In anticipation of Madonna’s upcoming HARD CANDY album I wrote a series of essays detailing the unfolding of my life in conjunction with Madonna’s music career. This is a project I have always wanted to do, and I’m glad it’s done. Enjoy.
PART ONE: 1983-1984
Me and Madonna have been together since 1983. I remember the moment quite vividly. I was spending the night at my grandma Supkoski’s house. My cousin Kevin lived with my grandma. He was about ten years older than me. We ordered pizzas. We played board games. We watched MTV. Kevin was one of the greatest influences on my early life.
When I was a kid I didn’t play sports or buy toys. I bought books and records. By 1983 I already had about thirty records. Blondie. Pat Benetar. Fleetwood Mac. Pretenders. And I was in such wonderment of the new artists coming out my collection was growing rapidly. Thompson Twins. Eurythmics. Culture Club.
I remember Madonna’s “Borderline” the first time I saw it. I liked it. It was a cool song. A few months later the “Lucky Star” video was released. Didn’t like it as much as “Borderline” but it was okay. I remember my mom was going grocery shopping one day. I asked if she would stop by the record store and buy me Madonna’s “Borderline” on 45rpm. She came home with “Lucky Star” by accident. And so began twenty five years of collecting. Who knew those two pop songs that caught my ear would be the beginning of a long, emotional, and fulfilling relationship?
I remember sitting in my third grade class. Jennifer Alessi came into the classroom and was talking about the new Madonna song. “She says the word VIRGIN in it!” None of us knew what ’virgin’ meant. Jennifer told us. We were all eight years old and shocked.
I thought “Like A Virgin” must be a new single off the first Madonna album. My cousin David (from the other side of the family) had her debut album on LP. When I went to Grandma Gloff’s I remember sitting in David’s junk room and reading through the entire lyric sheet of the first Madonna album. The word “virgin” wasn’t to be found. I figured my friend made a mistake. She must have meant “Physical Attraction” — those lyrics seemed a bit saucy.
Turns out there WAS in fact a new Madonna song called “Like A Virgin”. Eventually all us kids heard it…and fell in love with it. I decided it was time to graduate Madonna to the “artists I officially collected” — which meant she was graduating from 45s to Lps in my collection. I bought the “Like A Virgin” album. I remember sitting in my bedroom. Nine years old. The needle hit the wax. Upon the very first listening I thought opening track “Material Girl” was amazing. I knew that song was going to be a hit. I knew “Dress You Up” was going to be a hit. It is cool to look back and see that at nine years old I had an ear back then for a good pop hit.
“Like A Virgin” went on very heavy rotation. I adored that album. I remember sitting on my dresser as a kid and listening to it over and over and over on my Fischer Price record player. I remember loving everything about the first two albums…from the black and white of the first cover to the sepia tone of the second. I loved every track. I remember being confused when “Into The Groove” and “Crazy For You” and “Gambler” all showed up on MTV around the same time. All these soundtrack songs that eventually would become pop culture classics (except for “Gambler” — a lost gem.)
I had a jacket I used to wear to school all the time. It was a cheap knock off of the Desperately Seeking Susan jacket. Naturally the kids thought I was queer but it didn’t matter. Being a Madonna fan in 1984 meant being fearless and full of confidence. Just like our girl. But in 1984…who could have imagined what was in store next…
PART TWO: THE TRUE BLUE ERA
After the mania of “Like A Virgin” era Madonna, it almost seemed as if it would be perfect if life never moved forward. Those were happy times for me. My ten year old personal life was filled with creativity (the neighborhood kids and I had formed a band and made our own magazine) and the radio was filled with music I loved. So many good singles in 1984. But 1985 came. I wouldn’t be peace sign necklaces and gaudy jewelry forever would it?
I was sitting in Fantastic Sams getting my hair cut. I was always embarrassed getting my hair cut at Fantastic Sams. I felt like it was where the poor people went. The shop was right on main street…with a huge plate glass window where everyone walking by could see in. I grimaced every time a classmate would walk by. “Jeremy Gloff gets his hair cut at Fantastic Sams.” However it was in that very Fantastic Sams that I heard “Live To Tell” for the first time. The new Madonna single from a Sean Penn movie.
My young mind couldn’t comprehend the depth of this slow dirge. All I knew is that I was very surprised. It’s quite the leap from “Dress You Up” to “Live to Tell”. And when the video came out…a simple unadorned Madonna with a flower print dress on. I grew to love the song…as did most of America. And so “Live To Tell” became the bridge between the first and second era of Madonna (which often was the case with soundtrack songs…)
A year later, 1986 I was in Tops, the local grocery store. I saw something that gave me a very unpleasant feeling. It was the current issue of Rolling Stone. There was my beloved Madonna…but with very very short hair and a stripe sweater on. What the fuck? I was shocked. My ten year old mind was shocked. The transition between the Madonna I loved and this short haired cleancut gal was…well…unheard of? In my short life I’d never witnessed such a drastic and quick makeover in my life. Unheard of. Through out the years we got used to Madonna changing. But this was the first time she shocked us with a new look. The Rolling Stone article talked about Madonna’s upcoming album to be titled “True Blue” featuring its first single “Papa Don’t Preach.” What the fuck again? TRUE BLUE? What a strange name for an album. I couldn’t picture it. And how the fuck was a song titled “Papa Don’t Preach” going to be good?
I was in the back seat of my parents car the first time I heard it. And I fell in love. “Papa Don’t Preach” was pure Madonna goodness! Being ten, I didn’t comprehend the pregnancy angle. When she sang of “Keeping Her Baby” I thought she just meant…you know…her boyfriend.
And then came the video. There was Madonna in her short boring hair in full glory. But it worked. Damned if it didn’t work.
Upon buying the TRUE BLUE vinyl I was surprised by the packaging. Gone were the black and white sepia tones of the first album. The cover was a cool simple blue and white. With a fold out poster. And the cover…was Madonna sitting down? Standing up? Laying down? That iconic image is still well known today. Recently an alternate shot from the TRUE BLUE photo session has surfaced…it’s interesting to see from an image that isn’t already burned in our minds just how young Madonna really looked back then.
I ended up embracing TRUE BLUE Madonna as much as the first two albums. The album was a pop masterpiece…from the 1960s references on a couple tracks right through to the mega hit singles. The videos from the album were classic. I remember seeing the ads for the “Open Your Heart” video before the vid actually premiered. It looked like Madonna dyed her hair black. They only showed the opening clips to the vid in the commercial. I remember the stir caused by Madonna’s gold tassles on her titties. Our girl may have rid herself of the trinkets associated with the first two albums…but by TRUE BLUE’S fourth single it was quite apparent she had lost none of her fire or shock factor.
I remember the “make your own video” contest on MTV associated with the “True Blue” single. I hated the winning video. I just wanted to see Madonna! Years later I’d see the European cut of the video…which made the homemade contest winner seem not so bad lol.
As TRUE BLUE came and went I remember sitting again in my parent’s car in 1987. I’d heard mention of some kind of forthcoming Madonna project called “Who’s That Girl” but had no idea what it was all about. I thought perhaps Madonna was going to be covering the Eurythmics song of the same name? Again on that car radio in my parents’ car I heard “Who’s That Girl” for the first time. Another classic. I bought the soundtrack on vinyl. I hated all the non-Madonna songs and loved to death the Madonna tracks. I think I may love the “Who’s That Girl” songs more than the “True Blue” ones to be honest! Aren’t “Causing A Commotion” and “Don’t Stop” just about as fun as it gets?
Later on in 1987 I saw yet another new Madonna album sitting on the racks. Please remember that in the 1980s there really wasn’t much knowledge of an albums’ release until it hit the shelves. Quite often albums would just show up out of nowhere. And there it was: YOU CAN DANCE. I looked at the track list. What the fuck? Madonna has released the very very first remix album. And what an album it was. Songs from the first three albums were extended and made even more fabulous. And the brand new track, the TRUE BLUE outtake “Spotlight” brought out the gayness in me, even at ten. I danced around my room to that song like the queen I am! Haha!
And so ended the second era of Madonna. The innocent Sean Penn era. Huge eyebrows. WHO’S THAT GIRL the movie featuring Murray the tiger. TRUE BLUE found Madonna portraying herself at her most innocent, settled down (or so we thought), and playful. Didn’t we think the marriage to Sean Penn would last forever when she dedicated TRUE BLUE to him…”the coolest guy in the universe”. No one could have even begun to speculate all the craziness that would ensue in the coming years. So as 1988 closed Madonna was on broadway doing SPEED THE PLOW. She’d cleaned up her act from the “Virgin” years…and my 13 year old mind worried that perhaps…Madonna was going to get more and more boring. If only we knew…
PART THREE: LIKE A PRAYER
I was on the phone with Janette Cross when I first heard the news. Janette was a good friend of mine in middle school. Janette’s younger brother would break my heart a few years later. She told me about a new Madonna album or song that was coming out soon: “Like A Prayer”.
I didn’t believe her. I was sure she got something confused. I was sure she had heard something about “Like A Virgin” and she got her wires crossed. I mean it didn’t seem possible Madonna would release another album with a title beginning with “Like A…”
A few weeks went by. My friend Tara had heard the new Madonna song. She called me up all excited about it. Sure enough it was called “Like A Prayer”. I listened to the radio for hours and all I caught was the very end, once.
We had a tiny little local record store named Record Giant. One afternoon the “Like A Prayer” 12″ single showed up. A very abstract drawing with Madonna’s initials (and a not-so-subtle reference to the dissolving of marriage.)
I hurried home and played the new Madonna song. I loved it. “Like A Prayer” it was.
A couple weeks later the new Rolling Stone came out. There was Madonna. Dark hair. Her natural color. Parted in the middle. It was always interesting reading the Rolling Stone articles about the upcoming Madonna albums. They would drop a few titles of the songs on the album. I wondered exactly what a song called “Express Yourself” would sound like. Or a song called “Keep It Together”. It’s hard to remember a time in my life before those songs came into existence.
The article also talked of a duet with Prince on the upcoming album. That excited me. That was before Prince started to suck. Madonna and Prince were my two fave singers at the time.
I heard a song on the radio. I didn’t like it much but it sure sounded like Madonna. I forgot to mention in my last blog my local radio station played “La Isla Bonita” before TRUE BLUE came out. The same station played “Cherish” before LIKE A PRAYER came out. I later grew to love those songs…but hearing them before the albums came out made me cringe a little lol
Finally the day came the actual LIKE A PRAYER album came out. What a strange cover. Just the top of Madonna’s jeans and some jewelry. The back cover showed a very hippie Madonna with starkly parted hair and her hands in a praying position. The experience was further enriched when I took the plastic off the LP. My room filled with the subtle and earthy smell of pachouli oil. Later I learned that Madonna asked that pachouli be mixed with the glue used to bond the album jacket. Ingenious. I will never forget how my room smelled the first time I heard this record.
It was a sunny afternoon. It was 1989. I was 14. I had a little turntable that always sat in the middle of my room. The needle hit the wax. My first surprise was with the song “Like A Prayer” itself. On the 12″ version the song was rather danc-ey and pop-ey. I had no idea the album version of the song had no drums in the verses….and was so choral-based. At the time this was a rather bold arrangement of a pop song. But it was powerful.
As the album played, I got some of it (especially the pop perfection and drama of “Til Death Do Us Part” my fave Madonna song to this day). A lot of the album seemed very strange and…serious. The artsiness of the duet with Prince. “Dear Jessie” — the dreamlike/childlike nursery rhyme…the heaviness of “Oh Father”…the spare and simple but heartbreaking “Promise To Try”. At 14 years old…these were adult songs that I couldn’t properly understand to the full extent. Madonna really challenged her audience with this record. Of course…the riskier, personal, arty moments were counterbalanced with the pop perfection of “Express Yourself”, “Cherish” “Keep It Together” and “Like A Prayer”. The new, serious, artier hippie Madonna took a little getting used to.
