Liz Smith: Lady … Madonna?! Is Gaga Using Old Tricks to Scandalize?

Lady Gaga vs. Madonna: is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

And more from our Liz: Britney Spears — this “femme fatale” loves Betty White … stars flock to a special performance of Broadway’s “The Normal Heart”

“I HAVE recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies,” said one of our great Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson believed in the separation of church and state. He was less adamant on the separation of slave and master. (Oh, you know, Sally Hemings, the beautiful slave he bedded and with whom he sired several children. Well, nobody’s perfect.)

* * *

SPEAKING OF religion, Madonna is at it again, releasing a “sacrilegious” song and video, challenging Catholic doctrines. Oh, no wait … I mean Lady Gaga and her new single “Judas” is the event raising a ruckus.

The Catholic League (essentially one guy, Bill Donohue) condemns the Lady and her music and winds up with: “Maybe if she had more talent we’d be more offended.” I feel pretty sure this is a leftover from criticism of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.”

Gaga, honey! You do realize that as talented as you are, the Big M did all this way back in the 1980’s? This, and speaking out for sexual freedom, supporting the gays, etc?  I guess everything old is always new again to a new generation. But come on, Gaga — you are a smart cookie. Get a fresh idea.

* * *

SPEAKING OF Madonna, the former provocateur has been so deeply involved in putting the final touches to her film, “W.E.,” that she has hardly seen the light of day. She spends hour after hour in the editing room, mixing the music, getting it “just right.” This is typical Madonna. Even on her concert tours, she is always looking for ways to improve the show, and herself — right up to the last performance.

There is some talk that La Ciccone will return to the recording studio later this year. And just as I presumptuously gave Gaga advice, I’ll do the same for my old friend Madonna. Another album? Great. But please, no more techno-infused dance music. Just sing. Some of us remember the old songs, and soundtracks to movies like “Dick Tracy” and “Evita.”

* * *

ANOTHER MUSIC diva is making news. I do mean once-tormented, now fairly steady Britney Spears. She has a hot-selling new album, “Femme Fatale,” is planning a tour, and is recording with Rihanna.

Britney is also on the cover of Out magazine’s “Ladies We Love” issue. Asked by Noah Michelson what her idea of heaven was, she says “a trip with my kids.” Her idea of hell? “Dieting.” She might have been Audrey Hepburn in another life because “Audrey was a trend-setter, too.”  Britney’s favorite “Golden Girl” is “Betty White, because she’s so sweet and innocent.”

For Britney, fame’s big pain is the inevitable loss of privacy … kissing Madonna at the MTV Awards was “cool”… she was “confused and disgusted by sex” when her mother first gave her the facts of life. Oh, and is there a song she’s ever recorded she wishes she hadn’t?

“No” says Britney. “All of my songs are fucking amazing.”

Whatever problems might linger in Britney’s psyche, insecurity about her work is not one of them. And good for her. She’s been to hell and back.

* * *

A FEW years back, I was mighty impressed by Peter Dinklage in the movie “The Station Agent.” I wasn’t the only one. He received Screen Actors Guild and Independent Spirit award nominations. I kind of lost track of Mr. Dinklage, although he has worked steadily since. Imagine my pleasure then when he popped up in HBO’s fantastical new series, “Game of Thrones.” He plays Tyrion Lannister and he is so handsome, witty, debauched and charming. Sort of a medieval Addison DeWitt from “All About Eve.” As good as the series looks to be, after only one episode — so many characters, it can be confusing! — Dinklage is by far the standout player.

Mr. Dinklage stands only 4’ 5,” but he is a towering talent. I hope Hollywood uses him more. And properly.

* * *

LARRY KRAMER’S great play about the early days of the AIDS plague, “The Normal Heart” opens on Broadway April 27th. (The devastating semi-autobiographical work has had two acclaimed off-Broadway productions. Now, finally, Larry will see his work right on Broadway itself, at the Golden Theater.)

But on Monday April 25th, producer Daryl Roth has invited a slew of special guests to a preview performance and party after. Among the expected throng: Diane Von FurstenbergElton John and David FurnishLou ReedSandy GallinIngrid SischyCalvin KleinMatthew Broderick Christine Baranski Hamish BowlesAndre Leon Talley. (It’s always a gamble to print a wished-for guest list, but this one is so good!)

