In the early 80's, I worked in a store that sold stereo equipment and big screen televisions, which the young-and-hip staff kept tuned to MTV all day. That's when the newly-launched station was all music videos, all the time. Music videos were brand new and some artists had a harder time than others adapting to the medium.
For Madonna, the timing was perfect.
As soon as I saw the video for "Lucky Star" I knew she was going to be huge. Within weeks of the song's release, half the teenaged girls in town were wearing fingerless gloves, letting their bra straps show and learning how to "rat" their hair. The characteristic clunky dance moves started to appear in the clubs.
I moved to California in the mid-1980s. I soon learned celebrity spotting is SoCal's own version of bird-watching. They really are everywhere – driving on the highway, shopping in stores and eating in restaurants, walking on the beach and, most especially, showing up in clubs. There is an intricate etiquette involved, in which the spotter tries to figure out a way to interact with the celebrity, while behaving as if it's no big deal to be seated at the next table over from Tom Cruise, or when Donald Sutherland asks you for the baseball game's score in a restaurant bar.
Shell-shocked by the housing costs, I rented a room in the home of an aspiring pop musician who went by the professional name Louie Louie. He later went on to release several albums, and one of his songs, "Sittin' in the Lap of Luxury," peaked at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was performed on The Arsenio Hall Show. When we were roommates, however, Louie was still financing his own recording by doing work on other artists' songs and videos. Today, Louie is a popular Las Vegas performer, but his first claim to fame was his appearance as Madonna's boyfriend in the video for "Borderline."
To showcase his new material, Louie managed to set up a showcase at a popular Los Angeles nightclub. It was the kind of place I'd normally never think of going, where waitress/model/actors trolled for people "in the industry" and everyone looked like they hadn't eaten a square meal in years. I was seated at a prime table with some of Louie's friends and family.
Louie was a superb performer, with a kind of androgynous sexiness that had both men and women almost (and sometimes actually) tossing undergarments at the stage. A few minutes into the first set, a woman wearing a bulky jacket, baseball hat and dark glasses sat down at an empty spot at our table, immediately to my right. In those days of cheap and available club drugs, it wasn't unusual to see sunglasses in a dark nightclub—she wasn't the only person wearing them that evening. The woman nodded to everyone—it was too loud to speak—and the other people at the table nodded back. I quickly turned my attention back to the show, not wanting to miss hearing Louie perform songs I'd witnessed him writing.
When the set ended, Louie had to work his way through a herd of admirers, but he eventually made it over and greeted the woman with a kiss on the cheek. They spoke for a few seconds, and she left. Someone commented that it had been really nice of her to come. I was only mildly curious why one woman's attendance was so important, and I forgot all about it when Louie took the stage for the second half of the show.
The woman was, of course, Madonna.
I was still in the earliest stages of celebrity spotting and Madonna was, by far, the most famous person I'd even been close to. AND I'D MISSED THE WHOLE THING.
What would I have done differently if I'd recognized her? I'd probably have acted as if nothing unusual was going on. The difference was, I would have been pretending that everything was normal, making an enormous effort not to stare, while internally screaming, "Oh, my GAWD I am sitting next to FREAKING MADONNA."
Probably just as well.
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To see Louie's biggest hit on YouTube, click HERE.