I stood on the floor of Dodger Stadium surrounded by 52,000 sweating, screaming people. I had taken mushrooms and drank a room-temperature tequila soda in the Uber, so I couldn’t feel the pain developing in my lower back from dancing. I felt weightless and euphoric, like I would never need to sit down again. Lady Gaga was onstage, wrapped in a shining chrome sarcophagus, and all 52,000 of us screamed in unison: “I don’t wanna be friends / Want your bad romance.”

After the concert, Lady Gaga’s fans flowed like a river of sequins down Vin Scully Avenue and onto Sunset Boulevard. They were ostensibly looking for rides home, but, really, they were burning off the high of the concert. The bars were bursting into the street. Every phone played one of Gaga’s songs, the night a glorious mash-up. One of our friends made out with the Uber driver so he would allow six of us to pile in on each other in his sedan. That night in Echo Park was the most spontaneous outburst of collective joy I’ve experienced in years.

Lady Gaga in concert earlier this year.

I’ve just turned 39, a mother of two children under the age of four, and I don’t go out like I used to. I was at the concert for a friend’s birthday, and most everyone there was younger than me. I had spent the pre-game telling them that “I knew Gaga when.” I did not mean that I knew Stefani Germanotta, just that I saw her perform before she was Lady Gaga. On an August night in 2007, at a divey spot called Pianos, on Ludlow Street.

My friends rolled their eyes. “Oh, my God. Pianos. Embarrassing.” I defended myself—“Pianos was a spot,” I said—but I did not go further. I knew I would sound like an aging millennial who hadn’t been out past midnight since then.

These days, Pianos, a two-story music venue and bar housed in an old piano store, has taken a dramatic turn toward overexposure. When I walk by late at night, there is always a line of people outside waiting for a voyeuristic look at what they call the “L.E.S.” In 2006, we didn’t call the Lower East Side that. We called it “downtown.”

A lot of service-industry kids like me—I was working at the Union Square Cafe at the time, an experience I drew on for my 2018 novel, Sweetbitter—ended up downtown after our shifts because there was live music, easy cocaine, and a small galaxy of bars. If nothing was happening at Pianos, we’d go to Max Fish and 169 Bar. If not there, then Mercury Lounge, Clandestino, Lolita Bar, and Les Enfants Terribles. All of this followed by sunrise walks back to Williamsburg over the bridge.

Pianos, at 158 Ludlow Street.

I had been to Pianos a couple of times when I saw on Facebook that a D.J. I knew was hosting a Sunday-night show at Pianos with two performers, Lady Starlight and Lady Gaga. I decided to go.

In my memory, the show was a musical revue. It had aspects of vaudeville, high camp, and, from Gaga, who would have been barely 21 at the time, a wild, plaintive singing voice. I remember her face being mostly hidden: dark eye makeup, dark hair, heavy bangs—a real Cobrasnake vibe. Her body was electric in a sequined bikini.

As a lover of pop music and glam rock, I was thrilled. But I did not leave feeling like I had just witnessed history. I left thinking about how I could make out with my boss and whether there was any cash left in my purse for a taxi.

The first time I heard a Lady Gaga single, I marveled that this grimy scene-ster was being played on the radio.

In 2006, we didn’t call the Lower East Side the “L.E.S.” We called it “downtown.”

It wasn’t just run-of-the-mill nostalgia on my mind after seeing Lady Gaga at Dodger Stadium all those years later. I realized that I felt a sentimental kinship with her for being of a similar downtown era. And though I am not a world-famous pop star, I went through the publishing equivalent of going from being a scrappy aspiring artist to being played on the radio.

I wonder if her success surprised her like it did me. I wonder if that same hard-earned, doggedly pursued success doesn’t embarrass her, like it sometimes does me. There’s something so disgraceful about “making it” and all the bourgeois implications. As I watch the Disneyfication of Rivington, Ludlow, and Orchard, I am aware of the Disneyfication of my own sanitary, child-friendly life. Has my irony washed off me?

I’m sure Lady Gaga doesn’t think like that. We all like to think we’ve kept our edges intact. But when I watched thousands of the young and glittering stop traffic on Sunset Boulevard, I realized that I could roll my eyes about the scene outside Pianos these days, but in reality, I had become the tourist.

To hear Stephanie Danler reveal more about her story, listen to her on AIR MAILs Morning Meeting podcast

Stephanie Danler is the author of a novel, Sweetbitter, and a memoir, Stray. She is currently working on a new novel and a screenplay