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Happy Madonna

Happy Madonna


Holiday! Celebrate! The new Madonna CD, Confessions on a Dance Floor, goes on sale on Tuesday, November 15, and with spirituality taking a backseat to good old-fashioned broken hearts, it feels like old times.

Madonna's new CD drops this week and it feels like old times. In fact, there's such a palpable vibe that the release of Confessions on a Dance Floor has all the festive energy of an event. It feels familiar and celebratory. It feels like--go ahead and gag now because you knew this was coming--a holiday, albeit one we haven't observed in a long time.

In the beginning, back in the 1980s and even the early 1990s, the release of a new Madonna video or single was akin to a national holiday, at least among her gay fans. The devotion, the urgency, and the fervor with which we rushed to buy her music, set the VCRs to record her every appearance, and raced to the newsstand to pour over the Vogue and Vanity Fair spreads became nearly ritualistic. Whether documented by Herb Ritts or Steven Meisel, we anticipated each new incarnation of our Madonna like pilgrims waiting for a vision.

We couldn't get enough. We had it bad for the Material Girl--and she gave it to us good.

When she enjoined, "Everybody, come on, dance and sing," we got up and did our thing. When she coaxed us to "Live out your fantasies here with me," we let the music set us free, and we partied with abandon. When she admonished us, "Don't go for second best," we put our lovers to the test and stood our ground.

Madonna was a new kind of heroine for the diva-adoring gay masses. The tone of the torch songs that characterized the pre-disco era was long on suffering, short on self-worth. Madonna gave us a new kind of anthem, one in which we no longer had to be held hostage emotionally by anyone who spurned our advances. She went beyond telling us that we would we survive; she told us we could do so without compromising ourselves or our desires. The "respect/ express yourself" message in Madonna's lyrics, when teamed with her own unabashed sexuality and walloping down beats, was the new kind of kick we'd been looking for.

We were smitten, and Madonna justified our love for her by always lifting us out of the realm of the day-to-day. Her music could transform an ordinary minute into an immortal club moment, complete with a shimmering disco ball and dizzying flecks of light. Madonna's dance tracks offered a necessary escape that was nearly transcendental during an era when our community was seeing more than its share of heartbreak and horror.

Off the dance floor, she was just as supportive, becoming an outspoken AIDS activist and promoting education and compassion over ignorance and intolerance. At a time when other artists tried to distance themselves from the very audience that helped their stars to rise, Madonna only turned the light back on her gay fans and made it burn all the brighter. After "Vogue"--and its obvious debt to to the gay drag artists depicted in Jennie Livingston's documentary, Paris Is Burning--some critics would say her sidling up to the gay community had always been in her best interest.

But the relationship between Madonna and her gay fans over the years was one of mutual adoration at best, symbiosis at worst. We understood the impulses that led to some of her less-than-stellar moments and we looked the other way. She had Dennis Rodman. We had Rod and Bob Paris-Jackson. As long as she delivered what we came to expect--a soundtrack that gave us hope and allowed us, in our more somber moments, to believe that there was a place where we could be better than we were today--we continued our devotion.

By the end of the 1990s things had started to change, though, and it was Madonna herself who foreshadowed the shift. When she covered Don McLean's folk epic "American Pie" in 2000 for The Next Best Thing sound track, hearing her sing the lines "I knew if I had my chance / that I could make those people dance / and maybe they'd be happy for a while," it was hard not to be struck by the earnestness of her delivery. As she did with everything else, she made the lyrics her own. As a listener, not to mention a fan, you almost wanted to put any doubts she might have had to rest. Yes, Madonna you did make those people dance. And yes, you certainly did make us happy, and for more than just awhile. You made us downright ecstatic for many, many years. Your music continued to transport us out of this world and into another.

But for some fans the moment Madonna began talking about another type of transcendence--through the teachings of Kabbalah--was the day the music died.

In the mid to late 1990s, there was still plenty of life in Madonna's work, depending on who was taking the pulse. The problem, as some devotees saw it, was the message that accompanied the medium. Both the CD and the title song of 1997's Ray of Light could easily have been sub-titled Meditations on a Dance Floor. The song's lyrics contained a different kind of spiritual exploration than that to which Madonna's fans were accustomed. Whereas she had previously questioned religious authority--in Gaultier-designed frocks, no less--she was now turning inward and searching for answers.

Some fans didn't care, as long as she still brought the beats to the dance floor, and Music, released in 2000, delivered some block-rockers. Still, the lyrics and attitude that had earlier in her career made the press label her a "stainless steel sexual icon" were not the focus of this later work. Eventually the spirituality-cum-social message that culminated in her American Life release and last summer's Reinvention Tour left part of her audience feeling abandoned. Madonna may have only wanted to take her fans higher with her musings on the immaterial world. But as an escape it just wasn't where some of them wanted to go.

Finding God, reaching Nirvana, becoming born again, seeking a balanced center--whichever way you choose to label it, a spiritual search is an individual thing. But getting dumped? Now that's universal. After we spent hours waiting for the call that never came, it was Madonna who told us to use that dejection to our advantage. Rejection, we learned, was a powerful aphrodisiac, and looking good was the best revenge.

And that's probably part of the reason her new single, "Hung Up," has created such excitement: Madonna is back on message. Madonna is once again singing from a place where we've all been, with attitude and beats most definitely included.

"Hung Up" had barely had its legal release when my in-box began filling with the effusive ravings of the faithful. What struck me the most wasn't just the adoration and excitement that the new single had stirred among my friends; it was the song's uncanny ability to allow these people to forget the very real problems they had to face each day.

D, who said he'd "nearly swerved off the road" when he'd heard "Hung Up" while driving, has been tending to the health of a gravely ill family member for most of the year.

S, whose excitement over Madonna's new single was displayed in exclamation points and gasp-filled messages, has been diagnosed with a cardiac condition generally associated with people twice his age.

And M, who had just undergone yet another surgery for a chronic autoimmune disorder, was particularly happy; "Hung Up," with its revved-up ABBA sample and bone-crushing beats, took him back to the dance floor and distracted him from his post-op pain.

The appearance of Madonna on MTV's European Music Video Awards show caused another volley of e-mails and phone calls as the reverent frantically programmed their TiVos. After repeated viewings, we gushed about the boots, the body, and the magnetic presence. We might as well have been worlds away.

The problems we have today are different than those we faced 20 or so years ago but regardless of the issue currently laying us low, Madonna still lifts us up the most whenever she's throwing down. One day we might be ready to sit and listen more attentively to what the Kabbalah can bring to our lives, but with one version of Confessions on a Dance Floor offering seamless mixes from one track to the next it doesn't look like we'll be getting off the dance floor anytime soon.

So, Happy Madonna Day. It's time for the good times. Forget about the--never mind, I think you know the rest.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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