Tracy and Johnny
Westbury Music Fair, Long Island, NY
March 10, 1983
MY YEARS AS A FAN
I guess everybody remembers their first really big, celebrity crush, the one where your bedroom walls donned every picture known to mankind of that singing star. For my mother and her generation, that big crush was on Elvis Presley and the Beatles, while the kids of today scream for N’Sync and Ricky Martin. As for my own generation, the nineteen seventies seemed to encompass a whirlwind of teen idols, ranging from David Cassidy to Peter Frampton. When I was about ten years old, teen idol magazines became the basis of my friends’ existences. They would pick up a magazine and nearly pass out if the Bay City Rollers’ or Donny Osmond’s picture was the centerfold. I knew I would never get caught up in such nonsense. My hard-earned allowance would never obtain a magazine infested with a bunch of “pretty boys.” I had more important things to buy… such as baseball cards to complete my ’77 Yankees team. Yup, I was certainly beyond the hype of teen idols, or at least I thought so
One night, my mother found a brand new television show where a bunch of guys called Sha Na Na would be singing songs of the nineteen-fifties. The music always appealed to me, and I also had Sha Na Na’s eight tracks. Needless to say, I decided to watch the show, if anything, to match the faces with the black and white Sha Na Na poster my mother had given me. Other than the obvious physical aspects, I’m not really sure if everyone experiences that one definitive moment that indicates you have reached the threshold of puberty. However, as for myself, I can honestly say that by the end of that half-hour show and after seeing Johnny sing, things were never really quite the same.
I had, without shame or apprehension, become a target of the celebrity- marketing phenomenon. If there was something to buy pertaining to Sha Na Na, the little money I possessed became no object. Celebrity products seemed to flood every store in the nineteen seventies, with products ranging from lunchboxes, trading cards, and dolls, to posters, beach towels, t-shirts and even underwear. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Sha Na Na merchandise, at least as far as I could see. Every magazine picture became sacred and my friends quickly turned into the “Sha Na Na police,” alerting me of every new article or picture of Johnny and Sha Na Na in existence. A few of my friends would even jump on the bandwagon with me until the latest pretty face consumed the covers of teen magazines. While my friends’ tastes swayed from Donny Osmond and Shaun Cassidy to Leif Garrett or Scott Baio, I remained a steadfast Johnny fan and loyally tuned in to the Sha Na Na show as often as humanly possible.
My addiction to Johnny and Sha Na Na began to blatantly surface during my early teen years and thankfully enough, my parents observed my passion with watchful eyes. On one hand, they could not have been happier that I preferred Sha Na Na over some of the “long-haired creeps” that seemed to emerge from the late seventies and early eighties. On the other hand, they watched my grades plummet during my junior high school years.
For example, my seventh and eighth grade years consisted mostly of sitting in the back of my classes staring off into space, immersed in my Sha Na Na dream world. For most of us, junior high school remains the epitome of horrific years we’d rather forget. As for myself, I presented every qualification imaginable to rank highly among the object of ridicule: braces, nerdy glasses, absolutely no figure, and a mindset dated back to the nineteen fifties rather than the early eighties. My notebooks displayed “I Love Johnny” scribbled across them along with “Sha Na Na #1,” and “Buddy Holly lives.” However, never in my wildest dreams did I think my little dream world would establish any kind of junior high notoriety.
One day, I sat in the back of my English class and began writing some of my typical daydreams in the form of a story that included several of my friends. The story, about a group of us heading to California so I could meet Johnny, immediately turned into the hit of our lunch table. My friends’ personalities were brilliantly captured and I included input from them regarding their love interests. Each day I was expected to produce at least one new chapter. Unfortunately, the pressure became overbearing and my schoolwork took a backseat to the story. When my grades nose-dived in English, my teacher eventually confiscated the source of my failing grades and warned me that although my story was excellent, I could not become a writer if I failed English.
After my parents received phone calls and reports of my failing grades they decided to go for my teen-aged jugular. First my stereo was removed from my bedroom along with my Sha Na Na records, and when my grades did not improve, the television became off limits as well. For a thirteen or fourteen year old, missing Sha Na Na for an entire month was equivalent to a year! My parents were no longer “cool” and were reduced to “the enemy.” I began to plan study sessions at friends’ houses on Sha Na Na night and when my parents caught onto this, I sent my friends home with cassette tapes so they could tape the show for me, something I continued to do regularly myself once the punishment was lifted.
I somehow grew horns on my head and made an honest effort to make my parents suffer for my punishments. Smoking became my new hobby, along with sneaking cans of beer to school wrapped in tin foil, and drinking it with my friends in the cafeteria. Fortunately, I was never caught although my friends and I got so intoxicated one lunch period we clearly forgot which class followed lunch. We wandered aimlessly through the hallway and were sent to the principal’s office for cutting class. Although I had turned into a demonic teen-ager, I still possessed a more profound conscience than most of my friends that resulted in spilling my guts to my parents.
