The Rise and Rise of Lady Gaga: New Book Looks at Her Ascent to Fame
By Steven Avalos Posted Sep 14th 2010 01:15PM
Lady Gaga that hasn't been said already? One author claims to have some stories. Maureen Callahan's new book, 'Pokerface: The Rise and Rise of Lady Gaga' is an in-depth account of how Stefani Germanotta, a talented but seemingly-average girl from New York's Upper West Side, became the world's biggest pop star. The journey wasn't as easy as you might think, and Gaga hasn't always been exactly "glamorous." From countless rejections and body image issues to later coping with the self-destructive side of her new-found fame, 'Pokerface' claims to be a first-hand report from the people who were with her every step of the way. We spoke with author Maureen Callahan about all the rumors and what it's like to write a book about someone who's constantly changing and editing her history as she goes along.
The full scoop after the jump.
The full scoop after the jump.
You don't get to be Lady Gaga without making a few sacrifices, and 'Pokerface' goes into great detail about how Gaga got to where she is today. When told she'd have to lose her boyfriend early on by a mentor in the industry, Gaga is said to have instantly ditched the guy without batting an eye. And Callahan claims many those stories you hear about Gaga's cutthroat quest for perfection (and getting rid of those who stand in her way) are true. From her more humble days as a brunette with a keyboard on a Lollapalooza side stage to her current worldwide arena tour, one thing remains true according to the author: You mess up, you're gone.
According to Callahan's reporting, once she acquired "the fame," Gaga found it was just as difficult to maintain. Being on the road for months on end with a grueling promotional schedule takes its toll, and Gaga is only human. To deal with the loneliness, she would ask those close to her to share her bed almost every night. "Her personal assistant wound up sleeping with Gaga more often than her own husband," Callahan says she learned.
Health concerns have also plagued the pop star. During her worldwide promotional tour, Gaga would often push herself to the limit and wind up in the hospital, which insiders say was a means of escape for the star. Her usual treatment in these cases was an IV bag filled with saline and electrolytes and a B-12 shot for energy. Her management worked hard to squash any rumors about the star's well-being, shuffling her schedule around and limiting what details, if any, her parents back in the states would learn.
Add to that those pesky drug accusations (many of which are started by Gaga herself), the claims of celibacy and her complex relationship with her father. Obviously, there is a wealth of material to work with when painting the pop star's picture and Callahan was ready for our questions.
First off, it must have been a daunting task to take on a subject that's moving and changing at such a rapid pace -- it's hard to keep up with her even at the speed of the Internet. What drove you to write the book and was it a difficult process to deal with?
She moves so fast, and mutates so fast. And the culture moves so fast, you can't really approach a subject like her with an 18-month leisurely deadline. I was very interested in her backstory and how she got to be Lady Gaga, how she transformed herself from this very preppy, Upper West Side, privileged Catholic school girl into this avant-garde freak show. What was also interesting to me about that is that she's sort of the first performer of the digital age with a very limited digital footprint -- there's not much of her former life online. I think she had the long view in mind always. I think from a very young age she thought this out.
Obviously, one Gaga's biggest draws is the fact that she seems to have come out of nowhere, almost from a different planet. Your search goes really in-depth to shed some light on who she is and how "Lady Gaga" came to be, did you find yourself becoming even more fascinated after debunking her origin story?
I definitely found it fascinating when you learn that she, too, was subject to these very pedestrian, awful aspects of the music industry. Being told repeatedly that she wasn't pretty enough to be a pop star and should sit in the background and write songs for other people, or that she was actively part of conversations having to do with how to draw attention away from her face (ed note: that had to hurt) and worrying about her weight. You know, she tends to give a lot of self motivational speeches at her shows about loving yourself and having faith in your dreams and that you, too, can achieve what she has -- all this kind of Tony Robbins, Oprah-fied stuff -- and at the same time she's a 24-year-old girl who's wildly insecure. That's interesting to me.
So the book is, of course, unauthorized, did you contact Lady Gaga or her people about it?
They knew that the book was happening, and halfway through the writing and reporting of it, I was approached and asked if I was interested in having her be a part of the book. And I decided not to go that route. Because once you do that, the subject has control of the narrative and it becomes less interesting. It's been about 2 years and people still don't know much about her backstory.
Was it difficult finding people in her past to talk to? Does she still hold a lot of control over them?