I remember the first time I saw the “Like A Prayer” video. My family didn’t have MTV at home so we watched it at my Grandma’s house. I remember my family being upset that Madonna was kissing, in their words, an “N word”. But the video was alluring to my young eyes. The bright burning crosses. Madonna with her natural hair color.
There was something very artsy, earthy, and serious about the whole “Like A Prayer” era at first. Based on the first single, the album artwork, and the album itself, it seemed like Madonna had grown up quickly. In fact, for a minute I thought she had truly “found herself”. She would never be the blonde bombshell again. Our Madonna had grown up.
All the earthiness was quickly shattered with the release of the “Express Yourself” video. Madonna was back to blonde. And she was more controversial than ever. My cousin Josh was all wound up about how it looked like she got “butt fucked” behind this screen. Things got even more interesting when they started playing “Express Yourself” on the radio. The version played on the FM sounded nothing like our album version. What the fuck? It’s hard to imagine at the time that remixes were unheard of in that manner. Prior to the “Like A Prayer” era the 12″ versions of songs were always “extended versions”. Madonna was revolutionary in that she took the core of a song and created an entirely new musical backdrop. This happened first as I mentioned before with “Like A Prayer” the song. But “Express Yourself” took this to a new level as the remixed version was used in the video and was the single edit played on the radio. I remember how fresh and cutting edge the house mix of “Express Yourself” felt at the time. This was all new to us.
The era continued through the “Cherish” and “Keep It Together” singles. “Cherish” was a cute video…Madonna’s hair was similar to the “Papa Don’t Preach” era.
I was in study hall in ninth grade when my cousin Josh again broke a Madonna bombshell. “Did you hear that new Madonna song?” he said. “It’s called ’Vogue’ I think”.
I was sure he must be mistaken. LIKE A PRAYER was still a relatively new album. And there certainly was no song called “Vogue” on there. What on earth was he talking about?
PART FOUR: I’M BREATHLESS TO IMMACULATE COLLECTION
Somewhere out of the blue came a new Madonna song called “Vogue”. It was strange. Somehow the LIKE A PRAYER era seemed cut abruptly short. Upon seeing the fabulous new video on MTV, the credits showed that “Vogue” did indeed appear on an upcoming Madonna album called I’M BREATHLESS.
There was certainly a lot of head scratching going on among my friends and I. Certainly in the late 80s/early 90s artists did come out with an album a year sometimes…but LIKE A PRAYER’S last single “Keep It Together” seemed to be in a bit of rotation still. I was bewildered.
Within a couple of weeks all the confusion was cleared up. Madonna’s new album was a soundtrack for her upcoming Dick Tracy film…or as the title read “Music From And Inspired By The Film Dick Tracy”. Needless to say “Vogue” was a sensation. As “Vogue” climbed the charts Madonna mania began to hit its peek amongst me and my peers. One of my closest friends was Tara Cerrie…a fellow Madonna fan. We learned all the dance moves to “Vogue” and performed them at the dance. We wore outfits inspired by Madonna. I was a huge Madonna fan from the beginning, but it was during this era that Madonna was truly truly at the top of her game. Madonna was the pulse of pop culture. Her greatness had arrived in full throttle.
As “Vogue” stayed prominent on the radio another cut called “Hanky Panky” began to get airplay. We loved it!
I didn’t actually get the I’M BREATHLESS album for awhile because I was in the limbo between vinyl and compact disc. I still hadn’t given in and bought a CD player…and I don’t believe BREATHLESS was on vinyl…and if it was not at any of the places I shopped.
I gave in and bought a CD player and shortly after bought BREATHLESS. I fell in love with the CD immediately. I truly was a bit apprehensive about buying the album. I figured it would be a bunch of throw away tracks. But the second “He’s A Man” kicked in I was hooked. And each song on the album was a camp classic. Once again Madonna was flawless. Her voice sounded the great. The Steven Sondheim (or whatever his name is, I’m too lazy to look) tracks were show tune-arific. What gay boy in 1991 didn’t know ALL the words to “More”?
I remember being 16 and sitting in my friend’s car belting out all the words to I’M BREATHLESS in the Perkins parking lot with her late at night. It took us twenty minutes to get into the restaurant. Madonna came first.
DICK TRACY the movie came and went. It didn’t seem to matter much. Madonna for us was about the music and the real life personality. Her movies never took hold of us much. We always watched them out of obligation then didn’t talk or think about them too much after.
During this era Madonna was all over the news. We finally got MTV at my house and I remember watching in awe as the “Blonde Ambition” tour kicked off. I remember the reports coming in from Japan opening night. I remember Technotronic as the opening act. These were truly my glory days of music. Everything was perfect…if only for but a moment.
Through the MTV news I watched Madonna’s tour circle the world. I watched the live clips in awe. I watched her with the clip-on “I Dream Of Genie” ponytail and then later with out it…wondering what happened to it. The whole “Blonde Ambition” experience culminated with the telecast on HBO. Madonna live on HBO was an EVENT. We all gathered around and watched. I watched the tour with wonderment and elation. Madonna-mania was at fever pitch. The tour cemented this. The dance moves were so eye catching. The costume changes. The statements. I never use the word fierce for anything. But what other word can really be used to describe Blonde Ambition. I have never felt before or since the kind of energy in the air during this era of Madonna.
Madonna had two more tricks up here sleeve during these glory days. The first was her movie “Truth Or Dare” — a documentary of the Blonde Ambition tour. The local theatre played the movie and my friends and I went to see it literally four or five times. But the last time we were singing in the aisles and doing the dance moves with the movie. We were the only ones in the theatre besides a couple other people. And of course our Madonna, whose presence filled the entire room, the entire town, and the entire universe at that point. “Truth Or Dare” was the first time I ever saw two men kiss. I was a few years away from admitting to myself I was gay…but the movie opened up such doors amongst my peer group. We were all around 16/17 and in the midst of exploring our sexuality. We used to play truth or dare quietly in my upstairs bedroom. Sometimes there would be thirty people crammed into my bedroom. It felt so liberating and shocking when my girlfriends actually showed their boobies. Girls were kissing girls. Boys were kissing boys (and doing more than that behind the scenes!) It was like Madonna made it possible, if only for a moment, to have a freer life…a freer world. All these things I was years away from realizing had been awakened and validated. Madonna was showing a utopia that was worth living for. Us impressionable kids were flourishing in our innocent naughtiness. We didn’t do drugs. We didn’t really even have sex or sleep around for a couple more years. But our minds were challenged and we began to explore the possibilities of our bodies. Madonna was instrumental in granting us some freedom that our small minded little New York country town could not.
(So many “Truth Or Dare” inside jokes constantly…”Keith you motherfucker” – Moira McFarland – impresonations of Madonna’s brother’s Martin’s voice – walking and singing “Holiday” a capella in harmony…etc etc)
As “Truth Or Dare” steamrolled its way into our collective conscious my friend Tara called my on the phone breathlessly proclaiming she heard a new Madonna song on the radio that was sexier than anything she had ever done. And Madonna offered us her final one-two punch of her glory years. “Justify My Love”. The song was so sparse. Sexy. We laughed at how Madonna said she was “open and ready”. The song was the cherry on top for the best era of our lives. Teenaged coming of age to the tune of a woman whispering about “making love on a train cross country”. That song, with and the accompanying IMMACULATE COLLECTION greatest hits package marked the end of an era. The other new track “Rescue Me” was just as fabulous. I remember listening to those two new Madonna tracks and feeling like…it all ended there. Even though I had no way of knowing it…I knew things would never be the same again. Not to say they were better or worse…but different.
We got our hands on the “Justify My Love” video. My mom bought it for me. I have to give my mom credit. She let me have access to the controversial stuff. I appreciate that. I took that freedom with me for the rest of my life.
My friends and I would watch the controversial video over and over. It was flawless. We were shocked that they actually showed boobs in a music video. How naughty! How wonderful! We loved the transvestites. We couldn’t believe Madonna was kissing another girl!!
We listened to the IMMACULATE COLLECTION over and over. All the hits subtly remixed in “Q Sound” for our listening pleasure.
So what comes next? How does life continue after LIKE A PRAYER? I’M BREATHLESS? Blonde Ambition? Truth Or Dare? Justify My Love? Immaculate Collection?
In summer of 1992 it was announced Madonna had a new single coming out called “This Used To Be My Playground”. It was from her upcoming movie “A League Of Their Own”. I remember watching the video and hearing the song for the first time. I loved it. But something had changed. The song was eerily autumnal. It was almost like a funeral march for the end of an era. The video was hazy and gauzy and beautiful in an antique and still kind of way. “Playground” was the bridge between two important eras. “A League Of Their Own” was cute and enjoyable. But Madonna was a supporting role. A far cry from “Truth Or Dare”. There will always be a Madonna…but I can truly say in my heart…I have never seen or felt anything like Madonna 1989-1991. This used to be my playground, indeed.
PART FIVE: EROTICA
The first I heard about Madonna’s “Sex” book was shopping at the Millcreek Mall in Erie, Pennsylvania. There was just a small cardboard display on the counter at Waldenbooks advertising that a book was going to be released that upcoming October.
Later on in the summer I recall the MTV news talking about the upcoming Madonna album “Erotica”. I thought that was a strange name for an album. I couldn’t imagine a song being called “Erotica”. The second little tidbit of information about the project came from an unauthorized Madonna biography I bought. In the final chapter it mentioned Madonna being in the studio recording a new song called “Deeper and Deeper”. It sounded pretty dirty to me!
Summer ended without much information being leaked about the upcoming Madonna album and book. “This Used To Be My Playground” ended up being a pretty big hit…and “A League Of Their Own” as well. The summer of 1992 found Madonna at her most low key in years. Calm before the storm…
Come October the mania began. I remember the Vanity Fair issue with Madonna that came out at the time. The pictures didn’t even look like Madonna to me. She looked so young and different in those photos. It was…eerie. Madonna was also on the cover of Vogue. Those two articles talked a lot about the upcoming “Erotica” album and the Sex book. The articles gave mentioned the upcoming tracks “Secret Garden”, “Where Life Begins” and “Goodbye To Innocence” (which ended up being cut from the album, curiously enough.)
Finally the “Erotica” single was released. I heard snippets on the radio but never the full song. The song itself was strange and intriguing. Where “Justify My Love” was warm, sexy, and inviting…”Erotica” was eerie, chilly, and dark. I bought the song on cassette single (or as we called them cas-single.) This was around the time I got my first car. I remember putting the tape in my tape deck and having to listen to the song a few times to really get it. The song began with a surface noise that sounds like an LP…then segues into a heavy deep insistent bass line. The song progresses into a minor key electric piano riff…as well as an incorporation of “Jungle Boogie”. Madonna’s voice entered…throaty…hoarse…and most noticeably…detached. It was odd. It was an art song from a pop singer who was on top of the world two years earlier. I loved it. I remember driving around in that first car of mine playing the song over and over. When “Erotica” played I got in touch with a part of myself that was cold and detached…much like the song.