The brilliance of my parents, particularly my mother, still remains inconceivable to this day. Or maybe I would rather equate it to their eminent parenting techniques rather than my obtuse sense of rationale. In any case, my mother’s intuitive insight of what epitomized the axis of my world seemed to pay off tenfold by the end of junior high. After I confessed my shortcomings, my mother calmly asked perhaps the one question that turned my devious soul into that of a martyr: “I’m really glad you were honest about this although I’m also disappointed in you. And do you really think Johnny would go for a girl that is heading in the direction you are taking?” To add to my guilt, after all the insensitive and demonstrative actions I participated in or initiated, my parents acquired tickets to a Sha Na Na concert that following fall.
That summer, consumed by guilt, I did anything possible to prove I was every bit the kind of girl Johnny would go for, and deserving of those concert tickets! Looking back, my parents subtle and manipulative plan turned me from terrible-teen to marionette puppet. However, my mother’s single question also turned my life around for the better.
After seeing my first Sha Na Na concert and watching Johnny’s every move, it became clearly evident that my mother was right about Johnny’s respectable characteristics. By the early part of my high school years, I was inducted into the National Honor Society and was promised I would have even better concert tickets next time around. I seemed to re-join the human race and my parents were reinstated from “enemy” to “cool parents” once more. Although things seemed to look up for me, there remained one more thing I dreamed of accomplishing: to meet Johnny in person.
Every Sha Na Na fan, particularly those infatuated with Johnny, remembers the episode all too well. A young, very lucky fan is chosen to sit on the seat next to Johnny while he proceeds to sing Johnny Mathis’ “Twelfth of Never” to her. A mixed emotion of intrigue and envy inhabited every nerve in my body and I was certain I resembled a “green-eyed monster” by the show’s conclusion. Regardless, my brain went to work scheming ways to become that lucky fan. The solution hit me after reading an article about a girl who wrote “please can I meet Leif Garrett,” five thousand times and then was granted her wish. Initially, I snickered at such a preposterous act, I mean, all that writing was purely insane! After mulling over the pros and cons of the ridiculous project and its potential outcome, I began my enormous writing assignment on the first day of summer vacation while babysitting in nineteen eighty- two.
The “I love Johnny Contardo” project consumed most of my summer; I wrote at the beach, I wrote in the car, I wrote late at night or early in the morning. I even extended the quantity from five thousand to six thousand times, one thousand for every year I had been a fan. All I knew was that I just had to finish the writing before the next Sha Na Na concert in my area, and the project just had to work. Perhaps most encouraging was the fact that my mother seemed convinced I would definitely meet him. After four long months of writing, the project awaited the arrival of Johnny and the next Sha Na Na concert.
When the newspaper advertised Sha Na Na would appear in Westbury, Long Island in March of nineteen eighty-three, I immediately felt a rush of excitement and apprehension. Having always been shy and somewhat self- conscious, I began to question whether I would really go through with this. What would I say to him? Would he think I was crazy for writing all this? Would he be afraid to meet me in fear I was psychotic or an obsessed fan? My father purchased second row tickets and I began to realize there was no turning back. My mother encouraged me with reminders of all my hard work over the previous summer, and all the years I had been a fan. She asked if I thought anyone else deserved to meet Johnny more than myself, and told me I should at least try to meet him. She always ended with: “Trust me, I have a really good feeling about this.”
While I excitedly counted down the days ‘til my monumental moment, I busily prepared a letter to Johnny that would serve as a cover page to my project. The letter proved the most difficult as I struggled to say just the right things about the previous six years while keeping the letter as brief as possible. However, pouring out six years of heartfelt pubescent passion on one page seemed as difficult as recording a lifetime of memoirs on a three-by-five index card!
A week before the concert, the letter was finally complete and my project, which resembled the thickness of a mini manuscript, was ready to work its magic on Johnny. My parents helped me pack it into a thick, brown envelope, and brought me to the post office to mail it to Johnny in care of the concert hall. That night, I felt anxious wondering about the fate of my hard work. I hoped it would not get lost or worse, thrown in the trash. Excitement and fear over all the “what ifs” intensified as the days drew closer to the concert. I had included my phone number in the letter that pleaded to let me meet him. The day of the concert, I rushed home from school and quickly sought out my mother. She simply nodded her head and said: “Still no phone call, but I wouldn’t worry.” I sulked on the sofa convinced this whole thing had been a pipe dream. When my father walked through the front door with a red rose for me to give to Johnny, my waning confidence seemed rejuvenated. Did my father, the ultimate realist, actually believe I would meet Johnny?
