Chances are if you're familiar with the name "Lady Starlight" then it may be in relation to her good friend Lady Gaga. Lady Starlight tends to get eclipsed by all that which is Her Most Exalted Gaganess, and she's okay with that, so long as she keeps getting to do what she loves for the fans who want (and need) it.
Lady Gaga started out as one such fan. Allow us to imagine a scenario: a party in Manhattan in the early-to-mid 2000s. A young girl – maybe 19 or 20? – watches a totally outrageous, flamboyant and fabulous female DJ spinning hard rock spanning decades of the weird and wonderful. The woman totally inhabits her own skin, owning her space and her persona in a way that no one questions. It is definitive, and it is defiant.
That young girl was Stefanie Germanotta. This was the birth of Lady Gaga (or at least the embryonic fertilization).
RDW: "So did she just see you at a party, walk up to you and say, 'You're amazing, let's be friends'?" Lady Starlight, né Colleen Martin, laughs and says, "Yeah, pretty much! That's almost exactly how it happened!" She explains, "The effect I had on her was the effect she wanted to have on the world."
Gaga saw in Starlight a mentor and a source of
inspiration, though Starlight refuses to accept credit for the larger-than-life persona that emerged. "I just think it was the encouragement," she says. "It's sort of the way that I live my life and live everything and see it through to the absolute end, going through it all the way and not being afraid of looking crazy." She reflects for a moment. "I don't know ... I guess there's something people find inspiring in me. I'm just doing what I do. [Gaga] is on the same page and thinks the same way. We couldn't be friends if we didn't have this native thing in common ... she didn't have anybody in her life that saw what I saw and encouraged her to be a total freak!"
We all have someone in our lives who encourages us or provides some source of inspiration, whether that be a friend, a mentor or an adored celebrity. For Gaga that person was Lady Startlight. For Starlight,
that person was her brother Jason.
"I've been doing conceptual arts since I was four years old," she says. "Me and my brother grew up and were super creative and artistic." They had their own conceptual band and she admits to having "an unusual aesthetic at a very young age." She recorded her first single when she was five (her brother still has it in his archives). "It's been downhill since there. I should just quit now," she jokes. But even from that earliest tape it was obvious the kind of performer she would become. "You could tell, 'This girl is completely weird and just born that way' ... no pun intended!"
She and Jason had a creative partnership that existed in an alternative universe where everything was possible. Anything they thought of they did. Nothing was too weird. Later, when she was a teenager, her brother and his band did "weird space-punk rock guerrilla music performances," which included taking the stage (uninvited) at the Empire State Plaza in Albany during the annual Fourth of July festival. "That was the coolest thing ever! I was a teenager and I was so lucky to have that [as my example]."
From those early years of conceptual art and experimental music, Starlight went on to follow her passions wherever they led her, full-throttle to the end. She earned a degree in philosophy. She moved to London and became a staple on the nightlife scene, where she was really able to cultivate her "Lady Starlight" persona and her passion for fashion.
"Fashion really stuck out for me; it was my passion," she says. "Music and fashion – the two go hand in hand. At the end of the day music was my everything but the way I expressed it was fashion." She remembers it was 1989 and she was really into the Cure, the Bauhaus, the whole goth scene. But back then there was no Hot Topic, so her first act of fashion design was creating her own pair of goth-style black-and-white stockings with fabric marker (white marker on black stockings, btw). She laughs hysterically about it now. "I needed them and was going to make it happen!"
While in London she delved deep into the nightlife scene. This was also where she really developed her interest in music history and record collecting. "There were so many ways to express yourself and to be a star on your own scene. People appreciated the effort you put into your fashion, your look, your persona. You could be whoever you wanted to be."
She wanted to be a fashion designer but it didn't take long for her to realize that the reality of that industry just wasn't for her. "I realized the fashion industry is a depressing, horrible place that I didn't want to be a part of. I saw what the ultimate goal was and I didn't want it." She worked doing makeup instead, then started DJing, drawing on her extensive record collection and music knowledge.
She still collects records and is a vinyl purist onstage. "A computer belongs on a desk, not on a stage," she says. "I get it: it doesn't make any sense to do it with physical stand-alone equipment. It doesn't make any financial sense to do what I do. It's totally irrational ... but when you put a computer on stage you're putting a wall up. When you're doing something physical you're giving [the audience] something special. [So] I'm going to limit my selection and give myself a backache instead [hauling around 50 pounds of vinyl."
Starlight, who looks like the snarling leather-clad classic rock female powerhouses whose records she now spins (Joan Jett comes immediately to mind), doesn't really have any agenda; she just wants to be a role model for being totally free. "I'm doing a public service. I'm living my own PSA!" She adds, "It's great to be able to be that person because in many ways my brother and his friends were that for me."
We may still one day hear that early recording of hers, but for now Starlight looks forward to taking the stage with her brother once again. "We're having a reunion tour!" she jokes. "Only this time it's at Madison Square Garden!" (That part's not a joke; he'll be joining her onstage there.)
As for Gaga: "I was fortunate enough to have the exposure by Gaga to do what I always wanted to do. I got that little opening in the door to make money and make a living doing what I love, which is the most wonderful gift a friend can give you."