Mayday!

Lady Gaga released her second full-length studio album, “Born This Way,” eleven years ago on Monday. The anniversary brought back memories of high school, and reflections of where my life has headed since then.

It rained Monday, May 23, 2011.

I remember because that was when Lady Gaga released her second LP, Born This Way. I’d become a fan in January 2010, after she reissued her debut, The Fame, under the EP, The Fame Monster. I’d watched, live, as she announced the title for Born This Way at that year’s MTV Video Music Awards while wearing that historical dress made out of raw meat. Sitting by my side was a fellow Little Monster whose birthday was also May 23.

She was born this way. She was born this day.

Eleven years ago, I’d borrowed my grandparents’ 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier so I could drive to Sheridan and buy the CD at Target in Riverpoint with their money. I played it on my way to Littleton High School, where my junior year had drawn to a close the week before. I dropped off an assignment for the International Baccalaureate program, stained with raindrops. I drove home, listening to the gay anthem on my radio.

I would go on to graduate from Littleton the following May. “The Edge of Glory” blasted on my alarm clock the morning of, when I sat down for another IB exam before the ceremony. My involvement in that program earned me the diploma which would help yours finish his four-year degree in three at Colorado State University Fort Collins. My commencement as a Bachelor of Arts in entertainment journalism took place in May 2015.

Gaga herself was the primary source of inspiration behind my critical theory.

So, with Facebook’s “Today in the Past” feature reminding me of these milestones, why is it that they leave more “bitter” a taste than “sweet” in my mouth?

Simply put, I am more nostalgic for that summer before I became a graduate than I am for anything to come after. Dancing to “Bad Romance,” first in front of the senior IB History class on my eighteenth birthday, then in front of the entire school at a pep assembly, won me “prom king.” People invited me to their grad parties not out of genuine friendship, but out of social pressure and obligation, and, as a teenager still, I couldn’t tell the difference.

Indeed, what did I have in common with the straight, rich, neurotypical kids?

Either way, this crowd would abandon me in droves by the end of the summer, catalyzing a depressive episode of my then undiagnosed bipolar I disorder which darkened my undergraduate experience like the rainclouds overcasting the sky on Monday, May 23, 2011. Too disabled with major depression to focus on much else, I graduated college to half a year of unemployment, which forced me to settle for seven years of working outside my field as of this writing.

Such a lifestyle of “fighting to survive” instead of “enjoying life” has contributed little to my mental wellness.

Now that it’s Monday, May 23 again, and I find myself working a fourteen-hour day to make ends meet as well as supplement my master’s degree with even more professional credentials than I already have, is it any wonder that my favorite song has shifted away from Lady Gaga’s pop-tastic “Hair” to Pierce the Veil’s suicide-preventative “Hold on Till May?”

Lady Gaga will star in new Ridley Scott movie

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Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. (Image Courtesy: BBC News).

Lady Gaga was cast as convicted murderer Patrizia Reggiani in Sir Ridley Scott’s forthcoming film about the death of Maurizio Gucci, the grandson of the man who founded the Italian fashion house, according to BBC News. Reggiani was a socialite who had two children with Gucci before they divorced in 1985; though she served eighteen years in prison for ordering an assassin to execute her ex-husband outside his Milan office in 1995 as part of a Mafia-style hit, the “Black Widow” proclaims her innocence. Gaga was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born (2018).

Amazon Prime review: Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” (2018)

“Music is essentially twelve notes between any octave… Twelve notes, and the octave repeats. It’s the same story, told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes.”

Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born (2018) is the third remake of William A. Wellman’s 1937 film of the same title. If you don’t know what to watch next, the musical romantic drama is available on Amazon Prime.

Cooper’s directorial debut was nominated in eight categories at the Ninety-First Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Cooper himself earned nods for his work as lead actor as well as his contribution to the adapted screenplay.

Co-star Lady Gaga (and Best Actress nominee) won Best Original Song for “Shallow.”

It is the story of an alcoholic country musician named Jackson Maine (Cooper) who falls for a waitress named Ally Campana (Gaga) after he sees her deliver an intoxicating cover of “La Vie en rose” at a drag bar.

When Jackson learns Ally has given up on pursuing a career in music because of all the rejection she’s faced, he uses his fame to help her get discovered.

But once Ally’s meteoric rise to success eclipses his own, Jackson’s drinking drags him down to new lows, and threatens to tear down their relationship with it.

As filmmaker, star, co-screenwriter, and co-producer, Cooper runs the risk of Shyamalanian self-indulgence. But with his stringy hair and slurred growl, he paints an unflattering portrait of alcoholism.

Indeed, the most redeeming characteristic about Jackson is how he helps Ally find the happiness she deserves for her talent.

As for Gaga, the focal point in this fairytale of a server who becomes a pop star, she runs the risk of playing herself, which could go one of two ways: chewing the scenery with her outrageous onstage persona; or striking a flat note with a pedestrian performance.

Instead, she harmonizes with Cooper’s mise-en-scene, balancing a melodious complement between “personal” and “transformative” in her characterization of Ally.

The power of the two romantic leads is critical to the chemistry the audience feels between them.

That Cooper could inspire three Oscar-nominated turns in his first project, is testament to his potential as a director – Sam Elliot, who speaks the “twelve notes” line, was nominated for his supporting role as Jackson’s half-brother and manager, Bobby Maine.

The Academy did not recognize Cooper’s directing work, however. It is disappointing that he chose to shoot a fourth A Star Is Born in a market already oversaturated with reboots, remakes, and sequels.

And it is problematic that the poorly aged template for his wish fulfillment fantasy is a love story between a jealous, narcissistic man who forces his partner to be strong enough for both of them and save him from his own self-destruction (when she isn’t using him for her own ambition).

Still, the way Cooper sees “those twelve notes” is as much a cinematic celebration as it is musical.

Matthew Libatique’s award-nominated cinematography frames Jackson and Ally in fluid closeups as intimate as a lover’s gaze, with lens flares as dazzling as the adrenaline rush of falling in love, or watching your dreams come true.

The cheering crowds at their concerts are relegated to background noise for the courtship at the heart of the picture.

Meanwhile, the dance between the movie’s visual and auditory aesthetics is no less charged than one of Jackson and Ally’s duets. Sound mixers Tom Ozanich, Dean A. Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve A. Morrow were among the nominees at the 2019 Oscars ceremony.

The ringing of Jackson’s tinnitus deafens viewers to the music he shares with Ally, the passion she stirs in him even as he drinks himself half to death, and it invites us to live the tragedy of his downfall.

While the ballad of Jackson and Ally is not immune to the remove of critical viewership, it is stylistically self-aware that it is a tale as old as time and a song as old as rhyme.

And so we can be forgiven for enjoying it as something of a love letter to the “twelve notes” that bring two creative souls together in a consummation as intense and brilliant as they are.