In her 2008 song “Boys Boys Boys,” Lady Gaga croons, “Let’s go to the party / heard our buddy’s the DJ.”
As it turns out, this DJ is none other than Brendan Jay Sullivan ’04, known in the Lower East Side of Manhattan’s club circles as DJ VH1. Sullivan returned to Kenyon on Oct. 16 to read from his book Rivington Was Ours, which, using pseudonyms, chronicles his early years with Lady Gaga on and around Rivington Street in New York City.
Sullivan’s presentation to a half-full Community Foundation Theater in the Gund Gallery was entitled “Lady Gaga, Life on the Road, and What I Wish I Learned at Kenyon” and was followed up by his “The Dance Party Party” DJ performance at 10 p.m. the same night in the Horn Gallery. Perhaps to honor his alma mater, Sullivan wore a purple and white polka-dotted tie and matching pocket square with his three-piece suit.
Sullivan fell into the music scene at an early age in his hometown of Hartford, Conn. Working for his high school’s printing press, he printed flyers for local bands for free and followed what he proclaimed as the “god-awful punk rock music.”
Though he initially planned to become a car mechanic like his brother, Sullivan enrolled at Kenyon in 2000, albeit in an unconventional manner.
“I wrote this essay, which got published in the Sunday magazine [of the local newspaper], about the idea that the colleges at that time played on young kids’ emotions, saying ﾑYou’re going to have the perfect life if you come here,’ because they want as many kids to apply as possible so they can reject more kids,” Sullivan said. “It was about heartbreak to me. I wrote a fictional essay about being the young college applicant, and at the end of the essay, I get rejected from the college I applied to. The college I picked was Kenyon College.”
After numerous people sent then-President of Kenyon Robert Oden copies of the essay, Oden personally sent Sullivan a letter and application to Kenyon, urging him to apply, saying “If you can write like that, I think you would be very happy at Kenyon College.”
While at Kenyon, which Sullivan said “really turned his life around,” Sullivan began to experiment with DJing after a bad breakup ﾗ armed with an eBay-purchased mixer, the first generation iPod and discarded headphones.
“I started DJing, and I was really depressed at the time, but I started to realize that I wasn’t totally alone in the school,” Sullivan said. “I always felt alone because I had a funny accent, I was a scholarship kid, I didn’t fit in, I didn’t belong, I didn’t have nice clothes. Then I played a song and everyone else who felt the same way, and we felt that way together, we connected to the song, and the song connected us to each other ﾅ and then I’d turn on another song it happened again and again ﾅ I decided when I left to take that message to the world.”
After a brief stint DJing in Chicago after graduation, Sullivan moved to New York.
“[I] started at this rock club in the Lower East Side; no one wanted to go there ﾅ I worked there, [and] Lady Gaga worked there,” Sullivan said. “We all just had this place where instead of trying to prove how cool we are, instead [we focused on] how much we connect to each other. It was difficult to translate that back into the masses. The one who did that was Gaga ﾅ there’s something very liberating about her music.”
His moniker, DJ VH1, was bestowed upon him by friends because he was a self proclaimed “music nerd” and storyteller.
Sullivan and Lady Gaga began to collaborate, their act consisting only of “two turntables and her microphone,” he said.
Sullivan describes Gaga as a modern-day musical Cinderella with a jerk of a boyfriend.
Sullivan ended his talk at the Gund Gallery with a list of tips he’s learned throughout the years, including learning to memorize important information and not giving up on your daydreams. Additionally, he gave nightlife-related wisdom that could be translated into everyday politeness.
“The number one rule in nightlife is to take care of the people who take care of you,” Sullivan said.
Although Sullivan and Gaga see each other only on rare occasions now, she holds a prominent place in his memories, as well as in his book.
“When I think about her, I don’t think about the meat dress or the silly outfits,” Sullivan said. “I think about how that winter we were working together, I was going through a really bad breakup ﾅ I think about how she was the only one who called to check up on me.”
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