I once saw Shirley Manson’s lady bits. Shirley Manson is the lead singer for the 90’s rock band Garbage. In college, I went to a music festival in Washington, D.C. and they played during the day. Near the beginning of their set, Shirley’s skirt blew up enough to reveal her crotch, completely exposed with no panties. Then it happened again. And again. I was fairly close to the stage for their set, so I got a good look. I hope this doesn’t come across sounding sexist. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Jon Fishman from the band Phish naked as well. He’s a drummer, though, so that might have just been one of his sticks.
The same thing happened with Courtney Love. Saw her lady bits as well. But I can’t prove it to you, you’ll just have to take my word for it. It’s been about 15 years or so, so my memory is hazy. You’d think such a thing would be burned indelibly into my mind, but it wasn’t. We’re all just people, after all. No big deal. I remember that it happened, and I can tell the story, but I can’t show you exactly what it looked like.
I was looking through pictures of Lollapalooza on Rolling Stone and I got to the shots of Lady Gaga on stage with Semi Precious Weapons. She’s wearing an outfit that is entirely made of fishnet, which is not really outrageous for Lady Gaga. Honestly, I’m not entirely convinced Lady Gaga isn’t really Sacha Baron Cohen. Now that Borat and Bruno are too famous, I’m thinking Gaga might really be his next movie. I wouldn’t be surprised if Madonna was really performing her vocals.
At some point during the Lolla set, Gaga and the lead singer from SPW jump into the crowd. Remember, she’s wearing only fishnets, and these have become torn in spots. But the crowd was surprisingly gentle with her. I’ve seen some pretty rough incidents of crowd surfing, with hordes of people grabbing and groping at men and women alike. But with Gaga, of all people, the crowd was mostly hands off.
They couldn’t do much groping with the cameras in their hands. One hand was holding up Lady Gaga, the other was holding a camera, trying to get a shot of her fishnet-clad hip as it trailed by. I’m sure a few dozen people showed pictures to their friends later exclaiming: “That’s Lady Gaga’s side boob, right there! No, not that. That’s my arm. There! That’s her boob!”
As a journalist, I get it. It didn’t happen if there aren’t pictures. But as a music fan, and living breathing human making my way through the world, I’m kind of sad for those people. There’s Lady Gaga right in front of you. She’s asking you, implicitly, to put both hands on her rump and push her high into the air. Her fun is being passed around above the heads of the jumping crowd, but nobody’s having fun. The crowd can’t pass her with only one hand per person. Eventually, she pulls herself back up on stage and gets back to annoying the drummer, or making out with the singer. Boy, is he going to be surprised when he finds out he just kissed Ali G!
I think it’s wonderful that there are so many cameras out there in the world. It does the world plenty of good. There are so many egregious acts committed every day that can now be captured and condemned by amateur photojournalists, it’s impossible to argue that the ubiquity of cameras is only a bad thing. It’s not. It’s a great thing, and it will not only change the way we live our lives, it will change the way we remember our past.
Looking through photo albums from my childhood, I see only a few set-up shots. Here we are, posing with Goofy at Disney World. Here I am, wrapped in a baby towel, propped up on a couch. Here’s me blowing out candles. Here’s my little league team, all lined up in a row. There are a few spontaneous shots, but not many. In all, there are probably 100-200 pictures of me between my birth and age 16.
I took that many pictures of my son in his first month of life. In his first year and a half, I have taken literally thousands of pictures. I’m not sentimental, I don’t keep them all. Maybe 5% of my total I keep. But that’s not the point. When we’re out eating breakfast on a Saturday morning and his grinning face is smeared with strawberries and maple syrup, I can break out my phone and take a shot. When he walks over to my wife’s laptop and pretends to type on it, mimicking what she does, I take the shot.
I always have a camera on me, but sometimes it’s best to know when to put the camera down. There were times with my son when I kicked myself for not having a camera at the ready. I captured not his first words on video, but more like his third or fourth. I missed shooting his first steps. I can’t guarantee that I’ll always remember those moments, or remember them accurately, but I will always remember being there to experience them.
Cameras and the pictures we take are an important part of our collective memory, but not the only part. In the future, I wonder if we’ll forget how to remember, in the same way that spell checkers are making us forget how to spell. Will we rely so much on our images that we won’t trust our memories? Will we forget the moments in which we haven’t taken pictures? Our mobile devices, always by our sides, are increasingly becoming intermediaries between our internal experience and the physical world around us. We use them to navigate. We use them to hear and communicate with each other. We use them to feel connected. I hope we never find ourselves lost, blind and alone without our devices in hand.
When Lady Gaga comes flying naked over my head, I’m sure my first instinct will be to grab a camera, but I hope that I can fight that urge. Instead, I’d rather put my hands in the air, grab a big heap of fishnet and push her along to the next person in line.