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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pop Time

By Becca Klaver

This is the second piece in our series on the video for “The Edge of Glory.” Click here for the first piece.

Something happened to cheesy in 2011

and this has a lot to do with the saxophone

The Varsity online reports:

“Last year in an interview with Exclaim,
Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, right after
the band’s critically lauded Halcyon Digest was released,
predicted that in 2011 everyone would have
a saxophone on their record because,
‘Saxophones are just cool.’”

You can hear it on Destroyer’s Kaputt
You can see it on Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory”
And while everyone wants to say
Kenny G
it’s actually Lou Reed or the Stones
it’s actually Clarence Clemons, ailing
it’s the heart of rock and roll

The first time I watched “The Edge of Glory” video
I didn’t “like” or “dislike” [click here]
But I thought it was incredibly cheesy
cheesy in a way that made me want to look away
embarrassed for The Haus of Gaga
for firing the original director, Joseph Kahn
for losing the mermaid theme, the Brooklyn Bridge,
the “Couture Doctors” in scrubs and black gloves (“think Dr. 90210”)
the “Puerto Rican or Dominican type badass”
“willing to kiss Lady Gaga” (“think Enrique Iglesias”)
the military men holding M16 rifles

“The Edge of Glory”
is cheesy the way saxophones are cheesy
the way Rent and West Side Story are cheesy
the way 80s MTV looks cheesy
the way early Lady Gaga videos were cheesy

(“Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)”
was released
only two years earlier to the day
remember we are on
Pop Time
and we race and race but never catch up)

Cheesiness is meant to make you look away

so were alien prosthetics meant to
as were giant shoulderpads
and meat dresses

Gaga-Gaze makes you look away
stunned or embarrassed
and then look back again
only to find
she’s raced on to the next thing

On the same day
“The Edge of Glory” video premiered
Gaga’s meat dress—
after visiting a taxidermist
who put it in a meat locker
and treated it with chemicals—
traveled to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
where it is in a glass case
with canisters that soak up the humidity
and soak up the glutens
There are gels to “control the environment”
They’ve painted it redder
to make it look more meaty
less jerky

There are methods of preservation
and resurrection
known only to animal stuffers
and Hollywood hustlers
and The Haus of Gaga

If the 90s are back
(let’s not say “back,”
let’s say “reclaimed”
or “polished off”)
if the 90s are polished off
then irony should be, too
but irony came down with the white dust
10 years ago
and doesn’t dare
be so cavalier, so arrogant again

(Conan crashes to basic cable,
Chandler’s pilots flop and flop)

If the 90s have been reclaimed
then at the very least cheesy
should be
out of the question,
which is why
63% of voters have clicked “dislike”
for “Edge of Glory”

They look away look away look away
as they are meant to—

You can tell that’s studio-lot New York, not real New York.
Backbends? Spinning around a lamppost? Thrusting against the rail?
How can she dance like that?
Why is her lip-synching so off?
Seriously, an old black guy with a saxophone on a stoop?

Turns out everybody’s always lip-synching
and those spin moves are quotations
That guy, my dear, is a legend
and half of New Yorks are filmed
and manufactured in Los Angeles

This isn’t the 80s in the 90s
This is the 80s in 2011
We are the tweens of a new century
and our bodies are changing
and we are urgent

Is that smoke or steam?

Reference and
reputation and
lose their power
when expectations are
to mythological proportions

If “Born This Way” was goddess myth
and “Judas” Christian myth
and the mer-myth of “Edge of Glory” was scrapped
what are we left with?