This “Normal Heart” has been directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe. The cast includes Ellen Barkin, Joe Mantello, Luke Macfarlane, Jim Parsons, Richard Topol, Wayne Allan Wilcox, Lee Pace, John Benjamin Hickey, Mark Harelik.

* * *

ENDQUOTE: Well, just because we were upset about Elizabeth Taylor’s death and felt news coverage of her passing was appropriate, not everybody feels that way.

Bill Maher, in a rant on the ineptitude of the nightly network news complained that they all opened up with Taylor’s death. “Please, it was not like she was struck down in her prime. They had a sandwich named after her at Cedars Sinai. She was there a lot.”

I usually agree with Maher. Not this time. I guess he just isn’t a fan of show biz history.

49 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Paul Smith says:

    Everyone knows Lady Gaga is just warmed over Madonna. Everyone knows it is open season on Catholicism.  Why not a clever song of our rich devouring the poor.  And no one going to jail. To the beat of “Like a Prayer”.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I think “Springtime for HItler” would be a better song to reflect the times we live in – Alan Greenspan was on Meet the Press yesterday with his propaganda that Social Security never existed. Just a big Ponzi scheme. At this point perhaps it is given the trillions of dollars Congress “borrowed” from it. Leaving it a little “insolvent” at the moment. Personally I think Alan Greenspan is the devil. He just has managed to hide the horns and tail.

      Low interest rates of course were good for vulture capitalism. And for causing people who live off capital to invest more in the stock market. The people I know who did wish they hadn’t. The people who kept the bulk of their cash in T-bills and CDs of course still have their capital.

    • avatar Deborah Key says:

      Elton John, more like it!

  2. avatar Maggie W says:

    The early Beatles had many songs styled directly from Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.   Elvis was influenced by gospel blues singers.  Clapton borrowed runs from BB  King. Musicians are influenced by those before them . What they do with that exposure determines if they will be successful. Lady Gaga grew up listening to one of the greatest entertainment icons of our time, so it comes as no surprise that she takes a nod from Madonna.  How could she not?

    The good news is she is not a corporate model like so many young singers become.   Lady Gaga plays several instruments and writes and produces her music … at age 23.  She can dance and put on an electrifying show.  As time goes on, she should evolve even more because she is tuned in to her generation just like Madonna once was.  She gets her vibe from the 20-somethings.   Madonna’s great 80’s tunes cannot carry her there, and as an artist, Gaga would not strive for that… not if she intends to survive in one tough industry.  

    • avatar Princess Rapunzel says:

      While I have respect for Lady Gaga’s work ethic and intelligence about what the young kids want, I am disappointed with how terribly unoriginal and gimicky she is.  It’s one thing to be influenced by earlier singers and performers like all artists are but to blatently copy one?  I thought she was smarter than this.  At least she could attempt to make it not so obvious.  Maybe she just got lucky with her first few songs and her luck’s run out.  Or maybe she copied someone who isn’t famous and never had a talented bone in her body to begin with.  Time will tell I suppose unless the young people just don’t care about plagerism and originality.

  3. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Bill Maher is just cognizant of the fact his passing might not be mentioned until the last five minutes of a news broadcast. I was told once by someone who really was important that importance is merely the measure of impact you have had on other people’s lives.

    Elizabeth Taylor was important. In comparison to the impact she had on our lives, Bill Maher never will be.

    • avatar rick gould says:

      Regarding Maher, is there anything worse than a self-important “commentator,” particularly of the former standup comedian variety? Somebody who isn’t actually important trying to look big by tearing down somebody who was important? That’s why I don’t watch the fatuous collection of blowhards on talk TV.

      I’m kind of meh on Gaga, but kinda agree with statements on both sides. And it must be noted that Madonna used to be accused of “borrowing” artistically from past icons and fellow artists back when she was making a name for herself.

