23 September 2014


Talking to You about . . . Madonna
(Part of my series on Rob Sheffield's Talking to Girls about Duran Duran)

Of all the complex females in my life, Madonna was the one who taught me how to be completely exasperated by a woman, and how to like it. She was the first woman who ever told me I can dance (I can't) and the first who told me I came when she wished for me (I'll have to take her word on that one). I literally never go to the movies without thinking about that scene in the "Into the Groove" video where she puts her head on the guy's shoulder and lets him feed her popcorn. She screwed me up good. Oh, Madonna--you put this in me, so now what? So now what?

At the end of the post on karaoke, Brandon helped me to decide between Madonna and Morrisey by pointing out that it is the former who has become more of a universal language. Or as Rob Sheffield would put it, borrowing Madonna's own lyrics, it is she who has put something in more of us. And she was able to do it because she has always understood better than most people how the symbols of a culture work. But I doubt that most of us, whether we love her or loathe her or fancy that we are completely indifferent to her, could describe with Sheffield's certainty what influence she has had in our lives.

I'm a little luckier in that respect: as I mentioned in my main Reading Diary entry on Talking to Girls about Duran Duran, my mother decided not to end a teenage pregnancy because of Madonna's Papa Don't Preach. A few months later, your blogger was born. Pop culture is powerful like that. Which is not to say that my mother would have made a different decision in a world where Madonna sang a different song, but that Madonna's song helped her to put into words, and later also into action, her own deepest beliefs. It's usually the songs and symbols of a religious culture which have that power.

Lourdes was nothing like I pictured it. From books, I had imagined a peaceful solemn spot in the woods, a quiet little grotto where I could enjoy an unmediated, unspoiled moment with true divinity. Instead, it was like Las Vegas. There were neon lights everywhere, signs for motels and gift shops, stands selling special Lourdes candles. There were tourists everywhere. And I loved it. I loved how Las Vegas it was, and my main emotion was relief. I loved all the electric glare and the noise. I loved hearing all the excitement in the different languages and accents. It wasn't so different from going to a hard-core all-ages show at a punk club on a Saturday afternoon, brushing up against other people's bodies, letting go of my boundaries, trying not to get spooked about the push and rush of the crowd.

There's something about being plugged into the same spiritual socket as a whole bunch of other people that can make an experience feel more intense. I'm hardly an extravert, but I totally get this. I also know the catch. A mass of individuals will eventually and inevitably turn into one body, although only a mass of Christian individuals can be fairly sure that that body is led by the right Head. (Meaningful pun not intended, so don't feel bad if you didn't see it.) There's an element of "Non serviam" in choosing to like different music from what everyone else around you likes, although, as the 90s showed us, even the "Alternative" kids ended up conforming to their own crowd . . . and liking it. 

For it's wonderful when the things that are meaningful to us are also meaningful to others. This sympathy can unite two people in friendship or millions of people in culture. On the one hand, it meant nothing that a former friend of mine was completely unfamiliar with one of the biggest hits on the charts when we were both in high school; on the other hand, it said everything about her when, one night at a particularly plugged-in pub, she was literally the only one in the room who couldn't sing it when it came on the radio. I had known that she hated her parents' decision to move to the Philippines when she was in her teens, but I hadn't thought that it extended to rejecting one of the best Pinoy Rock songs of all time.

Or am I unfairly measuring her by my own standards again? I'm inordinately proud that I can sing every song on Haley Westenra's first album, which was released during the time I lived in New Zealand. My Kiwi friends and I weren't huge fans, but we didn't say no to those free tickets to one of her concerts, did we? I can also belt out some Delta Goodrem songs, just to be annoying, because she's Australian and I get what that means, too. ;-)

After I returned home, someone asked me whether I had experienced any racism while I was there. I answered honestly: not at all. Although there was some tension between native Kiwis and international students, it never seemed to extend to me or to my other foreign friends. And if I had to pinpoint the reason, I'd say that it was because we were quite willing to speak the local languages of British English, The Lord of the Rings, Whale Rider, and even Haley Westenra. Well, not also Maori, which is actually the second official language--but we still picked up a lot of important words. In short, we let ourselves get plugged in; we let New Zealand put something in us.

But can it also, as Madonna would say, justify our love? Will we find, at the end of our pilgrimage into pop culture, that it was worth letting ourselves be changed?

Your Turn at the Jukebox: Is there a pop culture artefact that makes you feel plugged in with more people than you can normally connect with?

