Tag Archive | "Italian heritage"

Going GaGa

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The performer known today as Lady GaGa began her life as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta on March 28, 1986 in New York City.  Of Italian heritage, she was the first child welcomed by Joseph and Cynthia Germanotta.  At the age of 11, having demonstrated a talent for music, her parents considered enrolling her in the prestigious Julliard School of Music in the city of her birth.  Tradition won out and instead, Stefani entered the Convent of the Scared Heart, a private Roman Catholic school, which would prove to have little influence upon her.

Shortly after her thirteenth birthday, the singer with the stoic stage presence wrote her first piano ballad and unveiled it at local talent shows.  Four years later, New York University’s Tisch School of Arts accepted her into their music program, where she improved her songwriting skills.  At the age of 19, she opted out of the program to focus on her career rather than her studies.

Striking out on her own, she performed in clubs on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with Mackin Pulsifer and the SG Band. With a repertoire that highlighted burlesque and a lifestyle that embraced drug abuse, the girl scandalized her father and turned her nose up at her Catholic school education.

Nicknamed GaGa by music producer Rob Fusari in honor of the Queen song, Radio Ga Ga, Stef adopted Lady GaGa as her stage name.   In 2007, she teamed up with Lady Starlight for gigs in New York’s downtown clubs, where the duo was billed as Lady GaGa and the Starlight Revue. Promoting themselves as “The Ultimate Pop Burlesque Rock Show,” the pair performed a tribute to variety acts of the 1970’s.  They went on to earn high accolades for their performance at the Lollapalooza music festival.

Finding her niche, Lady GaGa incorporated the music of David Bowie and Queen into her mix, thereby joining the scores of the uninventive claiming to “sample” other artists’ music when in truth, they rip it off.  She also claimed Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Brittany Spears as influences.  Discovered by producer-singer-songwriter and former car thief Akon at Interscope Records, she inked a joint deal with Jim Iovine and Akon’s label, Kon Live Distribution, where Akon dubbed her his franchised player.  Lady GaGa began using her own material to launch her debut album with producer RedOne.  Boys, Boys, Boys was the first song that they produced.

In 2008, she relocated to Los Angeles to finalize her debut album, The Fame.  Its urban tracks combined Def Leppard-like drums with metallic handclaps.  GaGa also collaborated with a collective, called the Haus of GaGa, which selected her clothing, or lack thereof, as well as stage sets and sounds (so much for musical artistry).  The Fame received positive reviews from Metacritic and was described by Times Online as “fantastic.” The CD achieved #1 status in Austria, the United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland, netting worldwide sales of three million copies. 

Following her success in foreign markets, the Haus of GaGa’s image mavens focused on U.S. audiences.  They double billed GaGa on her first concert tour with her label mates, the newest incarnation of New Kids on the Block (who aren’t kids, by a long shot).  The tour that ran for approximately two months (from October 8th to late November, 2008) led to The Fame Ball Tour of North America.  This kicked off in March 2009 to critical acclaim.  In the immortal words of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, “There is no accounting for some people’s tastes.”

On her World Domination Tour, GaGa opened for the Pussycat Dolls in the U.K. and Australia, where she was well received. One reviewer claimed that she upstaged the headliners. As the Dolls’ chief claim to fame is not their vocalizing but their soft porn stage gyrations, this speaks volumes for GaGa’s performance.  In fact, GaGa’s MTV “Love Game” was banned from Australia’s Network 10 for its sexually explicit imagery.  It’s good to see that there are some morals and musical taste alive somewhere in the world.

GaGa also appeared semi-nude on the May 2009 cover of Rolling Stone’s Hot 100, thus joining the myriad near-bare bods, male and female, that have graced those covers since the early ’90’s.  In that issue, she stated that early in her career, she fell in love with a heavy metal drummer in a New York club, who served as her inspiration while writing music in her later years. She also stated that she was bi-sexual and is inspired by beautiful women.  This revelation makes her male friends uncomfortable and me somewhat doubtful, remembering when Elton John referred to himself as bisexual before stepping fully out of the closet.  In the same interview, GaGa insisted, “I am not using the gay community to look edgy. I’m a free sexual woman and I like what I like.”