“The Edge of Glory” sounds like
an intense love song
but there is no lover
only a man on a stoop playing a saxophone

There is a moment (4:47)
when Gaga lies on her back on the sidewalk
at the bottom of the stoop
and points to Clarence as she sings “you”

But there is nothing sexy about her point

She could be pointing at the saxophone

And maybe she is

Music as lover, très Gaga—

Because of Music
Fame becomes Monster and maybe eventually
becomes Glory
But what is Glory?
The Glory Monster must be
The Fame Monster’s benevolent twin
Glory is what swirls around Fame
what shapes it
arriving before or after or out-of-time
Music without all the trappings
Something simpler, closer to home
All the adulation without all the flashbulbs
of “Paparazzi”

“The Edge of Glory” is all this, too
And it is cheesy to bask in one’s own Glory
It is nearly absurd
when one already makes the most money
and garners the most Google hits
It is certainly absurd
to bask in one’s own Glory
while one’s apartment may be on fire
and it’s the middle of the night
and no one else is around
and that’s a saxophone, not an M16

Where is the danger in “Edge of Glory”?

She doesn’t need saving

She just wants to dance

Lady Gaga is 25
The most famous girl in her 20s
Now that Britney and Christina and Paris
are all turning 30 this year
like me
And if “Edge of Glory”
is Gaga’s quarterlife crisis
then let it be
Let it be the cheesy bad dream of a fire
and an escape and a saxophone and a stoop
Let it be the knowledge that an edge
is a verge
and a cliff
Let her gaze wander back to the videos
that played on TV in  1986
when Stefani was born
that way, Gagaesque
Let it wander straight into
the mytho-futuristic

And let our gaze turn away, turn away
from something so simple and cheesy
and glorious
we can barely watch


            for saxophone

I wrote this poem, printed it out,
went to a beer garden in another borough
& didn’t look at it once all night,
not even in the bathroom.
There was a stage on a cement platform
in the middle of the huge yard,
empty save for smokers & shortcutters.
When I came home & learned
Clarence Clemons had died
the fame and glory and danger
seemed all his.

Lady Gaga, clairvoyant or not,
got it right
with only two days’ retrospect
(we are on Pop Time, come hither,
go hence, but quickly).

Cheesy becomes poignant just like that.
You go out, you come home.

This song started with a prediction
and ends with a prophecy.

Now kids in their 20s
far from Asbury Park
will know Clarence Clemons
and what he was doing on that stoop.

Ghosting into the future.

This is the myth of Lady Gaga as sibyl,
in which she of all people
gets out of the spotlight and,
writes Heraclitus,

with frenzied mouth
uttering things 
not to be laughed at,
unadorned and unperfumed,
yet reaches to a thousand years
with her voice

The saxophone, the bagpipes

spirit blowing through the reeds


hangin’ on a moment with you

Author Bio:
Becca Klaver is a graduate of the University of Southern California, where she studied screenwriting, English, Gender Studies, and Spanish, and of Columbia College Chicago, where she received an MFA in Poetry. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English Literature at Rutgers University. With Arielle Greenberg, she is editing a collection of contemporary poems for teenage girls, a project inspired by an article they co-wrote entitled “Mad Girls’ Love Songs: Two Women Poets – a Professor and Graduate Student – Discuss Sylvia Plath, Angst, and the Poetics of Female Adolescence” (College Literature 36.4; to be reprinted in Critical Insights: Sylvia Plath [Salem Press, 2011]). She is also the author of a collection of poems, LA Liminal (Kore Press, 2010), and a chapbook, Inside a Red Corvette: A 90s Mix Tape (greying ghost, 2009). Klaver is co-founding editor of the feminist poetry press Switchback Books, and has taught literature, writing, and editing in a variety of traditional and nontraditional settings.

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  1. 23% of YouTube viewers clicked dislike
    77% of viewers clicked like
    there are currently 5,559,082 views

    not sure what stats you can be referring to with the comment that 63% of viewers clicked dislike

  2. surely cheesy is a matter of taste

    I do not feel compelled to look away

  3. Anon,

    It was an US Weekly poll, at a certain point in pop time.

    Cheesy is indeed (perhaps only) a matter of taste! And of course the poem doesn't venture to speak for everyone.

  4. I understand then. Certainly, the poem doesn't speak for me or anyone I know personally that has viewed the video. I enjoy "Edge of Glory" and while I would refer to it as retro, I don't consider that anything is embarrassing about it. Of course, you are more than entitled to your perceptions and your feelings about the piece. Thank you for sharing them! Wonderful poem! It is fabulous to engage with the the many various opinions expressed here!

