Gaga-Now.com interviews Lady Gaga’s DJ New York Nightlife Legend and International Scenester DJVh1. DJVh1 is one of Gaga’s closest friends and has known her all the way back to 2006. The first time Lady Gaga introduced herself to me [DJVh1], in December 2006, I completely forgot her name. She came right up to me: “You’re the DJ, right?” I said I was and then I asked her where she worked: “Oh, I don’t work anywhere — I’m a singer.” I told her we could set up a show sometime. From there, we went gogo dancing at New York bars, shopping for her lingerie outfits, and hung out in random New York City coffee shops as she hustled to become famous. Eventually that call came. And Gaga — the name she gave me — soon became the kind of girl (or, better yet, Lady) one never forgets.
1. Tell us who you are and what you believe you have achieved?
When I got started in nightlife it was really only for a certain kind of rich person who dressed in a sanctioned way. Some clubs enforced man-woman pairs to get in meaning gay couples weren’t admitted. Others had a dress code that caused defacto segregation in the 21st Century. If we have achieved anything it is in carving out a little place where homos, fags, freaks, scenesters, metal kids, students and the curious people can go and dance–and then taking the operation global.
2. What do you hope to achieve in your lifetime?
As long as one more person learns to love themselves just the way they are I’m happy.
3. Who is your absolute idol and inspired you?
Jay Sullivan. Somehow I was lucky enough that my lifelong idol was there next to my wonderful parents on the day I was born. He’s my best friend, my biggest influence and my big brother Jay. He married his high school sweetheart and they have two beautiful red headed Irish monsters. My absolute favorite thing in the world to do is to call him up in the studio and sit at the piano so I can tell which key I’m laughing my ass off in. No one can make me smile the way he can. He’s so great. I feel so blessed that I got to be his baby brother. He makes me want start a relief organization for people born without a big brother so they could ring a number when they’re depressed and talk to an awesome guy about motorcycles.
4. Did you ever think Lady Gaga would be who she is and if not who did you think she would be?
As a person who has worked in music for many years the only thing I feel like adding is that there were never greater odds against an outsider in the industry.
5. How did you know Gaga and what is something you know that no one else knows about her?
The word is genuine. She is a genuine person who believed in me when I was not interested in believing in myself.
6. At a movie theatre if someone takes the armrest what do you do to get it back?
I have, on occasion, had the whole of both armrests to myself for the duration of the entire film. I store up these moments for when I have to do without. It doesn’t bother me.
7. Who were you at school?
Nobody you’d want to talk to. I never fit in anywhere, but I always made it a point never to treat anyone else like they were any greater or less than someone else. In Junior High I remember sitting at lunch and I saw this little red headed Mormon kid crying and running out of the cafeteria. I followed him out in the parking lot and asked what was going on. His own friends didn’t want him to sit with them and they would pick on him. I thought it was ridiculous that anyone would be so concerned with whom they spent twenty minutes eating in the middle of the day—let alone your friends. The next day he sat with me and it was great. We didn’t have a single thing in common so I had this new friend who could tell me all about polygamy and Metallica.
8. What are you doing at a party?
Haha. You know what’s weird? I NEVER get invited to house parties. I work really hard all day and when I go out I want to have fun. Going out kind of gets old for some people after a few years, but I’m on the other side of it now. I remember why it’s fun and how great it is to see your friends dressed up or see a good friend of yours in no makeup while you two dick around and play pool in wifebeaters. I accept people how they are, which means it’s always great to see them!
9. When I say “CD” the first word you think is?
If you could understand what the brief and terrible reign of the Compact Disc has done to the music industry you would wish it never happened. Read “Appetite for Self Destruction” by Stephen Knopper. But I grew up in a music scene where kids would save up all their lawnmowing money and pull together $700 for studio time and a pressing of about 500 7” vinyl records. Did any of them think they’d even make their money back? No. Did they still do it anyway? Of course they did. And they still do. Kids in my home music scene were starving for good music. If you had some great records from a trip to New York you’d put ‘em all on a tape and sell it at shows. Then the younger kids would get into the scene because of Greenday or Rancid and at their first show some positive, older scenester would be like, “Do you want to buy a tape of the entire history of Punk and Hardcore so that I can have gas money to get home?” How great is that? Kids were honored to have their music copied. I don’t have anything revolutionary to say about the relationship between art and commerce, but I do think it’s magic that something just forces a certain kind of person to put themselves out there. It’s like with nightlife. I just look around and think, “Isn’t is great that this is happening right now?”
