.). This may over simplify a lot of things, or may not apply at all. But what is true, and what bothers me, is that Lady Gaga’s drag is rewarded culturally because she is a woman. What an artist like, say, Fischerspooner (as only one example) does and has been doing with pop music and concert performance only to remain obscure (or localized, however you want to look at it), Lady Gaga has done to mass audience appeal and mass media attraction. This is by no means Lady Gaga’s fault. It’s just the way things work in a society that still gets mad when boys dress up like girls. Continue reading

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SHAMELESS HOLIDAY SELF-PROMOTION: But what’s new around here?

Mx. Justin Bond and the Pixie Harlots, photo by Michael Hart

Sorry that the C.C. vibe has atrophied in recent to a mere drizzle of self-promotion. But I HAVE to! “It’s in my nature.” So without further apology…

First: I’ve had the immense honor (and enormous pleasure) to assemble the opening musical medley for the illustrious, lustrous, and lustful Justin Bond’s “Christmas Spells” opening tomorrow (Wed, Dec 9) at Abrons Arts Center. The show runs through Satruday and features Mx. Bond and the Pixie Harlots in a transtastic rendition of Kate Bornstein’s “Dixie Belle.” Get your tix, go,  and let the pixie dust and ferocious glam cast an Xmas spell that no stupid awful ignorant relatives will be able to undo.

Last: On Thursday, Dec 10 (I know it’s overlapping, but you’ll just have to adjust your schedules, darlings), I will be participating in a short improvisatory performance during a concert at the Mannes College of Music. The recital is the culmination of a classical improvisation class taught by composer Noam Sivan. It’s free and should be lots of fun. It’s fairly unorthodox for a conservatory to push improvisation (I don’t think Mannes offered the class when I was there). So come out and support what amounts to exercising physiological freedom within one of the most physically strict traditions of artmaking.

That’s all, I think. For now, at least. One never knows…

xoxoC.C.

UPDATE

I almost forgot! There’s also a hot new exhibition of photography–“In Conversation: MTA and DNA”–by Mathew Pokiok at Dance New Amsterdam, with an opening reception Thursday evening at 7pm (OMG, triple overlap!!!). The exhibition is of photographs from Mount Tremper Arts‘ most recent summer season, which included a little show called SCARLET FEVER (which you may have heard of). The exhibition opening will be followed by the opening of Aynsley Vandenbroucke Movement Group’s “A Number of Small Black and White Dances” (runs Dec. 10-12). Xmas just came early!

About The Bacchae

The Public Theater's "The Bacchae" - Photo by Damon Winter, for the New York Times

The Public Theater's "The Bacchae" -Photo by Damon Winter, for the NYT

I know it’s been a while since I threw down a bona-fide review around these parts. So I’m breaking silence with some thoughts on The Bacchae, which wraps up its run The Public Theater’s Shakespeare In The Park this week. (Warning: this may fall more under “rant”.)

It’s also been a while since I had been to one of the Delacorte shows. Getting older leaves you less zest for pulling an all-nighter at The Works (now closed (sad face)) and stumbling over to be one of the first people in line on Central Park West at 3am, just to get tickets to see Meryl Streep in “The Seagull”; although, it was totally worth it just to see her do a cartwheel on stage.

At any rate, this year’s Virtual Line made it easy for the old folks (hit “send” when the Mac strikes midnight) to get in, so I drug myself up to Central Park to check out what a friend of mine said he “wished I had seen”. He later clarified that he was just curious about my opinion, and wasn’t really recommending that I see it. Hmm…

Well, I suppose I would categorize this show under the old-artists-got-picked-to-do-a-big-gig-together-and-no-one-pushed-them-to-do-better-work category (I’ve still got my eye on you, Trish). The wafts of arrogance this production exudes is troubling. Not blatant arrogance—although, there is plenty of that in Jonathan Groff’s petulant Dionysus—but the “we’re great artists and don’t we know it, and the public won’t know any better” kind of arrogance; casual; comfortable; like a nice pair of orthopedic shoes.

But when we go to the theater, we don’t want orthopedic shoes. We want riveting ideas, and risk-taking gestures. We want to be pushed (although, not necessarily physically pushed, Ms. Young). We want to know that the artists are pushing us, and themselves, to the level beyond where we are. We want the art to be in front of us, so, by going to it, we are taken to a new place. This production fell far back and behind what we know about theater and what we know about ourselves. It eschewed the central subject of the play with demure stereotyping and philosophical meandering. (In case you’re wondering, the central subject of the play is Dionysus: The god of drinking and fucking.) And along the way, presented us with several examples of exactly how not to use drag and homosexuality in the service of constructing a heterodoxic narrative.

