I’m currently devouring Rupert Everett’s delicious second volume of memoirs Vanished Years, straight after finishing the first, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins. Though it should probably be read slowly, reclining on a queen-sized bed in a silk dressing gown and slippers – as if you were eating very expensive, very naughty bitter-sweet chocolate liqueurs.
It’s scandalously funny. Everett writes like a dream, damn him. It’s always so annoying when people who have lived a full life doing something much more useful and lucrative than writing finally turn their hand to it and are apparently effortlessly brilliant.
But it’s his candour not his skill that makes his memoirs so hilarious. He says all sorts of things that he probably definitely shouldn’t, which is what proper memoirs are for of course. And you can tell he gets a big kick out of doing it. When he recounts his last ditch attempt at resuscitating his Stateside career (sent into intensive care by The Next Best Thing) with a TV pilot for an ill-fated sit-com called Mr Ambassador, starring Everett as the UK ambassador to the US and Derek Jacobi as his PCB assistant (an alternative Vicious?), he really lifts the lid on the always-smiling horror of Hollywood and what’s called in showbusiness ‘the process’ – of getting fucked, no vaseline.
You also get a sense that his friendship with female stars like Madonna and Julia Roberts was probably always based somewhat on the appeal of his ridiculously posh and sensationally sharp English tongue. Bitchery always sounds better delivered regally. They enjoyed, I’m sure his hag faggery, but also that exhilaratingly tart honesty. (Apparently either Roberts or Madonna, or both, I can’t remember which, always smell ‘vaguely of sweat’.)
Disarmingly, Everett is most candid about himself. Recounting an early 90s, pre-HAART relationship with a beautiful Italian bodybuilder called Alfio who was also HIV positive he spares himself nothing:
‘During our late-night calls from the station in Turin I began to disengage. I couldn’t, wouldn’t deal with the very real problems that Alfio had. Finally he cracked one night as a train to Viareggio was delayed, and shouted at me down the line. He accused me of playing with him, of being utterly selfish, and finally of being a typical Catholic, all noise and no compassion.
He was right.’
Everett is also painfully candid about his limited acting abilities and his unlikely leading man appearance. In Red Carpets he admits that he’s far too tall, a huge head on a long neck atop no shoulders to speak of, and talks about how, pre LA gym makeover, when he was playing some highly miscast swashbuckling role in the 1980s he had to have some rubber foam bits made to fill out his costume and give him the appearance of shoulders – and an arse. Vanished Years is also movingly honest to the point of morose delectation (a Catholic bad habit) about ageing, loss and death.
His ad for Millicano coffee currently airing on UK TV, in which Everett in a silk dressing gown (looking oddly like Peter York) reads a scathing review of a performance of his, calling for him to retire from acting, very cleverly plays with all these themes and is as much an advert for his memoirs as gritty instant coffee. The punch-line about his ‘flabby bottom’ (at least he has one now, even if it is gravitationally challenged) is funny but also perhaps aimed at gaining sympathy from (a presumed female) target market, mocking as it does Everett’s mortal flesh in the way that women stars are more traditionally used to.
There has been a rather fetching, doomed quality about Everett since his breathtaking performance as a doomed young Guy Burgess figure in Another Country – his first and still his best film. It was a role too perfectly suited to him, and at the height of his strangely compelling youthful beauty. It propelled him into stardom but he never quite got over it.
But then, who would get over spending the night in young Cary Elwes’ punt?
This is an atrocious, disastrous mistake on Gaga’s part. It’s so bad it’s mind-reeling. It could very well mark the beginning of the end her career. After all that gigantic build-up and anticipation about her first new material in over a year she’s gone and laid a… giant egg. Never mind ‘the gayest song ever’ it’s just Too Gay To Play. I suspect it’s too gay even for the gays. Too patronising and crass and feeble. They’ll pretend to love it for a few weeks and then quietly forget all about it. It will be the shortest-lived ‘anthem’ ever.