I remember the day I went to Record Giant to buy Erotica the album. I was really excited. It was hard to picture life after “The Immaculate Collection”. I walked into the store. I was with one of my best friend’s…Val. And there it was…right in the front of the store…in the new release section. Erotica. I remember my initial first reaction seeing the album cover. “Huh?!” The cover was a simple white and blue close up of Madonna’s face. That was in the days when CDs came in long boxes still! The back cover was an odd blue tinted pic of Madonna sucking a toe. As I held the beloved new Madonna album in my hands…I was shocked. Upon first impression the whole thing looked so lo-fi compared to the high stylizations of Madonna’s previous work. And even more so…the album gave off a very cold and distant vibe. Where “Like A Prayer” “I’m Breathless” and even “Like A Virgin” invited you into their worlds…”Erotica” potentially seemed to be more of a spectator sport. The kind of place you can visit but never really make your own. There was a version with an adult sticker and one without. I bought the one with. (which meant I got a rap song that really sucked! lol)
And of course I rushed home because that’s what one does when they have a new CD by their favorite artist in their hands. J I remember my excitement as I put in the CD. “Erotica” began the album in all its chilly glory. I skipped by it and went right to song two – “Fever” – and then song three “Bye Bye Baby”. I kept going from song to song. Nothing caught my ear. Eventually I’d made it through the whole album and the only thing that stood out to me was “Rain”. Erotica the album, upon first impression…seemed tuneless and flat to me. I remember thinking….”where are the hooks!!!” Madonna was my favorite pop singer of all time. Her career was built on killer choruses and bridges. Erotica, upon first listen…seemed to lack the Madonna magic.
Another thing I noticed immediately about the Erotica album was the lack of SEX. I was expecting a dirty sexy album…but only a small handful of songs really explored sexuality. I felt an underwhelming sense of emptiness. I couldn’t believe I had a Madonna album I didn’t love at first.
Of course, as time went on I grew to love Erotica. If anything, I became Erotica. It was an eerie autumn. I remember making new friends with a girl named Shauna who also loved Madonna. She lived in a spiritualist community named Lily Dale with her mom. I remember Erotica playing in wet chilly dark evenings. Driving up to Shauna’s house through the country. Crispy rotting leaves under our combat boots. It was the fall where we all played Erotica…and Alice in Chains…and Nirvana. In retrospect I think back and realize how perfect Erotica was at the time. It was a dark place…a distant place…a chilly place.
Upon repeated listening the album revealed its nuances. It was an experimental album. Non singles like “Waiting” and “Secret Garden” found Madonna exploring spoken word/jazzy soundscapes.
Erotica came out during my last year of high school. My senior year. SO much of that year was colored by the whole Erotica era. I incorporated the album’s dark and chilly persona as one of my own. I was made fun of a lot in school. Many people retreat inside of themselves but I dealt with my unpopularity by becoming more extreme…more outlandish…more bizarre. Erotica was a big part of that. During Halloween I dressed as Madonna’s character from the album…Dita. I went to school wearing a trench coat with a super skimpy white slip underneath. I wore a gold tooth. I wore my hair slicked down and I wore a mask just like Madonna in the video. Erotica may have been the album where Madonna initially turned her back on the mass pop audience. But in this era where Madonna lost some of her fans…she cemented her relationship with her core fans. It was during this era I think many of us really really grew to love and stand by our girl. I remember the various interviews…and how Madonna had her eyebrows shaved really thin. I did the same thing to my eyebrows at the time. I will not be posting pics for anyone to see lol.
The videos for Erotica were a string of artsy, eccentric, expensive art pieces. I remember loving them all as they came out…and I also remember feeling disappointed that none of them really caught on. “Deeper and Deeper” (one of my fave Madonna videos of all time), “Bad Girl” and “Fever” all found Madonna at her strangest to date. And much like the album…there was something chilly and distant about these videos. It was as if Madonna was lost…out of touch with herself. I remember another interview on MTV where Madonna was sitting amongst a bunch of candelabras. And then there was the Sex book release party where she showed up with Princess Lea buns. And the runway walk where she bared her breasts. Madonna was at her most cocky, daring, and fearless. I loved it. I longed to be the same.
I met all my first gay friends during the Erotica era. I still proclaimed to be straight…I even had a couple of girlfriends around this time. The first two gay people I ever met in quick passing were these two guys who went to Fredonia State College. I might have even met them the day that Erotica came out. How symbolic. I remember walking into the student cafeteria and seeing them with Madonna’s Erotica and Annie Lennox’s Diva CD. It felt neat yet scary to meet people who had a similar taste in music as I did. But the fact that they were gay scared me…in a way.
It was also around the time Erotica came out that I became friends with a girl named Anne. Anne reminded me of a blonde version of Kennedy from MTV. Loud. Outspoken. Brash. Hip. Creative. From the day I first hung out with Anne she told me about her gay friends that lived in Warren Pennsylvania. I had to meet them she said!! They collected Madonna stuff just like I did.
I remember the first day I met all the gays in Warren. Warren was about an hour from the small town I lived in. We left early in the afternoon in Anne’s beat up blue station wagon…”The Bitch Wagon”. It was a sunny and crisp day. I remember the drive out of New York state and into the hills of Pennsylvania. It all seemed so new and fresh to me. It was thrilling and terrifying to truly meet and hang out with gay people…for the first time.
Warren was a small town just like Fredonia where I lived. I remember getting out of Anne’s car and being really nervous. I was wearing a beret. I remember walking up a narrow flight of stairs. And I remember entering an apartment with Madonna plastered everywhere on the walls. And with other artsy boys wearing berets. I brought my more rare Madonna collectables to try to impress and/or relate to these people. I was intrigued and awestruck. Upon entering this apartment…my life was never the same.
That night was also the first time in my adult life I was around drugs. Everyone was smoking weed and it totally freaked me out. (To this day I’ve still never done drugs…)
I became great friends with all those gay boys in Warren Pennsylvania. For awhile I even had a big crush on one of them. With Erotica as our soundtrack we all came of age. With our berets, our hunger for creativity, and Madonna as our goddess. Madonna toured for Erotica with The Girlie Show Tour. Sporting a conservative short hair cut…this tour ties with Blonde Ambition for me as the best tour. There was something magical and wonderful about Girlie Show. It was the biggest treat for all the fans who stuck around. And me and the gays in Warren knew all the words, and all the moves, and it was our life. We went CD shopping and collected all the Madonna imports…some of them are pretty rare now…
One of the final adventures of the Erotica era was in the winter of 2003. Anne, the gay boys and I hosted a party called “The Girlie Show Truth Or Dare Party”. Anne parents were out of town and there was a blizzard. The house was packed. At one point ten of us snuck upstairs and changed our clothes. We all dressed in sexy circus/bondage gear. This girl from England, Charlotte, came down the stairs and announced us. And we walked down the stairs…to Madonna…and into the room and just began making out with random people. And so began a wild truth or dare party. It was a kind of decadence and creativity and freedom I have not known since the early 90s. Thank you Madonna for opening up doors for us.
I graduated from high school in June 1993. My mom bought me Madonna’s SEX book as my graduation present. I have an awesome mom. I wrote my own book of erotica called “Smut” that is stored deep in an attic in New York someday. I brought it to one of my last days of high school. There were naked pictures of people we knew in it…and it was a more conservative world back then…. The gossip was rampant!
The Erotica era ended officially in early 1994. Madonna released a song written for the film With Honors called “I’ll Remember”. It was a softer quieter more welcoming Madonna. I loved the song…but will never forget how important the whole Erotica era was to my life. I was so hungry to get to know the world. I was so uneducated and naïve about humanity. And because of that naivety those were truly…the best days of my life.
PART SIX: BEDTIME STORIES
In the first part of 1994 Madonna showed up here or there. Her soundtrack cut “I’ll Remember” turned out to be a rather tame and palatable hit. Even though the video was eerily reminiscent of “Rain” it still got a lot of airplay. Before I heard the song I asked one of my friends what they thought of it. They said it reminded them of Cyndi Lauper.
Madonna showed up again in the first part of 1994 on David Letterman. I didn’t see the controversial appearance until years later…but I loved that Madonna was in the news and getting talked about still!
It was in September 1994 in my trusty hometown record store Record Giant where I first caught wind of the upcoming “Bedtime Stories”. There was a laminated counter display. It said “Madonna- The New Album – Bedtime Stories – In Stores October 25. My first reaction upon hearing the album title was “oh no, not more sex!” But the picture looked cute.
A bunch of people heard the first single “Secret” before I did. I kept asking everyone what they thought of it and they just kept saying it was “different” than Madonna’s other stuff. What did they mean by different? No one would clarify.
Fast forward to a few nights later. I was in the dorm room belonging to my friends Heather and Fabio. WE kept the radio on all night. I just HAD to hear the new Madonna. Finally it came on!!! It was so groovy and mellow and earthy and…different. I remember being a royal cunt to my friends for talking while the song was playing. “YOU NEVER TALK WHEN A FUCKING NEW MADONNA SONG IS ON…NOT WITH ME IN THE FUCKING ROOM.”
I just loved the “Secret” video. Madonna looked so hot with her almost white blonde hair, her huge cleavage, and her nose ring. I loved the initial “Bedtime Stories” look.
The day “Bedtime Stories” came out I met my friend Shauna at Record Giant. She was a huge Madonna fanatic just like me. There was a segment on MTV that gave previews of a couple of the songs. I was so stoked. The album sounded so…different. Ironically enough…Joni Mitchell (another of my super all time favorite artists) released her “Turbulent Indigo” on the same day. It was a big day for me… (and I already wrote about that album in a prior essay…)
I remember going back to my house and listening to “Bedtime Stories” for the first time. It seemed so…current…and experimental…and artsy. It was much softer than “Erotica” — years later I look back and realize what a sad album it was. Upon first listen I thought some of the lyrics were a bit cheesy on a few of the songs…but also thinking how cutting edge some of the other songs were. “Sanctuary” was ambient mystery at its best – “Bedtime Story” introduced electronica into the Madonna oeuvre. At the time I was hanging out with these white girls who thought they were kinda hood. They listened to Snoop Dogg’s debut over and over. I remember hearing “Human Nature” and being excited that Madonna made something my friends might like. I loved the cover art. I loved how soft and pretty Madonna looked. I loved how the booklet was laid out just like the “Erotica” album…a fold out with pictures. And the album felt like the antithesis to “Erotica”.
Madonna and Joni’s albums coming out that week turned out to be a bright beginning of a traumatic week. Six days later, on October 31st I was kicked out of my parents house. The house I grew up in. There was a huge family fight that ended with me kicking in a door and putting as much as I could fit of my stuff in my car. Madonna and Joni’s albums would be the last new music I’d ever listen to in the bedroom that I grew up in.
The first few nights I was homeless I slept in my car. I remember visiting one of my friends who was in jail and listening to “Bedtime Stories” and “Turbulent Indigo” over and over. Especially “Survival” from Madonna’s album held resonance with me. I never lived on my own. I didn’t know how to support myself. I had no where to go. And it was really cold out at night. For a week I slept under an afghan in my back seat in public parking lot. They fed me for free at my job. Madonna’s “Bedtime Stories” gave me comfort and solace during this horrible time.
After living in my car for a week I answered an ad in the paper. It was for a bedroom in an apartment. I moved in. It was my first time living on my own. I had a fabulous huge front bedroom with four large windows facing the road. It felt so weird those first nights…sleeping in a different place. And that was the beginning of my life being erratic for the next few years…
I was in love with a kid named Scott at the time. I was just on the verge of realizing I was gay. I remember laying in bed with him…in my first apartment…and having him tell me his favorite Madonna song was “Bad Girl”. A week later him and I got into a huge fight and he said he’d never talk to me again. And he never talked to me again. To this day. It took me ten years to get over that one.
