Earlier this month, we celebrated the 30 year anniversary since “Everybody”, Madonna’s very first single, was released back in 1982. Back in March, right after her Superbowl performance and the release of her newest album MDNA, Chauncey wrote the first chapter of his growing essay or very unconventional thesis on the career of one Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone and how he interprets her existence in the popular consciousness still to this day.
You can catch it right here : From Madonna to MDNA : The Trangression Chapter One
This weekend marked a shocking twenty years since Madonna delivered the insanely gargantuan and dangerously risky one-two punch of the “Erotica” album and The “Sex” Book the day after…the world has certainly not been the same since. Of course the intended trifecta consisted of the film “Body of Evidence” released a short while later. No other pop star before or after her seems to have even considered venturing anywhere near the territory she conquered and mercilessly stabbed her flag into. Would it even be necessary? Would it even cross their mind?
The album is a sacred fan favourite and heralded as one of her most intensely wild yet cohesive eras in which she completely immersed herself in her work and made some of her most artistically daring videos and artistic decisions. ”Erotica”, “Deeper and Deeper”, “Bad Girl”, “Fever” and “Rain” received the full treatment and if watching all five videos one after the other you may not even believe that it is the same woman in each one. ”Bye Bye Baby” was released as well, using her MTV VMA performance, which was extracted from the 1993 tour that supported the album called The Girlie Show This is when Madonna was at her most ferocious and exciting and there was no question that she was taking risks…it was how dangerous those risks would be. The build up began years earlier with the blasphemous fireworks display of the “Like A Prayer” Pepsi controversy and it’s subsequent singles and public appearances and performances. We were starting to see a different Madonna. She was using bigger weapons and making grander political statements. Soon after, “Vogue” took over the world paving the way for an action packed world tour filled with button smacking moments and obscene theatrics that proverbially ‘ruffled some feathers’. Her opposition naturally became stronger, her detractors multiplied in numbers, yet her devilish antics and rebellious attitude definitely rose to the occasion. This was all captured in the early 1992 release “Truth or Dare” documentary which allowed her to still relish in the unwavering spotlight and attention from 1990′s Blond Ambition Tour after it had ended and worked as a perfect segue to what was to come. ”The Immaculate Collection”, her first greatest hits package arrived with two brand new songs. One of them surely sounded like nothing she had ever done before…or since.
“Justify My Love” was the first single to promote the hits collection and was a massive, worldwide smash indebted surely to the accompanying video banned by MTV because of its nudity and in your face elements of homosexuality, bisexuality and sadomasochism. Despite how far she had gone, the song and video were drenched in a passionate and almost severe romanticism and lushness, albeit with a definitely filthy aftertaste.
“Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another” were lyrics from the song featured at the end of the clip that summed up the entire revolution she was leading. In a world still reeling from the damages and destruction and mystery of HIV and AIDS, she wanted to remind everyone that it never was and never will be a bad thing to admit to and explore your fantasies and to certainly act on them if it makes you feel good. She was a strong advocate of the power in the idea of ‘consent’ and always was in control of her image from day one. She never claimed to be the saviour of the gay community but she was without a doubt a pied piper of sorts for those who felt disenfranchised, persecuted, targeted, despised and ultimately feared and neglected. Her fans and entourage never pulled out the victim card but instead grew stronger and more resourceful with every attack and setback. This is obviously something she was familiar with in her own experiences and her enemies simply gave her life. Growing up gay and ultimately ‘different’ leads you to the same haphazard and self proclaimed royalty.
“Do You Know The Queen’s English?”
Jose & Luis, lead backup dancers for the Blond Ambition Tour released this underground club hit featuring “The Queen” herself circa 1993
“Erotica” and The “Sex” Book came out just as I was fully coming out as a homosexual myself…venturing into Manhattan as often as possible to discover and uncover and explore the seedier side of the city as well as the culture and electricity that was so close, yet so far away from the small town in New Jersey I grew up in. Thank God for the PATH train…I certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near the adventurous and imaginative, toughened yet optimistic adult I am today if I didn’t have such an accessible escape into the fiery magic of New York City as well as the power of anonymity that any big city can offer you. But enough about me…we’re talking about Madonna!
The album also pushed the limits of how much music could fit on one compact disc at the time…clocking in at around 72 minutes (the limit back then) featuring 13 tracks on the ‘Clean’ version and an extra 14th track called “Did You Do It?” on the version bearing the usually designated to rap albums of the time’s ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker.