What director JoAnne Akalaitis was thinking when she conceived this piece is beyond me (I’ll get to details when I get to them). For help, I looked to the program notes. Sometimes, you just have to.

In the notes, Nicholas Rudall, who made the translation for this production, is quoted as saying, “The Bacchae is a play rich in themes, and one of its most disturbing is the inadequacy of rational human government in the face of the ecstatic irrationality of Dionysus…The Bacchae is, in the end, a document of human folly. Dionysus lacks mercy. And to assume that human wisdom and human rationality are forces that can resist him is a monumental mistake.”

Umm, wrong. Continue reading

It Is Written

As some of you may know, I have been hard at work on a new opera over the last few months. It is now finished and had its world premiere this past weekend at the Mt. Tremper Arts summer festival in the Catskills.

With my ensemble, Collective Opera Company, we created SCARLET FEVER, an evening-length operatic adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s iconic novel, The Scarlet Letter, which is a book that everyone thinks they know or remember, but in reality, no one knows or remembers much or any of it.

At any rate, while the work (I believe) is strong, and each performance was met with a wonderful audience and some amazing feedback, I was discouraged (I am only human, after all) not to have received really any listings from the NYC classical music and opera media (although we did get this amazing preview in “The Times” – The WOODSTOCK Times, that is…).

This frustration, I’m sure, is no stranger to those who pursue careers as artists. I’m sure the party line is not to give a relationship with the media too much power over you. I agree that this is probably a healthy point of view. But forcing oneself to “not” feel this way does not alleviate all the angst and frustration one may feel for feeling overlooked by the press.

I also don’t believe—for the most part—in invoking mind over matter, when matter has a very real effect on our lives. In this specific case, press coverage (and I’m not even talking about reviews here, but simply getting cultural event listings) effects the number of opportunities people have to find out about your work, which effects how many people will actually come see your work, which effects the opportunity for people to talk about your work, which also promotes your work. Press coverage is real (in this way), and really can have a significant effect on things like ticket sales, and the general awareness of the arts community to your work.

So, yes, I felt snubbed, and annoyed that the NYC classical music media complex ignored (whether intentionally or not) what I believe to be an important event in the larger conversation of opera, classical music and theater.

I’ve since done a little research, and was happy to find out that in at least one instance, that the neglect was basically bureaucratic.

But this is also part of a larger and very personal relationship with one’s work and the media. What is that moment of throwing something out into the canyon of the world, then straining your ear out to  hear the echo? It is natural to want this. It is natural to feel let down when the echo does not bounce back. Some might say it is an immature, arresting neediness (or narcissism) on the part of the artist. But there may be no way to eradicate these feelings, and personally, I’d rather spend my energy working around, over and through it, than razing it.

I also feel that if this sort of principal is having an unfairly and excessively negative effect on emerging artists (since press coverage does tend to favor the established venues/organizations), then we should be addressing it head-on, and not just wish it away through self-help.

That said, a few months ago, after I finally bought a Macbook (and subsequently coined the phrase “There is no Art. Only Mac.”), I wrote a little ditty about this desire to be noticed by the New York music critics, and the sadness I feel (well, not the “someone died” kind of sadness, but sadness nonetheless) when the papers turn their cold, silent shoulders to my work.

I’ve inserted the track above (with a fierce new music sharing service, soundcloud, which should allow listeners to actually make comments on the track) and you can read the lyrics through the comment clouds.

Call it art as criticism; art as protest.

Call it a song.

I Want My C.C. …

Hey peeps-

I know posts have been few and far between. A number of factors have contributed to the slow down (but why should you suffer, I know!). I’m hoping that once the election’s over, C.C. can donate more of her time to writing than to stressing out and doing laps around the circuit of political websites.

For now, here’s a fun development in the world of music television.

"I want my Pearl Jam"

MTV has finally caught up to the information age and launched MTV MUSIC, a site that allows you to watch any video they currently have in their repertoire.

For instance, you can go here to watch the Beyonce video that you couldn’t watch here.

And a note about that…

I didn’t restore the link to the YouTube video because I felt chagrined at the Beyonce YouTube gestapo for suddenly making the video un-emdeddable. The inclination of the internet has proven to be oriented toward replication of information for dissemination. This benefits the user because a blog like mine can feature the actual product directly along side the commentary. It’s ideal.

This also benefits the product because it gets spread around and reaches wider audiences, developing more diverse threads of discourse, and cuts out an additional step the viewer would need to go through in order to access the information.

