Born This Way To Life: The many headed journey of the Veroni-Gaga
Hi, I know a lot of you have secretly been making comparisons to our new album and the latest Lady Gaga record, probably alone in your room, too embarrassed to tell your friends what you think, or even make anonymous blog posts about it, worried that someone might find out you dig Gaga. We understand. You aren't the only one - the evidence is overwhelming. The facts revealed in this post may shock and disturb you, but I feel at this point it must be said.
First, consider the facts: David Comes to Life was released June 7th. Born This Way was released on May 23rd, meaning the process of creating the two albums was aligned at least partially - it can be said with some accuracy that the world put into making each one was happening at the same time. The special edition (ie the definitive version) of Born This way clocks in at 74 minutes, far beyond the average running time for a mainstream pop album. David Comes to Life of course, is 78 minutes. BTW contains 17 tracks - David Comes to Life has 17 tracks, plus a wordless intro. The two records even took up the #1 and #2 spots on the Billboard vinyl chart for a week in early June 2011. Both albums are about journeys, physical and metaphysical, and use characters (characters who seem to jump between albums) to embody and represent their composers, are a departure in style for both artists, and both albums have been regarded as "conceptual" - it's these similarities that this article will outline, noting the startling similarities in the contrasting narratives, and will attempt to prove that both albums in fact the describe the same characters and the same journey, from different perspectives.
"Born This Way is all about my little monsters and me, mother monster" - Stefani Germanotta
"Let Her Rest"/"Queen of Hearts" vs "Marry the Night"
Germanotta starts her album as a statement of intent, outlining what we can expect in the first few lines - it becomes clear immediately that Born This Way (BTW) in fact relates a transformation - Germanotta uses the album to embody several characters along the journey, the first of those of course being Lady Gaga herself. However what is important here is that the intentions and changes Germanotta goes through over the course of these 17 tracks seems very similar to the journey taken by Veronica Boisson on David Comes to Life (DCTL) - so much so that it's clear that one is able to look at these two records as almost companions in narrative, with the motivations and personalities of the various guises used by Germanotta, and that of Veronica, almost merging over the course of each album.
"Marry the Night" starts off with the line "I'm going to marry the night, I won't give up on my life, I'm a warrior queen, (i'll) live passionately tonight/I'm going marry the dark, make love to the stars" which is close where Veronica is coming from. The first impressions of both characters is that of the born rebel - uncompromising, passionate, "good" (self appointed or otherwise) in the romantic/leftist sense, but with a healthy dose of darkness tossed in for good measure. BTW starts off with Gaga addressing her audience in character - DCTL begins with the introduction of David to Veronica, where she imparts to him the same message, as a protester in front of his factory. Both Gaga and Veronica begin their journeys as the classic risk-taker, there to enlist the heart of someone else to take the voyage with them, or on behalf of them. For Gaga it's her little monsters- for Veronica it's David. When Gaga sings that her journey will leave "nothing on these streets to explore", it can only conjure images of the fate we know will soon befall Veronica.
"Under my Nose" vs "Born This Way"
Central to the character of the classic activist is the justification of being and purpose - the heady, romantic and histrionic statement of intent. While Gaga/Veronica is putting her battle for acceptance on full display, David in "Under my Nose" is already starting to have this doubts, shrinking into what Gaga calls "the religion of the insecure" - almost rushing back into his insecurities after meeting Veronica. You can all but sense a dialogue between the two characters within these songs. While Gaga flaunts her "take if or leave it" attitude, David is only made more confused and wary by these pronouncements, with his "Sense of impending doom". Gaga/Veronica explains that "I'm beautiful because God makes no mistakes", a precious line indeed for a company of workers toiling in the grime of a lightbulb factory - David recounts that "he was born when God was looking away". Yet such is romance, this classic counterpoint of characters, star-crossed over the tracks in Byrdesdale. Despite his obvious anxiety, he buys into the "Born This Way" message - he "lets all his problems make their retreat", as he's implored to not "hide yourself in disgust, just love yourself and you're set".