So within a two week period my world was turned upside down. Everything that was sacred and safe to me had been yanked from under my feet. Many nights I would lie and listen to “Bedtime Stories” over and over. I decorated my new bedroom with Madonna magazine cut outs. I remember being confused when the album cover started showing up at the stores with the cover flipped. Was the original version upside down…or the new one? What happened? Turns out the original version was upside down…and I still have that version! J
As the next few months unfolded all the singles from “Bedtime Stories” held significance in my life. In early 1995 I finally realized I was gay. We used to drive to this nasty hole in the wall gay club in Jamestown NY called “The Night Spot”. It was truly a dive. But it was my first club. It felt so grandiose being on the dance floor. Such freedom. I was especially fond of Junior Vasquez’s remix of “Secret”. Dancing to that song gave my such peace.
I experienced most of the “Bedtime Stories” era during that one year I lived in that first apartment. I remember “Take A Bow’s” video premier. I loved it. I remember the interview on MTV where Courtney Love threw a shoe at Madonna. I remember watching the video for “Bedtime Story” and just being shocked at how artsy and avant-garde Madonna’s work was getting. That video really took Madonna to a new level of artistry. It didn’t matter if the songs were hits on the charts or not (many of them were) — they were all hits with my friends and I. I remember the album’s final single “Human Nature” being released and dancing with the mirrors on the wall at The Night Spot. Re-enacting the video the best I could. Thinking back…many of the people who frequented that place were pretty rough! But it was all new and fresh to me at the time. The drag queens (totally trashy), my short fling with the DJ (I was really horrible to him), me showing up to the bar wearing only boxer shorts…or a skirt…or whatever I felt like doing creatively. I had no inhibitions back then. “Bedtime Stories” was a time of great freedom for me…despite the fact I was severely sad.
One memorable “Bedtime Stories” influenced night took place in Jamestown, NY. To promote the title track as a single…Madonna read a bedtime story at a club in New York City. We had our own Bedtime Story party. I dressed up as my drag alter ego (Marlena Anita Cock) and read the whole party a bedtime story I had written. Everyone was in pajamas. It was a fun night.
In September 1994 I spontaneously decided to move to Buffalo New York with my friend Shauna. I needed out of my small hometown. I was full of hope and fire. I packed my station wagon and moved to Buffalo. Those first months in Buffalo were amazing. I got really popular in the folk music scene…and the club scene. It really fed my ego to go to a big city (and it really did seem huge considering where I grew up) and being embraced. Shauna and I decorated the entire apartment with Madonna stuff. Posters. Calendars. The works. It was a fabulous time. I got that special “Bedtime Stories” promo from Record Giant. It was displayed in the apartment like a prize.
In early 1995 reports began to surface about Madonna’s upcoming role in the movie Evita. Rumor had it that Madonna was taking vocal lessons. I was excited to hear what her “new” voice was going to sound like.
We got our first listen to the “new” Madonna voice when her single “You’ll See” was released. I was still rather broken hearted…and the song came exactly at the time I needed it. Madonna’s voice sounded so majestic and powerful during the chorus. I felt great anticipation for what was to come…
“You’ll See” ended up being one of the three new tracks on a ballad compilation Madonna was releasing called “Something To Remember”. The compilation came out in the winter…I remember listen to “I Want You” (another new track) while waiting in the parking lot at the dorms of University Of Buffalo. The winter air was chilling. But I had a sense of peace and purpose in my life amongst the chaos. Madonna’s ballads collection was a nice companion to that fabulous winter. And then Madonna went away for awhile…
I only lived in Buffalo for a year. I spent the summer of 1996 living in a person’s closet (haha funny). In October 1996 we all piled in a van and moved to Atlanta. It was a disaster. I became very suicidal and depressed while living in Atlanta. More failed love affairs and friendships. It was during the months I lived in Atlanta that a deep sadness set in me that never really left. My view of humanity and society became rather jaded. During that era I lived in Atlanta “Evita” was released. I was so detached from everything I didn’t see the movie until years later. I bought the two disc version of the soundtrack while living in Atlanta. I purchased it at the Wal Mart where I was very unhappily working. But I listened to the soundtrack only once or twice. Evita wouldn’t connect with me for a couple years…
After Evita Madonna disappeared for awhile. During the time Madonna was gone I moved to Pittsburgh for awhile and slept on a couch. Then back to Atlanta. Then back to Pittsburgh. Then back to my hometown Fredonia. I was supposed to move to San Francisco. It never happened. I became very suicidal and depressed. The winter of 1997 was a chilling and disturbing time for me mentally. I used to stare at myself in the bathroom mirror and run blades on my face. It was bad. And the zero degree temperatures didn’t help. (It was during this time I released my album “Autumn” — which may have saved my life).
It was in December 1997 that I took a vacation to Sarasota Florida with my friend Heather. She knew I was in danger and proposed a vacation to visit her family to get me out of the horrible element I was in. Heather’s family nurtured and accepted me. And it was on that vacation…while surfing the internet (which was still in its very early stages) that I read online about a new Madonna album that was going to be coming out in 1998 called “Ray Of Light”.
And I knew right then there would be a future for Jeremy Gloff…and that Madonna would be in it.
PART SEVEN: RAY OF LIGHT
The first I heard about the upcoming Madonna project was a brief mention. My friend Laura Wysocki said she heard Madonna was making a new album and it was “a side to Madonna no one has ever seen before.” I laughed to myself and wondered what Madonna could possibly do that we hadn’t seen before. She’d been vulnerable with LIKE A PRAYER, shown her pussy on EROTICA, and everything in between.
Months went by. While in Florida I found on online that Madonna’s upcoming album was to be titled RAY OF LIGHT. There was a simple Madonna website with the photo that would eventually become the album cover.
In early 1998 I was sleeping on the floor of my friend Greg Greg’s house. I’d given always almost all my possessions (besides a few odds and ends, my CD collection, and some of my books). I was suicidal and writing an acoustic album mostly dealing with my questionable mental state (that would become my self-titled 1998 release Jeremy Gloff.
I didn’t hear anything about the album until early February. A couple people heard a preview of the new Madonna track “Frozen” on a commercial on MTV. I was dying to hear what it sounded like. It had been four years since BEDTIME STORIES. This was the first time that Madonna REALLY went away for awhile. She had her daughter. She took vocal lessons. She did EVITA. I was dying to know if Madonna could keep her relevance after her first true extended hiatus.
So I tried to milk my friends for super descriptive details about “Frozen.” What does it sound like? Did you like it? Etc. Etc. The most I got out of anyone was Laura Wysocki telling me it sounded like “a song from a movie. Very orchestral.”
We used to sit in the back bedroom and watch TV together a lot, my friends and I. It was a brutally cold winter. We used to huddle around the heat and watch Daria. And then the ad came on MTV for Madonna’s upcoming world premier video “Frozen”.
It was a short commercial…but that short clip sent a chill through me like none I had known in years. There was Madonna — long raven black hair…in a black dress…in a desert. Truly looking unlike we’d ever seen her before. She was more gorgeous than ever. And she was freakier than ever. There was a sad darkness to this commercial that spoke loudly to something sad that was inside of me. Madonna’s “Frozen” was all I could think about after I saw that commercial.
When it came time for the video to premier we all gathered around the TV. I cannot describe with words how blown away I was by “Frozen” the first time I heard it. I grew up as a pop culture kid, but as my twenties progressed I became very involved in various fringy sub-cultures — I had punk friends, noise musician friends, squatter friends, goth friends, drag queen friends. Etc Etc. “Frozen” presented a Madonna that us freaks could relate to. There was something dark, mysterious, and artsy about her like never before. There was a certain kind of risk and depth to this song that I did not expect from a pop star like Madonna. Sure, ten years later we have heard this song a million times. We’ve become immune to its innovation. But upon first listen, it was a super risky single. The production was very cutting edge…the arrangement was not that of a traditional pop song. The drums came in and out. There were bleeps and blurbs and clangs. And the video itself was another story. Blood trickled out of Madonna’s fingers. Ominous black crows blew into a blue desert. To my suicidal and disappointed heart, this song and video spoke volumes. In fact, I am shy to admit it but I am so moved by recalling this juxtaposition of my life with a song that I am moved to tears as I type this. I never once imagined Madonna would come back with a song that would speak as loudly to me as it did during this dark time of my life.
“Frozen” became a savior. It almost felt like Madonna was singing to me. “You’re frozen when you’re heart’s not open…you’re so consumed with how much you get…you waste your time with hate and regret.” All the lyrics to this dark dark new song came at exactly the time I needed them. I taped “Frozen” off the TV and listened to it over and over in my walk man. It was the only thing that kept me sane.
During a weekend stay in Buffalo at my friends Katie and Tristan’s apartment MTV news ran a piece on Madonna’s upcoming RAY OF LIGHT album. The piece showed Madonna in the studio recording. They showed Madonna looking earthy and calm. The clips of the new songs that were previewed sounded amazing. “Skin” “Ray Of Light” “Little Star”. I was blown away at Madonna’s artistic growth. I could not wait to get this album. I NEEDED IT. I needed something to help me believe at this time of my life and RAY OF LIGHT was going to be there for me. Her voice never sounded as strong as it did on these songs from the sound of it.
The day RAY OF LIGHT came out was in March 1998. I remember. I remember taking the bus to Buffalo and once again staying with Katie and Tristan. I remember some weirdness with a boy named Aaron. I remember the snow and feeling really sad. I remember waking up the day of the CD release and getting dropped off downtown. I walked into the record store and saw my beloved RAY OF LIGHT CD. There was Madonna…looking so beautiful and earthy.
On that hour long bus trip from Buffalo NY to my hometown Fredonia I listen to RAY OF LIGHT for the first time in my discman. As I sat on that bus paralyzed by melancholy I listened to the album from beginning to end.
I was blown away from the first track “Substitute For Love”. The song began slow and built to a crescendo unlike anything Madonna has ever done. When Madonna’s voice reached the climax of the song…gooseflesh. I almost felt Madonna was channeling a bit of an Alanis Morrisette vibe (Alanis was on Madonna’s label). Only because of the emotional vulnerability and nakedness of that first track. I was floored.
Song by song the album spoke of my life. The album was so daring and so cutting edge at the time. Over time, we’ve grown used to a lot of those sounds and production methods…but upon RAY OF LIGHT hitting the streets it had a sense of unrivaled freshness. The song that moved me the most was “Skin” with it’s sad chorus of “why do all the things I say sound like the stupid things I’ve said before.” I could relate.
I could relate to RAY OF LIGHT more than anything I’d been able to relate to in years. These songs fit perfectly into the late barren winter Western NY months of 1998. The songs spoke of enlightenment, personal growth, and inner peace, and discovery. I never expected Madonna to grow so much. I never expected Madonna to be so…hip. All my “too cool” friends embraced the new Madonna album…right along side my more mainstream friends. This was a Madonna album that everyone loved…something that hadn’t happened since LIKE A PRAYER…arguably TRUE BLUE. RAY OF LIGHT was the album that truly truly cemented Madonna’s iconic status. Had the album failed, it would have capped off a downward spiral that began with EROTICA. But Madonna came back…and she came back serious. And if she came back this time…no one could ever discount her again.
Eventually the second single came out, the title track. I loved “Ray Of Light” the song. I loved her strong falsetto in the chorus. (I later downloaded the original acoustic 1970s song that this was based on). I wasn’t a huge fan of the “Ray Of Light” video but I did love the scenes shot in the club. They were awesome. I remember being back in New York state at the time and hitting a club in Buffalo. They played “Ray Of Light” twice. The remix once and the album version once. I danced on the stage both times, of course.
I remember being on vacation in Florida and looking for the “Ray Of Light” CD single because it had a non album b-side called “Has To Be”. When I heard “Has To Be” I loved it– it was atmospheric, slow, sad, and hopeful. I liked it even better than some of the songs on the album itself. “Ray Of Light” has some banging fast songs—but overall there’s a lot of moody and mid-tempo to slow tracks. Perhaps Madonna’s heaviest album?
