By SUSAN DUNNE, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
August 30, 2013
Brendan Jay Sullivan befriended Lady Gaga in New York in 2006 when she was a go go dancer struggling to become known as a singer and he was a bartender and DJ struggling to become known as a writer.
Sometimes these days, reporters writing about the pop superstar call Sullivan, a 2000 graduate of Simsbury High, to ask him about the old days, looking for a good quote.
He's done that and doesn't want to any more. "I'll explain perfectly how a song came about, the meaning behind it. ... If there's a love song and I tell the love story, they're looking for blood," Sullivan said. "They want to print the drama, they want the breakups, the heartbreak, the double crossing, the two faces. And then they'll put it in my quotes. It's embarrassing.
"So much ink gets spilled over this girl in vain. It's lies, it's trauma, gossip. I had an opportunty to set the record straight in my own words," he said.
So Sullivan has written a book, "Rivington Was Ours: Lady Gaga, The Lower East Side and the Prime of Our Lives" (It Books, 352 pp., $11.98), which officially went on sale recently.
Lady Gaga is now world famous. Sullivan doesn't see her much anymore, but he sent Gaga and her parents copies of his book before it was published. He didn't expect or want a response, but he got one anyway from Gaga: "She loves it," Sullivan said.
Sullivan isn't doing too badly himself. He's a globe-hopping party DJ. "I go to Dubai, Paris, London, California, militaries, colleges, all over the place," he said.
Still, since he was a teen, he's wanted to be a writer. Sullivan, 31 — the son of Peter and Peggy Sullivan, who now live in Walden, N.Y. — had a Hartford Courant paper route as a boy and dreamed of writing for the paper.
He made it into the Courant, first as the subject of news stories, when he fought school-paper censorship at Simsbury High. Sullivan began contributing stories to The Courant when he was 17, and during summers when he was attending Kenyon College in Ohio studying linguistics and gender theory.
After Kenyon, Sullivan lived briefly in Chicago and then New York, where he was a DJ and tended bar. He was not working as a writer, but he didn't want to get rusty, so he wrote a little every day, in addition to keeping a daily journal about all the things he did and all the people he met.
Lady Gaga Book
That habit of writing down his experiences when they were still fresh in his mind helped him years later, when he wrote an article in Esquire magazine about his old friend Gaga, and then decided to expand it into a book. But he didn't write it just about her. "The only way I could set her in the scene was to show how she was just another person," he said.
"The scene" was the Lower East Side. "Rivington Was Ours" was named after the street in that Manhattan neighborhood where Sullivan, Gaga and their crowd hung out. Sullivan's story begins when he is nursing a broken heart and he meets Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta. He wasn't going by his real name either. He had been dubbed VH1 because he was a DJ.
Among the bartenders, DJs, dancers, singers, bands, party girls, drug dealers and scenesters, all of them night owls, Sullivan and Gaga became fast friends and confidantes. They were never romantically involved, but a few times pretended they were to make their significant others jealous.
She shared her dreams and her demo tapes with Sullivan, and he read her his unpupblished work, and they supported each other's ambitions. "When you're young and you're an artist, you need to find one fan or one reader. When you find one, it steadies you, it's your rudder," he said.
It's wasn't just their shared aspirations that made them bond instantly. Sullivan writes about the night they met:
"How do you want me to put you in my phone?"
"Gaga." Her eyes sparkled like two disco balls. "Put me in your phone as Gaga."
"Like Freddie Mercury?"
"Yes! Finally someone gets it."
"All we hear is radio Ga Ga . . ." I sang a bit of the Queen song. She came in on my harmonies."
Sullivan writes, on Gaga's wide appeal, even back then: "Gaga's genius was in her ability to mirror those around her, like the disco ball glass she glued to her outfits. If you thought she was a bit dumb, it was probably because she thought you were not that bright and didn't try to say anything over your head."
Her fashion sense was fledgling, he describes, but still set her apart from the crowd. "Later that week I was at Welcome to the Johnsons, and the girl next to me looked up and said, 'Normally I would think a girl dressed like that is a slut. But that girl looks awesome'," he writes. "I glanced over at a girl on a barstool ... She had on a backless unitard, tights, and a series of belts instead of pants. It was Gaga. The girl we all used to ignore had become a central focus.
Considering that one of Lady Gaga's most famous messages to her fans is about self-esteem, the most surprising passage of the book is about plastic surgery:
Gaga: "There's more," she announced. "I'm getting a nose job." ... She said it so offhand. I think she put more thought into bleaching her hair.
Gaga: "It's holding me back. Do you think I'd be songwriting this long if I looked like the girls you date? ... It's slipping away from me."
Sullivan: "You cannot get a nose job."
Gaga: "Might get a [breast] lift."
Sullivan: "That's unacceptable. ... Stop it."
Gaga: "Why? Afraid I'll be your type?" ...
Sullivan: "Just because I'm shallow doesn't mean you can be. ... You let those Los Angeles people into your head, Gaga. Stop it. Stop them before they destroy everything good about you."
Gaga: "You don't know what I've been through over there. It's new. It's opening up my way of thinking." ...
Sullivan: I put on my best I'm-not-upset, just disappointed face.
Gaga: "No one will know. No one has heard of me. You won't even be able to tell. But I will."
Sullivan: "This is just wrong. It sends the wrong message. You're basically telling your fans that it's okay to hate themselves. You're saying that they should all be like you and buy their way into loving themselves."
Gaga: "Just drop it."
Sullivan: "I won't."
When asked if she ever went through with it, he shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. "No comment," he said, adding that he doubted it.
Winter Music Conference
Their friendship became a professional relationship for a while, too, and Sullivan traveled around with Gaga briefly as her DJ, including at a Winter Music Conference in Miami in 2008 that marked a turning point in Gaga's career.
That segment in the book is a hilarious breakdown of the types of people who show up to such conventions, how they feel about each other and how they go about their own business.
After working with her on her debut music video, "Just Dance," in which he has a small role, Sullivan found that Gaga's quickly accelerating career left no room for him, nor for her supportive parents in their previous business role.
Sullivan sees Lady Gaga infrequently these days.
"I see her now but it's not the way it was. I bump into her. ... There's no more coffee dates or sitting on the floor of her apartment," he said. "She doesn't have a minute to herself."
Sullivan says he doesn't mind. "I made it very clear to her when we started, 'I'll help you do anything you want and I'll be there for you and I want you to not need me'," he said.
He said her booming fame doesn't change how he feels about her. "When I think of Lady Gaga, I don't think of the meat dress or the wigs or the outfits," he said. "I think about how I was really heartbroken and going through a bad breakup when I was 24 and she was the only one to call and check on me."
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