  4. avatar jwil5423 says:

    Absoloutely agree that GAGA is second rate Madonna. It’s been done, baby. And Brittany to hell and back? It was her own doing. Crazy, unstable people whouldn’t be put into the pressure cooker of fame…it eats them alive.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      I don’t see much difference betweeen the two. Both are “performance artists” and the more bizarre the better. Beyond that, much ado about nothing. I remember Madonna when she was nobody traveling around the country doing “live” performances on stages at discos. Even with the multi-million dollar magic of technology, she still sounds like a cat in heat to me. Screeching away in the alley. And at times acting like one. Particularly on stage.

      This is not the week for me to be posting I guess. Mars is about to “make a pass” at my Venus in Aries. Gets brutal.

  5. avatar jwil5423 says:

    Funny stuff Baby Snooks. Excellent.

  6. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    There really wasn’t a Madonna before Madonna who quickly enticed a dance crowd, sang ballads (her version), was reinventing herself (a term she gave meaning to), made semi-bad movies, had a love life and stayed away from too much ‘press’. She didn’t run with a star studded crowd. As strange as it sounds, Madonna was much more down to Earth than GaGa. GagGa is merely performance and theatrical dance art. Listen to techno/trance singers now (if there is such a thing). There vocal ranges are not usually up for grabs. A monkey can sing to a good dance song, and probably has. People want to hear the beat, to move, to feel free and alive. To be noticed. To be sensual. To watch others. To connect. No one really listens to the message of the song. Dance does this. It did this is my day and still does it now. All of GaGa’s songs are so dance infused, that the subject matter is somewhat diluted away. Yes…yes….yes, we were born this way. She is more commercial, more in touch with her fans….and after all the costumes and outrageous make-up, will fade away. She is a spokes person without any direction of being such. Madonna has hung in there (in one art form or another) for 27 years. Being aloof and the perpetual diva have worked for her. Later work included Evita, children, adoption, spirituality, and directing. Now, is she doing this successfully? That is another matter. She still is truly ever evolving. In terms of reputation, GaGa is commercial and Madonna is the real deal. Just the fact that time is passing, Madonna (at 52) is trying to move along with it. Gaga is at the right time and place for her genre. Brittney Spears (to me) is the same now, “Would You Hold it Against Me?” as she was with ” Oopps, I Did it Again” a dozen years ago. A train wreck of a personal life, but nothing new or interesting as an artist. Others are standing in line behind her…waiting. She’s a mom with two small children…who has shown us that she’s rather live in a trailer park in Mississippi. To each their own. We now know her favorite ‘Golden Girl’ was Betty White. Stop the presses!!! It isn’t just Elizabeth Taylor that Maher pokes fun of; he would be just as sarcastic towards anyone whose passing has lingered in conversation. He does what he does best. That’s Bill Maher. Take him for who he is and do not be afraid to chuckle. He is funny, about everybody. The 1985 audiences of “The Normal Heart” were choked up by their reactions. People were dying left and right at that point, all around them (especially a theater bunch). I know it has opened and closed a few times since, but the 2011 audiences have twenty five years of treatment and prognosis in their hearts, so they may interpret the play (though powerful) without the same amount of passion…which is indicative of the way AIDS/HIV is going anyway.

    • avatar Paul Smith says:

      Richard, my first thought was why a restaging at all.  It will be interesting to know if people respond with deep feeling or has it become a curiosity piece. Is no one writing about AIDS/HIV as it exist for people in 2011?  The horror writing of the disease doesn’t resonate as it used to.

      • avatar Richard Bassett says:

        Paul, since no one is dying within a month of being infected with HIV…and are living for thirty years now, the play would have to be pretty long! HIV/AIDS is, now, not the health crisis that made good theatrical material, Life vs. Death. That theme will always be popular with the hopes of becoming compelling. Now, HIV/AIDS folks are dealing with drug resistance, long term medication side effects, getting on or off Social Security Income/ Disability…trying to rejoin the work force, longevity of life, aging 40’s through 60’s. And lastly, funds for supportive services drying up. That is the reality of living with HIV/AIDS today and I wonder how interesting that ‘material’ would make for a theatrical piece. “Philadelphia” would have lost all of its strength if the lead character won his law suit (without the stigma of visually living with Karposi sarcoma) and moved on to another law position…instead of dying. I do not even think that those scenarios’s make up people’s issues these days. Everyone would be asking: “Why is he dying?”…especially a gay audience. Even Elizabeth Taylor’s passionate plea would still incite never ending applause but the immediacy would be lost. She knew this too. Giving 1985 speeches in 2010.