"The Other Shoe" vs "Government Hooker"
Batting clean up on both records are the two songs where the narrative starts to take shape. Gaga/Veronica lays it out "We had our night/our real nature/no more time to decide/let it climb, let it ignite". Already we see the clock ticking. Gaga/Veronica starts to test David, telling him "I can be good if you just wanna be bad", "I could be sex if you just want to hold hands", I'm gonna drink my tears tonight and cry, cause I know you love me baby". Gaga/Veronica knows she has David right where she wants him - so in love that he's willing to go against his own good and careful judgement to appease her. David of course, can barely handle the pressure, knowing his happiness with Veronica is about to sustain serious strain, explaining "my friend dread is right on time".
Gaga/Veronica also outlines another important manifestation of her personalities here - the "hooker" character - the first of many different guises Gaga will use on BTW. It is important to start thinking of the various Gaga-avatars used on BTW and Veronica as one in the same. Classically, the "hooker" is a hardened woman dishing love on the streets for a price, but ultimately searching for a tender love of her own. This describes Veronica as well - the tough yet fragile activist, needing the love of David, away from all the madness. This is where the character starts to fragment - she wants tenderness with David, but can't give up on her rebelliousness.
"Turn the Season" vs "Judas"
These two songs act as the emotional touchstones and first climaxes of the first half of each record. In "Turn the Season" Veronica dies, the consequence of her wild side. In "Judas" Gaga goes through another transformation leading into the next track, aligning herself fully for the first time with her dark side. Judas is obviously the DCTL narrator Octavio (DCTL's own "Capital H-I-M"), the "king with no crown"/ "the king (who) sits on a crooked throne". "Judas" is her first downfall - "I wash his feet with my hair when he needs". She knows where this will lead her, but she can't help but love Judas, the embrace of danger, the marriage to violence that killed Veronica. This is the government hooker proselytized to evil. Gaga/Veronica explains to David that she "wants to love (him) but something's pulling me away from you/Jesus is my virtue and Judas is the demon I cling to". She has chosen death, and Germanotta uses "Judas" to explain the risks of such a life, killing off the government hooker persona in the process. You can almost see the Gaga character splitting in half here - battling between the two opposing forces of goodness and betrayal - "Turn the Season" deals with the same duality, explaining that light cannot be without dark, and within every life there is death. The nature of "BTW" also becomes clearer in "Judas" as Gaga explains that she is "just a holy fool baby, it's so cruel/but I'm still in love with Judas" - again Gaga is describing a sense of being trapped, just as the characters in DCTL start to realize. Is Gaga just another character, trapped inside the narrative of Germanotta?
"Running on Nothing" vs "Americano"
So begins the second act for both albums. In "Americano" the drama is dialed back, as if there has been a change of scene and perspective. It is clear that from this point, the "Gaga" character that inhabited the first act is gone. Veronica is dead, The Government Hooker has been taken by Judas. Gaga is now even using a different language (Spanish), as if to make it more obvious that the narrative has transposed into another character. Yet there are still messages for David - how she will "die for how I care", and the telling hint that she is "hiding in the mountains", the classic Latin American rebel setting. We know that Veronica comes back for David in the end, and she's leaving these little hints for him all over BTW. This love letter from beyond comes at the right time for David, who in "Running on Nothing" is starting to curse his fate and doubt his choices. He laments how he "towed the line so strong" - believing Veronica. Their lives have both been thrown into disarray - her hiding metaphysically in the "mountains", and him wondering if it was all worth it in the first place. Act two begins on this sad reflective note.
"Remember my Name" vs "Hair"
On "BTW", this track is a back story, a moment of reflection after the initial tumult. Germanotta reflects on how she became Gaga in the first place - troubles with her parents, her drive towards expression and freedom. She explains how she "want(s) to be myself and I want you to love me for who I am" - a direct message to David if there ever was one. Her hair obviously becomes a symbol for this expression to freedom - something we've all been able to get used to over the last few years - the wildly morphing hairstyles of Gaga in real life (and obviously the outfits that go with them) are a beacon of her tantalizing and romantic drive. While David just wants to "see sunlight in her hair", Gaga explains that she wants "her friends to think I'm Dynamite", which we saw her become on "Turn the Season". Meanwhile, on "Remember my Name" David is still in Byrdesdale, dealing with the aftermath of the dynamite. He wonders still if it was all worth it, and "Hair" can also be seen as another challenge from Veronica/Gaga - he knew what he was getting into with Veronica, and the contrast of these two songs shows that for Veronica, even her hair was a gambit worthy of her freedom-or-death (from "Generation", duh) ethos.