It’s a catchy single, of course, and will make a lot of money, but everything about this song is backwards. The music, the lyrics, the mentality, the politics. For all the self-righteous posturing it’s completely free of any content. But brimming over with bullshit. Not only are we ‘born this way’, and ‘God makes no mistakes’, and being gay is apparently an ethnic trait, sexuality is also now some kind of smug fucking railway – ‘I’m on the right track baby’. Well, stop the choo-choo, I wanna get off.
It’s as if someone decided to remake The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a GLAAD public service announcement, with Harvey Fierstein or Dan Savage in the role of Frank-N-Furter. And cut all the songs.
In my humble opinion, Gaga should never write head-on about sexuality again. Ever. That’s her only hope of recovering the post-sexual charge that made her seem so interesting and relevant just a few months ago. She embodies post-sexuality, and the notion that you might want to choose who you love or shag – or who you are – better than anyone. But she clearly can’t articulate it self-consciously in a lyric. It might be impossible for anyone to do that – but almost anyone could make a better fist of it than Gaga in ‘Born That Way’.
Musically, the homages to Madge were much better done on The Fame Monster (though it was the Boney M salutes such as ‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Poker Face’ that were her best tracks). In 2011, especially after being dubbed ‘the Diva of Déjà Vu’ by Camille Paglia (you were so right, Ms P!) she really, really needed to escape the gravitational attraction of Planet Madge.
But she wanted this song to be GAY!!! so she returned yet again to the nipple of the original gay Borg queen at her gayest. And as I say, she may have poisoned herself fatally with this tragic pastiche, that is a HiNRG cover of Express Yourself in a Vogue stylee, but with less 21st Century lyrics than either of those 20th Century songs.
Maybe I’m completely and utterly wrong. Maybe this is a genius masterstroke. Maybe Gaga’s deliberately parodying old-skool American gayness here with her rainbow vomit lyrics, God-bothering, gagging mixture of self-pity and pride, apologia and anger – and slavish Maddy/Diva idolatry – to show it up in its worst possible light. To inoculate The Gays against… themselves.
I mean, after the global-scale, towering cackness of ‘Born this Way’ can there ever be a ‘gay anthem’ again?
The Gaga backlash, which recently found itself a leader in Camille Paglia, was inevitable. It’s also misguided, argues Mark Simpson
(Out Magazine, Sept 24 2010)
My bitch is better than your bitch! And she wore that dress before yours did! My bitch would kick your bitch’s ass!
This is the kind of thing the older generation — my generation — has begun to say ever more loudly about the younger generation’s first bona fide superstar, Lady Gaga. David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Grace Jones, and—crossing ourselves and throwing salt over our shoulders—Madonna all did it years before Gaga, and so much better.
The world’s most famous gay Madonna fan, Camille Paglia, was recently given four pages in the U.K.’s The Sunday Times Magazine to say this, “demolishing” Lady Gaga, aka Stefani Germanotta, as an “asexual, confected copycat who has seduced the Internet generation.” Paglia is a worthy critic indeed, and her mocking epithet “the diva of déjà vu” is bound to stick like chewing gum rubbed in a hated schoolgirl’s hair. But after reading her impassioned assault — which, for all its fascinating history of female Hollywood stars, seemed to boil down to “she’s not Madonna, and I don’t fancy holding her meat purse” — I found myself liking Lady Gaga more rather than less.
Paglia’s essay was further proof of Gaga’s importance. As I like to say to gay friends of a certain age who rail almost daily against Gaga on Facebook, for someone so shallow, so talentless, and so derivative she certainly seems to hold your attention. The passionate hatred Gaga provokes is all part of her remarkable potency. When was the last time pop music mattered? When was the last time you cared? Until Lady Gaga came along, just a couple years ago, pop seemed thoroughly pooped. Some nice tunes and haircuts here and there and some really excellent financial institution ad soundtracks, but really, who thought pop could ever trouble us again as a total art form?