        • avatar Baby Snooks says:

          Not everyone lives for 20 or 30 years and AIDS is not just another “manageable disease” as it curiously is portrayed as. Even long-term survivors have found  that “quantity of life” does not equate to “quality of life.”  The pharmaceutical companies are partly to blame with advertising that falsely painted a “pretty picture” of AIDS but the AIDS advocacy community is partly to blame as well for its complicity in the “pretty picture.” Both are to blame for the once-again increasing numbers of gay and bisexual men who who are testing HIV-positive because they did not practice safe sex because they believed  AIDS is not considered a fatal disease any longer so it doesn’t matter. 

          For many it is indeed a fatal disease rather than a managerable disease. Particularly those who are not only HIV-positive but have been diagnosed with AIDS. Some live for only 2 or 3 years in some cases. Not 20 or 30 years.  Not everyone is a long-term survivor.  Two years ago I watched someone die a horrible death from AIDS. One of the ones who was always healthy. Or so he thought. He lasted five years from the first T-cell count which was “borderline” AIDS. Not so “borderline” several months later.

          AIDS Healthcare Foundation has publicly attacked Gilead Pharmaceuticals over its clinical trials of Truvada.  Any preventaive drug will have to be tested in a population that does not practce safe sex. Which apparently all the volunteers do not. It is a tricky question ethically. Except if they are already exposing thermselves to the risk, if anything Truvada may lower the risk. For everyone eventually. In its attack on Gilead Pharmacueuticals AIDS Healthcare Foundation asks the question “Are we really ready to give up on gay men protecting themselves and thier partneres?”  After 25 years, the answer is many gay and bisexual men will not give up the “thrill” of unprotected sex. Period. 

          There is this curious attitude 25 years later that gay and bisexual men should be allowed to continue to party and everyone else should just find a cure.  Larry Kramer addressed that and was vilified for it.  But he and others have spoken th etruth. And part of that truth is AIDS is not just a “manageable disease” but a very debilitating one and in many cases, again, often a fatal one. Anot in 20 or 30 years. Often in 2 or 3.

          It’s a very selfish attitude.  The other victims of AIDS are often victims of the people at the party.  Particularly women who are married to bisexual men who don’t know they are bisexual until it is too late. 

          What really angers me is this belief that Elizabeth Taylor was fine with it. She was not. She did not say “keep on partying boys.” She just didn’t have the courage Larry Karmer did. Or maybe she feared being vilified the way he was.

          • avatar Richard Bassett says:

            You are stereotyping that all gay men who have adopted ‘the manageable disease’ message to those who only want to ‘party’…which is the exact opposite of what gay men want their lives to be viewed as. Your post really is tainted and giving no credit to the millions of gay men & women (though you do not mention women) who dedicate their lives to their families, their careers and the ‘same’ lifestyle’ that is associated with the typical straight individual. Shame on you. You are clumping all gay men who enjoy going to a nightclub as automatically thinking that safer sex is no long needed (so we might as well do our drugs and have our multiple sex partners a night), You are mistaking the behavior of all gay men on such a misguided notion…when you really should be including the behavior of the very young, regardless of the orientation. The entire AIDS pandemic is to view it across the board and affecting all people, globally. The thrill of unprotected sex does not apply to everyone. It is an individual decision, not a group consciousness. So if you are going to make your main point a difference in ‘partying’, include everyone. Elizabeth Taylor never gave the message to keep on partying boys; it was that giving up on a cure/vaccine from AIDS should not be put on the back burner due to the fact that AIDS was now being viewed by some (especially funding sources) as a ‘manageable disease’. People may be pulled into a false sense of security and (as we are seeing) very long term use of the life sustaining medications is causing life altering problems. Maybe you didn’t read THAT part of my post when discussing what is prevalent in AIDS today. There will be people dying of cancer after two months of diagnosis as well as those with AIDS. These are rare conditions and are usually found concurrent with another infection. Factually, HIV drugs do support the immune system as they keep the virus at bay…but if you have a stroke, then all of the medications are pointless. Without interference from other medical conditions, people ARE living 25+ years. Not just a few or the rare, but the majority…and I was telling Paul what (now) faces the future. These are very potent medications that the body can become resistant to or can cause life threatening conditions on their own. We face that regarding AIDS every day, but these conditions take decades to appear and decades to treat. YOU are giving the wrong information, and awareness of AIDS Organization Services is to still being kept funded but these reality checks. As for it being cured, you do not die from the condition but by the complications of the condition…that once started a year or two after diagnoses. We are not there medically anymore. Just one more fact, all of those who have AIDS were once classified as HIV +, it is never the other way around.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            The statistics speak for themselves. As does the result of this “Living with AIDS” campaign which the pharmaceutical companies in great part funded to promote use of their “miracle” drugs which are not a miracle for everyone.

