They say you shouldn’t meet your idols. I have no idea why.
I was yapping with my friend Spencer at the Buffalo, a gay bar in Las Vegas, when a pal of his interrupted us. He’d just come from the Erasure concert at the Hard Rock Hotel, and it was awesome, and he hoped to meet the lead singer, Andy Bell, later that night. The man’s plan was to hang at Eagle, where he met Andy by happenstance last year. After grunting loudly to express my frustration at having missed the concert, I seriously considered tagging along. Luckily for me, I chose not to.
Fast-forward to an hour later at FreeZone, another family joint across the street. I was standing in line for a drink, surveying the bar for cuties to leer at, when whom should I see at a lone video poker machine not thirty feet away? Mr. “Chains of Love” himself. For all the nights I’d wasted away inside FreeZone’s familiar walls, this was my first celebrity spotting. My goal was to play it cool.
The back story on me and Andy is that I had a huge fascination with him during my childhood in England, which he, of course, knew nothing about. (What a story, eh?) While I was obsessively listening to Wonderland, The Innocents and Wild, Andy was riding a wave of global fame and fortune with his partner in chime, Vince Clark. I once sent away to join their fan club, but the five-pound membership fee was too steep for my ten-year-old budget.
So there we were sixteen years later at a gay bar in Las Vegas. Though I’d stopped following synth-pop years ago after teen angst kicked in and I discovered Hole and Nirvana, Erasure still held a place in my heart. (After all, they’d gotten there before Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain, and I could always play Erasure with my mom in the car.) The decision I faced at that moment was whether or not I should approach him.
Andy was talking to only one other person—no bodyguards or rock star entourage—so I knew a physical introduction was entirely possible. The dilemma was this: Could I keep it cool and ask for a handshake, which I prefer over an autograph, without becoming a ten-year-old girl? And if I do that, will he be nice to me?
The deliberation process took about an hour, during which I could barely hold a conversation. Friends would try to talk to me and I’d respond with a blank, “Yeah, cool,” no matter the discussion. Being honest about why I was distracted was not an option; we were at a gay bar and the last thing I wanted to do was to blow Andy’s cover. This sounds noble, but my motive was purely selfish: if everyone found out he was there, my chances at a handshake would disappear.
Finally I made my move. I carefully scanned all those within a seven-foot radius to be sure I wasn’t going to be stopped by some Brit football hooligan acting as personal security. The coast was clear. On the verge of a stutter, I tapped Andy Bell on the shoulder and said, “Excused me, but are you who I think you are?”
“I am,” he replied simply.
“Oh, man. Wow. Whoa, I’m like, such a fan of you guys,” I stammered. The ten-year-old girl was surfacing. “Can I just, like, shake your hand?”
“Sure,” said Andy Bell, his grip firm and cordial. Eyeing his empty Corona, I offered to buy him a drink. This was my litmus test to see if he wanted me around. Since he clearly needed a new beer, I figured he’d say he was fine if he wanted me gone, and allow me to buy him a new one if he were up for conversation.
Turns out I was wrong: he accepted my Corona but then didn’t want to talk. I was okay with this, and still am. Because what did I want from Andy Bell, really? Nothing. I wanted to shake his hand. I wanted to tell him that I like his music, and I did, completing a circle I started as a ten-year-old kid—a misplaced American boy in his bedroom in England, singing along to “Respect,” with no real understanding of the lyrics, and less of the man behind them.