Gaga has single-handedly resurrected pop. Or at least she’s made it seem like it’s alive. Maybe it’s a kind of galvanic motion — those pop promos sometimes look like Helmut Newton zombie flicks — but boy, this is shocking fun. And yes, her persona is something of a pint-size Bride of Frankenstein, assembled out of Photoshopped dead star body parts. But isn’t everyone nowadays?
Of course she’s not David Bowie or Madonna. It’s not 1972 or 1984. Instead, we’re a decade into a new, blank, digital century when creativity is curation. The pop past weighs heavily on our shoulders — but Gaga wears it so lightly and sprightly on her tiny frame it’s inspiring. In the flickering, shape-shifting shape of Lady Gaga, tired old postmodernism never looked so frisky. And it turns out to be really good on the dance floor. The 21st century didn’t really get going, or have a decent soundtrack, until Ms. Germanotta came along with her Gagacious beats.
But the older generation’s resentful backlash against Lady Gaga — how dare the kids think they have a proper star to speak for them! — is well and truly underway. Paglia’s piece was well-timed and has already prompted a host of copycat columns around the world complaining about Gaga the tiresome copycat. It had to happen, of course. She is now so huge as to be completely unrivaled in pop cultural terms — the most famous woman on the planet: too big and tasty a target for the press not to chew up.
That mesmerizing meat dress she wore to the MTV Video Music Awards — where she picked up eight trophies, including Video of the Year for “Bad Romance” — displayed a spooky kind of prescience. The inevitable lip-smacking Gaga backlash seems almost to be a predetermined part of the Gaga plot. And to those who like to tut and roll their eyes over the meat dress and intone “It’s been done before, dear,” please remind me again which year it was that a female artist, let alone the biggest artist in the world, accepted an MTV award, or any music award, dressed as a rib-eye?
Gaga “wants to have it both ways,” complained Paglia in The Sunday Times, “to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal.” But isn’t that what really great pop — pop as a total art form — tries to do? Put images and concepts into contexts they’re not supposed to inhabit? Like the pop charts? Isn’t that what Madonna at her best was doing? Yes, it’s probably ultimately a doomed project, but if there’s anything that approaches avant-garde for the masses, it’s that meat dress at the MTV awards, or that jaw-dropping video for “Bad Romance,” complete with smoking skeleton and sparking bra.
In the indignant roll call of the artists Gaga has “ripped off,” one who is rarely mentioned is the Australian-born performance artist Leigh Bowery, who died in 1994 of AIDS-related illnesses. Bowery defied gender, and pretty much any category you care to mention, with his stunning, hilarious, and terrifying body-morphing outfits, sometimes fashioned out of his own (ample) flesh. Like Gaga, he had a very keen sense of humor about what it means to be human and set out to sabotage conceptions of “sexiness.” Famously, he once lay on a divan in a shop window in a London art gallery preening himself for a week.
Gaga, however, is reclining in the shop window of the world. Paglia’s accusation that Gaga is “asexual” spectacularly miss the point that Gaga is postsexual. She’s post–the now boringly compulsorily “sexy” world that Madonna helped usher in, bullwhip in hand, which is now as burned-out as that “Bad Romance” skeleton. Gaga isn’t asexual or even particularly androgynous — she’s transexy. She’s deliberately overexposing “sexiness,” making it as transparent as her skin sometimes seems to be. Instead of just rubbing herself up, she’s showing gender and sexuality up by taking them to grotesque extremes. Even if she sometimes looks like Dali doodling his ideal inflatable doll.
But I doubt any of this will persuade those of my generation who have decided to spoil the younger generation’s fun and let them know how ignorant they are. After all, that’s the only kind of fun we oldies have. Even if her detractors’ dreams came true and Lady Gaga was publicly burned at the stake in Central Park, they still wouldn’t be happy. “Oh, look at her!” they’d say, rolling their eyes. “She’s so tired! Joan of Arc did that in 1431. She had much better hips. And she did it in French!”