10. If you had to think of a tenth question for a interview what would you ask and your answer would be?
What would my answer be? YES.
April 26, 2010, 12:00 AM
Lady Gaga: The Grandmother of Pop
As her old friend chronicles in this never-before-told tale of her rise, the biggest pop star in the world didn't ask anyone to like her. She told them to. And she has plenty more to say.
By Brendan Sullivan
Published in Esquire's May 2010 "Women Issue"
Share Lady Gaga, you have to understand, is not Dee Dee Ramone. She doesn't wait in her tour bus to be propped up onstage to play the same set every night. Around two in the morning on a recent Monday, in a club on the desolate western edge of Manhattan, a wall of hired muscle cleared a path for her through a tangle of bobbing clubgoers. Gaga strode through the parted sea wearing her twin affectations — sunglasses and a wig the color of Marilyn Monroe's hair in the Warhol prints — and when the DJ started playing her music as a kind of call to action, the crowd revved its sweaty, leggy, beautiful engines and took off. Servers brought a bottle of the good booze for Gaga's crew, and the whole scene — the flashing lights, makeup (on the girls and some of the boys), all the cool kids wearing their sunglasses indoors — could have been a Lady Gaga video. But while everyone was shouting about her and around her, Lady Gaga wasn't talking to anyone. If you got close enough, you could see that behind the glasses her eyelids hung a little low. A few hours earlier, she had walked off the stage at the end of her last of four sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall. Now she looked like the boss who took the team out for drinks after a big project but was preoccupied with tomorrow's presentation.
Lady Gaga has work to do. She's a manager, and the client she manages is Lady Gaga. She is obsessive, a style she learned from people like her friend the late Alexander McQueen, the fashion designer for whom she was a muse. She spends hours on many days constructing and fine-tuning what designers call mood boards — collages of artwork, fashion inspirations, and drawings meant to direct the stylists and artists (wardrobe, hair, and makeup) who execute her vision of Lady Gaga. A mood board develops into a storyboard, and it all morphs into a live show. The music is just one element of the presentation.
Within an hour at 1Oak, she stepped down from her elevated booth. The men communicated through earpieces, vehicles were readied, and the bodyguard team cleared another passage. A storm of BlackBerry flashes and digital-camera lightning illuminated her her path to the door. Somehow, a sweaty, skinny kid squeezed through the handlers, weeping, and cried, "I love you for being you, Gaga!" She halted the procession, put her lips close to his ear, and said, very softly, "And I love you just for being you." It made the kid sob even harder, and Lady Gaga disappeared into the cold.
The most important thing you should know about Lady Gaga is that she has just started. The four number-one singles on her debut album (five if you count the deluxe version with "Bad Romance"), the sold-out world tour last year at age twenty-three — she doesn't see these as her moment. To her, this is the foundation.
"There is a musical government, who decides what we all get to hear and listen to. And I want to be one of those people." The girl who said that didn't yet have the number-one hits (although she had already written most of them). She was not yet the creative director of the Haus of Gaga, which is what she calls the machine of more than a hundred creative people who work for her. She didn't make that statement in an interview or from the stage. She made it in 2007, when she was a go-go dancer sewing her own outfits and I was her DJ. She wrote it in one of my notebooks.
In those days Stefani Germanotta was what you would call a struggling artist — a go-go dancer who wanted to take over the music world. On Saturdays we would sit on the floor of her bare Lower East Side apartment, drinking wine from pint glasses. I would read drafts of my novel to her while she lay on the floor, head in my lap. Every once in a while we'd take a Springsteen break. (She loves "Thunder Road.") She would use the drafts as blank pages to write notes, workshopping her career plan.