Web-based businesses have always tried to reign in the essentially viral spirit of the internet by placing all kinds of blocks and limited-use conditions (I find it absolutely bullshit that with iTunes you “purchase” a track but do not actually retain ownership of the media, as one does with CDs and other tangible media).

These are all obstructions that seem to generate more frustration for the user more than they boost access and consumption of the media. They lead to more negative views of the product, rather than facile, open programs that encourage users to take the media and distribute it as much as possible. Of course, these businesses want to drive traffic to there site so they can generate ad revenue. But this is an old model that may need to be updated, especially with recent news that online ad revenue is dwindling along with print ad revenue.

Another angle that proves illuminating involves the Metropolitan Opera’s live HD movie theater simulcasts. There was a fear, originally, that the simulcasts would deter people from buying tickets to the opera house, since the tickets were so much cheaper. So for the first simulcast, there was a black-out for movie theaters within 100 miles (I think) of New York City.

After the first simulcast, demand for local movie theater access was so high that The Met immediately lifted the ban and started transmitting to cinemas in NYC.

Time has also proven that the simulcast program has generated interest in live opera performance, as The Met has seen its tickets sales strongly increase along with the success of the HD program.

Also important to note is Radiohead’s recent stunt, where they allowed anyone to pay whatever they wanted to download their latest album Rainbows, paying any price–ANY PRICE–as long as they did so before a certain cut-off point. The album seems to have been successful in terms of profits and generated interest, proving wrong common intuitions about media, control and money.

I wish business would really absorb that fact that access promotes interest. All these outmoded, really paranoid regulations on products seem more and more fussy and lame as internet culture matures.

To Do: Shameless Self-Promotion

Ten years after coming out, composer/performer/writer Ryan Tracy has one more thing to come clean about: His songwriting. Since 1998, Ryan has written over a dozen songs that chronicle his pursuit of the big gay life. But for inexplicable reasons, these songs have remained trapped in the closet: Until now!

BIG RELEASE

Original songs by Ryan Tracy
(Ryan will be singing, dancing, monologuing, and even playing the piano!)
Featuring Chris Woltmann on guitar

Assistant Director, Jeremy Laverdure

THURSDAY, AUGUST 14, 2008 – One night only!
8pm
Dixon Place
258 Bowery (below Houston)
Click here for tickets, or visit www.dixonplace.org, or call 212.219.0736

Just Sing…Sing A Song

He's a magic maaaaaaaan!

He's a magic maaaaaaaan!

C.C.’s got song on the brain, probably because of her own immersion in the stuff, with three performances coming up in the next 10 days all involving songs of hers (er…well, one of the performances was last night at the opening of the new Galapagos! I may blog about that whole experience later. But quickly, it was a fierce and strange night in a fierce and strange space. I don’t think DUMBO knew what was about to hit it).

But song is a particularly vital form, one that spans all styles of music, and all cultures. Beyond the popular use and abuse of songs–namely abuse by TV/radio culture that dishes out song after song to be consumed and forgotten, like little nuggets of McMusic; or the tired marketing trope of actors bursting into song in TV commercials; or those annoying and condescending credit report songs with bizarre prosody and forced rhymes–songs can be treated in a variety of interesting ways.

There is a particular vitality of the song in downtown performance. Dance theater artists often include songs in their work; generally pop songs of all styles and eras. Some songs are called on to add a very specific emotional element to a performance sequence, others are employed ironically to affects that are sometimes poignant, sometimes off-the-mark. Some performers sing live (earnestly, ironically, and/or emotionally), some lip sync, others just let the song play while acting out a little sketch. And sometimes songs are used in a more traditional way, like creating a dance to a ballet score.

To digress for a second, I’d like to point out a review of Loretta Lynn by Jon Caramanica in The Times. Hat’s off to Caramanica for writing probably one of the most difficult reviews he’s ever had to write. To have to give a negative review not only to someone who is legendary in their field, but whose command of her craft is diminishing simply for the effect of time on her body, must have been heartbreaking. But I think he did the right thing to correctly speak to both her legend and her dwindling presence.

I included this review because of its focus on an artist who made her career through song; through genuine song; through sitting and thinking about life, reflecting, and then writing songs that speak to true experience.

But that isn’t the only kind of song, nor do I think it should be. Variety is always better; versatility prime. And C.C.’s tastes certainly span the gamut. So we thought it would be fabo to think back through the best and worst moments in song, in performance (and a couple films), from the past year or so.

So here’s a broad recap. In no particular order… Continue reading