Until last year I thought pop was a completely spent force. Oh, there were some nice bands around with nice tunes and some nice haircuts, but pop as a total art form was pooped. Along with pop culture. It was just another Facebook app.
And then along came the New York songwriter-turned-singer that the press loves to dub ‘bizarre’. 2009 was indubitably The Year of Gaga, and not just because she had a string of blockbuster international hits, but because they were the instantly unmistakable product of a ‘kooky’ young woman who is actually completely in control of her work and vision. And her own aesthetic. Hence perhaps the wishful-thinking sightings of a penis. This chick doesn’t need a dick – she has a real one.
Last night at the Brits (where she performed acoustic versions of ‘Telephone’ and ‘Dance in the Dark’, styled by Miss Haversham saluting Marie Antoinette ) she won a rare three gongs. She deserved much more. And a much longer set. (It was rumoured to have been cut down by anxious Brits producers because she kept changing her plans.)
Gaga has, almost single-handedly, resurrected mainstream, High Street pop music – or at least made it seem like it’s alive again. She’s even made postmodernism seem almost… modern again. That she does it with a look and startling pop promos that play so entertainingly with the deathly, garish iconography of fashion and contemporary celebrity culture is all the more remarkable. Yes it’s a kind of galvanic motion – those promos often look like Helmut Newton zombie flicks – but boy, this is shocking fun. Besides, that’s the nature of the twitching/tweeting human subject in a mediated, hyper-consumerist age.
Sorry to go on, but Gaga manages to be truly pop, and yet is a true artist. She churns out crowd-pleasing dance-floor tracks that stomp on the competition, but there’s also a winsome melancholy and vulnerability behind the… Poker Face.
Some hasten to mention the ‘M’ word to put Gaga in her place. But aside from moments of hilarious brilliance such as ‘Like a Virgin’ and ‘Vogue’ I was never much of a Madonna fan, even before she found the Kabala and I’m-not-Gay Ritchie. Maybe it’s early-onset dementia, but I feel differently about Gaga. Rather than see her as a Madonna knock-off, I see her as a more fully-realised Madonna. She’s the Madonna Madonna wanted us to take her for (and legions of gays did).
And it’s not as if Gaga doesn’t pay homage. ‘Dance in the Dark’, which Gaga performed at the Brits, is probably my favourite track from The Fame. It’s very 1980s HiNRG – with a talky bridge that is a touching tribute to Madge’s Vogue. It’s actually gayer than Vogue, which is quite something. You can almost smell the poppers. And I don’t even like poppers.
Gaga, a dedicated follower of fashion, dedicated her Brits performance to her friend Alexander McQueen, who died last week. I don’t like eulogies, but I did rate his work. He was a genuinely free spirit, a gay bohemian of the kind that almost died out in the 1980s (and which Gaga is clearly inspired by). That he seems to have taken his own life suggests that it wasn’t easy fighting history, or fashion houses.
I never met Lee, but we did have a flirty fax correspondence in the late 1990s when I was still in my thirties. His opening gambit was ‘we met once in DTPM a couple of years ago’. DTPM was a London gay techno club where all the muscle boys went and took off their shirts and downed masses of drugs, dancing the night away, so of course I should have met him at DTPM – and forgotten about it. But I never did because I never went there. Or anywhere, really.
In the course of our thermal-paper correspondence (which I think I still have somewhere, now fading away into blankness) he asked me, in a handwritten scrawl on Givenchy headed notepaper, to marry him. I don’t know how serious he was, but I declined, pointing out I wasn’t really the marrying kind. This was true, but it was even truer that he wasn’t really my type. Which is a sad reflection on me, and perhaps on male homosexuality. I suspect Lee was often told by gay men he wasn’t ‘their type’.
Either way, I could have done much, much worse. And of course, I did.
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