Yes and no. Her best friend from downtown New York, Lady Starlight, who she's still friends with, talked for a piece that I had worked on in the New York Post and after that came out, she decided she was no longer going to talk. Her on-and-off again boyfriend, Luc Carl, the bartender, never talks to the press, but he does sort of seem to leverage the currency he gets from his relationship with her.
Speaking of Luc, how do you feel about his relationship with Gaga, now that they seem to be very much on again? You paint him in a pretty negative light in the book.
In all fairness, I didn't [paint him that way]. This is what people firsthand told me, what they observed and how torturous this relationship was for her. What I think is interesting about that relationship is that everyone I spoke to for the book that had knowledge of it said that even when they were apart, she remained obsessed with him. She would talk about him constantly and couldn't seem to get past it. When she would get breaks in her tour and come to New York, she would pursue seeing him and go to his bar and she was still doing that up until the time they got back together again a couple of months ago. What I think is interesting about that is, she's 24 and the most famous pop star in the world, and I'm betting she doesn't hear the word "no" a lot. So, when you have someone in your immediate sphere who will reject you from time to time or make you wonder, I think that there's probably something appealing about that.
Speaking of relationships, she made headlines a few months ago declaring her celibacy and going as far as saying she's afraid of men stealing her creativity through her vagina -- do you buy that?
No. Though, I think some of her fans do. It's a very interesting thing that she plays with. She follows in this tradition of artists and pop artists such as Morrissey, who used to say the same thing, this sort of unlucky in love, forever rejected, pouring all of their energy into their art, living for their fans, their primary love relationship being with fans. And I think that she speaks to a lot of people in that way, a lot of awkward teenagers, I think that resonates with. But, you know, she always says she's not having sex, she used to say that a lot when she was involved with Matt "Dada" Williams, her stylist, which was a relationship that went on until maybe around March or April. They were on-and-off for a while, then they were together for about a year and she would claim constantly that she was celibate.
Let's talk Gaga and drug use – you mention her cocaine habit in the book, but point out that no one ever witnessed her actually doing it. Is this just another fabrication? Why is she always referencing it in interviews?
It's hard to know with her, but it seems that she was probably a recreational user -- one of those people that probably did it socially but never developed an addiction. If anything, she seemed to prefer drinking. It's hard to know what she may be doing now; she's got a very closed circle of people around her and nobody really talks. It seemed to me that it sort of was a piece of this creation myth, you know, the wild and hedonistic out-of-control downtown burlesque dancer who was out of her mind. When you read her accounts of how things went down, there's always some detail that's different. She told Vanity Fair that her mother took her down to visit her elderly grandmother, who told her to spend a few hours crying and pull herself together. And she did, and that was it. But prior to that, the story was that her father told her that she was "effing up," and that was enough to make her stop. Most people who have had serious drug problems don't just stop on their own, it seems a little suspect.
Her father, Joe Germanotta, is a huge force in her life. In the book, you talk about how he brokered her deals and was present during all the major decision-making. More recently, Gaga wrote and dedicated the song 'Speechless' to her father. What did you discover about their relationship when writing the book?
The relationship with her father is very interesting. Her parents have been very involved with her career since the time she was a teenager. Her father is very well-connected and has more money than she professes to have grown up with. Joe could leverage meetings with executives at labels and also hired Don Lawrence, who's this incredibly famous vocal coach who's worked with Bono and Christina Aguilera -- he's been training her since she was a teenager. One of the things that was most interesting to me was that her father, from the time she began her very first production deal with [producer] Rob Fusari, has been in business with her 50/50, which means he makes half of what she earns. Everyone in the industry who spoke to me for this book said that was so unusual, that it was alarming. They would never allow a client of theirs to have a deal like that. It almost never ever happens.
Other friends who spoke to me thought the relationship was always very much based on her seeking and getting his approval. That is one of her prime motivating factors.
You really get a sense of how ambitious Gaga is with this book. If you blurred our her name, it almost reads like a Madonna biography. As a fan, it's definitely a treat to read.
It's been so long since we've had a pop culture figure like this in pop music. We had the prepackaged Britneys and boy bands and even hip hop began to feel very safe, and she's just such a throwback to the Madonnas and the Princes and the Bowies, but unlike all of those figures, she has crossed over incredible demographic lines. The challenge of doing the book is that her fans are such completists and want to know every little detail. To make it a compelling read for them -- that was sort of the main goal. Anyone who loves her and is obsessed with her would pick up the book and learn things that they didn't know.
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