Lady Gaga told Howard Stern that there’s a perception out there that she was going for your crown. “I don’t want her f*cking throne,” she said.
I don’t think she wants my crown, either. We live in a world where people like to pit women against each other. And this is why I love the idea of embracing other females who are doing what I’m doing. It’s important for us to support each other. The only time I ever criticized Lady Gaga was when I felt like she blatantly ripped off one of my songs. It’s got nothing to do with “she’s taking my crown” or “she’s in some space of mine.” She has her thing. I do think she’s a very talented singer and songwriter. It was just that one issue. And everybody’s obviously run with it and turned it into a huge feud, which I think is really boring, quite frankly. And you know what? I don’t care anymore. Here’s the thing: One day, everyone’s going to just shut up about it. You’ll see! I have a plan.
Do you keep journals? Do you write poetry that no one reads?
Yeah, both. Actually, one of my assistants just found one of my journals from 1991. I’m complaining the same way about not being able to sleep in 1991 as I am right now. Like, some things never change. So that was, in a way, reassuring.
You were saying the same thing in the Eighties. When did the insomnia start?
Unconsciously, probably when my mother died. And sleep’s never been an easy thing for me.
So do you live on three hours of sleep a night?
If I can get six hours, I can get through the day. But because I want to have a career and also be an attentive mother, I tend to take a lot of breaks and deal with my kids, and then go back to work. In the recording studio, I never finish before 2 a.m., and then I have to get up at 7 a.m. for my kids.So there’s a lot of sleep deprivation.
Maybe you’re an advertisement for never sleeping.
You start to go crazy if you don’t sleep. But I definitely don’t understand people who sleep 12 hours a day. I see that as the supreme indulgence, people sleeping until noon. How dare they? I never did that when I was a teenager…
But you’ve always had goals. You had…
A fire lit under my ass? Yeah, that’s true. No time to waste.
Some people don’t have as much of a driving purpose.
I guess so. Well, I can’t relate to those people.
Did you see the movie “Whiplash”?
I did, I loved it. I totally connected to it and related to it. I watched it with all my kids, and they were all very mesmerized by it, and I think a little bit speechless afterward. My son David was the most vocal about it, because he’s just the most vocal of all my children. Doesn’t have any agendas. Isn’t going through adolescence. He said, “Wow, I want to make my hands bleed.” When the character said, “I’d rather be a 34-year-old genius who did something with his life, dead of a heroin overdose, than live to be 93 and do nothing,” I totally was like, “Yes.” That really resonated with me. Not, you know, the…
Not the self-destructive part.
No, no. But believing in yourself and being willing to do anything, to walk through the fire, to do what it is that you want to do. Getting out of that car accident covered with blood to play the gig… I mean, that’s me. That’s just me.
But you never had a coach quite like J.K. Simmons’ character, I would imagine.
I’ve had teachers like that, for sure.
There was a dance teacher in high school, Christopher Flynn, who was very important in your life. Was he anything like that?
Oh, yeah. He was brutal. He was ruthless, and he walked around with a stick and he hit you with it. He would say kind of outrageous things: “Don’t come to my room and stand like that. Get out of here.” He would not tolerate laziness or com-plaining. He did a lot of things like that guy in the movie. But when you did something right, he did feed you compliments, once in a while. He’s the one who said to me, “You have to get out of this place. You have a gift. Go to New York.”
If you had never gone to that class, would your path have been completely different?
Well, things would be very different if lots of other things didn’t happen to me. If my mother didn’t die and I grew up with a feeling of wholeness and completeness and family, I probably would have stayed in Michigan and become a schoolteacher. And I was very blessed to have the teachers that I had. My art teacher, my English-literature teacher, and my Russian-history teacher were also key in the guiding of my artistic soul. I went through this whole phase where I wanted to be Georgia O’Keeffe. And one day my art teacher came over to me, and she, like, hit me over the head with this rolled-up piece of paper – all my teachers hit me! – and she’s like, “You’re terrible! You’re never going to be an artist. You’re a showgirl, get out of here.”
They were kind of my mother figures, as well. Christopher, my ballet teacher, was the first gay man that I met – well, that I knew was gay. He snuck me out when I was in high school to my first gay club, and opened my eyes to a whole world. Not just gay culture, just the idea that you could be different.
The “rebel heart” that you sing about, that instinct in you – where do you think it came from?
Being a troublemaker? [Laughs] Just growing up in what I considered to be a provincial, suburban, narrow-minded environment. Feeling like I didn’t fit in, feeling ostracized. So if people didn’t accept me at school, I just would push things even further. I thought, “Well, you already don’t like me. So f*ck you, I’m going to go even further. How do you like these hairy armpits?” It was just in my DNA. And I didn’t have a mother. That probably had a lot to do with it, because it wasn’t like my mother was saying, “You shouldn’t behave that way.” I had a father, I had older brothers. I did have a stepmother, but I didn’t have any relationship with her. So there was no role model for me.
You also saw that your brothers were given freedoms you didn’t have.
Yeah. My father was very strict with me, and I kept seeing a disparity between their freedom and my lack of it, or how I had all the responsibilities and they had none. And the Catholic Church, all of the rules, and why did I have to wear a dress when they could wear pants? I would say to my dad, “Will Jesus love me less if I wear pants? Am I going to hell?” I wanted to know why people follow rules blindly, or why girls had to act a certain way and boys didn’t. Why could boys ask girls out and girls not ask guys out? Why did girls have to shave their legs and guys didn’t? Why did society, like, set everything up the way they did? My whole adolescence was full of unanswered whys. Because they never got answered, I just kept lighting fires everywhere – metaphorically speaking.