She cut a direct path up to Lady Starlight and put a dollar bill in her underwear. Stefani Germanotta, an NYU dropout celebrating her 20th birthday at her much-older boyfriend’s Lower East Side rock club, St. Jerome’s, was transfixed by this leather-studded hottie shaking her ass in the skimpiest leather thong in history.
Germanotta’s eyes lit up with fascination. Who is this girl?
It was as if Lady Starlight had been transported from a sleezy-hot, mid-1980s David Lee Roth video to this downtown rock club in 2007. But as perfectly as she had the whole pole-dancing, hair-metal video vixen thing down, who Lady Starlight was really channeling was the lurid, swaggering frontman.
“I just loved to dance,” Starlight (born Colleen Martin) tells PopEater. “There was an aggressive thing about what I was doing on stage. I captured Axl Rose and David Lee Roth. I mixed c**k rock frontman with feminine go-go dancing. It just came from within.”
Lady Starlight would serve as Gaga’s DJ, but it was her encyclopedic knowledge of music and fashion subcultures, which came from her countless years as a dedicated scenester, that Gaga found the most useful. Starlight’s been through more incarnations than the Dali Lama, from British psychedelic ’60s mod to NYC club kid (“I was a dead ringer for Amanda Lepore”) to Sunset Strip ’80s sleaze/metal. It also didn’t hurt that she was a master costume designer and makeup artist.
“All the stuff you see Lady Gaga do now — the fire and fog and the elaborate outfits — were things we wanted to do, but we didn’t have any money. We tried to give our outfits as much visual impact as possible for the least amount of cash. That usually involved going to the fabric store and buying mirrors, sequins, fringe and then gluing it on to our underwear.”
“It was really more of my attitude towards art that was influential to her, rather than any specific look or style,” Starlight says. “Do it as big as you can, as loud as you can. Whatever it is. The more shocking the better.”
Whereas Gaga’s parents and classmates had been asking her to tone it down, Starlight encouraged Gaga to push things to the limit. To push them past the limit.
“The people from her upbringing were more conservative. She was finally connected to a group of artists who encouraged her to just go for it. Before that, I don’t think she had found that crew where she could really be herself.”
She also showed her that the one thing a performer must be, above everything else, is committed to the role.
“That’s what makes me stand out, especially to people who are a bit younger than me, like Gaga, that grew up in this alternative culture being a mash-up of things. She saw how specific, focused and disciplined I was to my look and style, and she admired that.”
Lady Gaga talked to New York Magazine about her total commitment to living the heavy metal ethos. “In those days, I’d wake up at noon in my apartment with my boyfriend and his loud Nikki Sixx hair, jeans on the floor, his stinky sneakers. He’d have his T-shirt on, no boxers. Then he would go do the books at St. Jerome’s. I’d spin vinyl of David Bowie and New York Dolls in my kitchen, then write music with Lady Starlight.”
It’s during this time that Lady Starlight became something of an Obi Wan Kenobi to Gaga’s Luke Skywalker, encouraging her to unleash her wild side, to become one with her sexual force.
Which brings us to the final lesson: take off your clothes. “I was the one who told her to take her trousers off because I rarely wore any myself,” says Lady Starlight. “The attitude of that scene was to shock people and make them pay attention. Not just in a sexual way, which often happens. It was more, like, let’s freak people out. It was very basic. Let’s freak people out.”
Was it hard for Lady Gaga, a Catholic girl, to come out on stage with her arse hanging out?
“She was never, like, ‘Oh, I don’t know about that,’” says Starlight. “She was down. She was excited. And I was like, ‘More, more, more, more, more!’ She never put on the breaks. We were encouraging each other to go bigger and bigger. More and more outrageous. And it did get more outrageous.”
And the response of the crowd?
“People would just sit there and stare. Sometimes I would think that they hated us. But they would come up to me after the show and say, “Oh, my God. That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
While their burlesque act lasted less than two years, it’s impact on Lady Gaga was immeasurable. She always had the musical chops to be a rock star, but she lacked the laser-focused commitment to the role. Lady Starlight is the reason Lady Gaga is never notLady Gaga, even when walking through an airport or attending a Yankees game.
“It was a call to arms,” says Starlight, recalling how their burlesque show was about challenging societal norms. “What Lady Gaga was doing was not pop. It really was performance art. We weren’t referencing a certain look or time period. That’s what’s so cool about Gaga. She’s never lost that attitude from those days in the scene.”
So, is Lady Starlight bitter that her friend and creative partner has gone on to unfathomable stardom while she’s still getting by performing her go-go dancing DJ routine, mostly in small clubs? Not at all — Starlight is proud of her young Jedi student. She even designed an outfit for Gaga to wear on her current tour.
Starlight, 34, is performing these days as the opening act for Semi Precious Weapons. Back in their early days, she and Gaga would open for SPW at tiny downtown venues like Pianos and St. Jerome’s.
“It’s a DJ performance with go-go dancing. Everyone will see what made Lady Gaga stop and say, ‘Who is that girl?’ I’m showing the world that now. Every night, I’m retelling the whole New York story.”