If you think Gaga is odd you MUST look at the freak parade that preceded Mama Monster. It was only a matter of time, really.
The key to a good anthropological study is being able to trace collective insanities to their point source. And our not-so-secret liking for the grotesque and bizarre is probably one of those rituals that are a lot more instinctive, and not as age specific, as we think they are. No one was taught it, of course, because no mother raised a fool. But it’s the sadist in us, I suppose, that makes us this poly-curious, and how.
Lady Gaga, being who she is, has become a surrogate vehicle for our imaginations. We watch her do things we know we can’t, but we wanted to see done all the same, just for a sly thrill. She is, after all, only one in a line of many who’ve been spawned and sensationalized by the popular media, all the way to cultural immortality. Fifty years down the line, they might even be in the History books.
Alice Cooper, the man, is 63. Alice Cooper, the cultural phenomenon, is timeless. Post war music, inspired by the attendant tragedy of the blues, was aimed at the underlying frustrations of citizens living through the alienation of quick progress, mostly the young. And Alice Cooper took that expression to a whole new level. There was music, but theatrics were the main calling card here, as his stagecraft changed what people expected out of live performances.
Gaudily made up in tattered woman’s clothing, with thick dark eyeliner, a look Alice Cooper claims was inspired by Anita Pallenberg in Barbarella, he became famous for being the first “rock-villain”. There were mock guillotines and animals and executioners on stage, with gallons of fake blood spilled to simulate mutilation of assorted baby dolls. It shocked people so much that they wanted more.
While adopting a woman’s name and dressing up in drag might not have been very original, Marilyn Manson had enough wicked ideas of his own to give him some propriety. For a long time, he lived under the radar of popular conscience, after starting his career off with Marilyn Manson & The Spooks. Soon, those whispers started travelling; about his vehemently anti-Christ views, profanity laden lyrics that drew universal flak and generally grotesque persona. Even newly-reformed Christian and sober Alice Cooper let him have it for his darker leanings.
He has succeeded and inspired along the way, having had three albums certified platinum in the US alone. Manson was also the basis for Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Willy Wonka in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. He even got Dita Von Teese and Rose McGowan to look past the make up and date the man.
Sure, you’d just rather remember Michael Jackson, but Prince was the first of those black kids who rode the funk wave in the 1980s, just as people were beginning to tire of disco but still needed something to jive to. Plus, he completely skipped the incubation that Michael had, being a part of Jackson 5, and went straight to making his brand of music, where he merged hyperactive sexual imagery with his own funk rock, that got labeled the “Minneapolis Sound”. It’s what precipitated the printing of the first parental advisory warnings on albums, after Tipper Gore, aka Mrs. Al Gore, found her 12 year old daughter listening to Prince getting raunchy on “Nikki Darling”.
But he was still prolific, churning out 40 No.1 singles in a career that has already been immortalized in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame. It wouldn’t have been easy, though; creating and protecting this huge pie that everyone wanted a piece of. In fact, just to wriggle out of his Warner Bros. contract, Prince actually gave up his name in 1992 for the following eight years. During that time, he was addressed as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, with a little morphed purple symbol becoming his only legal identity.
Wouldn’t it have been easier to just have a nickname?
It was because of caricatures like Sid Vicious that purists could never really own up to liking punk. Born Simon Ritchie, he had a turbulent enough childhood to have foreboded what was to come. Anyway, he got onto his personal Road To Damascus quite by accident, having been part of the freakily dressed ‘The Bromley Contingent’ that followed The Sex Pistols to all their gigs, eventually landing him the bassist’s position after Glen Matlock failed to show up for a show.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that Sid knew anything about how to play the bass guitar. Punk was a way to be, and with his spiked hair and badly painted nails, Sid Vicious was its archetype. He did try to learn, but heroin addiction and his relationship with Nancy Spungen were all that he could really deal with in this lifetime. Although he did also manage to get beaten up by Calvin Klein at a London pub.
Scott Weiland, ex lead vocalist for Velvet Revolver and Stone Temple Pilots, narrowly beat out Gene Simmons and the rest his Kiss band mates for this final slot on the freaky roll of honor, simply because of the lack of any marketing intent behind any of his MANY shenanigans. He mastered the bizarre and found new ways to court trouble, though he has gone low key since cleaning up his drug act in 2005.
Before that, Scott gave us gems to listen to on the radio and to read about in the tabloids; like the time he got busted by New York Police after going out to score heroin wearing a red velvet jumpsuit, topped off with a red velvet hat and red sunglasses. You’d think his inner attention craving rockstar picked the wrong time to show up, but there have been more incidents. In those strung out days, it was rumored that Scott was sourcing drugs for most of his fraternity and had his own coke-and-heroin binges planned in hotel rooms, mostly with Courtney Love.
Maybe it’s all just a natural part of being civilized, like we pretend.