"A Slanted Tone" vs "Scheiße"
The perspective switches again for this track on both albums. On DCTL, we first hear from Vivian, the witness, on "A Slanted Tone", who joins the story to take a stab at Octavio, the narrator. In "Scheiße", the Veronica/Gaga character has taken another trip, this time ending up with some sort of dominant German-stereotype concoction. Again, this reckless wandering and drifting from character to character, and excuse for excuse tells us more about the motives of Veronica/Gaga - "When I'm on a mission, I rebuke my condition/if you are a strong female you don't need permission". Perhaps not, but the mission as we know, ended up deadly.
Both songs carry essentially the same message - Veronica just wants to be who she us, without the bullshit. Vivian is reiterating what we learned in Judas, that our king "sits on a crooked throne" - Octavio/Judas. It bears investigation as to whether or not Octavio St Laurent and Stefani Germanotta are in fact the same character in some sort of back-breaking uber-meta narrative that incorporates not only both albums, but the trajectory and real-lives of both artists, and all of reality itself.
"Serve me Right" vs "Bloody Mary"
David starts to grow a pair, lashing out at Octavio for his condition and how these events have left his heart. In "Bloody Mary" it seems that Gaga has shifted yet again, (speaking in french during parts of the song) almost into the guise of an Octavio-like character, the tormented royal. Perhaps in fact the Gaga character has backslide back into Germanotta, and "Bloody Mary" is from an entirely honest perspective. She sings "When punctures come to kill the king on the throne, I'm ready for their stones" - the narrator gearing up for the challenge of defending her/his crooked throne, prepared for martyrdom or infamy. Octavio and Germanotta start to realize their own roles within the narrative at this point as well - "We are not just art for Michealangelo to carve" - Octavio eventually owns up to his role in Veronica's death, but also explains that he was only reading his lines - his job as the narrator in a fiction. Gaga/Germanotta explains here that she feels the same way - her living persona has been clamped into the Gaga character, and she feels just as trapped as he does, yet she must go on, as Bloody Mary. Meanwhile David is still shouting into the air out of frustration - the tortured life of pain left in the wake of Veronica's own martyrdom after offering herself into the flames of freedom.
"Truth I Know" vs "Black Jesus-Amen Fashion"
The songs match up again here. We hear from Octavio on DCTL, and Germanotta on BTW. He explains to us the trials and tribulations of holding authority, she explains her motives and what led her to where she is. "There's no way I could stop" vs "I couldn't watch quietely" - they are singing the same song. She sings "Symbolism was left behind" - indeed ,they are both laying their characters bare here, beyond the plot twists and ego machinations.
"Life in Paper" vs "Bad Kids"
At this point, the characters of both narratives start to question the nature of "truth", that humble plaything of the gods. "Life in Paper" deals with the truth as written - David understands that as narrator, Octavio has a rarefied access to the truth, as to the listener, the truth of the story comes from him. David accuses Octavio of hiding behind twists of phrase and adjectives - effectively hiding behind the word. Gaga, in whatever guise she's adopted for this song, essentially says the same thing in "Bad Kids" - her Bad Kid persona exclaims that she "doesn't care what people say, (she) know(s) the truth" - "truth" in both narratives is a currency used to value the motivation of whatever character is trying to spend it. What denomination is Gaga using this time? She's still a bit back in time, taking us again back to the place where her character came from - this is another very Veronica song - "I am not a freak, I was born with my free gun/don't count me out less than my freedom", you can hear the sentiment reverberating between each album and each character. "I'm a twit, degenerate young rebel and I"m proud of it/pump your fist if you would rather mess up than put up with this" - obviously a foreshadow of exactly what would later happen. And just like Octavio will later do in "Inside a Frame", Germanotta hides her motivation on her place - "I'm a bad kid like my mom and dad made me" - both characters find their power and then salvation behind the script - "This is how I was cast".
