Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Articles [NAJP]

Beef Marinara a la Gaga

Short a column topic for Barnes & Noble Review this month, I bit the bullet and decided that with the release of her second or third album (see column now up as "Monster Anthems" for explanation of why I'm not saying which) it was time for me to confront the force of nature, commerce, and artistic abandon that is Lady Gaga. Is it possible that I'm the only person to do so who came to the former Stefani Germanotta on the basis of her recorded music? Never seen a video, never caught her on TV, had read just a few of the countless treatises on her fame, finally caught a show in February after being won over to her albums by a lot of exploratory plays and hearing "Bad Romance" every time I entered a retail establishment. People say, well, her songs aren't so good but she's such a great presence. The woman, I found out doing my research, made her living as a songwriter. Huh?

Anyway, I barely scratched the surface and overresearched even so. The videos, which I only looked at after struggling through the slough of too much information for the better part of a week, proved less gratuitous than I'd feared--some of them are pretty funny. But for the purposes of this forum I was especially struck by a few details of written coverage that wouldn't have come close to fitting into one of those pieces where I kept deleting side comments and comparative sallies.

1) One of the best treatises I found was by Nitsuh Abebe, the best rock critic New York magazine has had on board in a long time. Hed: "Where's the Beef?" Subhed: "The flimsy fury of Lady Gaga's Born This Way." Sounds pretty damning, right? It's not. I didn't ask Abebe, because I didn't want to get him in trouble if he disliked these supposed summations as much as I did. So I could be wrong. Certainly Abebe argues (correctly) that she's probably not profound enough to inspire so many treatises. But that's not the same thing as calling her flimsy. More to the point is that, intellectually and lots of other ways, she's a mess, as Abebe notes rather fondly in the end. I suspect the entrenched anti-rock forces at the mag of slanting a far subtler piece of work their way.

2) There are a lot of biographies--a lot. Hard to count--who can tell what all these books are?--but over a dozen. The one I read was by an Englishman with some moderately solid journalistic credentials when I Googled him named Paul Lester. Moderately solid it was, though I got my money quote from a woman named Maureen Callahan, who apparently befriended or paid a remarkably unvindictive ex-friend of Gaga's with literary pretensions which he put to work in piece for Esquire, Brendan Sullivan by name. But here's the thing about Lester. He's listed at Amazon as "Paul Lester Ph.D. Jou" What the hell is that, I wondered. Jouissance? Nah. Ah, of course--journalism. But I'd never heard of it. So I asked Mr. Google, and every hit I found brought me back to Paul Lester. Did the guy make up a degree for himself? Did his publisher? Oi.

3) Funniest line in any of the bios I looked at (there were four in the NYU library) came from Briton Helia Phoenix's Lady Gaga: Just Dance: "Because of her family's Italian heritage, there was always tasty Italian food in the house, such as meatballs and marinara, . . . " Those taste-deprived Britons and their enduring fondness for organ grinders. "Such as meatballs and marinara"! Phoenix's book just came out in the U.S., where meatballs and marinara are less exotic. Sentence was untouched.

1 Comment

By Alex Wilson (Japad) on July 17, 2011 8:49 AM

'Such as meatballs and marinara.'

That is funny, but I assure you, most Britons have tasted meatballs! I will admit, though, that we're pretty uncultured when it comes to food! Although, I would argue that a lot of Americans might be worse.

Articles, June 21, 2011

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