One night, after she had gotten some attention from record companies, she put on a CD of a song she was working on, "Boys Boys Boys." It was only the instrumental part; she hadn't recorded the vocals yet. She started singing over the recording, really belting it out, with perfect posture, her voice filling the apartment. (The song is about going on a date to see the Killers at Madison Square Garden, and it includes a line about going to their after-party, which I had DJ'd at at a bar called Motor City. It later ended up on her first record and became a hit.) We went around the corner to some shithole, and after we had a few drinks and her music hit me again, I told her that even though I had been to the bar a hundred times, I suddenly felt as if I were in a Lady Gaga song — it felt different because of her. And it was true. Her music is about doing, and it's about possibility. It's exciting. You can hear her belief that there's much more to come — sex, love, money, fame, exhibitionism, success. She said back then that she would always write songs, but that her early outpouring was just a training ground that would help her become a music producer. Once she told me that she wanted to be the "grandmother of pop music," bringing up new bands, nurturing their talents, watching them grow.
Back in the summer of 2007, there was a night when she popped out of a cake and sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" for my then boss, the owner of Beauty Bar Manhattan. It was fitting, somehow — the Marilyn reference. I'll quote something she said to me one day around that time as directly as I can: "No one in the world knows who I am, but they are going to want to know who I am. My first time ever on TV I want to be on a huge show where I play one song. I'm going to come out onstage in my underwear and show the world that here I am and I don't give a ffffuck what anyone thinks of me."
Gaga was always famous. Before she ever released a record, you could walk into a club or a party with her and skip the line. We'd be browsing in a bookshop and everyone's eyes would wander above the paperback in their hands. She is barely five feet tall and she speaks in a tiny voice, but she knew how to get attention. That many eyes on you, and the kind of strange pressure it morphed into as more people discovered who she was, can chew starlets into pulp. Soon it was as if people expected a hit record out of her before they ever heard her sing. But anyone who paid attention to her self-creation knows that every idea is hers. The difference between Lady Gaga and every other young singer is that most of the others ask the world, "Do you like the way I sing? Will you buy my record and come to my show?" Gaga tells the world, "I am famous. I was famous before even I had heard of me." She didn't dream of fame. She announced it.
Lady Gaga is a student of fame, and the fame she studies most is her own — being famous seems to both amuse and fascinate her. Her songs, especially the ones about fame, can be deceptively simple in structure and yet almost three-dimensional lyrically. "Summerboy" could be about a romantic fling or the transience of stardom.. "Paparazzi" seems to be about fame or the promise of it; beneath that is the story of a girl working on her music to impress a boy, knowing that the harder she works, the more the music will tug her away from him. "I was always the star in my own life. [But] when I met him, he became the star," Gaga once wrote to me of a hard-to-impress guy she used to date. "I wrote the songs to impress him, but the songs will ultimately be the thing that pulls me away."
On Valentine's Day in 2008, she returned to New York from L. A., where she had just finished some recording that would become the song "Just Dance." She and I had a show to do that night, but we pulled over on my Vespa to go costume shopping and drink tea before I dropped her off at her parents' house. She told me how Jimmy Iovine, the head of Interscope Records in Los Angeles, had kept the whole office late to hear the song for the first time as she danced on the boardroom table. We were sitting in an anonymous midtown deli, and right then she got a call from Bert Padell, who had been Madonna's business manager in the nineties. Not only did she, at twenty-one, know exactly who Padell was, but she reminded him of a meeting she'd had with him when she was even younger. ("My mother still has your book of poetry!") He had heard the new demo and wanted to manage her. A month later we were in L. A. to shoot the video for "Just Dance." After I flew home, she called to say, "When I get back to New York, I want to sit down and get dinner with you and just be normal people. Not you being my DJ and me being your singer. I just want to be Brendan and Stefani."
The dinner never happened, because Stefani has not had a day off from being Lady Gaga since. She's living the future she once predicted over cheap red wine — or at least she's living the beginning of that future. Stage One, as she would say. Right now she's on the Lady Gaga Monster Ball Tour — London, Glasgow, Sydney, Osaka, wherever else. She's in charge of an army of creative people — dancers, backup singers, designers, stylists, makeup artists. Her sunglasses give her just an inch to herself, some space to admire, appreciate, and explore without anyone watching her eyes. But just an inch.
Suddenly she is a star. That happens to a lot of people, and then suddenly they aren't stars. But flashes in the pan often disappear because they follow what they think are the rules of becoming famous — or what someone else tells them the rules are. Nobody tells Lady Gaga anything. The same bright girl who popped out of cakes and who created her own way of being famous once helped me understand something important. I was stressing out about how to end my novel, and she stopped me. She grabbed the draft, flipped over the final page, pulled the cap off a Sharpie, and wrote, "No story should ever end in resolution."