Around the time I was obsessed with RAY OF LIGHT I got my hands on PRE-MADONNA, a collection of demos and unreleased tracks Madonna recorded in New York city prior to the release of her first album. The tracks were the perfect companion to RAY OF LIGHT — edgy, raw, experimental. With RAY OF LIGHT it almost seemed as if Madonna had come full circle from where she started. On PRE-MADONNA my favorite track is the original version of “Stay”. Heavenly, synth-heavy, and magical. Madonna at her best. My second favorite is a rock and roll Pretenders nod called “Laugh To Keep From Crying” which showed a side to Madonna we wouldn’t see again until her later AMERICAN LIFE album.
In mid 1998 I decided to move to Tampa, Florida. I was trying to get back all the things I’d lent out. One of the things I lent out was the Evita soundtrack I bought while living in Atlanta. I lent it to my Arby’s manager Tina. She lost it. I was kinda of upset but I didn’t let her know it. That was one of the few momentos I had left from my Atlanta fiasco. But eventually Tina found it. The EVITA soundtrack finally worked its way into my life my last days living in New York state. I listened to it non-stop. The story of a girl leaving the place she grew up and going to a new and different place…I could relate. I played “Eva Beware Of The City”, “Buenos Aires” and “A New Argentina” over and over. So much power in Madonna’s voice. EVITA then joined the ranks of all of Madonna’s other works. I finally got it. And it got me just when I needed it.
I can’t remember if I was still living in NY when the third single from RAY OF LIGHT was released– “The Power Of Goodbye”. Yet another dark, atmospheric, moody video. I loved it.
But I clearly remember being firmly relocated in Tampa, Florida by the time RAY OF LIGHT’S final single was released “Nothing Really Matters”. I remember dancing to the video at The Castle. Madonna dressed as a black haired Geisha. I made framed collages of Madonna’s Geisha look to hang on my new bedroom wall. I still live in the same apartment. I consider “Nothing Really Matters” to be my first Madonna Florida single.
Despite RAY OF LIGHT’S electronica nature, I wasn’t a huge fan of the remixes. Up until this point, Madonna’s remixes and extended versions always matched, if not outdid the album versions. This time around, I preferred the album mixes. I wish Madonna had released the remix album “Veronica Electronica” that never saw the light of day. I remember initial interview with the album in which Madonna said she was playing the character “Veronica Electronica” on RAY OF LIGHT much like she played Dita on EROTICA. I would have enjoyed seeing that explored more… I liked the cover art of the album…but didn’t like the cover art used for the singles. “Frozen” was such a visually stimulating video. But they used a boring old picture of Madonna with blonde hair on the single cover. Weak! But with time of course I grew to love all the cover art including that of “Frozen”.
RAY OF LIGHT was wrapping up during my earliest days living in Florida. I remember watching Madonna’s horrible out of tune appearance on MTV video music awards singing “Ray Of Light”. I didn’t like her look in the white wife beater and the black hair. She sounded much better singing that song on Oprah.
Speaking of Oprah, my best friend Heather and I’s biggest fight was over Madonna. I was vacationing in Florida before I moved here. It was the day Madonna was on Oprah. My friend Heather said something anti-Madonna and it led to a fight that lasted a good six or seven hours. But looking back on it…this was a time in my life when I didn’t believe in anything. I barely believed in living. Love proved to be a let down. Friends had broken promises and proved less than trusting. Life itself wasn’t unfolding in a pleasant manner. But music never let me down. And I had Madonna. Since I was a little kid Madonna had been at my side. And during this strange and emotionally barren era of my life…Madonna once again was at my side. I got really defensive. That day I missed her wonderful rendition of “Ray Of Light” (I caught it later online) but I did hear and enjoy the more acoustic jazzy “Little Star” – that version was even better than the album version in my opinion!
I hung out with a guy named Chris for a minute when I first moved here. (He had a big Madonna tattoo on his leg!!) I remember telling him on our first date about two upcoming Madonna songs — a duet with Ricky Martin (“Be Careful With My Heart”) and some song from the Austin Powers movie called “Beautiful Stranger”.
I didn’t love the Ricky Martin song, but I loved “Beautiful Stranger” upon first listen! It was so hooky and so catchy. It was a bumpin’ fun dance song that had more get-up-and-dance-carefree energy than anything Madonna had done since maybe “Vogue”? I loved the song and the video so much. Classic Madonna. I loved dancing to the video at The Castle. I used to jump on stage and do the dance moves along with the video J “Beautiful Stranger” was the first brand new Madonna material to be released after I moved to Florida. Those were fun times.
Madonna came out with one final soundtrack song during this era. “American Pie” from her mediocre movie “The Next Best Thing”. A few friends and I went to see the movie. I remember thinking it was cheesy Madonna played a yoga instructor in the movie. I felt that belittled and patronized something that Madonna claimed was important to her in her private life. I did love her cover of “American Pie” though—who else would have the balls to take a ten minute 1970s epic and chop it into a cute little euro three minute pop ditty? I remember hearing the song for the first time online…they debuted it on a streaming European radio show. It was love at first hear. I hated “American Pie” until Madonna covered it. Isn’t that sacrelig? I remember buying “The Next Best Thing” soundtrack on a sunny day and driving around with my windows down playing “American Pie” over and over and over. It was a perfect breezy, sunny, happy Florida afternoon. Life was looking up.
So RAY OF LIGHT era came to an end. Producer William Orbit worked his magic on RAY OF LIGHT and kept the momentum going through a few soundtrack songs. The future held great promise.
PART EIGHT: MUSIC
It seemed strange that there would be life after RAY OF LIGHT. I remember reports coming out that Madonna was working on a new album sometime during 1999. I remember it seeming pretty quick for another album to be in the works already. Initially William Orbit was again to be at the helm. I wondered what Madonna would do next. The two worked magic together on RAY OF LIGHT and their soundtrack offerings were brilliant too.
But 1999 the internet was a mainstay. I would check the Madonna websites daily to see the latest gossip and information about the upcoming album. This was to be the first Madonna album that really got experienced and anticipated on the internet in a major way.
Initial reports stated that the upcoming Madonna project was tentatively titled EPIPHANY. I hated that title. I was worried Madonna was going to delve further into the RAY OF LIGHT pool with unsuccessful
results. I loved RAY OF LIGHT for what it was, but I was worried a re-tread would be horribly misguided.
Over the early part of 2000 various rumors circulated the web about Madonna’s upcoming album. Fake track listings. Fake album titles. Fake song titles. When it was announced on a fan site (Madonnarama was the big site back then) that the upcoming Madonna album was going to be called MUSIC, it hardly seemed believable. What a minimalist title. It was clever…in a strange kind of way. At the time it didn’t seem very Madonna-ish. I had to see it to believe it.
Sure enough during the early part of summer 2000 a Madonna track illegally leaked titled “Music”. I had to get my hands on it! Rumor was that Madonna was working with an avant-garde producer from France named Mirwais.
The first time I heard “Music” I loved it immediately. It was such a throwback to the early 80s Madonna in its infectious dance groove. This continued the brighter, more carefree Madonna that resurfaced with “Beautiful Stranger”. “Music” was cutting edge–it was a glance at the past and a glance at the future. It’s minimalist electro groove found Madonna still blazing trails 17 years into her career. And in true new-Madonna fashion, the simple groove was accentuated with the ridiculous inclusion of the word “bourgeoisie” in the lyrics. Oh, Madonna.
Over the summer I played the leaked “demo” of “Music” for everyone. People liked it. It was so different than RAY OF LIGHT. I wondered how it would go over. Little by little information about the new Madonna album trickled out. Over the last year she’d gotten married and pregnant again…and I remember this second pregnancy being cause to rush the photo session and first video from the MUSIC album. Long before the photos were released, it was known that Madonna had a ghetto cowgirl look for her upcoming album. Would she pull it off? Would people like this minimalist new song?
2000 turned out to be an exciting time to be a Madonna fan, once again. I believe it was around this time Madonna won ownership of her web domain. Prior to this it was Madonnamusic.com. I remember the re-launch of Madonna’s website with lots of new stuff. There was a cool feature where you could take separate tracks of “Music” and create your own re-mix. Definitely fun times.
Before the MUSIC promo photos were released all we knew was that Madonna had a red cowboy hat on in the single cover, and a blue cowboy hat on on the album cover… And when the first photos were released I loved them!
It was really strange to me that Madonna was coming out with a country influenced look. I spent the entire first 8 months of 2000 delving deep into the catalog of Emmylou Harris. I was in the process of writing my own Americana-influenced album AMERICA IS LONELY TONIGHT. In all the months leading up to the eventual release of MUSIC I ran around Tampa in cowboy boots and cowboy hats. So it was yet another strange coincidence where the creative lives of Madonna and Jeremy Gloff intersected.
I read extensive reviews and track by track descriptions of the MUSIC full length before it was released. But I did not listen to any sound files. For most artists I listen to the sound files prior to the album’s release. But a Madonna album is sacred to me. I always hold out to that moment the CD is in my hand. I want the entire experience. I want to hear the music for the first time with the cover art in my hands. And I wanted to hear MUSIC for the first time with the cover art in my hands. So at least a couple weeks before I got the album I knew the lyrics, and I had an idea what the songs sounded like based on what people were writing.
The night MUSIC was released a tradition was begun that lasted for three Madonna albums. I would go to the ghetto WalMart near my house after midnight. All three times the same guy was working. He reminded me of Red Foxx. And all three times he would go way into the back, and get the new CD fresh out of the box just for me. I remember the elation as I held the MUSIC CD in my hands. I loved the feel of it. I loved Madonna’s blue cowgirl outfit. I loved the font and I loved the logo. I loved everything about the MUSIC album. It was a bit more stylized than RAY OF LIGHT. I couldn’t wait to hear the songs! From the descriptions they sounded like they were going to be very adventurous and diverse.
The album began with Madonna’s voice slowed down. “Hey Mr. DJ put a record on. I wanna dance with my baby.” It was very odd and neat. I was hard pressed to hear any difference between the supposed demo version of “Music” that had leaked over the summer and the final album version. They sounded completely identical.
The real goodies began with track two. Since MUSIC on, something has always happened the first time I hear a Madonna album. I start crying. I become overwhelmed by emotion. It’s not a sad emotion. It’s an emotion of amazement. That my old friend Madonna can still amaze, intrigue, be creative, and move me. MUSIC’S second track “Impressive Instant” moved me. It was an eccentric thump-fest unlike anything Madonna had ever recorded. I still find it a shame that song has never been released as a single.
Track three, the first of the William Orbit collaborations was the generic “Runaway Lover.” Compared the heat created by the Madonna/Mirwais union…William Orbit reached a pre-mature expiration date. Things picked back up with the next track–the eerie acoustic based “I Deserve It”. I always felt if that song had been released as a single with a suitable video…Madonna would have picked up a new audience. That is a such a haunting, earthy pop song. By track four it was evident what a grab bag the MUSIC album was. On one hand…Madonna was exploring the furthest reaches of quirky electronica…yet on the other hand she was exploring the earthiest, most subtle acoustic tones of her career. It was an intresting dichotomy that worked.
“Amazing” was the second W. Orbit collab. It was a non-offensive “Beautiful Stranger” re-treat that didn’t help or hurt the album. If anything, it only indicated how quickly Madonna and William Orbit ran out of raw material to mine together.