After many tours, Lady GaGa received nine accolades at the MTV Video Music Awards.  These include Video of the Year, Best Female Artist, Best Pop Video for Poker Face, Best Direction, Best Editing, Best Special Effects, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction for Paparazzi.  Following her appearance at the Royal Variety Performance in London earlier this year, she had the honor of meeting Queen Elizabeth II.  I would have paid to have been a fly on that wall.

A far cry from her modest upbringing, the former Stefani Germanotta embodies an old Italian saying used to discuss one’s children.  “Almeno lei non fuma” translates as “At least she doesn’t smoke.” 

Where Were You in ‘22?

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Philadelphia 1922

Eighty-seven years ago on this date, my mother was born.  World War I was a memory, and the United States was embarking on a period of prosperity known as the “roaring ‘20’s” when women were Constitutionally-recognized as “equal” to men and technologies like automobiles, trains, and mass communication by radio and telephone began to proliferate.  It was a time of hope inspired by “modern” conveniences and ways of thinking.  Short-lived though it was, it must have been an exciting time in which to start life.


In addition to my mom’s birth, 1922 witnessed significant breakthroughs in science and medicine.  Human growth hormone was discovered and insulin was first isolated and used for treatment of diabetes.  Two British Egyptologists caused quite a stir by unearthing the intact tomb of King Tutankhamen, the only tomb that had been untouched by looters through the centuries.


Of course, 1922 also produced less positive news.  In Italy, Benito Mussolini marched on Rome and formed a Fascist government.  Also in 1922, a Commission formed as a result of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I established German reparations to be paid the Allies (the U.S. opted out of these reparations) at 132 billion gold marks.  The onus of this staggering debt created historic inflationary pressures in Germany that contributed to the rise of Hitler and his Nazi Party.  Thus, the stage was set for yet another “war to end all wars.”


It is difficult to understand the modes of thinking and motivations of those living in another time.  And, I doubt that I can truly understand the world in which my mom grew up.  One of five daughters of Italian immigrants, she undoubtedly faced discrimination from those of Anglo-Saxon heritage who represented the predominant culture of the time, but I don’t ever recall her mentioning it.  In fact, she may not have even given it much thought.  She lived in a neighborhood in South Philadelphia composed largely of families of Italian heritage.  And so, in her world, everyone was largely the same.


As I was growing up, I was taught to be proud of my Italian heritage and would frequently hear my grandmother comment on the disgraceful practices and behaviors of the “Medigani’s” (or, Americans) as she referred to all non-Italians.  And, I’m sure my mother was schooled in her mother’s beliefs. 


My mother was raised in an environment in which “family” was of primary importance, and this was a tradition that she perpetuated.  In fact, as a child, I spent an enormous amount of time with my grandparents, uncles, and aunts.  I considered my cousins to be my closest and best friends.  I don’t know if any extended families today are as close as was mine.


My mom and her sisters were extremely close-knit, you might say “thick as thieves.”  Although they might argue with each other, they never permitted anyone outside of the “family” to come between them.  In fact, unfortunate would be the individual who crossed my mother or one of her sisters, for that person would find himself at odds with all of them.


Although I did not realize it then, I was privileged to have grown up with such love, caring, and devotion showered upon me.  As I think back to Holidays spent with my extended family, I only wish that others could experience the unadulterated joy of those occasions.  In fact, in our family, every Sunday was a holiday of sorts when we all gathered at my grandparents’ home to enjoy each others’ company.


More than thirty years ago, my mom passed on to her reward, all too young and much too soon.  And, I believe that she is waiting there, amidst the company and love of others in our “family,” for the day on which we can be reunited.  For me, the wait is interminable.  For her, it is brief, for scores of years are but seconds in eternity.


Happy Birthday, Mom.  Love you, miss you, see you soon. 

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