Following her blasphemy and vulgarity and hyper sexual themes in her recent projects, everyone expected something they would never expect…and that’s exactly what they received. ’Erotica’ was obviously packaged and presented as something lathered in dirty sex, raunchy lyrics, things we were supposed to be ashamed of, feel guilty about and rocking with tons of taboo. After all, its soon to be released sister project “Sex” was expected to be a coffee table book of porn not pornography featuring Madonna in full shock mode. The most shocking part about Erotica was that although it had its crude, catty and trashy moments filled with one half jazzy, sultry hip hop inspired tracks and the other half armed with sleaze house and Chicago house beats and production, the album was quite mature in its honesty and beat poetry style lyrics and melodies. There were songs that were quite cold in delivery and what seemed to be intentionally vacant. There was a sense that Madonna was a bit wounded, bitter and fed up but certainly not defeated and in anywhere near the road to throwing in the towel. The songs had lots of campy garnishes strewn about and it was truly serious about not taking itself too seriously, not an easy feat.
The title track was probably the most sexually upfront track of the lot but still unreachable by the alter ego caricature of Dita, the character she adopted for the kick off of the album and portrayed throughout the entire Sex book. With erotica and romance, one usually feels the sense of losing oneself and succumbing to the trappings of the fantasy world but Madonna flipped that around as she was certainly the dominatrix of her own life and instead of sugar coating her personal relationships through her music, she was often blunt, acidic and bitchy. Madonna has been so successful as a musician and an artist and dare I say it, “businesswoman”, because she gives us what we want…but we didn’t know we wanted it until she delivered it to us. Like all her work, some critics hated the album and some loved it…it is definitely supremely underrated and remains close to pretty much every fan I know’s heart as a chipped yet sparkly gem in her massive catalog. She tackled love, loss, helplessness, sadomasochism, sorrow, hopeless romanticism, addiction, self discovery, joy, revenge, charity, self revelation, the AIDS crisis in an homage to those she’s lost to the disease and even snuck in a cheeky ode to cunnilingus. Something for everyone and everything to someone for sure.
Here is part one an interview she did in Milan promoting “Erotica”. For the other parts simply visit the YouTube page and they should appear in the sidebar
In recent interviews, it seems she’s not as proud of her creative output around this time period as her die hards fans are and that definitely disappoints me but at the same time I can somewhat understand her point of view. Back then, she was who she was because of her previous experiences and the rhythm of her ascent of universal stardom and world domination and inevitable turn as the whipping post and source of embarrassment she almost knew was next. She was the embodiment of cool and chic and everyone wanted a piece of her courage and sense of adventure. But perhaps all those qualities are the product of insecurity or irresponsibility and the survival techniques involved in keeping your fame burning its brightest and hottest. It did always bother me how quickly some people have turned against her and deny their one time fascination with her. Perhaps it comes with age and they are embarrassed about how much they worshipped her just as she is as embarrassed for the way she acted in those years she halfheartedly denounces in recent interviews.
Often times in life, people do anything they can to diminish and destroy those who are their teachers and those who did the right thing when it was unpopular because being at the forefront of any movement automatically brandishes you with a certain level of power, respect and honor. After the road has been paved, they can denounce the person who cleared the road and made the struggle a lot less painful because they become obsolete in their eyes…that is until another mountain needs another person with the amount of sticks of dynamite to get the job done. There is a fine line between choreographed popularity and productive infamy as well as only a wardrobe change between the court jester and the canonized martyr.
Always known for pushing cultural and societal boundaries and buttons like a sugar-fueled, hyperactive adolescent in a giant arcade house, Madonna truly scrambled up all of her treasured influences and inspirations to marinate some meaty taboos and unconventionalisms. Finally seasoning it all with heavy handed amounts of her trademark sense of humour and sarcasm, she served it to the world whether they were hungry or not. There had always been an obvious sense of raunch and vulgarity twisted through everything she had done up until that point in her career, but this era was not so much about the physical bawdiness or whorish image she wore as a uniform throughout the 1980′s as it was about the deeper and darker psychological and personal aspect of sexuality and fantasy trying its best to survive and exist and thrive in a very Puritanical America. Funny enough, with the exception of her struggling years and working as a nude model, this was the first time since then we saw her completely naked. Her body was beautiful and her body was in fine form, looking probably the most feminine and conventional it had ever looked. Some critics even snarked that this was Madonna at her most Narcissistic and she was basically creating a photographic time capsule at zenith of her body’s beauty potential. Even if this was remotely true, can you blame her?