“Nobody’s Perfect” employed the vocodor effect that Cher took ownership of when she released “Believe.” Madonna didn’t use the vocodor to color different areas of her vocal track however…the effect was used on 90% of the song. And what a quirky song it was. Three quarters of the way in the entire song drops out to a lone guitar and Madonna’s voice. MUSIC was an album of curves and unexpected hairpin turns.
When “Don’t Tell Me” was revealed to be the second single I was surprised. Upon the first few listens the song didn’t catch me. It seemed a bit tune-less and meandering at first. The next track on the album (and originally the second single) “What It Feels Like For A Girl” seemed a much likelier candidate for radio airplay. “What It Feels Like” was classic Madonna. Truly a missed opportunity. Great lyrics. Great hook. Emotional. Timely.
“Paradise (Not For Me)” had already been released on Mirwais’ album…but hearing it in the context of a Madonna album accentuated the risky nature of the track. As a guest appearance on someone else’s album…this strange and experimental track was what it was. But released as an official Madonna track—it was made clear just how far Madonna was willing to push her sonic boundaries…and how much she was hoping to challenge her mainstream fan base.
The album closed with another Orbit production but this time around they got it right. “Gone” was another haunting acoustic-rock song with 1970s country-ish harmonies. Think more Eagles than “Like A Virgin”. I loved the territory that Madonna was exploring. At that time I’d been an acoustic folk singer myself for seven or so years. To see one of my greatest influences mine territory similar to my own was thrilling and validating.
Upon first listen I was moved to tears multiple times by the risks Madonna took. As time went by MUSIC revealed itself to be a bit less cohesive than it seemed to be at first. But perhaps it was the last time Madonna truly blazed forward at Madonna speed. Madonna’s next two albums would find her further exploring ideas first introduced on MUSIC…from both sides of the coin.
The MUSIC album became as important to my life in 2000/2001 as oxygen. Whereas the last couple Madonna albums were companions during tumultuous times…MUSIC was mostly a soundtrack to the good times. Many fond memories including…
-Driving to this Tampa strip club with my friends Rob, Rob, and Murr. I was dressed to the hilt in fake fur and cowboy hat. There was this gay guy we worked with named Randy who was stripping at the club. Randy was the kind of guy you never wanted to see naked, but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a laugh at someone else’s expense *wink* (Randy turned out to be a nice guy…albeit unnecessarily dramatic at times…I nicked-named him “Queen Tut”. En route to said strip club we listened to “Music” over and over and over. It was the theme song of the night (“Do you like to boogie woogie?”) Of course, karma is a bitch…my “Music” CD single fell out of my car. I had to drive back to the strip club at 4am to search the parking lot and luckily find my CD. That’s what I get for making fun of people!
-Gothic industrial fabulous princess BettyX lived in Tampa during the early part of the decade. Betty and family lived on harbor island…a nice area near downtown Tampa. Driving home…we always had to take this curvy windy road. This route became known as the “Madonna Curve” — every week while driving Betty home I happened to be playing “Impressive Instant” and it became a tradition. Many fond memories of BettyX in my car with me singing “I like to singy singy singy like a bird on a wingy wingy wingy”.
-Another BettyX memory arises. One night this lesbian club named Cherokee was hosting a Madonna night–costumes encouraged. Betty dressed as “Erotica” Madonna and I was “Music” Madonna. We turned out to be the only people who dressed up, but we were fabulous. We paraded around Ybor (Tampa’s party district) in our full Madonna regalia. The highlight of the evening was going through McDonalds drive through to get drinks and a bite. Everyone inside kept coming to the drive through window to see the two Madonnas in the car. And of course pulling up to the drive-thru “Music” was blasting at top volume. Good times.
-I was very much infatuated with this guy named Neil at the time. We had a one time fling and he revealed himself to be of less than stellar character. “Runaway Lover” might as well have been about him. I remember driving around with Betty and singing it to her saying it was about Neil. LOL (“It doesn’t pay to give away what you lack…you never get your money back”)
-One night driving home from a club with my friends Erin and Jimmy Walker in the car I remember “Paradise (Not For Me)” was playing. Jimmy couldn’t believe it was Madonna. And I was so proud that my Madonna was making edgy experimental music that my “cool” friends could respect and appreciate.
The release of the second single from MUSIC “Don’t Tell Me” further deepened the cowboy theme of the album. It’s country-flavored video was a huge hit in Tampa…especially at our favorite club of the time The Fly Trap. I remember many nights on that fabulous tiny dance floor doing my best to mimic Madonna’s line-dancing via that video. I’ll always associate “Don’t Tell Me” with the Fly Trap. And also with this guy I had a terrible sexual experience with. He turned out to really suck–but I remember him saying how much he loved the “Don’t Tell Me” remix. Oh us gays and our remix versions. I liked the album version better. *wink*
When “What It Feels Like For A Girl” was finally released as a single I remember the day the haunting video premiered. My mom was vacationing from NY and I remember her being as moved by the powerful video as I was. It was pure art. Violent. Moving. Thrilling. Haunting.
In conjunction with life events I can’t really recall…I remember when “What It Feels Like’s” video came out…a certain kind of cold numbness came over me for a few days. Part of me wanted the partake in anarchist decadence a la the video. I remember driving my car fast…being angry at the world…and just wanting to fuck things up for the sake of fucking things up. Leave it to Madonna to channel my inner anarchist.
I had a really good time collecting MUSIC era Madonna. The CD singles were much better designed than RAY OF LIGHT era. The cover art was themed and cool. The remixes once again were of top quality. The day MUSIC came out I hosted “Madonna bingo” at my house. About ten friends came over and we all played bingo…the winner got a free copy of MUSIC. I adorned the house with all my Madonna collectables. It was a great night. My friends Jeff and Chris bought me the limited edition black cover…which apparently is worth money now. They also gave me a MUSIC cowboy hat promotional item! J
And as MUSIC came and went I’ll always remember it as a time when I was still young and a bit happier for a moment. I eventually released my own country-inspired album AMERICA IS LONELY TONIGHT. And a certain kind of darkness would re-emerge. But for a couple of years…we boogie woogied with the best of them…
PART NINE: AMERICAN LIFE
Madonna segued out of the MUSIC era with the title song from the James Bond movie DIE ANOTHER DAY. Originally Madonna was supposed to have recorded a different song that was a cover (the title escapes me) but that never surfaced.
I loved the James Bond song. Years later I would read in the press that Madonna’s Bond theme was “a disappointment” and “a flop” but I don’t remember that being the case at all. At the time, “Die Another Day” got heavy rotation at the clubs. I remember MTV playing the song as well as radio. I remember before the CD single came out I just had to have a copy of the song. I found a fuzzy download of “Die Another Day” and burned a CD (it was that same day I also first got my hands on either Mariah’s new “Make It Through The Rain” or Tori Amos’ “Sorta Fairytale” — can’t remember which–but I remember there were two songs on that CD I took with me everywhere…)
The “Die Another Day” video continued the dark violent streak introduced with the previous “What It Feels Like For A Girl”. I liked this new dark and broody Madonna. I could relate.
As 2002 neared to a close rumors started circulating about what the fan sites called “Madonna 10” (being that the upcoming album would be her tenth studio release.) Details about the forthcoming album were scant. There were rumors of sessions with rappers. There were rumors that Madonna would be rapping on the album herself. There were rumors of a ten-plus minute epic track. There were fake track listings and there was a statement from Warner Brother Records that “they had just heard tracks from the upcoming Madonna album, and once again it sounded like nothing she had done before.”
As information leaks onto the net one wonders what is real and what isn’t. The first legitimate information to leak about “Madonna 10” was that there was a song called “Hollywood” on the album, and a song called “American Life.” Much like any time there’s new Madonna information, my curiosity was aroused. These seemed like different song titles from Madonna. I couldn’t quite imagine what a Madonna song titled “American Life” could possibly sound like?
A few months prior to the release of “Madonna 10” little clips began to surface on the internet. The very very first clip to leak was a short few second clip of Madonna rapping the follow phrase: “I’m drinking a soy latte – I get a couple shotte – it goes right through my body – and you know I’m satisfied” over and over and over. Three minutes of this loop. This short clip confirmed the rumors that Madonna would be rapping on an upcoming song. Would she pull it off? Realistically, Madonna did rap at the end of “Vogue” — the whole “Greta Garbo and Monroe” shtick. Up to this point in her career, Madonna had made everything work. In my eyes, she had never failed. Not from a personal standpoint, nor from an artistic or commercial standpoint. No matter how daring or abstract (within the realms of pop music) Madonna got, she always pulled it off.
As 2003 began it was confirmed that Madonna’s upcoming album was going to be titled AMERICAN LIFE. Interesting. Where would Madonna take us this time? What was next? Shortly after this announcement photos from the Craig McDean photo session began to surface. Madonna was pictured as a black haired, beret wearing, camouflaged renegade. I loved these pictures. I might have loved these pictures more than any Madonna photos I had ever seen before. There was something punk about these photos. Shades of Chrissie Hynde. Something dark and ominous and violent. This was a different kind of darkness than “Frozen” Madonna. That darkness was sad and mysterious. These new Craig McDean photos portrayed Madonna as a confrontational, gun toting soldier. I loved it.
A second clip of the “American Life” song leaked onto the net. This clip contained the chorus of the song…lone…acoustic…very 1970s… The more that leaked about this song, this album, and this era, the more intrigued I found myself. It was hard to picture the chorus of this song being the same song that contained the prior leaked rap. Hmmm?
As details about the album began to arise so did information about the forthcoming “American Life” video. There were rumors. Rumors about burning babies. Rumors that this was the most extreme thing Madonna had ever done. Jonas Akerlund, the video’s director released a statement that of all the Madonna projects with which he’s been involved, the “American Life” video was of the most importance. His favorite.
Over the next few weeks the song titles and lyrics were released for the AMERICAN LIFE album. I was completely enthralled. With song titles as abstract as “Love Profusion” and “X-static Process” I knew this had to be good. Reading through the lyrics…the seemed a little remedial…but Madonna’s lyrics were never her strongest point. It was her execution of her lyrics. Her delivery.
Anticipation in the Madonna fan base reached a fever pitch as her new “American Life” single was to be released as a digital download exclusively on her website. It was 2003…I’m not sure how widespread I-tunes was at the time…but I remember it being different for me at least to buy a single digitally like this.
So I paid my $1.49 and let the new Madonna song download. The temperature and lighting in my bedroom were just perfect. It was a new Madonna era. I was ecstatically eager and ready for this. The song completed its download. I burned the song to a CD, and I put it in my CD player.
And Madonna’s naked a capella voice issued from the speakers: “Do I have to change my name…will it get me far…should I lose some weight…am I gonna be a star?”
And immediately an obtuse electronic bleepy bass line kicked in. Off centre. Off kilt. Easily the most obtuse song Madonna has ever done.
And so the tradition was continued. I began to cry listening to this brand new Madonna song “American Life”. Despite the simplicity of the lyrics…I strongly subscribed to the songs’ anti-materialism, anti-pop-culture, anti-fashion aesthetic. For the zillionth time, Madonna was in my right place at my right time.
“American Life” turned out to be quite the song. Abstract electronic verses, a repetitive pre-chorus, and a chorus itself that dropped the electronics completely. And then came the rap in all its glory. A bit cheesy…ok a lot cheesy…but totally tongue in cheek. If anything, this new Madonna song was far out there. I wondered if she’d really pull this off. I had a hard time imagining the simplistic general public grasping this song and embracing it. My best hopes lied on the video…many times it took a Madonna video to truly bring a song to life. And from what I’d heard about this video so far…it was quite the whopper.
