This morning, two words I'm willing to bet you never thought you'd hear in the same sentence: Evelyn Waugh and Lady Gaga.
What could they possibly have in common?
(Portrait of Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb; Lady Gaga)
The answer lies in D. J. Taylor's "Bright Young People" which I recently devoured. (If you have any curiosity at all about that crazy cult of 1920's pleasure-seekers called the Bright Young Things, this is the most penetrating book I've read about them.)
Anyway, Evelyn Waugh figures heavily in the book. He chronicled the BYT's in his novels, was strongly attracted to their hedonistic lifestyle and knew all the players intimately. So I had him on the brain, so to speak, when on page 147, D. J. Taylor cites an article from a 1929 Punch magazine:
Punch's correspondent is escorted by "Lady Gaga" to an entertainment hosted by "the Honorable Batsin Belfry" and her husband "Bobo." Arriving at a "little house in Bloomsbury" ablaze with light, the couple fight their way to the dining room....On the counter sits "a massive maiden in a cavalry officer's mess-kit...and next to her a fresh-faced lad dressed as a bride....
Losing sight of Lady Gaga for half an hour, the inteloper eventually finds her with her arm round the waist of "a young heavy-weight in horn-rims dressed as a baby" listening to a hollow-eyed girl in a tutu and an opera hat who is singing a song with the refrain "It's terribly thrilling to be wicked."
So funny, huh? I have to admit I thought, "How cool. This must be where she got the idea for her name." (Okay, I was wrong.)
Another similarity between the world of Waugh and the world of Gaga is their predilection for dressing up in outrageous costumes.
Below, a photo from the infamous "Second Childhood Party" in 1929 which was labeled by onlookers as "the type of behavior that leads to communism."
(Courtesy of Illustrated London News Picture Library)
And check out this one. It was taken April 29, 1930, the night of David Tennant's Mozart Party where guests were required to dress in 1760's attire. Afterwards the revelers took to the streets of Piccadilly and interrupted some night workmen digging up a gas pipe. Cecil Beaton is the one wielding the pneumatic drill.( That poor laborer looks like he doesn't know what hit him.)
(Photo via "Bright Young People")
Below, a few of Lady Gaga's vehicles of self-expression:
Waugh and the Bright Young Things virtually created the phenomenon of celebrity -- prior to them, a member of the upper class was only supposed to appear in print three times (birth, marriage and death). After them, everything was fair game. Gossip columnists became powerful voices, breathlessly recounting to a riveted public all the scandalous doings of this new social order. Novels like Waugh's "Vile Bodies" were huge sellers, offering an insider's glimpse into the lifestyles of the rich and louche.
Newspaper owners demanded their photographers chronicle all the hijinks as well, ensuring that celebrity would forevermore go hand in hand with flashbulbs. Of course, wouldn't you know it, Lady Gaga has a massive hit called "Paparazzi."
It just goes to show you that you never know what you're going to find when you stick your head in a book.