Madonna turns fifty this Saturday, a fact that reminds me I'm getting older too. I believe I still have her debut album in a musty box somewhere, packed securely with a pair of parachute pants. Like many gay men at the time, I admired her chutzpah. Her rise to stardom proved anyone could be special no matter where they came from.
My small town was especially hard hit during the de-industrialization of the late 1980s. After the factories closed and job opportunities dwindled there wasn't much a kid like me could do but listen to music and dream. The center of the local pop-club scene was the COPA nightclub. While it was open to anyone, Fridays were special, Fridays nights were gay night. That's when the club would be packed to capacity and a Madonna video was sure to get most of the crowd onto the dance floor. For an awkward young person like me, it was magic.
Something in the way you love me won't let me be
I don't want to be your prisoner so baby won't you set me free
Stop playing' with my heart
Finish what you start
When you make my love come down
If you want me let me know
Baby, let it show
Honey, don't you fool around
Just try to understand
I've given all I can 'cause you got the best of me.
After a night of watching everyone dance my friend Vin and I would return to his house, push the sofa against the wall, roll up the carpet, and create our own private dance studio. There we would practice our dance moves, Madonna's latest hit blaring as loud as we could play it:
All you need is your own imagination
So use it that's what it's for (that's what it's for)
Go inside, for your finest inspiration
Your dreams will open the door (open up the door)
It makes no difference if you're black or white
If you're a boy or a girl
If the music's pumping it will give you new life
You're a superstar, yes, that's what you are, you know it
It was liberating and transformative. We didn't care what we looked like, because there was no one around to judge. In that moment we were brave, fearless, and beautiful and that was all that mattered. In that instance everything flowed as we danced and laughed. That's the gift the Material Girl has given the world, the knowledge that we all have the power to reimagine ourselves.
I do wonder, "What's left for Madonna?" Would it surprise us twenty years or from now to see her making a bid for governor, or even president? Or perhaps she'll become a Garboesque recluse, only leaving her Italian villa for the occasional trip to the market. No matter what happens I'll always remember her as an inspiration.