"Ship of Fools" vs "Fashion of His Love"
Both records take a breather again and we get a bit of a musical and lyrical departure from both. "Ship of Fools" is meant to be almost a reference of paraphrase of the classic story-within-a-story device of the ship of fools. The central characters (David and Octavio) are represented on the ship two sparring heavy-weights conducting a boxing match in the bowels, lost at sea. As the mental battle heats up between David and Octavio, "Ship of Fools" is meant to act as a respite to the listener from the literal narrative of their struggle, and to put it in a different perspective. The song itself has a harder edge than the rest of the album, and is a more cogent annotation to the styles of music referenced on DCTL - The Who, Oasis, the popular arena rock bands of the last 30 or 40 years.
"Fashion of His Love" remarks on Gagas influences in the same way, taking a breather from the very modern sounding distorted bass rumble on songs like "Judas" and "Government Hooker", instead acting as a nod to the true inspirations for the record and indeed Gagas career - the flair of 80s pop demigods like Madonna and Prince. And like "Ship of Fools", this track represents the essential internal struggle on this album - the measured and bright eyed young woman that would become Gaga, and Gaga herself as portrayed on BTW - the violent and carefree rebel Veronica. She spells out her struggle: "I was never the kind of girl that's naturally sure when it comes to love, I was insecure/But when it comes to you and me/I can't deny this feeling I'm feeling inside/oh no, I've never been like this before" - a clearer message to David there has never been on this album. This is Gaga/Veronica in a nutshell - the girl who just wants to retreat back to Byrdesdale for love and peace and the woman who knows her true calling will force her departure - the essential thesis of BTW is this question, the ultimate choice between love and justice. The appeal of Gaga as an idol is indeed the exploitation of this essential clash - on one hand Gaga is the perfect embodiment of the American overworld - the shopping, the glamour and glitz that millions of young people all the world admire and fawn over, yet the Gaga character has always been a valuable incarnation of the underground as well - gay rights, being weird, her "monsters". As much as Gaga is the truest pop-star of the modern age, so much of her appeal has come from playing the underdog, the oldest trick in the book for a rising star, and effective as the Gaga character plays both sides of the culture.
"A Little Death" vs "Highway Unicorn (road to love)"
After a brief pit stop, both albums are back on the road. Gaga makes this more than obvious, as her character is now literally in a car on the run, "on the road to love...with the fury of a saint in her eyes". Gagas intent with BTW begins to solidify on this track - she's been on the run since the start of the record, but we get a sense of where she's going on this track, as visions of the American dream are used to evoke what everyone wants from America - "she's just an American riding a dream", "we can be strong, follow that unicorn, on the road to love" - these lyrics give Gagas struggle a sense of the characteristic American destiny - freedom, the open road, fast cars, and the manifest destiny that opens up the horizon. The liberty of the unique individual - Gaga is now the Highway Unicorn - that gilded individual sole constituent of her own layered American Avalon. "She don't care if your papers or your love is a law/she's a free soul burning roads with a flag in her bra" - the Gaga character is starting to embody this essential duality as the prime motivation for the American outlaw rebel character she lives in now - "get your hot rods ready to rumble/cause we're gonna fall in love tonight...we're gonna drink until we die"
Back in Byrdesdale, David retreats as much as Veronica expands, as he starts to embody his own particular destiny - the sad sacked lost romantic worse off than he was before he met Veronica. As she powders into the horizon on the hoofs of a hot-rod Unicorn, his own road leads him to shame and denial, their roads starting from the same point, backs turned as they run in opposite directions. Veronica starts to feel free, as the wind picks up her hair - David wishes for his life to "blow away in the wind". As Veronica is learning to embrace and not fear her uniqueness, David starts to question his own, that maybe their love was "not unique because it happened to me". He wants to have his "dreams carried far from him" - Veronica appears to be doing just that for him.
