Here's a tale to shiver your timbers before Halloween. On October 4th, 2008, Lina Morgana, an impoverished nineteen-year-old singer and songwriter born of Russian immigrant parents in Staten Island, New York, was on the cusp of superstardom when she either fell or deliberately jumped from a ten-story building. Barely six months later, in April of 2008 - and seemingly out of nowhere - "Just Dance," the first single from Lady Gaga, rocketed to the top of the charts. Why is this important? Because many believe that Gaga outright stole Lina's entire musical and visual persona.
A year or so previous, Gaga - formerly Stephanie Germanotto, a plump-ish, early-twenties songwriter who grew up with wealthy NYC parents and went to high school with Nicky Hilton - was hired to help pen songs for Lina. Gaga idolized Lina, we're told, and stood on the sidelines as the comparably more beautiful and slim Lina was hastily groomed by record executives for her big break. Then it all ended with that fateful fall or jump from the ten-story building. Though not for Gaga.
Wait, it keeps getting stranger. Lina's name is nowhere to be found on Wikipedia - the site allegedly pulled Lina's bio given constant hacks from Gaga's "Little Monsters" - and, in fact, it's difficult to find any credible information about Lina's life before her death, even on her fan website. But wait - no, really - it gets even more bizarre. To this day, Gaga has flat-out refused to allow Lina's recordings to be publicly released (many of which were written by a trio of writers, including Lina and Gaga), even though Lina's mother has long pleaded with her to do so. Gaga has also never once uttered Lina's name in public. Not once. What is she afraid of?
There are obvious similarities between Lina and Gaga...and they all emerged directly following Lina's death. You can do a quickie Internet search and find countless side-by-side comparisons of their songs, photo shoots and fashions which, at the very least, demonstrate that Gaga appropriated key elements of Lina's professional identity without any modification.
To be fair, countless artists and pop stars have appropriated the works of other artists, like Madonna, who copied verbatim the looks of Monroe and Dietrich and plenty more (and allegedly stole credit from a host of song writers). The difference, at least between Madonna and Gaga, is that when Madonna appropriates something, she re-jiggers it, and in the process, gives it her own Minnesota-tough-grrl spin; you'll never mistake Madonna for anyone else, but you might mistake Gaga for Lina.
Maybe a case can be made that Gaga's recent, very abrupt creative decline is due to the fact that she simply ran out of Lina material to exploit. Or maybe all that appropriating, of Lina, Grace Jones, David Bowie, et al, has finally revealed what many have long suspected, that there really is no there there with Gaga, just smoke and mirrors. In truth, I've enjoyed a lot of Gaga's work, but she lost me on "Artpop," and after learning about Lina, she may have lost me for good.
Whatever the true story is about Gaga and Lina, Lina still cuts a powerful figure. After you sweep away all of the rumors, the scandal and the tall tales concocted by conspiracy-minded whackadoodles (such as "Gaga murdered Lina!" and "Gaga is into devil worship and Lina was her blood sacrifice!"), one very telling fact remains: Lina Morgana was a terrific singer and songwriter. Below, dive into this Hooray For Lina Cheerful Exclusive!, a sampler of Lina songs that range from pop to punk to heart-wrenching ballads. Several of the songs were written solely by Lina, including the final track "My Angel," which is one of the most beautiful ballads I've listened to in some time. Lina deserves to be heard. Just by herself.
And now for a complete change of mood. It's time for some Cheerfully Exclusive Teresa!
Have you ever had one of those days when you're just so darn tired and nothing makes sense and even espresso doesn't do the job? I've got just the cure. A double-your-fun Teresa Brewer CD which refashions several of her mono-recorded tunes into stereo for the first time. But beyond all that technical rigamarole, this is a great collection of Teresa's best, including her swingin' versions of "An Occasional Man" and "The Frankie And Johnny Twist" and the ultimate woe-is-me song "Let Me Go, Lover," which Teresa positively throws herself into. In other words, even in a heart-rending song, Teresa will you happy-happy-happy. She knows no other way.
I like to think that Katherine Hepburn wore that feathered get-up below both on and off a movie set. Perhaps she was feeling impish one day and stuck that feather in her head and went grocery shopping. Who would stop her? Who would argue? Or maybe she stuck that feather up her tuchas and did a little dusting around the house. You know she thought about it. Who would stop her? The maid? Not a chance.
Hepburn, as you may know, got her first Hollywood boost from RKO studios and appeared in a string of hit movies, most of which were scored by Max Steiner, including "The Little Minister."
Tracks from "The Little Minister" are included in this supah-rare collection of Max Steiner's best at RKO, the first studio he worked for. That's where he, along with a handful of other composers, literally invented the conventions of movie music as we know them today. In fact, he was the first to pioneer the use of original compositions for movies period, and his score for 1932's "Symphony Of Six Million" (which is included in this collection) is a stand-out in this regard. Before that, talkies rarely had any music at all; producers were afraid audiences would think, "Hey, where's that music coming from?" unless they literally saw actors playing instruments on screen. I know, right? Crazy, but true.
There's lots more here, too, including his score for the 1933 version of "Little Women" with Hepburn and Joan Bennett, his moody score for John Ford's 1935 "The Informer" (winning an Oscar for Steiner, his first), and Hepburn's 1933 sudser "Morning Glory." Steiner left RKO for Warner Bros. in 1937 where he achieved even more success and became Bette Davis' unofficial composer of record for practically all of her movies, And we all know how well that worked out.
The Secret Song File admires anyone who tries as relentlessly as Al Pacino does (or did). Years ago in New York City - true story - a girlfriend of mine was approached by Al on at least eight different occasions over a one year period. He flirted, he asked her out, and though he was charming and always very well behaved, my friend insisted, she refused his overtures (he was at least 25 years older than her). In fact, it happened so many times that she got to calling him, "My pal Al" (between us, not to Al) (of course). I saw him in action once as I approached a restaurant where we were meeting for brunch. Even from a short distance, I could tell: nice guy, total gentleman.
Does this have anything to do with this week's terrif and spanking new "Best Of" CD with a certain Georgia-born singer who's been compared to Billie Holiday? Or does it have anything to do with Halloween? The answer is "no" and "no." The Secret Song is not required to make sense, you know, but merely gift you with what she's listening to at the moment - and to gaze at Al, like she's doing above, with a combo-look that says, "Golly, you're such a gentleman" and "I'll never watch 'Godfather II' the same way again," with just a dash of "Hit the curb, Jack."
Has my pal Al ever hit on you?
Share the gory details in the comments, if you like!