Shortly after the release of the “American Life” single I went on tour up north to play some dates. I remember being in Delaware in my rental car with my guitar player Jimmy Reese and playing the song over and over and over. I made a lot of new friends up during that show…and I drove them around listening to the new Madonna single over and over. I just loved how weird it was. I loved the acoustic guitar riff atop the electronics. I loved the double chorus. I loved that it defied all convention. I will always associate “American Life” the song with that tour…
And so the days clicked down until the “American Life” videos supposed release. Meanwhile, in the world the war in Iraq had begun. And so began a violent dark time in our world. A week before the video was set to air, reports came out that Madonna was editing her new video to tone down the ending. A few more days passed. On the eve of the video’s release came the news. I remember the moment. I remember sitting in front of my computer and reading with disbelief. Madonna was withdrawing her “American Life” video from release. I felt cold and empty. After twenty years of fearlessness Madonna, for the first time ever, had compromised her art. “American Life” was set to be her grandest, most daring, most shocking, and probably most important and timely statement ever. There certainly would have been a grand backlash to this video…but the world NEEDED this video at this time. And that night…the night Madonna withdrew her “American Life” video…something changed forever. It was that night that it felt like Madonna resigned from her position as the renegade spokesperson of my generation. Mass marketing and safe bets had won the day. I managed to get my hands on the edited clip of the unreleased video. Even that version was shocking, artistic, and necessary. (Years later when I was the uncensored version of the video…I wondered how much of an impact the video would have made…certainly Madonna’s most daring statement.)
I knew that without the visuals to accompany this song…the song’s message was going to go over people’s heads. In sync with the startling imagery…the song lit up like a forest fire. Without the video…the message escaped. Madonna may always be the queen of pop…but after that night she would no longer in my heart be a warrior.
“American Life” was refashioned into a passive and boring video depicting Madonna in front of various flags. The video sucked. All the “American Life” promo shots were re-tinted to fade out the guns. And an entire era of Madonna had within two weeks been watered down. With consideration to her marketability and public image, I can easily see why Madonna chose to modify her art. But…this went against everything Madonna had stood for. And through the years Madonna’s statements had gotten bolder and bolder… With this new albums and its stance against materialism and our decaying culture…Madonna censoring herself cheapened her own statements. I was really sad that night. I know it’s stupid…but I was. I felt in a way….let down.
AMERICAN LIFE the album rolled closer, despite the failure of the first single. Madonna went on a neat promo trail armed with a beret and an acoustic guitar. Amidst the ganga-rap and Barbie dolls on MTV–I thought it was neat they were still giving Madonna air time in this strange phase of hers. Right in the middle of all the vapidness was a Madonna special with her and Mirwais plucking out new songs on acoustic guitars. Madonna the folk singer. I loved it. I LOVED IT. I knew with this new album Madonna would descend from her top 40 throne…but as a writer and musician myself I flourished in the countercultures of noise music and punk. To see Madonna evolving into a fringe artist herself thrilled me. Welcome home my Madonna. I burned a CD from the internet of one of Madonna’s promo acoustic gigs…one of the highlights being an acoustic version of “Like A Virgin”.
To purchase AMERICAN LIFE I once again made the trek to the overnight 24 hour WalMart. The same gentleman who was kind enough to go into the storeroom and get MUSIC for me did the same for the new album. Being that it was WalMart, I knew I would only be able to get my hands on the version of the album without the parental advisory sticker. I didn’t mind. I just wanted to get my hands on the new Madonna ASAP. I bought two copies…one for myself and one for the Madonna bingo party I was going to be hosting the following evening. (I ended up buying the Parental Advisory version the following day…and was pleasantly surprised when Madonna added in a series of “fuck its” into the title track. Loved it.)
With the album in my hands, before even listening to it I loved everything about it. I loved the minimalist cover art. I loved the dripping blood font. I loved that my favorite pop singer was releasing material that was dark and just outside of the mainstream. I couldn’t wait to get into my car and hear the rest of the album. Once again, I’d refrained from listening to all the tracks prior to the album’s release. (The night before I listened to “Mother and Father” and “Love Profusion”.)
I drove home from WalMart with AMERICAN LIFE in my CD player. The album opened with the title track, which I knew and loved. Once the song segued into “Hollywood” the tears once again came. This song was so dark and edgy. It reminded me of something Madonna would have done in her pre-first album days. This album was certainly punk in its aura…if anything. I immediately loved “Hollywood”. Track three “Im So Stupid” was another strange one. During the opening passage Madonna holds one vocoder-ed note for a bit longer than is acceptable to the comfortable ear. And I loved it. I loved that this album was abrasive. I knew a lot of people were going to think that it sucked. That made me love it even more. Only certain people were going to “get” this album and that made it special to me.
I ended up loving every song on the album. The production was very spare and minimal. A couple of the songs even bordered on indie-rock. Madonna had challenged her voice, her musicianship, and her sound yet again. The only weakness in the album, I felt, were the lyrics. At times embarrassingly simple, and at times preachy. But I was willing to over look those minor flaws. “Die Another Day” also seemed a bit out of place on the record…its production was a bit too lush. “Mother And Father” was affecting in its simplicity…and “Nothing Fails” was an emotive pop song. “X Static Process” found Madonna pared down to just voice/guitar…leading to the most daring and revealing moment on the album. It was refreshing and almost shocking to hear a high caliber pop singer go so lo-fi. I loved it.
“American Life” was easily one of my favorite Madonna albums yet. It was interesting as the next few months unfolded. No matter how Madonna tried, a commercial fire could not be ignited. The video for the second single, “Hollywood” was disappointing to me. After the daring “American Life” failed Madonna quickly dyed her hair back to blonde, lost the beret, and re-adopted her classic Madonna look. This seemed like a hasty commercial move that was in direct conflict to the message of the entire album. The single and the video both failed. Further singles “Love Profusion” and “Nothing Fails” also failed to ignite chart heat. I honestly felt like “Nothing Fails” had the potential to breakthrough…given the proper video and promotion. (Although it must be mentioned one of the highlights of this era was Madonna’s quirky photo shoot for W Magazine.)
This was definitely a strange time to be a Madonna fan. Madonna began to release children’s books. I collected them all, of course, but there was definitely some “what the fuck” going on on my part. It was also during this era that Madonna teamed up with Britney Spears for the horrendous duet “Me Against The Music.” Teaming up with one of the then-current teeny bopper stars initially seemed an act of unnecessary desperation. And it didn’t help that the song itself sucked (unless listened to and enjoyed strictly from the point of camp value.) And then there was that annoying Gap ad with the equally annoying Missy Elliot.
The Britney/Madonna team created a firestorm of controversy when they made out on stage at the MTV VMAs. We all know the story already. The thing I enjoyed most about that whole ordeal was Madonna’s manly outfit…shades of the Girly Show.
Towards the end of the AMERICAN LIFE era Madonna’s official website began to advertise a book titled “Nobody Knows Me” on their website. The book allegedly was going to take you further behind the scenes than ever before, and show sides to Madonna no one had seen. I was thrilled! Of course I smacked down the money. I think it was around thirty dollars. I was rather disappointed when the book turned out to be a thin photo essay with scant quotes from her manager and stylist and some song lyrics. I felt a bit taken advantage of as a Madonna fan.
Madonna also released an EP around this time titled “Remixed and Revisited” which reconsidered some of the tracks from AMERICAN LIFE. I loved the remixes. The new mixes took the tracks in a heavier rock direction…a direction Madonna had never taken before. Unfortunately, the EP wasn’t marketed properly and it sunk as fast as everything else did from this era.
AMERICAN LIFE era ended with the Re-Invention Tour. After the prior tour “Drowned World” (which I did not see live) apparently Madonna was putting together a show that was more crowd pleasing and focused on her early hits more.
I remember tickets going on sale at 11 am. I manned one phone at work while my mom did another at her house. By mistake we BOTH ended up buying tickets for the show. I easily found someone to buy the second ticket…but unfortunately that landed me in a long car ride to Ft. Lauderdale with some guy I’d never met before. It was certainly uncomfortable maintaining eight hours worth of conversation with a stranger.
Map Quest fucked me and instead of ending up where the Madonna concert was supposed to be, I ended up in front of an elementary school. For two hours people kept sending us on wild goose chases. I ended up by the ocean. I ended up by big hotels. FINALLY someone led us on the right path. We found the venue…an hour after the show was scheduled to start. I was finally going to be in the same room as one of my few heroes. I knew this was going to be an important night for me. So I got out of my rental car and I ran and ran and ran. I was gasping for breath. I left the strange guy far in the dust. And I ran and ran and ran. There was an old lady taking tickets at the gate. She said the concert had just started. I ran to my seat. And there she was…in the same room as me. Madonna. Singing “Frozen.” And tears came down my face. And those tears didn’t stop for the next two hours. I’d only missed two songs from the show. (“Vogue” and “Nobody Knows Me”.)
I was most emotional during the live versions of the AMERICAN LIFE tracks. When it comes to life performance, I usually find myself most moved when artists are performing the new material that they are most passionate about (unless of course the new material sucks.) Hearing Madonna sing these new renegade acoustic tracks live was as close to a spiritual experience as I’ve ever had. Especially during the violent and bloody rendition of “American Life” did I sob. This was Madonna – the artist. The reason I loved her.
I walked away from the concert with a strange feeling. For the first time since her beginning, it felt like Madonna was no longer a trail blazer. Although much of the mass public disagreed with her focus on new material during the prior tour, I loved that she did that. The retread of old hits during ReInvention wasn’t that fun for me. I’d watched her do those same songs in the different time and different place where they belonged. The nadir of the concert was Madonna’s rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. I always hated that song. I was won over on “American Pie” by Madonna…but not even Madge could make “Imagine” not suck for me. That was a dreadful four minutes of my life.
And so that was the AMERICAN LIFE era. I still love this album. What started off as a potentially explosive and artistic era petered out into a greatest hits tour and the question of what’s next?
PART TEN: CONFESSIONS ON A DANCE FLOOR
Madonna’s career changed with her album AMERICAN LIFE. Public (and fan) opinion seemed to be divided. Some considered the album her ultimate artistic triumph. Others considered it a low point in a long and illustrious career. All opinion aside, the numbers spoke. AMERICAN LIFE was the lowest selling album of Madonna’s career (although a cool million copies would make any independent artist thrilled…)
(Somewhere during this era Madonna’s Truth Or Dare sequel “I’m Gonna Tell You A Secret” showed on VH1. I remember it was aired as a hurricane approached Tampa. I was afraid my city would be gone the day after I watched that movie…but it was still there…)
News about the follow up project first surfaced on Madonna’s website herself. Considering the normal amount of secrecy and timing involved with a forthcoming Madonna project…it was a change of pace to see candid reports of a Madonna work-in-progress. Reports stated the album was going to be a return to Madonna’s dance roots. The reports also stated that the album would be sequenced as a continuous mix.
My first initial thoughts about this project was that it was an obvious safe bet after the commercial failure of the last project. Madonna doing a blatant dance album was sure to recapture her audience (and sales). I was apprehensive. This certainly marked a new point of reference for Madonna. I had only known Madonna as a trail blazer…forging new musical and artistic paths since day one. This forthcoming dance album seemed to reek dangerously of treading water…
Through the early months of 2005 news was steadily released about the forthcoming Madonna dance album. The first single was to be titled “Hung Up” and it was legendary in that it sampled an ABBA song. The album was to be titled “Confessions On A Dance Floor.”
“Hung Up” first made its appearance as a short loop online. Upon first listen, I have to admit that I was in love. This was classic Madonna. No statement. No pretentiousness. For the first time in years Madonna was doing a pop dance song without an agenda, and it worked. Hearing the short snippet of the chorus of this song made me hungry for me.
