Phantom Sway

How a pickup-driving, gun-toting, father of 3 became a huge Lady Gaga fan

I don’t fit the part of a glitter-dusted follower of the Mother Monster. Or do I?

Philip Nelson, Live Streaming Expert, [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Philip Nelson , via Wikimedia Commons
My name is Chris Carlson. I’m a middle-aged father of three; a steak-grilling Midwesterner; a driver of pick-up trucks and toter of guns…and I’m a Little Monster. Paws up, baby.

There’s nothing apologetic about that opening statement because I’m proud to be a massive Lady Gaga fan. But I don’t fit the part of a glitter-dusted follower of the Mother Monster. Or do I? We’ll get to that later.

When Omaha was announced as a stop on Gaga’s 2011 Monster Ball Tour (I call her “Gaga” because we’re tight, yo), conventional wisdom held that she scheduled the show because she was dating a “cool Nebraska guy,” which she was. Stories of Gaga sightings around Omaha were legion at the time, like she was our own version of the eternally dead-yet-somehow-keeping-up-a-busy-travel-schedule Elvis.  But there was plenty of unconventional wisdom in choosing Omaha, too. In the parlance of the political class, Nebraska is one of the reddest of the red states, seemingly putting its populace at odds with Gaga’s unabashed support of the LGBT community.  A fabulously irresistible force was about to meet a stoically immovable object.

I got lucky and scored two nosebleed seats and a downtown hotel room, because the show was scheduled for March 17, 2011…St. Patrick’s Day, and I do love Guinness. Safety first, kids.

It was a beautiful day, 75 sun-splashed degrees, but I was nervous. Rock shows are largely rote affairs – show up, rock out, overpay for a t-shirt, stagger home– but this time there was an element of danger. Of being “one of them,” the people we were taught to be afraid of. Being a Lady Gaga fan must make you different. Out of the ordinary. A freak. Or maybe, heaven forbid, gay. I have deeply held personal beliefs – some conservative, some liberal, with support for gay rights and marriage equality amongst them – but I don’t wear them on my sleeve. Going to a Lady Gaga show, to me, felt like a statement, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to make it. I just wanted to see a show.

And that’s exactly what I got.

My silly trepidation disappeared within three seconds of arriving at the arena. It was the best carnival I’ve ever been a part of. From the faux meat dresses, to the bedazzled walking sticks, to the hair rolled up in Coke cans, Omaha’s Monsters were out in force. It was glorious, and there was glitter floating on our Midwestern breezes. And, yes, there were actual freaks in attendance: protestors from a church I refuse to name, cordoned off in their own section in front of the arena. (Bless their hearts.) But bless the trans kid that set up shop right in front of them, resplendent in her purple dress and impossibly high heels, making her look nine feet tall, and posing for pictures with anyone who cared to smack down intolerance with acceptance.

I didn’t feel out of place. I’ve never felt more accepted. We were certainly different, but we were all Monsters. Those differences were celebrated for the utter humanness on display, and that was before the show even started. If being at the show was a statement, I found myself overjoyed to make it.

None of this was lost on Lady Gaga. Her show was a two-hour display of what’s possible on a stage, and she never stopped performing, always dancing, singing or playing piano. But she also recognized what it means to be a community of Monsters. “The freaks are outside!” she screamed between songs, “And I just locked all doors!” The roof was nearly blown off the arena. It was simply one of the great nights of my life.

And you may be thinking, “So what, Chris? Big schmeal. You went to a rock show and had a good time with a lot of people who like the same artist as you.” And that’s true, of course. But some shows are different. They aren’t just entertaining, they mean something. It isn’t all about the music being played, because a 1,000-note guitar solo can sound soulless next to three chords from Johnny Ramone. If you’re lucky, you walk out of a concert hall a changed human being. I felt different after seeing Lady Gaga, and that feeling’s stuck with me for five years.

So do I fit the part of Little Monster? No, but only if you believe in typecasting.

Gaga has her detractors, of course, slagging her off as a reheated David Bowie & Madonna combo platter, with Freddie Mercury’s Heineken-drenched piano on the side. People can believe what they want. (‘Merica!) I know I love that woman’s music, what she stands for, and the way she made 15,000 of us feel on a March night in 2011. Mother Monster means business.

Gaga. Oooo, la la.

Chris Carlson

Chris Carlson turned his expensive Communications degree into a rewarding career selling cars. In his downtime, he gets into unsold vehicles, turns the radio to an appropriate station, and sets the equalizer properly.

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