“An image and a good hook can get you in the door, but something has to keep you in the room.” – Madonna
From the Hamilton Club to Palladium Ballroom, New York’s twentieth century nightlife scene thrived for nearly a century. CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City, The Mudd Club, Danceteria, became mainstays of New York culture and the farm team for audacious creativity. Celebrities, players, and ingenues mingled into the early hours of the morning, clawing at the rungs of New York’s social ladder, until the AIDS crisis and mounting financial troubles took its toll on Studio 54 and the broader club scene. By 2006, the last vestiges of this scene made way for a sanitized, tourist-friendly Manhattan.
But, for one brief window in time, art, fashion and music, converged in an era like none before or since, in any city, in one place, in the United States. Filmmaker Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary, PARIS IS BURNING, captured one particular subculture born out of this social experiment—the competitive vogue ball scene.
If you lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side between 1979 and 1981, you might have glimpsed the 5’4″ transplant from Michigan, performing with the Gilroy brothers’ Breakfast Club or Steve Bray and Emmy at the Mudd Club or Danceteria, hanging out with graffiti artists, or shopping her demo tape around to producers and A&R executives—when they still scouted talent before the industry started manufacturing them with Antares Auto Tune—the equivalent of autocorrect for the voice.
In October of ’82, A&R Executive Mark Rosenblatt of Sire Records signed Madonna to a three single deal. Her first club single, Everybody, rocketed up the Billboard Dance Club chart, yet the rest of the world would have to wait. The real breakthrough came when the videos for “Borderline” and “Burning Up” got into heavy rotation on the fledgling MTV music video network. Now she had a full album deal, though obstacles remained. Holiday, with lyrics by Curtis Hudson and Lisa Stevens, created the impression among southern disc jockeys that Madonna was a black R&B artist but even their racist hedging couldn’t stop her. The word was out. Debbie Harry’s brazen, independent, spiritual successor had arrived.
Read the rest at Cinemalogue…