"I Was There" vs "Heavy Metal Lover"
The titles here are the first obvious clue that the narrative has again been transferred between albums - "I Was There" describes the bombing that killed Veronica in great detail by Vivian The Witness, who we learn was present at the time, using fire-and-brimstone imagery to paint a picture of heavy-metal carnage; "Copper from gold, the banding unfolds/The halo of hope goes from tender to cold", "A bomb in his hand, glass turning to sand/One union dissolves as another is made", "Mortals are mortar and life is the fuse/Burnt memories and shrapnel diffuse". While Vivians story describes violence in a real sense, Gaga describes a sexual violence, as "Heavy Metal" contains some of the most explicit (for a pop album) imagery in her story, setting the pace with "I want your whiskey mouth all over my blond south", letting us know that the more reckless and carefree Gaga has returned after a brief respite to figure out where she was going. In "Heavy Metal Lover", Gaga is unrepentant and committed to her wanton dream of freedom - "Let's raise hell in the streets, drink beer and get in to trouble" - which is exactly what is happening in "I Was There", as paper and fire fill the streets of Byrdesdale. "I could be your girl, but would you love me if I ruled the world?" - the same question again the David, who may have realized by now that he was a bit out of his depth with someone as passionately unhinged as Veroni-Gaga. You do get the sense however of a tinge of regret to "Heavy Metal Lover" - the focus is still on David. Veronica begs the question and repeats it as her refrain - "I could be your girl" - it's her rebel gamble, and we can tell she still wants both David and her wild life - and as "I Was There" explains, it ends up being the ultimate gamble. She is still at war with herself, as part of her whispers (interestingly enough, the vocal effect she uses for this verse is robotic) during this song "Help me I'm on display, baby we were born this way" - the Gaga character on the run is becoming as self aware as the characters in DCTL, and can still talk to us behind the various masks used on BTW.
"Inside a Frame" vs "Electric Chapel"
Electric Chapel is Veronicas final desperate plea to David, an attempt to appeal to his guarded sensibilities. Gaga attempts to strip back the layers of her personality that have come to frighten him, laying it on a simpler and less aggressive song than we've become used to on BTW. It almost feels like the conversation the two of them could have had right before the bombing, a glimpse into what exactly Veronica said to convince David to join her. She assures him that "My body is sanctuary, my blood is pure/It's not about sex or champagne, you holy fool", and then asks him, "if he wants her", to meet her at "The Electric Chapel", and obvious marriage reference, either between the two of them, or the final union of both sides of Veronica's dualistic personality. Sweet talk, with a price - "Follow me, don't be such a holy fool/I need someone more from you".
"Inside a Frame" deals with the figurative death of Octavio, as DCTL's "author of all things" recounts his own fall from narrative grace to the lowly depths of a mere character.
On closer inspection, the electric chapel seems almost like an allusion to death as well, especially based on what we've learned about the character so far, her recklessness, her passion for freedom, her messianic allusions and Manichaean dreams. Did Veronica know what she was getting into? The nature of the narrative in DCTL allows that the characters eventually realize that they live within the rigid structure of a play. In the song "Octavio Made the Bomb", released as a single after DCTL, we also learn that this is not the first time these individuals lived through the narrative, and that they've inhabited different characters in older incarnations of the story. Perhaps Veronica knows exactly what she is getting them into, because she has seen it all play out before, and knows that even in death her comfort lies in rebirth when the story is retold.
David becomes a victim to Veronicas duality as she makes him wrap his fragile straight personality around hers - "If you want to steal my heart away, I need something sacred from you" and how "together we'll find a way to make pure love work in a dirty way". This is where the tragedy comes in from David - not only that he lost his love to what he was so afraid of, but that he did try to change for her, to meet her challenge, and still it ended in violence in destruction. David learned the hard way what Veronica must already have known.
In effect, "Electric Chapel" is a retelling of the events of "Turn the Season" and "I Was There" from a different perspective - Veronica and David make their plan for destruction, execute it, and we live through Veronicas death yet again, at the end of "Electric Chapel", as the song closes with somber funeral bells ringing and Veronicas plea to David from behind the grave - "meet me, meet me, meet me".
