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Madonna Mania



On the night Madonna came to Soldier Field, three young "wannabes" posing for the camera had no idea what they were gonna be. A motor drive whirred as the girls--in the 8-to-11 range--swung their torsos like models. Three months to the day before Halloween, Madonna look-alikes stuck out on that lakefront promenade like those people who insist on wearing Richard Nixon masks in a Halloween rush-hour crowd. A newspaper photographer with three cameras around his neck smiled as he focused on this particular trio. Their mothers had turned them into authentic imitations. Each had the lace, blond hair, and homemade upper-lip mole. Their skirts were black and T-shirts white, with handwritten Madonna hype. When the photo session was over, one asked: "Mom, why did he want to know our names?"

The Sun-Times needed a page-one photo for its early edition. "Aspiring Madonnas" was the result. The star herself--wearing a black bustier--dominated the final edition's cover. Eyes closed, one fist clenched, and mouth opened wide, she stood onstage wailing into the microphone. Call her Madonna. Call her Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. The Warner Communications subsidiaries running this show call her "the most electrifying performer of the '80s." She might be. One thing is certain. This pale-faced vegetarian, 34-23-33, sells newspapers faster than her three prepubescent imitators.

Imagine the feeling, though, that Jackie Hughes and Jeanna and Nicole Siemion got by seeing themselves on the front page of a major metropolitan daily. That picture has probably reached the scrapbook by now. One day, those girls will have children who will see it and wonder why their mothers had such strange aspirations. Of course, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. The 21st century's offspring will have their own stars to mimic in pop culture's stampede of wannabes.

"What is a Madonnahominee or whatever you call it?" asked Tanya Patino. The 11-year-old sat against a 62-year-old stadium in the shade of a tree, wearing black tights and a baggy olive green T-shirt. By her side was a friend, 17-year-old Yvonne Molina. They were among the first arrivals for Chicago's edition of the "Who's That Girl World Tour." Long brown hair flowed through a hole in Tanya's olive green hat. Chains and crucifixes hung from each ear. A pink rosary was among the assorted plastics hanging around her neck. Maybelline's finest highlighted this fifth-grader's eyes.

A boy sitting nearby was finally prodded into admitting he knew that a Madonnawannabe is "someone that sorta wants to be like Madonna."

Tanya nodded. The description fit, meaning the answer to the next question was obvious. "Yes," she sighed, she did like Madonna. Eyes rolled and chest inflated. Why? "She just came out after Cyndi Lauper." And what happened to her? "Cyndi Lauper, she's still in, but she's cooled down a little bit. She's not as much punked as she used to be. When she was punked, she was just wild."

"My mother's wild," offered this child who had come from the north side to the first concert of her life on public transportation. "She's not punked out but up-to-date. Sometimes she wears bummy shorts and sometimes dresses up. This is originally her hat. She cut it from the top and puts her hair out of it. It was her idea for me to cut off these pants and put a piece down there by my ankles. Up here, the necklaces, they were my idea."

Across the way, sitting against a chain-link fence, were a mother and daughter from the southwest side. Each wore sneakers, tight-fitting black pants, and a loose-fitting animal print shirt over a cotton tank top.

"I told Mom a couple years ago to get with it, that this is the 80s," said 13-year-old Rachael Regalado. "I told her to get the jeans she's wearing. All she ever wore was old-lady-type pants."

"They were just straight pants," protested Linda Regalado, 34. "I call them dress pants."

"You said Madonna looked funny," said the daughter, who soon will be an eighth-grader at Saint Nick's Grammar School. "Well, I think the Beatles looked funny."

"I like Madonna's music," said the mother, a Chicago cop who works the Second District's midnight shift. "If Rachael is going to like somebody, I'd rather have it be someone like Madonna. At least she doesn't have a sordid past with drugs."

Rachael didn't enter the ranks of Madonnawannabe-ism until two years ago. "In fifth grade I dressed normal," she explained. "I liked, like, Madonna the music but not the fashion. Then in sixth grade I started dressing like her. I wore some of the clothes she wore in her videos. So did my friends from school. But we're not that crazy to go hardcore with the crosses and the chains."

No matter. Such things are out. At least, the media are quoting the publicists as saying they're out.

"I have a theory," said Linda Regalado as she watched Soldier Field suck the crowds through the turnstiles at $25 a pop. "The young girls could dress up like her before. She had a fun image. Now she has more of a sexy image. The younger minds don't know how to cope with it. Very few tonight are wearing all that Madonna black. Who knows, though, maybe it's because the weather is warm. I don't know what kids think."

Late that afternoon, I had arrived at Soldier Field to find the quintessential Madonnawannabe. I circled the place, eyeing the sparse crowd, feeling disappointment.

"I'm wondering myself where all the Madonna look-alikes are," said Carla Grigsby as she stood outside the main gate waiting in line to make a phone call. This black 24-year-old native of Gary, Indiana, looked more like Madonna than any of the white girls around. She was calling her mother to convey the news that she had been interviewed by Channel Two. Suddenly a Sun-Times photographer appeared to snap a few pictures. This woman obviously fulfilled many people's expectations of what a Madonna fan looks like: black skirt; black, purple, and gold leotard; boy-toy belt; black high top shoes; wrist lace; chain earrings; sunglasses.

"I think I'm trying to look like myself," Grigsby insisted.

"Madonna had five or six holes in each ear, but I only have four," she said, pointing to her right ear where metal poked through half of the lobe's holes. "If anything, I look more like Jody Watley. You know, the one who sings 'I'm Looking for a New Love.' People say I look like Diana Ross, but I'll take the Jody.