I was 16 at the time the book was released and even though you had to be over 18 to purchase it, I managed to look a little older for my age back then and got through the checkout at The Waldenbooks at Newport Center Mall in Jersey City, NJ without a hint of danger. Being able to buy the book when I wasn’t supposed to be allowed to added to the naughtiness of it all. I rushed back to my hometown to meet up with one of my best friends and fellow Madonna fanatics. Naturally, we ended up meeting at the stadium in town at one of our high school football games. We skimmed through it together after gently removing the mylar packaging (the book was sealed like a condom…intentionally for the message as well as to ensure nobody could sneak a peek at what was in those sacred pages until they paid the $49.95 it was priced at. Realizing we would not have any privacy and needed to examine every single page properly, we escaped and went to his room in the basement of his parent’s house and the journey began. Inside each book was an audio cd with a different version of “Erotica” called “Erotic”. There were more lyrics than what were on the album version and the production was a bit more raw and intense, the track was obviously only intended for those who were prepared for what they would see inside those pages.
Here is a video of the special version of the track accompanied by pictures from the Erotica video, the Sex book and various other photos from her career.
The opening notes in the book basically set the record straight on what the book is about. It’s about sex. In her words, “This book is about sex. Sex is not Love. Love is not Sex. But the best of both worlds is created when they come together…” Seems like a fair warning right? The opening pages feature a lot of the lyrics from the song “Erotic” as we figured you were supposed to be listening to as you started reading through, acting as a sort of soundtrack to the heavily S&M themed photography with a strong helping of lesbians and leather. She definitely gets some of the most physically jarring images out of the way right off the bat. One of the lesbians used to run “Mother”, a former meatpacking district gay underground mecca that housed infamous parties like “The Clit Club”, “Meat”, “Click ‘N Drag” and “Jackie 60″). There is sex with the young, sex with the elderly, a rape scene with her previous lover Tony Ward, an awkward set featuring Big Daddy Kane (who shamefully never takes his boxers off) and Naomi Campbell, a set with her and Vanilla Ice fooling around in public, wild group shots of an army of model like men at The Gaiety (former legendary Times Square Gay Strip Club) with Madonna clad in a gorgeous Bob Mackie gown trying to get in on the action with German cult film actor Udo Keir (who also appears in her Warhol inspired “Deeper and Deeper” video), and all the way down to a beautiful set of androgynous, romantic and quite cinematic shots with longtime friend Ingrid Casares and actress Isabella Rosalini. Quite a mouthful and quite an eyeful as well.
The writing in the book varies from a string of letters to her boyfriend, teasing him with stories about Ingrid, her lesbian plaything as well as narrative stories that sound like secret diary entries to her philosophies on various types of sex with various types of people. The photographs, by the magnificent Steven Meisel are all absolutely gorgeous and strong and range from simply voyeuristic to well structured and planned still lifes. My and my friend Damian’s only complaint is that there was only one penis in the entire book and it was flaccid. There are a great deal of thought provoking and clever images, simultaneously capturing Madonna’s body in possibly its most natural and feminine. Like I mentioned previously, when the book came out, some people made comments about her creating the book to capture herself in her finest moment physically and it was strictly a a vanity project. I don’t think hitchhiking naked on the highway nor walking into a pizzeria, casting off your fur coat and eating a slice of pizza naked was simply done for purely Narcissistic reasons. The book is loaded with gorgeously artistic and oftentimes ironic images complete with a vast assortment of various versions of Madonna that prove how much creativity, devotion and commitment she had invested in this milestone of a project. There’s also a fantastically hysterical mini comic book in the back binding called “The Chelsea Girl” which I have posted in order down below at the end of the post.
A special treat that only leaked onto the internet years after it was created is a short film shot in Super 8 during the photoshoot sessions for the book titled “Sex The Film”. It was originally planned on being released in arthouse theatres in a few cities but plans were scrapped and it was only shown at the book release party back in 1992.
Here it is for your viewing pleasure :
That about wraps up this chapter of this ongoing series of run-on sentence splattered and criticism induced defensive ramblings that I have begun crocheting together from time to time…the next installment will most likely come to fruition after I experience the last performances I plan on attending of her current MDNA Tour in New York City and possibly North Carolina (if the universe allows). By the end of my unexpected overconsumption of her concerts, I will hopefully have seen the show a record breaking (for me) six times. The Confessions Tour was experienced by myself a total of three times in 2006. I leave my in depth, biblical musings of the religion that is Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone right before The Girlie Show occurs in the timeline, my very first live Madonna concert experience back in 1993. It was October 17th. I was 17 years old and I sat in seat 17.
To be continued.
For now…enjoy Dita in “The Chelsea Girl”