            I’ve been involved with AIDS organizations since 1986 and am aware of the distictiion between HIV and AIDS. I was horrified by the distinction being made. The HIV virus causes AIDS.  I know of no one who has tested positive who has not later been diagnosed with AIDS. But HIV sounded better than AIDS. And is misleading. That’s my opinion. And I will express my opinion without shame.

            And you need to read my post again. I mentioned women. Married to or dating bisexual men. Who don’t theri husband or boyfirend is bisexual. Who only find out once they’re diagnosed.  Victims of AIDS because of their husbands, or boyfriends, who were out partying on the sly. Not caring. Not caring if they caught it. Or if they gave it to anyone.

            The “Safe Sex” campaigns began to finally become part of the landscape ape in 1986.  And 25 years later, the statitstics, again, speak for themselves. 

          • avatar Richard Bassett says:


            I know all the statistics too and gay white men are THE LEAST population in contracting HIV. The MOST infected population are black women in 3rd world countries, excluding Asians. The reasons are not only for ‘reckless behavior’. Woman with multiple sex partner are at risk of infecting men and babies. The lack of insistence that women have their partner to wear condoms (with the preconceived notion that there men are cheating), drug addicted women are more likely to sell their bodies for a boost of their drug with an infected needle. This all stems from the fact that uneducated women feel vulnerable (globally) if left alone so do not protect themselves with conviction. This occurs with a population that you are unfamiliar with, I am sure, but I see them every day. Risk AIDS and keep their man to help raise their children, or being alone with the risk of homelessness and having their children taken away from them. You are putting this on a moral informed issue, when the reality does not reflect that. Your antidotal remarks about the sleazy bisexual boyfriend giving it to their golden girlfriend is surely a method of infection…but, again, it is moral and keeps AIDS and AIDS testing in the closet. Once we learn not to judge people but behaviors (whatever they may be), then part of the problem is solved. Safer sex has always been with us but it is finite. People practice it, they try or they don’t (on all levels) I know my statics too.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            You need to just look at the transmission rates in the gay and bisexual community in this country instead of trying to “compare” it to rates in the heterosexual community or to rates in other countries. After 25 years the transmission rate should be zero. Period. End of subject as far as I am concerned.  I don’t believe in guilty victims. But there are a lot of foolish volunteers at this point. 

            You have no concept of the reality for women when you suggest they are responsible for ensuring they are protected.  In many countries they do not have the right to say no to a man. They certainly do not have the right to demand he wear a condom. And it is not that much different in this country for many women. Particularly in minority communities where cultural “mores” dictate the “relationship” between men and in these commmunities often again the woman does not have the right to say no to a man. She may have the legal right. But she does not have the cultural right. But it’s not just in the minority communities and many fundamentalist religions take the right away as well. The woman must submit to the man. It’s a problem for many advocates who deal with domestic abuse/violence and sexual assault/rape. The woman fears retaliation within her own community. But to you, well, they just need to be educated. Well, to me, some are. And they still hesitate. And still submit. And that is the reality. Put the blame where it belongs. On the men. Who in many cases are bisexual and just using the woman to maintain a “heterosexual” image. Which makes it all the more appalling. Not all women are exposed by biseual men. But after 25 years no woman should be exposed by a bisexual man. Not a bisexual man who is responsible. But some just want to continue to party.

