Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Word on Madonna from an 80s Chick.


Here's Dick Clark on American Bandstand interviewing Madonna in 1984. Come in at 1:23. He's going to ask her if she was nervous to go solo. She says quietly, "Not really. I've always had a lot of confidence in myself."

The next question is about her dreams not just for the upcoming year but into the future. She says, with a big smile, "To rule the world." I love that clip.

It's not that I am or ever was a huge Madonna fan. I'm a bad fan in general. But Madonna was, for much of my life, ubiquitous . It was hard not to have an opinion of her. And I've had many. I'll put in some below. But the thing is a lot of my frustrations with her don't matter. Madonna is tough as hell. She struggles. Mainly, she's pushed for liberation and self-definition.

No one, to my mind, has said more clearly -- by her actions -- that it is a person's individual right to define who they are and to change that definition as they change. For me, Madonna is about the self-expression of identity and the freedom to evolve. Agree with her choices or not, she raised identity to an art form.


(I hate making statements like that because someone will come along and name five people off the top of their heads that turn this statement on its ear. But, there. I've said it. If it spurs you to think of five better examples, my work has had a positive outcome.)

Look, if you were a Catholic white girl in the 1980s, like THIS Catholic white girl of the 80s, you probably had a very complex relationship with "Like a Prayer." It's still weirdly about faith for me -- as well as sex -- but when the chorus pours in, it's all convoluted and rich. And then the video's about race, which just further stirs it all up, Catholic guilt heaped with white guilt and sexiness and choir robes.

"Like a Virgin" at the Grammy's? Humping the wedding veil? I'd never seen anything like it.

And her Truth or Dare documentary? Her new-world confessional mode meeting Warren Beatty's old world closed doors? Her loss. Her desire. Her exhaustion. She was way ahead of her time. Evidently, it's all Americans want to see and THAT was some incredible footage of a life.

Her sudden British accent? I felt betrayed on a deep Detroit level; and I'm not even from Detroit.

Her run-in with Courtney Love. I don't know. I have this weird I-want-to-save-you relationship with Courtney Love, and I kind of wanted Madonna to be maternal there. I know that she sees Courtney for the baby she's being in that messy moment. But I wanted Madonna to love her anyway.

Her spiritual mode. I think it was genuine. I think she was digging.

All of my kids know how to Vogue.

Her picture book for children about apples? What-what? And how she suddenly showed up in bookstores to read for children, wearing small-floral-print sundresses? I felt my motherhood was being openly mocked. Surely, she didn't write that book with its 1950s sentimentality. Surely not. I want the picture book that she actually pens.

Her being pregnant in the cowboy-hat video, just a little. I liked that.

Her dating A-Rod? Yep.

And if you came up in the 80s, you're now of a certain age -- an age where you can't watch Courtney Cox because all you're thinking is, "What exactly has she had done to her face?" It's not a rude thing. It's just a deep curiosity. Has there been padding put into her cheeks? And is that done with a needle? And if she didn't wear lip gloss would her lips look more normal? Ditto a lot of actresses around my age. Sometimes I wonder who will play the parts that Meryl Streep now plays? And for so long Madonna was a great last hold-out. But, alas, no more. But I have to say, she did it well. I don't obsess over her features. In fact, I feel like she's not as puffed and pinched, and it's more as if she's been arrested in time.

(BUT ... REMEMBER AGING? I miss public aging. I miss the dignity and beauty of aging. Remember Katharine Hepburn as she aged? So wonderful.)


Madonna is 53. I held my breath during the Super Bowl. Yes, saw her stumble once. But she was wearing five inch heels. Lordy. I was dying for her to take off her headdress and whip it. And she did. Would I have preferred to hear her breathing hard in that mic, really huffing and puffing, some realism -- some this-is-my-voice-right-now? Yes.

But I feel, weirdly, proud of her. Why proud? I didn't feel proud of Prince when he rocked the Super Bowl a couple years. I think it's because of the heavy demands we put on women. Here are a series of boxes, we seem to say. Cram yourself into each one in a specific order. And Madonna hasn't done that. We usually punish women for not fitting into the marked boxes. and certainly entertainment is a punishing industry. She was exhausted in Truth or Dare, run ragged, in a way suffering. But she always fights her way through, a force of nature, with sheer determination of will. She has such a will.

I want to believe in that kind of unboxed life for a woman, however that life is defined by the one living it.