Watching Madonna’s Superbowl half-time spectacle earlier this year, I couldn’t help but feel like a voyeur. I wasn’t watching so much for the entertainment as I was to check in on her aging process. Even when I don’t care much about her music, Madonna is always fun to watch. So when I was invited to go to the Madonna concert on October 2nd at Key Arena in Seattle for my sister’s 44th birthday, I didn’t hesitate. I am always curious about Madonna, and the nostalgia factor was high for this event.
When I was 18 and a freshman at the University of Washington I contracted mono and had to leave school early to recover. After spending a month or so back at home on my parents couch watching “Starsky and Hutch” reruns in a steroid and Demerol induced haze, my best friend and I convinced our parents to buy us tickets to Hawaii to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle. The plan was for us to help them with their three young children, wash dishes at the local Pizza Hut and take a class or two at the University of Hawaii. We lived on the “big island” in the town of Hilo at the edge of a sugar cane field. Hilo itself was not a super popular tourist destination as it is located on the rainy side of the island. At that time, without the internet, cell phones, or other technology, Hilo was at least a couple years behind Seattle as far as fashion and culture trends were concerned. This was the summer of 1984 and Madonna’s self-titled first album was playing endlessly on my tape deck.
I had a little new-wave thing going on that summer. My best friend and I had matching asymmetrical haircuts with one side shaved short. We wore denim miniskirts, stretchy lace accessories, and armfuls of black rubber bracelets. One day I went into a little store in Hilo, and a man looked me over and said “you look just like that singer Madonna!“. I really didn’t look like Madonna, but I had all the garb on, and no one else in Hilo was doing it yet.
By the time I got back to Seattle for my sophomore year, Madonna had hit the mainstream and her first and second albums were a guilty pleasure for my roommate and me. So as not to betray ourselves to our Clash and Patti Smith-listening hipster friends, we would sneak down to the parking garage in our dorm and sit in her car and listen to “Lucky Star” and “Borderline” and smoke clove cigarettes.
The years passed and Madonna continued to remain solidly part of the mainstream culture despite her repeated attempts at being edgy (not unlike myself). Despite that, I continued to check out her albums as they were released, leafed through her fascinatingly awful “SEX” book, and was entranced by the train-wreck that was “Truth or Dare“. Madonna is seven years older than I, born August 16, 1958 (we were both born in Michigan). Her daughter Lourdes was born in October of 1996 a year after my daughter Bella, and her son Rocco a year after my son Nicky. Madge is a devoted mother, and her struggle with Catholicism, her well publicized spiritual searching and her passion for yoga were all aspects of her life that I shared. When the Vanity Fair issue came out featuring pictures of her in different yoga poses I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
Of course Madonna is a fabulous star with a rock hard body and a posse of servants and publicists and stylists, and I am just a regular old woman. But still, I’ve always followed her, and after 30 years she kinda feels like an old friend.
October 2nd, the day of the concert arrived, and my sister and our two girlfriends briefly discussed what to wear. Naturally we ended up in the slightly upgraded “going out” version of our usual mom uniforms – pull the leather jacket out of the closet, grab a slightly larger pair of earrings, slap on a darker shade of lipstick, et voilà! There were many die-hard fans however, both male and female, who opted for the lace glove, tulle skirt, Like-a-Virgin get-up, and because Madonna showed up on stage two and a half hours after the doors opened, we had plenty of time to ogle them. With no opening act other than an average dj playing average pop hits, we milled around the arena, drank a few $9 beers and talked and laughed and looked at all the fabulous people in their fabulous outfits.
We had seats up in the rafters slightly behind the stage with no view of the giant screens to see the action up close. After wandering around the arena for a while, we spied a bunch of empty seats a couple rows back from the stage and made a beeline for them like they were ours. Lucky for us, no one ever showed up to claim them. Two and half hours after the doors opened, just as we were beginning to move from “annoyed-that-She-was-late” towards “give-Us-our-money-back-pissed”, the lights dropped, a church bell started ringing, and a giant thurible was lowered from the ceiling and swung back and forth “incensing” the crowd. Shortly after, Madonna entered the stage on a giant, back-lit, pope-worthy throne, and all traces of irritation were replaced by awe and enthrallment for the next two hours. And thanks to our $350 seat vantage point, it was all happening right in front of us.
Madonna was tiny and ferocious and beautiful, and I quickly found myself less interested in her aging process and any “work” she’s had done on her cheeks and more interested in her total awesomeness as a dancer and entertainer. As always she was surrounded by amazingly talented and beautiful dancers who moved over stairs and narrow catwalks and stage props with ease, sometimes while wearing 6-inch stilettos, boys and girls alike. There was one beautiful, tall, black, presumably gay male dancer whom I couldn’t take my eyes off all night. During the song “Vogue”, the dancers came out in various costumes and vamped and posed around the stage, and he was nearly naked save for a tiny pair of spandex shorts and super high pumps with glittery diamond-studded heels and a hat with a giant brim. Madonna has always embraced and drawn inspiration from LGBT culture, and this show was no exception. She considers herself a “freedom fighter” for gay rights, and whether or not you think she’s helping or hurting the cause, it would be hard not to be inspired by the celebration of diversity and life that flows from her show.
There were male and female dancers, straight and gay dancers, dancers hanging from the ceiling playing drums, dancers dressed as ninjas and assassins, Madonna with a machine gun, Madonna with a guitar, dancers dressed as monks, Madonna in a corset, a marching band, a choir, breakdancers, guys in white robes chanting in Sanskrit, boys in dresses, slackline acrobatics, Madonna in a pantsuit, Madonna pulling her pants down to reveal a glimpse of her perfectly toned, g-stringed buttocks with a promise for more disrobing if Obama is elected in November, Madonna being playful on stage with her son Rocco, videos of Lil’ Wayne and Nicky Minaj singing along with her, Madonna in a bed, cheerleaders….it was exhausting and super fun. We left with a new respect for Her Madgesty, and a good feeling that hasn’t left me yet.