Steadily the track list and lyrics of CONFESSIONS was released on Madonna.com. It was definitely good marketing on Madonna’s part to reach out to her fans with the marketing of this album. There was a 1-800-Confessions phone line where one could call and “tell Madonna their secrets”. Naturally, I called. With the pre-promotion of CONFESSIONS it was as if Madonna was taking down some of her walls. Letting people in. It was almost as if Madonna knew she lost some of her commercial relevance and marketability with AMERICAN LIFE. The way to win people back was to be more open with them. Hence the early release of the track list, the album cover, the lyrics, etc. (I thought it was so strange Madonna had a song called “Forbidden Love” on the album…was it a cover of “Forbidden Love” from BEDTIME STORIES? How odd…)
Upon hearing “Hung Up” in its entirety I loved it. I was in the midst of heartbreak and the song’s message of empowerment was well timed. Many nights were spent driving around playing that jam. I loved the CONFESSIONS cover when I saw it. Red haired Madonna in a pink leotard.
In my own personal life something had changed by the time CONFESSIONS came out. I was different. Maybe I’ve lost a lot of hope. But between AMERICAN LIFE and CONFESSIONS I lost a lot of passion. And maybe I feel like I’m running in place sometimes. I am no longer excited about music the way I once was. And I am certainly not hopeful about love the way I once was. So I was as excited as I could possibly be about the impending release of CONFESSIONS.
I did my normal tradition. I drove to the 24 hour WalMart. I waited forty five minutes for the gentleman to get off his break and to go into the back and get the new Madonna CD out of the box. And he did. And there was the new Madonna CD in my hands. I loved the back cover…a picture of Madonna’s shoe in front of a disco ball.
Driving home from my purchase of CONFESSIONS I once again got the Madonna tears. In its single edit, “Hung Up” was a brief two verse/two chorus song. But the album version featured a really rad breakdown that I hadn’t heard. And when I heard that breakdown I was showered with the power of Madonna at her best. I was moved only the way Madonna can move me… (and the video for “Hung Up” was great…classic Madonna looking hot as ever…)
Upon first listen I was immediately in love with “Get Together”. Like “Hung Up” this was classic Madonna pop. After those first two songs I was home. I remember going up to my room and listening to the remainder of the CD while I chatted online to my friends.
I listened to CONFESSIONS twice that night. And I did love the album. In fact, the album became my favorite album of the year. I listened to it endlessly. For a moment in time, I would have sworn that it was the best Madonna album ever made. But even upon first listen, I was greeted with a different feeling than I’d ever gotten listening to a Madonna album. There were sounds on the album that were new to Madonna, but not new to the mainstream. For the first time in her career, Madonna wasn’t really bringing something new to the table. It wasn’t a good thing. It wasn’t a bad thing. But it was a strange thing.
Upon first listen I was surprised at how dark a lot of the songs were. I was expecting the new Madonna dance album to harken back to the positive major key dance-a-thons of “Holiday” and “Into The Groove”. However, CONFESSIONS charted a more industrial, dark-wave slant than any of Madonna’s prior dance hits. To this day I fail to see where the tribute to disco is on this album…the album feels much more early 80s New Order than Gloria Ganyor or Chic…by a mile…
It was interesting to pick through CONFESSIONS and match up the various self-referential bits thrown into the album. “How High” incorporated song titles from MUSIC. The intro to “Let It Will Be” was shades of “Papa Don’t Preach” (as well as “Don’t Fear The Reaper.”) Throughout the album were references to much of Madonna’s prior catalog. This only added to the strange vibe of Madonna re-capping as opposed to her usual trail blazing.
For the later part of 2005 and early 2006 CONFESSIONS was the only CD in my CD player basically. As usual, it became incorporated into my life. My friends Summer and Stu cited Madonna’s lyric “you can only learn so much in one place…the more that I wait…the more time that I waste” should be an inspiration for me to move out of Tampa, Florida.
My ultimate favorite moment on the album…the moment that captured Madonna at her most Madonna was during the opening verse of “How High”. The song opens with “It’s funny…I’ve spent my whole life wanting to be talked about…” which was followed by the ultra-sassy “I DID IT!!” intoned as only a sassy Madonna could intone it. I also loved how Madonna rhymed “New York” with “dork”. It was such a horrible rhyme, but it got people talking. People still talk about that line today. I heard it in a recent conversation. That’s Madonna doing what she does best…
CONFESSIONS ON A DANCE FLOOR will always remind me of the Florida winter of 2005. I remember driving around to the album with foggy cold windows. Chilly nights. And I became a little chilly myself at the time. I still have yet to unthaw. The hazy dark synth tones of all the songs added to the eerie fogs of cold Florida night.
I ended up buying the limited edition version of CONFESSIONS for the bonus track “Fighting Spirit.” I loved it even more than some of the album cuts. I especially enjoyed the incorporation of a chime sound that seemed to recall Blondie’s “Rapture”. (Other non-album cuts “Superpop” and “History” were less than stellar…)
If anything, CONFESSIONS was a throwback to classic Madonna. And in a way it did feel good to have her back. This was her most unabashedly pop without an agenda since maybe…even TRUE BLUE. As weird as it was to hear Madonna tread water…it was nice to have her back as a pop singer.
Since CONFESSIONS my life has seemed to gone in warp speed and slow motion at the same time. I have memories—seeing the video for “Sorry” for the first time at a club in Chicago. Seeing the video for “Jump” the first time at a country gay bar named Wranglers. But it no longer seemed as significant…a new Madonna video. I remember dancing with my friend Robin to “Hung Up” at a Halloween party. Rolling on the floor. It felt like the glory days…again…if only for a minute. But it wasn’t. Maybe something just changed in me…maybe I’m just getting older…
Despite my apathy towards music I knew I wanted to see Madonna’s CONFESSIONS tour. I won tickets on eBay. I had just gotten out of a horrible relationship. I remember being sad the entire drive to Miami alone. It was a strange day.
The concert was good…but not as good as Re-Invention Tour. I expected to cry again. I didn’t. I expected to be moved. I wasn’t. Truthfully, I was a bit bored. It wasn’t until “Erotica” that the light in me became alive. Madonna, for some reason, was doing the demo version of “Erotica” that was never released…a version with different lyrics and everything. During this live song I began to tear up. I remembered my old friends…that were around when the original EROTICA came out. I remember my life and passion as it once was. Maybe the concert wasn’t as good because two loud girls were talking and smoking right next to me the entire time. It was very hard to watch and concentrate. It almost felt like Madonna’s franchise overshadowed the art. It had become a business. It was a business I loved a lot, and was willing to spend a lot of my money on. But it seemed like the fire was a bit dimmed…
And then I drove home. To Miami, in front of Madonna, and back home in the same night. Broken hearted. Surreal.
Madonna’s CONFESSIONS era turned out to break records. She sold a lot of albums. Her tour grossed an extreme amount of money. I watched the concert on TV. My friends were supposed to come over and watch it with me. They didn’t. I watched it alone.
So what holds the future of Madonna? What’s next? So that’s my life. I am 33 years old. Madonna came into my life when I was an enthusiastic eight year old. Full of life and thunder. And at 33 Madonna is still in my life. I still love her as much. She has a new album coming out next week. Initially when I heard she was working with Timbaland and Pharrell I was disappointed. In a career based on opening new doors, it seemed like a bandwagon move. I heard demos this summer and I didn’t like them very much. I had a fear after all these years that Madonna and I would be parting ways…
But the outlook is good. The cover art for the forth-coming HARD CANDY shows a nearly 50 year old Madonna with her legs spread. At first I was apprehensive. But then I re-considered. Who said you had to sing slow songs when you get old? Who said you had to wear baggy black dresses? Maybe Madonna will re-define the stigma that goes along with aging.
The first single “4 Minutes” has already been incorporated into my life. Every day at work my friend Jessica and I, at 4:44 play our ringtones (the song) and do our “4 Minutes Dance Off”. I was totally indifferent to the song at first. I like it now.
Stayed tuned. The career of Madonna will continue. And so will the life of Jeremy Gloff. Will these two universes continue to be intertwined? The next chapter is beginning soon and new memories will be created.
PART 11: POSTSCRIPT – HARD CANDY AND BEYOND
I’ve tried many times to write down the chapters of my life during the HARD CANDY, CELEBRATION, and MDNA eras. I became friends with a whole new group of people. These friendships began with HARD CANDY and became troubled shortly after MDNA. There’s a million stories to tell. High highs and low lows. Some of the best fucking times of my life. So many laughs and smiles. It never felt right to write them all down.
We danced to all the HARD CANDY singles at the clubs…give it to me! We drove to Orlando for the Virgin Megastore HARD CANDY release. What a fun way to kick off an era…miles away. I started spending a lot of time in New York City and the HARD CANDY songs on my iPod lent a sense of urgency as I waited for the subway trains. Tick tock tick tock tick tock. It was also a great gym album. But HARD CANDY was an era that felt less “Madonna” than the others. It didn’t feel as magical. I remember listening to the album on Myspace stream prior to release. I felt a distance as I listened. I didn’t feel as connected.
I was in New York City the first time I heard the song “Celebration”. Even though I found the song a bit mediocre it did become somewhat of an anthem for all of us. Aging club kids in a world where Madonna was aging too. Pretty blond girls doing headstands with their underwear showing. We’re gonna party…yeah. It was a good time – probably the last time in my life I enjoyed that kind of fun.
In 2012 we waited in anticipation as MDNA was unleashed – the first Madonna album in the Lady Gaga world. We watched Madonna at the Super Bowl and I cried. To see this iconic women on TV who’d been so important to me for so many years. It was nearly religious.
MDNA seemed promising as a full-fledged Madonna return. Despite the lackluster opening singles (“Give Me All Your Luvin” and “Girl Gone Wild”) when the remainder of the songs appeared in snippets online the outlook was good. The album cover was hot. Madonna herself was hot. Gone were the awful wrestling belts and cheek implants. I loved the relaxed hair and red lipstick. I even loved the “Give Me All Your Luvin” video. Madonna felt iconic again and it meant a lot to me.
We had a lot of laughs during the MDNA era. The hydrangeas video. Madonna calling Lady Gaga “reductive”. Madonna was back to being a bitch and not a moment too soon. Or was it all too late? The album itself felt like a Madonna mix tape the first time I heard it. My friend and I drove through the night and listened to the album from start to finish on the night of release. I’ll always remember the way the air felt. How shadowy the Pinellas Park highways looked. We had the downloaded “superbowl” version. At 3 am the acoustic version of “Love Spent” played as we drove down a nearly deserted US-19.
After MDNA I had a rift with these new friends. I was distraught and didn’t handle it very well. For a spell I couldn’t listen to Madonna at all. At the end of 2012 my love was rekindled when I went to the MDNA Tour in Miami. I had the cheapest seats possible – up on a high platform. No one else was up there so I danced to the MDNA songs all alone. My personal connection to Madonna was rekindled. That night I felt like it was just Madonna and me – much like when “Lucky Star” came out and I listened to the 45 alone in my bedroom. I needed that. The four hour overnight drive home was eerie and lonely. I listened to MDNA the entire ride. I ended up becoming much closer with MDNA than I did with HARD CANDY.
So these are my Madonna chronicles. I do still follow Madonna and I probably always will. It’s a habit. But maybe I don’t feel as connected. Or maybe I’m not as moved by her newer music. Or maybe I’m just not as moved by any music anymore. And I know for sure I don’t like to write or talk about myself as much as I used to.
Maybe in the future Madonna will release another brilliant album. Maybe some brilliant things will happen in my life that will correspond with that album. And maybe someone besides myself will tell those stories.
Until then – hey Madonna – thanks for everything.