Happy birthday, Madonna. Corny as it is to say so, no words can express the influence this woman and her music have had on me. To borrow her own phrase, she’s my ‘mother brother sister lover daughter little baby jesus’. Here are a few of my strongest Madonna memories:
- Seeing the video for ‘Like A Prayer’ for the first time and being completely in awe of it. Growing up in a Catholic family and going to Catholic schools, this felt dangerous. Madonna’s music was banned at my school as a result. Years later I wrote an essay for my English class about how this video and Madonna’s various interviews and statements on religion (not least the amazing (and ridiculous) statement she gave when the Vatican ‘banned’ her tour) had emboldened my growing doubt over my religion and contributed to my feeling confident enough to openly question it and welcome critical voices.
- The first cassette I ever bought: I’m Breathless
- The first cd I ever bought: Erotica . By this point I was beginning to realise that I was gay and happily found that I could put up Erotica-era photos of Madonna around my bedroom without any of my family finding it odd. One evening I was blasting out the title track in my bedroom when my mum called me downstairs. I took a while to respond but eventually trodded out of my room, music filling the house as I did so, and made to go downstairs. It was there that I realised why mum had been calling me: the local priest had made a house call and was standing at the bottom of the stairs waiting for me. Funnily enough, he didn’t mention my choice of music.
- My mum buying me the vhs of The Girlie Show (it was rated ‘15’ – I had just turned 14). We watched the opening together. It was far more explicit than I had imagined and I was hugely embarrassed, in that teenage way. My mum’s only comment? “I think your brother will like this.” I watched the rest of the video alone and found myself clinging to it over the next year. Its depictions of sexuality and, more specifically, gay men profoundly connected with my raging adolescence. I was completely amazed by an orgy scene which showed men kissing and simulating sex. It became one of those things that I would watch only when I was sure no-one was around, so paranoid was I about being seen to be watching and enjoying ‘gay behaviour’. Because of the ‘perfect storm’ that was my hormones, my painful realisation of my sexuality and my reaction against my religion, The Girlie Show remains my favourite Madonna tour.
- A car drive with my mum where we were listening to the radio. The DJ played ‘Secret’ and introduced it as Madonna’s new single. My mum asked me, ‘What do you think of that, then?’ and I felt happy that she was trying.
- I dragged my entire family to see Evita on Boxing Day 1996. After the second song my brother leaned over and whispered, ‘So wait…this is ALL sung?!’ Afterwards my dad said, ‘She’s certainly a talented lady’. That made my day.
- ‘Beautiful Stranger’ always takes me back to my penultimate year of university, when I danced to it more times than is decent. ‘Don’t Tell Me’ has the same effect for my final year. There was a sudden trend for cowboy hats in all of the gay clubs I attended.
- I can still remember the days I bought every Madonna album between Erotica and Ray of Light. Something to Remember stands out as, due to distribution problems, my local Our Price didn’t receive the album until the Thursday of that week. I went in after school every day from Monday and the wait seemed unbearable. The guys behind the counter quickly noticed and when I walked in on the Thursday they had the cd waiting for me at the counter. The excitement and relief I felt was enormous.
- Then came mp3s and leaks and the day of release has never been the same. All sense of occasion has gone. I can still remember when I first heard Music – working part-time in Spoils at the weekends, one of the managers downloaded the leak and played it in the store. I didn’t even know albums leaked by this point. However I can still remember the day I purchased that album because, on my trip into town to buy it, I bumped into two friends and we ended up getting roaringly drunk. We ended up in one of their flats and I drunkenly played ‘What It Feels Like For A Girl’ and had what I’m sure was an incoherent rant about misogyny and feminism. I threw up soon after.
- After leaks came along, the gay bars I would hang out in would make a big deal of playing the lead singles from her albums on the day they first became available. The DJ was not kind about ‘American Life’. A couple of years later he played ‘Hung Up’ and said ‘Well that’s a lot better than that last rubbish, isn’t it?’ I felt palpable relief.
- The whole period of Confessions on a Dancefloor when everyone decided they loved Madonna again was a joy for a lunatic fan. It coincided with the final months of me living with my brother. I dazzled him with the Grammy performance of ‘Hung Up’ as he didn’t realise M’s initial appearance was as a hologram. We watched the ‘Sorry’ video together for the first time. I listened to ‘Jump’ repeatedly to strengthen my resolve in the terrifying decision to move to London.
- Seeing her live for the very first time, at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Kent with Matt. The day was lovely and given an added frission of excitement by what was to come. We had to go into the tent an act early in order to ensure a spot so ended up watching The Fratellis. A very insistent girl kept trying to pull me while I was waiting for Madonna to come on stage, with the most hilariously bad timing ever. When Madonna appeared on stage for the first time Matt looked at me, he later said, to see if I was crying. I didn’t cry. I just had great fun.
- Later that year I went for a check-up at the STI clinic and was absolutely terrified. I had put it off for months and went through the day leading up to it in a hazy half-dream state. As it turned out I got the all-clear. I came out of the clinic, walked into a shop across the road and ‘4 Minutes’ instantly came on the radio. The tension rushed from my body and I broke into a huge grin. I may even have punched the air.
- July 4th 2009. Gay Pride day in London. I spent the day in Soho with friends before Matt and I travelled to the O2 to see the second leg of The Sticky and Sweet Tour. The journey there and back was memorable enough (we had to get the boat) but there was a section of the gig where she paid tribute to Michael Jackson, who had died just a couple of weeks earlier. His music filled the O2 and people, including me, roared their approval. The Queen honouring the King. It was the only tribute that really mattered to me. Later that evening Matt and I went to the Joiners Arms and I danced like a maniac to ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”.
- Mr Wotyougot himself texted me the day ‘Celebration’ leaked. I was in work and rushed to the toilets, where I found a Youtube clip of the song on my phone and listened to it twice before returning to my desk. God bless smart phones.