Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy Madonna Day!

Happy Madonna Day! Today is her 53rd birthday. She was born in 1958, which is also the same year that both Michael Jackson and Prince were born. They were the three biggest musical artists of the 1980s. I find that fascinating. What was it about that year that produced three icons that I (and others of my generation) grew up under? However, when it comes down to naming the most successful of the three, I would choose Madonna.

True, Michael Jackson sold far more albums and had bigger hit songs. True, Prince wrote and performed more songs (he seems to release an album a year, sometimes even a double or even triple album full of songs). But, its hard to argue against Madonna, who has consistently released music since her debut in 1983 and managed to stay relevant and interesting, without self-destructing.

I consider it a shame that Michael Jackson never learned from Madonna. Once he got stuck on a sound and an image, he didn't change. In fact, Michael Jackson never seemed to evolve past his Bad days. The long hair. The strange clothing (often inspired by the military). The same sound. No wonder why most people never stuck by him during the mid-90s until the end of his life in 2009. After his History release in 1995, he should have undergone a serious make-over, with a brand new image and sound. But, he was stuck in a rut.

Prince shared with Madonna an interest in provocative songs that often mixed religious images with sexuality. Many of his songs were sexually explicit and he was "Exhibit A" when Tipper Gore formed a concerned citizens group to bring warning labels to albums. While Prince has a great body of work to his name, he is undone by his over-saturation of the marketplace. From the mid-1980s through the end of the 1990s, he practically released an album every single year. Some of these albums might have had a good song or two, while the rest were forgettable fillers. Perhaps if he only saved his best songs, he could have released more powerful albums. However, despite his output, he did manage a few brilliant albums: Purple Rain Soundtrack, Sign o' the Times, Batman Soundtrack, Diamonds and Pearls, and The Gold Experience.

For me, though, each Madonna album is an EVENT. I bought the following albums on the day it was released: True Blue, I'm Breathless, Erotica, Bedtime Stories, Ray of Light, American Life, Confessions on a Dance Floor, and Hard Candy. She is overdue for a new album, though. Hopefully, she's working on it. If I were advising her, I would suggest incorporating Rai and Bhangra music into her new sound, titling the album Lady Madonna, and remaking the Beatles song, "Lady Madonna." I think it would be awesome if she did such a thing. It could be her wink to fans that she's not going to let copycat Lady Gaga overtake her reign as the Queen of Dance / Pop.

When I started working at the music distribution company, with part of my job having to do with listening to the CDs the company distributes, I have listened to more country music in the past nine months than I did in the previous nine years. As I listened to country, it hit me why I never got into it. I'm not a fan of the twang and a lot of it sounds the same. However, the biggest reason why I never got into it is because I've never been a fan of sad / melancholy music. A lot of country songs are depressing. "There's a Tear in My Beer" and all of that crap. As I realized my reasons for disliking country, it also hit me why I've never grown tired of Madonna's music. Nearly every artist I've listened to since the early 80s have either disappeared into music history or they got mellow with age! Elton John? Billy Joel? Sting? Rod Stewart? All of them got way too mellow in their sound. Far too mellow for my liking. We're talking Barry Manilow mellow! Even the last Huey Lewis and the News album was a disappointment (they sang a bunch of cover songs, which is what bands starting out normally do. Was original music really that hard to come by?). Just because you get old doesn't mean you should mellow out on the music! Or more like, "muzak"!

Not Madonna! Even at 50 years old, when her last album was released, she was still singing some pretty high energy dance songs. When I listen to her music, I'm energized. Only Johnny Clegg's music energizes me more. Granted, I don't mind a good mellow album (Youssou N'Dour's The Guide / Wommat is the most perfect melancholy album I've ever heard), but most of the time, I want my music to energize me. This is why I love Madonna more and more. Despite her age, she refuses to mellow out like all the other 80s pop stars. Though her albums might not sell as many as she used to, I'm glad that she still maintains her recording career. I really, really want to hear her incorporate Rai / Bhangra / Bollywood music into her sound. I think that's the next step for her musical evolution. What else can I say about this lady? Six years later, I'm still listening to Confessions on a Dance Floor on a frequent basis (its the perfect workout album!).

For the past few months, I've been reading Life With My Sister Madonna, which is her brother Christopher's memoirs about what it was like growing up with his famous sister. Publishing such a book meant being frozen out of her life, which is a shame. Its not like he revealed anything truly earth shattering about her. I'm not surprised by anything he has written. I already know that she's a demanding control freak. What's interesting in the book is that Christopher said that his sister doesn't like socializing with other celebrities. He explained that Madonna always has to be the center of attention and she gets bored when the conversation doesn't revolve around her. What a waste! I would think one of the best benefits of being a celebrity is the easy access to other talented people for networking purposes and collaboration projects. George Clooney is the perfect example of a celebrity who mixes well with other celebrities.

Another thing that Christopher reveals in his memoir is that Madonna has the tendency to make the dancers on her tour be a surrogate family while on the road. She lures the dancers into thinking they have an authentic friendship with her, but after the tour is over, she cuts them loose and rarely thinks about them ever again. This trait was perfectly on display in the 1991 documentary Truth or Dare and wonderfully spoofed by Julie Brown in Medusa: Dare to be Truthful. To me, that's the saddest reveal of all. There's no true affection, loyalty or longevity. People are expendable to her. If you connect with someone, wouldn't you want to maintain that connection for as long as possible? Perhaps I'm wired differently, for I make friends for life, not for a season or a tour.

Despite the difficulties for a super famous person to find worthy and authentic friendships / relationships, I think Madonna is remarkable in that she has not self-destructed like many other artists: Elvis Presley (who died this day in 1977), Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain...

Keep on making great music, Madonna! You can count on me to be there on the day your albums are released to get the next hit on your fantastic energy. In honour of her Madgesty's birthday, I present a video to her high energy song "Heartbeat" that was performed on her Sticky & Sweet Tour. Enjoy!

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