Posts Tagged ‘Ellen Berkenblit’
Monica from Tommy Boy Records wanted me to check out the Fun House. “Arthur Baker and John Robie are hanging out there all the time,” she said. After writing the first story on hip hop in the Village Voice, Monica felt I should turn my attention to the way break dancing was spreading out of the South Bronx and into the other boroughs.
The first night I arrived at the club, Randy, the lighting guy, offered to introduce me to Madonna right off the bat. At the time, she was the girl friend of the house deejay, Jellybean, and already had a reputation as a voluptuous siren. I probably said, “naw, that’s okay.”
See, I was just finishing my book on the origins of hip hop, and I’d already heard the electro-bubblegum sound Madonna was working on. In the early stages of any new cultural wave, its often very hard to distinguish the truly talented, from the talentless opportunists (who always rush in). Aside from the bubblegum melody, Madonna’s voice didn’t sound all that impressive to me. But, then, I’d never met Madonna in person—or seen her perform.
That night Madonna came up behind me and started talking to me like we were old friends. I was wearing a Levi vest that East Village artist Ellen Berkenblit had customized with one of her iconic punk ponys in white marker on leather. Ellen was a very obscure artist, but one Rene Ricard was currently gushing over. Rene was already famous for “launching” Julian Schnabel and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“Ellen, right?” she said.
“Uh, yeah.” I mumbled, keeping my full attention elsewhere.
Madonna wasn’t one to stick around where she wasn’t wanted. (That night she would tell someone I was probably gay.)
Actually, I’d already decided to base my Fun House article around a girl named Alyse, and the Juice Crew. I had this feeling Jellybean wanted a story mostly about him, and Madonna. Maybe I was channeling the responsibilities of power regarding my status as a Village Voice cover-story writer. I’m sure I came off as arrogant at best.
Later that week, however, I got to see Madonna perform on stage at the Fun House with her backup dancers. She was amazing and captured my full respect immediately. She obviously had a gift for choreography and oozed with youthful sex appeal. I knew right then she was going to be a star. I suddenly wished I could turn that unfortunate first encounter around, and wondered if that opportunity would ever present itself.
Unfortunately, any plans along those lines were dashed forever the day my Fun House article appeared on the cover of the Voice, because the police raided the club early that evening. It just happened to be Jellybean’s birthday, and Madonna had a huge party and special command performance planned, so I’d become very unpopular in some circles. A couple of rumors came down the grapevine: “Madonna hates you” and “The Fun House is going to have you knee-capped.” Apparently, the club didn’t like the references to illegal substances included in my story. Some felt those comments were the reason the police felt compelled to make the raid in the first place.
“Steve Hager’s story on the Fun House is still remembered as a classic,” Baird Jones would write later in his gossip column. “Although when the expose got that illegal club busted, Steve had to lie very, very low for a few months.”
I did run into Madonna a few weeks later in the basement dressing room at Danceteria. She looked through me like I didn’t exist, while effusively welcoming my sidekick, German photographer Andre Grossmann. She even let Andre follow her home and take pictures of her in her own environment, until she had to throw him out because he wouldn’t stop taking pictures. At the time, Andre probably had no clue he was going to make a lot of money off those photographs many years later.
To read the story that closed the Fun House, Bugging Out on the Endless Peak click on the link below. It is republished in Hip Hop: The Complete Archives.