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2. Madonna, Rebel Heart

As Madonna prepares to release her new CD, Hard Candy, four Advocate staffers share how they became enthralled with the icon and what she's meant to them ever since.

By Neal Broverman

When Madonna barked at me to "Get up on the dance floor!" I was 12 and lived in a town four years away from having a juice bar. But I heeded her orders like any good disciple and turned my kitchen into Danceteria, voguing in Hanes socks and studying my reflection in the door of my mother's range.

Before the Vogue era I knew of Madonna but hadn't paid much attention. Like a child, I judged her from other people's perceptions, which consisted of "She's a slut!" "She touches herself!" "She's a slut!" By 12, I was ready to stomach her intoxicating mix of glamour, allure, and self-confidence. She had boyfriends, money, beauty, smarts; she went to nightclubs, lived in Hollywood and New York. She was the girl everyone talked about. I wanted it all and she said I could have it.

As I matured, my love for her didn't wane but rather spiked at various times; I found myself especially drawn to her when coming upon her darker songs open to interpretation. Ray of Light's "Skin" was all sex and drugs, two subjects I found eminently fascinating in the late '90s. A few years later, the romantic desperation of Music's "Don't Tell Me" played to my first failed love affair. I was intrigued -- and mystified -- by Madonna's anticonsumerism anthem, "Nobody Knows Me," on American Life.

Some can't reconcile Madonna's wildly varying characteristics -- "How can she write a sex book and a children's book?" "How can she be on TV but not watch TV?" "How can she be nearly 50 and still like sex?" Yet her contradictions only make my devotion grow deeper (and deeper). She's conflicted and complex, ever morphing and growing, right often but wrong plenty. She's a Leo like me.

Her habit of shedding skins has never seemed manipulative but rather the natural growth process of an interesting person. I've been a hippie, a raver, a rebel. And even if I don't wear Birkenstocks anymore, that time is still part of me, as I'm sure all her "personas" remain part of her.

While she's forever changing up her style and tastes, through it all she's always been around, reassuring in her constancy. I mean, I still dance to her music in my kitchen, only now I'm wearing better socks.

Broverman is The Advocate's associate editor.


By Michelle Garcia

Being the liberal, freethinking, power-to-the-people kind of folks my mom and dad are, the most logical course of action concerning my development was to put their oldest daughter in Catholic school. For the first five years of my academic career, I was taught mostly by disgruntled old ladies who were able to hit you and make you feel guilty for just about anything.

Each year at the Immaculate Conception School, each teacher stood before his or her class and gave detailed examples of sins not to commit: "You may not use the words 'shit,' 'damn,' or 'ass,'" Sister Francis told our first-grade class. I imagined Bishop Daily of the archdiocese of Brooklyn and Queens distributed an official decree, sanctioned by Pope John Paul II himself, to each teaching nun to allow one day per year that she may use swear words, strictly for instructional purposes.

"You also must stay away from a musical artist named Madonna, the name stolen from the Holy Virgin Mary," she said, making a sign of the cross. "She is dirty and obsessed with material that is not appropriate for young children."

At age 5, I was only vaguely familiar with the Material Girl, but I felt I had to know more in order to form my own opinions about her. And besides, I could have been watching a blood-filled soft-core porn movie, and my grandma, who watched us after school, would not have lifted her eyes from her latest Tom Clancy novel.

So that afternoon, I left the safe waters of PBS and Nickelodeon to turn on MTV back when it played music videos during the day. "Vogue" eventually came on. Not only did I wonder how the video was supposed to be harmful or provocative, but I found her captivating and powerful. Granted, I wasn't watching "Human Nature" or "Like a Prayer," but I wouldn't have known any different.

It seems that through my childhood and into adolescence, adults shunned Madonna. I've been told to stay away from her more times than I can count: Don't listen to her music, don't read her book, don't wear dominatrix outfits, and so on.