"The Recursive Girl" vs "The Queen"
By track 16, both albums begin to take victory laps. The end of "The Queen" even lapses into a calm gauzy breakdown, suggesting that this is just the beginning of a suite of music that will conclude the album. Lyrically, there is a lot going on. The Queen is not a new character for Gaga, more of an amalgam of everyone she has been up to this point on BTW.
According to the recursive nature of the narrative, the character she becomes at the end of the story, the Queen, is the same that she started out as, the Queen of Hearts. The strength of BTW is that Gaga doesn't attempt to dial back or apologize for any of her characters - from the tentative rebels to the sacrificial deer in the headlights, to the reckless vigilantes to the powerful and violent lady-justices. By now her character has folded in everything from the pop royalty of The Queen, to the blind fury of the Queen of Hearts - she's everything now: "I can be the queen you need me to be" - the ultimate pop statement. This is how BTW concludes - Germanotta brings everyone she's been up to the point and molds them into one ultra-appealing character, which was the point all along - the popstar of universal appeal with as many faces as followers. We get the same symbolism used for Veronica, as Gaga explains that the Queen is "the wind and the hurricane/the stormy sky and rain/when you run dry I'll flood your pain" - a paraphrase of what Veronica (Boisson = drink) told David at the start of their adventure: "when storms conspire summers wane/She shines to burn away the rain/And when you felt only pain/She let you see the sun again".
"The Queen" and "The Recursive Girl" share the same essential message - on DCTL, Vivians character explains how each individual goes through each characters as the narrative is endlessly reset - the message being that there is always another chance for salvation. On BTW, salvation comes from Gagas ability to try out more than one characterization before landing on the one(s) that fit - in both cases, the recursive nature of the narrative is clear - things repeat, and you will always get another chance. Gaga knows that whatever is cast aside can always be revisted - "Don't forget me when I come crying to heavens door...like a pheonix so you can remind them of the dream I bore" - the same message that Veronica will give David in their final encounter.
"One More Night" vs "You and I"
"It's been a long time since I came around, but I'm back in town...this time I'm not leaving with out you" - this could be Gaga or Veronica. In fact it's written about Gagas real-life (ex) lover Luc Carl, a message in essense from beyond, as it's her attempt to retrieve their lost love - a final message as it where. "One More Night" concerns the same attempt from David to deliver a message to Veronica in death, which is reciprocated by her during the finale. The struggles are behind all these characters, and now it's time for them to reconnect and reflect on all that they've been able to put behind them. Both songs represent the final union for each couple. Gaga is back from her journey through BTW and is ready to re-take her place in the corner of the bar, and would give "anything again to be your baby doll" - David is saying the same thing - he's given up his own struggle through pain and is at peace, ready for Veronica to retake her place in his heart. Through all the challenges of BTW and DCTL, the message is that struggle and pain are only worthwhile pursuits if they leave you a place to come home to once the dust has settled.
"Lights Go Up" vs "The Edge of Glory"
The lyrics to both of these closing songs take on the events of each record from a new perspective. In Davids case, we see him as an older man, looking back on his life as if from above, himself becoming an audience to his own story. Veronica is dead but he hasn't lost her: "I'm still in love with you after all of this time/The best days of my life were when you were mine/They'll be the branches I always use to climb through my life" - his redemption is that Veronica will always be a part of his life as a memory. These are Davids final judgements on all that has transpired. Germanotta has explained that "The Edge of Glory" is about the final moments on earth - this same final judgement. Veronica has given her love to David and is at peace, ready to take her final voyage over the edge "I'm on the edge of something final we call life tonight/put on your shades because I'll be dancing in the flames tonight/heaven knows my name tonight". The journey has brought them all to the edge, "where we can both fall over in love" - Veronica takes Davids soul with her as they goes hurtling into the infinite - her last romantic gesture to him.
Both tracks fade into the distant carried by a tremolo of sound , gently leading us back to where each began. Listening to each, we feel like somehow we've been here before, together.