            I am not singling out the gay community but they were the community hardest hit by AIDS in this country until it exploded in the minority communities and they knew and know the reality of AIDS but it seems like they still don’t seem to want to deal with the reality.

          • avatar Richard Bassett says:

            THIS is exactly where education and awareness comes in. Do you ever stop to think that there is reality in those words or do just sound good along with the rest. The men of the countries that you never seem to mention have AIDS themselves, if they are passing it on. Do you think that it is correct to allow this way of thinking to continue? Women being forced, killed or sold in slavery as a mode of infection? Of course, everything you say exists and need to change. If not, we are looking at a pandemic forever. Those dozens of AIDS Service Organizations, like Elizabeth Taylor’s, are trying to make this a global health issue. Not a moral issue. You are blaming men for giving AIDS to women, and these thoughts do not address the problem. You would make a terrible activist with pointing fingers at everyone. YOU would drive people back into the AIDS disclosure closet (gay or straight) because of your harsh judgment. Ideally, the AIDS rate should be zero…all over the world. You certainly sound like you are singling out the gay community and the rest of the world…as well. And women are not without their own infection rate. Look at drug addiction. Look at fear. Look at the false claim that AIDS is treatable. All keep the cause alive but making these people feel guilty and unworthy ADD, not subtract to the issue. Gay men have had the highest rate of transmission because they use the most optimal way to infect one another. Some won’t use a condom because it detracts from physical sensitivity. Some feels that they are being safe without one. Some feel as though it could never happen to them. Others feel their partner has a zero viral load. Drugs also clouds decision making. NONE of these are bad people…even the bisexual who STILL wants to party. Women are not defenseless and sending that message keeps the issue at hand. Women are being empowered…usually by other women. They are called advocates. Men have them too. NO one puts this issue on a moral or judgmental level. No one who actually works in the field, anyway. How dare you try to point you finger at someone saying ‘it is your entire fault’. This idea of the perpetual party USUALLY applies to the very young, gay & straight. Does everyone keep to their own target population or boundaries? Of course not, we are all human. And you have to stop thinking of this country as a separate entity because AIDS eventually finds itself back here to begin with. Put some humanity into this issue, and take away the judgment and you may have something to work with. We cannot all sit on our pedestals (especially regarding a subject that is alien to us) and read off all of the reasons and who is ‘really’ responsible. That is anti-activism that we continue to try to get ourselves away from, because it is a road block. Elizabeth Taylor did not mean ignorance (factually) was killing AIDS patients; she meant a lack of compassion. One more thought, you have the subject of ‘partying’ as being a major global reason, or at least a USA problem. Maybe there is somewhere in your past that you knowingly put yourself at risk by ‘partying’. Wouldn’t you feel a bit ashamed of yourself if people called you out on it? Blamed you and tossed you into a category. And as for drug companies hiding their cures? You must look behind your back an awful lot.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            Pointing out the reality for women is not being judgemental. It is pointing out the reality. No amount of educations is not  going to change attitudes. You should know that.

            I don’t need anyone to call me out. I already did. I was lucky. As were others. But in my case it also had to do with the “epidemic” of herpes. The party is nice. But it has a price.  My party ended with herpes. Others continued with the party. Believing there wasn’t a price. Or that it was not a heavy price. A pill a day makes it all go away.  It angers me that Mr Wow takes 20 pills a day. It angers me that quite a few do.  It is not a pretty picture. 

            Straight men and women people continued the party believing it only affected gay people. Forgetting that there were bisexual men.Gay men continued the party believing “Adonis” couldn’t possibly have AIDS. Even though he did.

            Smart people no longer party. And yet that seems to be what the gay community continues to do. Party.

            Larry Kramer took the same position. And was viliffied.  So I’m at least in good company.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Baby, in support of you, may I also remind Richard that married women are especially at risk…and not just from bisexual partners. Through the act of vaginal intercourse, women are much more likely to contract AIDs than men. A man who uses intravenous drugs, frequents any kind of prostitute, o