On Monday night, I attended “An Evening with E L James,” an intimate New York City get-together for the launch of the Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album. James, who kicks off her U.S. book tour today, was on hand for an interview (and of course, a general gawk at the nice middle-aged British lady who almost single-handedly ruled the publishing industry this year).
There are undoubtedly dozens of author Q&As and record-release celebrations happening across Manhattan every night, but this evening was, well, different… So, should you too ever find yourself uncertain as to whether you are attending “An Evening with E L James,” here are 10 ways to tell:
1. You’ve been handcuffed to gain admittance: No simple hand-stamp or a name checked off a list for Ms. James’ guests. After giving my name at the door, a metal cuff was promptly clicked shut on my wrist. While that was disconcerting in itself, the real moment of panic came when I couldn’t figure out how to take it off. Oh my God, I thought. Will I have to sleep with this on? For some reason, this really worried me. (In case you’re wondering, I did manage to free myself eventually.)
2. The elevator is lined in green buttoned leather: This was my first time setting foot in New York’s private members club Soho House. Needless to say, I was impressed. I’m used to elevators lined in construction plastic, not plush leather. It was, of course, very apropos for the evening in question — even Katie Couric sported this little animal-hide number to interview James yesterday on her show.
3. Your wine is served by waiters in Eyes Wide Shut style masks: Every waiter, male and female, was decked out an elaborate black mask while serving cocktails. An intriguing touch for fans (the second book Fifty Shades Darker features a masquerade), but it also seemed like a hazard in the small, dimly lit lounge.
4. An inordinately attractive quartet of musicians plays a selection of classical music: These guys were actually really good. They took the time to learn every song on Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album even though there wasn’t nearly enough time to play them all. As a colleague of mine suggested, I hope they go on tour — Fifty Shades in Fifty States! (The CD, by the way, features 15 classical pieces including Thomas Tallis’ infamous “Spem in Alium” — the track that plays on Christian Grey’s iPod when he does particular nasty things to Miss Anastasia Steele.)
5. There are hardly enough seats to hold the crowd: After winding my way through the entire room — enormous backpack in tow, which luckily didn’t take out one of the aforementioned masked servers — I ended up squeezing behind the counter where the wine was being served.
6. E L James is there: This may seem obvious, but it took awhile for her to turn up. (Not that I blame her, she’s really quite busy for the next few weeks.) I had another moment of panic wondering if I was in the right place. Then a woman showed up sporting a black lacy shrug and the interviewer chummily referred to this woman as “E L,” (Does she actually go by that?) so I felt better.
7. A fellow journalist rolls her eyes at you when “E L” says classical music is “where [Christian Grey] finds peace”: Keep a wary eye for disgruntled reporters on involuntary assignment at any Fifty Shades event.
8. There is a discussion about which classical pieces put you in the mood: According to James, it’s definitely Bach. In related news, I will never listen to Bach quite the same way again.
9. On your way out, you are handed a pin that reads “Laters, baby”: This pin holds a special significance for me. While I was at Comic-Con this year, I met a guy in line who told me that he had been hunting everywhere for this very pin. Apparently, it was one of the limited-edition giveaways at the Con, and his girlfriend had insisted he get his hands on one. If only I could find him now.
10. A sign in the fancy bathroom warns you against entering the stall in pairs: Because this is just what happens after “An Evening with E L James.”
Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album is out now.
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On the scene: E L James talks ‘Fifty Shades’ with Katie Couric