Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Birds of a Feather?

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.)
(available here)

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....

And later:

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.


pve design said...

"Woe betide someone" like Lady Gaga and the connection of celebrity to such a Master of the Quill and to you for giving us such good "Scoop." I do believe there is and always be a fascination with those that have a keen eye, a vile tongue and a dark witted humor along with a penchant for preening.

Cashon&Co said...

i am going to amazon RIGHT NOW to order this book. i have always been fascinated by them and just the social aspects of this class in the 20's. thank you for sharing this!! and is it wrong or does it give away my old age if i say that I still don't know what lady gaga sings or have never heard a song of hers??? is that too much like the moment (not too long ago) when my own mother didn't know who Michael Jackson was?? maybe i should sign this as Anonymous....;)

Cashon&Co said...

jUst ordered it and a few more of Evelyn Waugh's books. thanks!!

Laura said...

Ah this book has been on my library list for ages, I shall have to move it to the top, clearly! So curious about Lady Gaga 1.0...

Style Court said...

This is brilliant Lisa.

There's a new book coming out called The Great Lady Decorators: The Women Who Defined Interior Design, 1870-1955, and I think it's going to touch on the whole phenomenon of the celebrity interior decorator. The 1920s might be a key decade there too.

littlebyrd said...

Yes! Thanks for the book recommendation. Just last night I watched Brideshead Revisited and want more more more.

balsamfir said...

As with Cashon, I have no idea what Lady Gaga actually does, nor do I really care, but her penchant for being photographed, and the nearly performance art quality of her costumes dim even Madonna's early days. Your comparison of her role is brilliant, being both obviously true and never thought of before.

Unknown said...

What fun, I started looking for a common wall paper pattern...

I had to laugh though at the idea that THIS behavior could lead to communism. I lived under the communists for my entire childhood and youth. We never had such fun. The communists were so afraid that someone could poke fun at their carefully groomed wall of selfproclaimed cultural achivements and that type of free spirited behavior would have ended up in detention and communist correction institutions!!!
They- BYT - were truly a wild bunch and I admire them greatly! Going against common cultural grain has always been the task of artists and people usually considered gaga by the rest of society!
I grinned seeing Lady Gaga reading this book in my mind! Although I think she represents common culture...

Susan's Snippets said...

Lisa -

Years ago, I worked alongside a woman, who had been in a long term relationship with the lead singer of the Smashing Pumpkins, prior to him becoming famous.

It wasn't until after they broke up that he assembled and named the band. She thought that he named it "Smashing Pumpkins" because she came from a small town in Illinois that is known as the "Pumpkin Capital of the World"...something that she could never verify.

only the artists would know why

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Such a great comparison -made me smile! I've had this book on my 'to read' pile for awhile now -maybe it needs to move to the top of the pile (hopefully without toppling the others, causing my inevitable early demise!).
PS -I know who lady gaga is and am a huge fan -she's FABULOUS.

Unknown said...

boy, as i said to you the other night at dinner, you are just too smart for me! :-)

too smart for me or not, i'm LOVING the literary/pop culture mash up of this post, and bonus points for using the word "louche"- a uncommonly used, yet completely fabulous adjective. i hope some people were inspired to look it up!

oxoxo, your new friend and admirer,


DM said...

Vile Bodies is a favorite of mine, as you can guess, and I have a feeling this new book will be too!

Debra said...

Sometimes it can be fun- sort of living vicariously through these free spirits- wishing that we could somehow 'get-away' with wild abandon. You are always so generous in your fabulous reading picks- another to add to my endless list of must-haves.

Miss Cavendish said...

How wonderful if "our" Lady Gaga were really inspired by Waugh's. Handful of Dust is my favorite novel of his, though Black Mischief is on my shelf to read during my break next week. And I cannot buy a yogurt without thinking of Mrs. Beaver.

Simple Good Beautiful said...


How serendipitous to find this connection when even our present day Lady Gaga is apparently unaware of it. You should probably let her know and give her a more erudite story. I enjoy watching her, and she's got quite the talent.

I love your book posts, can't tell you how many I've already read on your recommendation and how many more I have on my reading list...

Jessica Claire said...

who knew gagaloo's moinker had more history than it seemed - you learn something new everyday!

Angie Muresan said...

Well now I must order this book as well. By the way, Lady Gaga freaks me out.

Unknown said...

Evelyn Waugh is one of a few British novelists which can compare with their American, French & Italian counterparts. I look forward to reading about the Bright Young Things, and why British art & literature disappeared in the first decades of the 20C.

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Sarah Saad said...

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