My wardrobe was carefully chosen about a month in advance: a striped lavender sweater, designer jeans, capezzio shoes, and as suggested by my father, my high school jacket. The night’s dark, gray sky reflected another unpredictable day in March consisting of miserable freezing rain. The weather seemed trivial as we drove a few towns away to Westbury, Long Island. The car ride felt like an eternity and I could barely hear my mother reminding me of things to tell Johnny over the sound of my heart beating ferociously. At this point, I knew exactly what I had to do or I would never forgive myself for not trying.
We got to the concert hall exceptionally early and I went directly to the office without hesitation. I inquired whether Johnny received a large, brown envelope and the guy’s face lit up with recognition. “Oh yeah, for Jocko, right?”
“No, for Johnny! It was for Johnny,” I explicitly reiterated. The guy chuckled as if proud of his own joke and confirmed that he personally received it the day before. Once the gates opened and we were allowed into the auditorium, we found our seats and I looked at the doorway that led to their dressing rooms. The walk seemed to last forever through the somewhat tiny Westbury Music Fair. While walking to the dressing room door, I watched as another fan was turned down a visit backstage. By the time I got to the doorway, my legs felt like rubber, and I was certain my face lost its color. I approached a fairly big guy that may have once been a bouncer in a bar. I began with a simple “hi” and asked politely if I could give Johnny the rose. He smirked and said he would give it to him, that Johnny was busy getting ready for the show. When he went to take the rose I pulled it back and quietly explained that I wrote something six thousand times and I wanted to meet him.
The guy’s face immediately changed as if he had made a brilliant revelation: “You’re the girl who wrote that? Wait here and I’ll tell him you’re here,” and he quickly disappeared behind the curtain. Other people around the doorway looked at me and smiled: “so you wrote all that,” a woman smiled and asked. “He received it yesterday.” My face reddened as I wondered just how many other people knew about my project. Seconds lasted for hours as I quickly managed to fix my hair, pop a peppermint lifesaver, and give my parents a thumbs up. When the guy reappeared, he signaled me to follow him behind the curtain where Johnny waited just a few feet away.
Now I really don’t know if everyone experiences such an immense level of euphoria when they meet their favorite celebrity face-to-face. However, at that precise moment, I felt nobody deserved to be backstage more than myself and there was no chance I would ruin the moment by fainting! Luckily, Johnny did not look like that dreamy, angelic crooner I tuned in to each week. He was not dressed in gold or glitter and he did not have his carefully slicked back hair with dangling curls, or his black satin jacket. He looked like someone I may have walked right past earlier that day, although he smelled incredible! Time seemed to stand still but I immediately felt at ease while he warmly said: “hi, how are you?” Another guy confiscated Johnny’s rose and seemed to inspect it thoroughly, then gave it back to him. I told Johnny I couldn’t believe I was there and then asked him if he got my letter. He said “yes, six thousand times, wow. What possessed you to do that?” I explained I had been a fan for six years and he asked me how old I was, where I lived, and he asked me about my jacket, and high school.
By the end of our short period together, ironically, I almost felt ridiculous for the previous six years. Johnny was a regular guy, another human being, who could not have been kinder to probably one of a million ogling teen-aged girls. I asked him if I could get a picture with him and he said “sure.” I quickly took my glasses off and told him my contact lenses were on order for the following week, something I had hoped to get before that night. As busy or as famous as he was, he seemed interested in nearly everything I had to say and I realized Johnny wanted to talk to me, not to a fan infatuated with him. I must have stayed there for ten or fifteen minutes and finally he told me he’d better get ready for the show. He kissed me on the cheek and I thanked him for meeting with me and he told me he would be looking for me in the audience.
By the time I returned to my seat, my parents had told the surrounding audience my life story. However, I grabbed the program book and ran back to the dressing room curtain and told the guy I forgot to have Johnny sign my book. He brought it behind the curtain and returned minutes later with an autograph next to his picture that read: “To Tracy, All my love, Johnny.” My bravery and courage seemed to end right there. As soon as the show began and Johnny ran onstage in his gold lame` outfit and began to sing, I slouched in my seat in disbelief! I didn’t get the courage to wave to him ‘til the end of the show, after another lucky girl had already gotten his towel. Finally I conjured up the courage to wave while Johnny was singing “Lovers Never Say Goodbye” with Bowzer. At that moment, Johnny pointed right at me and sang “so long, darling.” While I didn’t get the towel and maybe I would have had I not become “star struck,” in my sixteen years, I’m not sure it actually got any better than that.
After that night, I wrote to Johnny on a regular basis and sent a copy of the picture we took. I even planned my next project; an oil-painted portrait of him I still have to this day! He replied one time with an autographed postcard and then shortly afterwards, he left Sha Na Na to pursue other interests or live a normal life.
Although nearly twenty years have passed since I met Johnny, I can’t help but smile to myself each time I hear a song Johnny once sung or watch the kids of today scream for N’Sync. Hopefully N’Sync makes their years as an adolescent fan as special as Johnny made mine.
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