But as I watched her vogue for the first time, sing passionately in front of a burning cross, and wear a cone-shaped bra, I saw Madonna for who she is, beyond the labels of sex and rebellion: an artist who pushes boundaries and defies the status quo. We need more people like her in the world, at minimum to keep things less boring, but more important, to keep us moving forward in thought and artistic expression.

Garcia is The Advocate's editorial assistant.

By Meghan Quinn

In the fall of 1989 a shy, ugly, and awkward 8-year-old girl went into a Sam Goody with her mother and a few weeks' allowance and walked out with a cassette tape of Like a Prayer. This music, this woman on the cover showing off her midriff would come to change her life.

I had discovered Madonna only a few days before while exploring this new cable TV thing we got after moving into our new house. I was flipping through the channels while my parents weren't home and came across a station that played videos; all videos, all day. I remember being totally sucked in by a mini-movie of Madonna overseeing a factory and screaming out to the "girls who believed in love." She was strong, she was loud, she was sexy. She shook me up and I became obsessed with hearing more of her. I bought all the past albums I had missed and committed them to memory. I was a quiet kid in school who frequently got picked on and mistaken for a boy. Little did they know that when this latchkey kid got home she put on her mom's makeup and bras (stuffed to make cone shapes) and danced the afternoon away pretending she was that strong, loud, sexy woman who ran the factory.

All through my tomboy years I did this and had to keep my love for her and her music secret. My dad hated her, and she was banned just as strongly as politics and Married... With Children around our house. He once caught me taping the "Like a Prayer" video (of course he had to walk in on the scene with burning crosses), blew up, and erased the whole tape along with some of my mom's favorite films at the time, like Outrageous Fortune.

I got older and my musical taste changed. In my high school years, I hung out mostly with goth, industrial kids and a spunky group of riot grrls. I would blast L7 and Nine Inch Nails in the car with them and then on my solo drive home pop in some Immaculate Collection to wind down from the night. It's good to go back to your roots from time to time. She had a song for every emotion. For the times you felt sad and defeated, there were her empowering dance ditties that reminded you not to "settle for second best." To this day, when I have a shitty day and have to remind myself not to go to that negative place, I put on a little Madge and dance it out.

Madonna was and is more to me than a musical genius -- she helped me learn how to own my femininity and what it means to be a strong, loud, sexy woman.

Quinn is The Advocate's associate photo editor.


By Louis Virtel

In 1999 my eighth-grade classmates in suburban Illinois waged a war: the Total Request Live one between the Backstreet Boys and Limp Bizkit. Carson Daly served as a sullen, surrogate Walter Cronkite. I, however, burned my draft card, bought the Immaculate Collection video anthology, and retreated to a life in my basement of religious devotion -- to a deity, a doyenne, a Midwest-born sorceress named Madonna.

I didn't know I was gay; I just knew I was a born Ciccone disciple. During that summer, I watched and re-watched her famous black-and-white "Vogue" video like a hypnotized seminarian. The ultracamp vid featured stark, cold imagery reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich photos and meticulous, geometric body movements. I rehearsed each of Madonna's poses in secret defiance, valuing each hand fold and neck toss as a stylized strut toward invincibility -- or, at the very least, ownership of my sinewy, 13-year-old body and the empowerment to discover my place at the top of the world.

Madonna never felt like just a pop star. She was my deserving empress who called for her followers to dance, fight, and proclaim identity. Her superhuman appendages -- cone bras, platinum tresses, monocles, cross necklaces, an unashamed navel -- elevated her image to the stuff of mythology. Somehow she also represented something unmistakably human, a misfit Midwesterner who embodied the urgency and work ethic of a scrappy showman. Madonna represented a turning point in my life -- the time when I decided my ambitions, observations, and passions could qualify me as a force, not just a person. I clench that electricity within me, always, and I dream of sharing it en masse in my writing.

Madonna's my icon. She remains my millionaire Aphrodite, my blue-collar street fighter, and the most holy redeemer of a 13-year-old who learned that asserting your self-worth provides that elusive, beautiful gateway to immortality.

Virtel is a former Advocate intern and current contributor.

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