Image Source: Pilgrims at Lourdes


Brandon said...

One of my most vivid memories is of being in Oxford one summer in college; and I was in the Junior Common Room at Keble College with a whole bunch of other people. There was a jukebox. And Don McLean's "American Pie" came on the jukebox. And all at the same time, everyone in the room, American and English (and I think there was a Scot or two), burst out singing the song. Of course I'd always grown up hearing it; it turns out it was huge in England, as well. (The fact even gets complained about in the Show of Hands song "Roots", which is also relevant to your topic: "without our stories and our songs / how will we know where we come from?".) It was just sheer camaraderie.

Enbrethiliel said...


That's a great memory! =D I've also memorised the American Pie chorus, of course, but I'm sketchy on the first few verses. LOL!

Roots is great. Thanks for telling me about it. =)

love the girls said...

I don't pug in because I'm always much more observer than participant.

But keeping with the same theme of music and people.

When we took our daughters to a Wiggles concert some years back.

I suppose there was some kind of unity as parents with our little ones up at the stage dancing and singing to their hearts content.

Itinérante said...

I really know nothing of pop culture and I can't sing any popular song (sadly) but even being this ignorant, I deeply enjoy when this happens and people just get so connected like one choir. It seems right!

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- LOL! That reminds me of one of my company's clients, who had to take his daughter to a One Direction concert. Apparently, there's a lot of camaraderie among the poor fathers of teenage boyband fans. ;-)

Itinerante -- Believe it or not, I had a hunch that you would read this post . . . and I thought about embedding a recording of the Filipino song I mentioned, so that you could have another guessing game! Maybe I'll edit the post later or leave the link and questions here in the combox.

People singing together can be wonderful! Do you remember when Brandon posted daily quotations from St. Peter Chrysologus? The one which stuck with me the most was about singing making shared labour lighter on everyone. That's why we have work songs (or at least we used to!) and hymns that are meant to be sung in a group. =)

DMS said...

I have always felt that Madonna had a huge impact on my life because she wrote about things I could relate to and her music/movies/persona helped me to connect to other people when I was growing up. I think she also helped me learn to accept myself for who I am. So, without a doubt she has been someone that has connected me to other people. I would also say Harry Potter has helped me to connect with others. When I talk to others who have read the books- I just feel that I know them better. What an interesting question to think about.

Itinérante said...

Enbrethiliel-- Hehe I am glad you had this hunch but..A little secret... I read all your posts ^^ but true that some are easier for me to relate/comment on!

I do remember that!! In fact really oddly today I was reading again the some of the sermon excerpts of St. Peter Chrysologus! Jinks to the memory!

Random note: It's my birthday today and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank God for getting to discover you through this blog this year. You add knowledge, joy and a lot more to my days! And you are a fantastic person ♥ truly ♥

Enbrethiliel said...


Jess -- Madonna and Harry Potter make an interesting combination! LOL! But then again, not surprising: both of them got their fans to dress up a little strangely. ;-) Both the "wannabes" and the "Potter-heads" could be spotted at a hundred paces! And yes, I think that the feeling of connectedness was a huge driver of their success.

Itinerante -- Belated Happy Birthday! I'm so touched by your kind words! <3 And thank you so much for reading.

And now here's the song, as a kind of birthday gift (LOL!) . . .


I tried to think of questions like the ones I asked last time, but this one is such a straightforward narrative that I couldn't think of any which didn't make the correct answers obvious. =P So just tell me what you think it's about. =)

Itinérante said...

Oh sweetness =) This is a very cool birthday gift, thank you!!
I have to admit I could not even take a guess at what they were saying but the song set me in a good mood this morning so I am going to dare and say it is about a lovely road trip with the beautiful scenery in the Philippines? Wind through the hair of a beautiful lady in a nice vintage car and a dude in love...
How off am I?

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, you're right about the dude in love ;-) . . . but I'm afraid that it's a sad song about a lost love. He knew a woman when they both were young, and they liked dancing together to old-fashioned records (Hmmmm--a euphemism, perhaps? LOL!), but her family forbid them to keep seeing each other. So they grew up apart, and the next news he heard of her was that she was a single mother with a dead-end job until she died in a hit-and-run accident. =( So now he just remembers the days when she taught him both to dance and to love.

And now that I think about it, that's not such a great birthday gift, is it? =P I'm sorry! I'll find you something a bit more positive--but it won't have anything to do with my story any longer. LOL!