    Just a thought - you might consider naming the poll you are referencing(US Weekly), as I think that most readers would immediately think you are referring to YouTube voters as I did.

    Best wishes!

  5. Who would have guessed that the Clarence would be on the "edge of glory"

    Re:reading your poem, I love this beautiful ending...amen Clarence...

    (best wishes again)

    This song started with a prediction
    and ends with a prophecy.

    Now kids in their 20s
    far from Asbury Park
    will know Clarence Clemons
    and what he was doing on that stoop.

    Ghosting into the future.

    This is the myth of Lady Gaga as sibyl,
    in which she of all people
    gets out of the spotlight and,
    writes Heraclitus,

    with frenzied mouth
    uttering things
    not to be laughed at,
    unadorned and unperfumed,
    yet reaches to a thousand years
    with her voice

    The saxophone, the bagpipes

    spirit blowing through the reeds


    hangin’ on a moment with you

  6. I like this piece a lot. I don't think it's the cheesiness of the video alone that makes people want to stop watching - it's accompanied by the fact that nothing really happens. There's no story, no narrative, no build, climax and release. In other words, as some have described it, it's "boring."

    However, you make some good points, and amidst reading this piece, I found inside myself a vague but growing sense of guilt - in light of that news of Clarence's passing - that I disliked the video so much on first watch. It seems like only Gaga could write a song about the journey of life and death, then release the video for it two days before the main accompaniment - and in fact, the ONLY visual accompaniment - dies. I'm not saying she is somehow clairvoyant or predicted the future, but I'm also not saying she's not or didn't. I'm just saying, it's weird and very Gaga.

    At any rate, this piece made me like the video more, so thank you.

  7. Thanks, Anon -- best wishes to you, too.

    I think you're right, Meghan -- there were several reasons that people wanted to stop watching just a couple of days ago, and oddly/sadly, there are more reasons to want to keep watching, or re-watching, today.

    Narrative is something I was thinking about a lot, too, though it didn't make its way into the poem much. I wonder what dance critics/scholars would have to say about the narrative of Gaga's dance? I tend to think narrative is always there as long as time is there, although it might not be traditional/recognizable narrative (i.e., biblical, mythological, etc.).

  8. I think people forget that music videos are NOT short films. Although Gaga often creates conceptual and cinematic videos to accompany her songs that may include a narrative structure - rising action, climax, dénouement - it is not prerequisite for music videos. The music is, after all, the main event. While I am thrilled that she has helped to return the film aesthetic to pop music in general, as it hasn't been prevalent for many years, I find these intimate few minutes with Gaga very engaging as well. It is just about the music and the elegance with which she moves her body along with it. Her burlesque background is successfully conjured. Even so, she visually enters the viewing space by coming through the window to the street and exits in the same manner as the video ends. This is not a full blown narrative but it does give the video form.

    For me, there is a haunting quality to this piece. The deserted nocturnal urban setting, the lamp post, the open window are reminiscent - in some moments - of Tom Waits “Downtown Train” video (exchange the French Quarter for NYC).

    Personally, I do not find it boring. I liked it immediately. I am not saying it is more intriguing than the complex music videos Gaga is currently noted for, but it is unique, and as others have mentioned, refreshingly candid. As it turns out, it is stunningly propitious that she and Clarence Clemens are the only actors.

    Bravo Gaga!!

  9. I just read this after reading Leslie's piece above, and I thought there was some similarity. This poem suggests to me that maybe glory and cheese are different sides of the same coin - multiple possibilites allowed by a single ambiguity. Cheese makes you look away because you're ashamed of what you are seeing. Glory makes you look away because you're ashamed of yourself.

  10. Love that -- thinking of cheese & glory on some kind of continuum. Or in some sort of yin yang relation? Always a little bit of cheese in glory and a bit of glory in cheesiness?


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