Dennis Hopper’s death a couple of weeks ago got me thinking about Lady Gaga. Not that the 20-something pop diva and the 70-something film star are similar—I can’t picture the steely-eyed Hopper wearing latex and hula hoops, nor can I imagine the hyper-styled Gaga straddling a Harley (her outfits wouldn’t allow it). No, the two luminaries are not alike … or are they?
In 1969, when Easy Rider hit the theaters, I was a young teenager. Hopper played a chopper-riding, drug-smuggling hippie named Billy. My slightly older brother was a bona fide hippie at the time, with the long hair and fringed jackets to prove it, but I was still a wannabe, making good grades and saving my babysitting money while I secretly yearned for everything my brother and Dennis Hopper stood for. All that hell-raising and rebellion and youthful defiance. All that edginess and ballsy courage. All that independence. All that freakin’ freedom on the open road riding those ridiculously long motorcycles.
I’m sure my parents hated Dennis Hopper for the very same reasons that I glorified him—instead of defiance, they saw contempt; instead of courage, rudeness; instead of independence, self-indulgence.
I know, because all these years later, as the parent of two teenage girls, that’s how I see Lady Gaga.
If you’ve been living under the proverbial rock recently, you may have missed Gaga’s music video sensations. These 8 or 9-minute productions are hardly the music videos of yore. They are epic statements, replete with… well, replete, that’s all I can say. I hate them, the videos, that is. Poker Face, Bad Romance, Telephone, and the newest blockbuster Alejandro (replete with machine-gun boobs)—to me, they are dark, garbled messages about bad sex, violence, intentionally inflicted pain and abuse.
But my daughters think these videos are “amazing.” Where I see degradation, they see defiance. Where I see humiliation, they see guts. Where I see pornography, they see power. Where I see gratuitous grotesqueness, they see independence and courage and, yes, all that freakin’ freedom to sing and dance very nearly naked on the World Wide Web.
I can’t like Lady Gaga. Actually, I do like her music, and when the songs come on the radio (or the kids’ iPods), I hum along. But much to my daughters’ dismay, I can’ t like her twisted, death-obsessed, violence-mongering videos, just as I am sure my parents never liked the drugs and violence and rock-n-roll of Easy Rider.
I have tried to express my opinion to my kids, but they long ago shut out my rants about the Gaga videos’ “bad messages.” Dennis Hopper’s death has helped though—I am now trying to hold on to the realization that 30 or 40 years from now, my own children will be shaking their heads over the excess of who knows what kind of musical genre. They, too, will face their Gaga.
In one of Dennis Hopper’s obits, I read a comment Hopper made about his days of directing and starring in films such as Easy Rider. In those days, he told the New York Times in 2002, “I thought the crazier you behaved, the better artist you would be.”
Maybe Lady Gaga will grow up like Dennis Hopper. And maybe I’ll grow up too, enough at least to shut up and let my kids love something I hate, for the sake of feeling that rush of freedom we all crave.
Meanwhile, rest in peace, Billy.