"It used to be easy to copy Madonna," explained Grigsby, who graduated recently from Tuskegee Institute, in Alabama, with a degree in architecture. "All you had to do was buy the accessories. A lot of the stuff you could get at thrift shops. And this, I guess you'd call it a fingerless lace glove, costs $5 at any boutique. But now, it's more difficult to dress like her. She's cut her hair, gotten rid of the chains, the makeup, and the crosses. She's quieter looking. More subdued. More sophisticated. More Marilyn Monroe. She's changed from disco to pop."

Cassandra Grigsby, Carla's younger sister, came along and jumped right into the interview. (Maybe show biz runs in their family: They said their 26-year-old sister, who has changed her name to Kim Massel, sings songs that get played on the radio.)

"The Madonna craze began because she was this white girl with soul," Cass said. This 19-year-old wore silver fingernail polish, silver bracelets, silver pendants, silver earrings, and silver lip gloss against a backdrop of black clothing. "You couldn't tell if Madonna was white or black. A lot of people liked her the way she was when she wore the crosses. But then she tried to get over, to cross over.

"If I don't like this concert I'm gonna tell people not to buy her records. You know she's not like Janet Jackson. Janet's soul crossed over to everybody. But she's still more black, honey. All the way, party. Dance. Madonna isn't party anymore. Now, Madonna is just rock your head in your car."

Moments later I spotted a bimbette stomping, male escort in tow, toward the "Madonna Official Tour Merchandise" display, hungry for a better look at the Madonna posters, Madonna programs, Madonna T-shirts, and Madonna sweatshirts. Her man toy called for their friends to wait, and then, before pulling out a twenty, asked his buddy: "How much money you got?" While she waited to be served, he lit up a cigarette. They kissed but nothing passionate, just one of those basic pecks meaning she got hers but he's in the running to get his.

Up in the stands, the squeals began as the opening act, Level 42, scrambled offstage. In this first of many false Madonna alarms, the appearance of stagehands coincided with the start of a song. It took the squealers several moments to realize that the music was recorded.

The crowd poured in, oblivious to the dark clouds rolling in from the west. Four teenaged white girls sat to my left, sipping from 20-ounce cups of pop. Two black girls--seated one row ahead--opened up their $10 programs and began paging through the gloss. Behind me, a white kid shouted: "Go slowly when you turn the pages." They did.

And we saw "The Star, Siren, Symbol, Legend"--as the headline read--in all her splendor. (By the way, Madonna says she has a hard time getting away from her own image. And that kids "don't have a protective coating" of fears and prejudices like adults. The tabloids, she claims, say three things about her: "I have a shrine to Marilyn in my room, I believe the spirit of Elvis is inside my soul, and I lost 14 pounds on a popcorn diet.") There wasn't much reading going on, though. When a Madonna look-alike dashed up a ramp toward a backstage entrance, the squeals returned.

Impatience was growing. At least eight songs had played but still no Madonna. "Isn't that Gene Siskel?" someone in back said. Sure enough, coming down my row was the Tribune movie columnist (who the next day would emerge from Madonna's $2,000-a-night Ritz-Carlton suite with Chicago's only interview). As he and his companion passed through my space en route to their own, the lights were going down. It was show time.

The stage's scaffolding stuck way up into the sky from the north end zone. Giant video screens stood on either side of the stage. This feature enabled concertgoers to experience a live event while watching it on a big screen in the comfort of the Park District's own stadium. But nothing yet had happened. Some 40-odd thousand people stood in front of their seats, hankering for a look at one of America's premier celebrities. Squeals erupted as a pseudo-Madonna--one of the dancers--took center stage.

Suddenly, a huge white curtain was illuminated, revealing a silhouette at the top of the stage. Now this was the real thang. The video queen came down the stairs dancing and singing "Open Your Heart." The greetings of this girl from Bay City, Michigan, included the hope that the rains would hold off. "I want to get wet by myself," she said, eliciting as frenzied a response as she did a few songs later by saying: "My hair's all fucked up."

Madonna gave it that good old "I've got the moves, you've got the motion, together we is commotion" razzmatazz. Lights swirled and flashed below, around, and on the stage. The proscenium arching over the star acted as a projection screen for one still image after another. Ronnie Reagan's face, Ronnie's eyes, a cathedral, a metropolis, and starry nights. The simulated sky was a good deal starrier than Chicago's ever is.

There were no stars out that hot night. However, not long after the show began, the clouds turned out to be a haze that dissipated long enough to reveal the first sliver in the lunar cycle. The moon faded in the western sky, and then, just as subtly, reappeared. Onstage, "Material Girl" was in full swing as the bottom tip of that silver strip began sinking behind Soldier Field's southwest tower. That old heap of concrete and steel was rocking as the lady sang: "Boys may come and boys may go and that's all right to see . . ." Even Siskel, suit coat draped over his right arm, was jiggling. Above the stage, images kept flashing. There were dollar signs, the word "Hollywood," and $100 bills, not from the United States of America but from the "Altered States of Madonna." By the time "Material Girl" turned into "Like a Virgin," the fingernail moon had slipped from view. But the Madonna fans weren't looking.

A half hour later, the beat-the-crowd crowd was racing away. The encore began with "Who's That Girl." It played while drivers waited in row after row of public buses and private limousines. A block northwest of Soldier Field, a Good Humor man had pulled his truck onto the grass. Walking south was a man pushing T-shirts. He rhymed, "Madonna, ten dollars. Madonna, ten dollars." Another T-shirt salesman was haggling with a woman. "I thought they'd be half-price after the show."

But it wasn't over yet. The tune "Holiday" could be heard from the pedestrian bridge above the Illinois Central tracks. I'd nearly reached Michigan Avenue when the crowd let out a roar. The applause was swallowed by the sound of an accelerating bus.

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