Whitney Houston was glowing and gorgeous and pitch perfect the first time I saw her perform at the Summit. She was the first female singer I truly adored. I remember her hair, her smile and her glittering gown, slit up the side almost to her waist. And I am forever grateful that my dad had no objections to taking his 12-year-old son to see his first pop diva.
At that time, Madonna was someone I didn’t pay much attention to. I remember seeing “Borderline” and “Lucky Star” on the Billboard charts I would cut out of the newspaper. But at 12 years old, admitting I liked Madonna felt like a betrayal to Whitney. I used to get in heated arguments with my cousins over who was “better.”
I was Team Whitney. They were Team Madonna. I couldn’t understand why.
It didn’t hit me until “Like a Prayer” in 1989.
Something about that album, sonically and visually, deeply resonated with me. The themes and ideas were unfamiliar and seemed dangerous, like something I shouldn’t be seeing. The striking imagery of “Like a Prayer” echoed elements of my casual Catholic upbringing. I never felt connected to religion, but I was intrigued by Catholic symbolism and imagery; a rosary reminded me of my grandparents.
“Express Yourself,” a gorgeous ode to the 1927 film “Metropolis,” explored ideas of gender, sex and wealth. The album’s other songs – “Promise to Try,” “Oh Father,” “Keep it Together” – touched on family and death. It was all revelatory and surprising and inspiring. I was hooked.
I saw Madonna for the first time in May 1990 at the kickoff of her Blond Ambition Tour at the Summit. I was 15 years old, and my dad was no longer along for my concert outings. I went alone, bought a T-shirt and watched in awe as Madonna sang, stripped down to a corset, cursed freely and easily commanded the thousands in attendance. A severe blond ponytail cascaded down her back and made her look like an evil genie.
MTV was there filming the show, which added to the hysteria. I remember spotting a pair of drag queens dressed as Madonna across the venue. They looked like models, and they knew every dance move. I recounted the entire experience in my speech class with an oral presentation, poster collage assembled from magazines and a medley that took me hours to produce on cassette. I earned an A – and it was the spark that pushed me to become a writer.
When Madonna’s “Sex” book was released in 1992, I scoured the city to find it, finally locating a copy at Town & Country Mall. My dutiful parents drove me to get it just before closing time. The book’s photos, featuring Vanilla Ice, Naomi Campbell and Big Daddy Kane, are graphic but truly gorgeous. They still make people blush.
I spent years trying to find a rare set of “Like a Prayer” mixes, finally getting them in 1996. It sparked my love of remixes, which now includes hundreds from pop, R&B, rap, Latin and country artists. I spent lots of time and money at Record Rack on Shepherd, Bruce Godwin’s oasis of rare tracks and imports that closed more than a decade ago. That still makes me sad.
Every Madonna album since has given me something: the criminally underrated “Erotica” and “American Life;” the lush R&B bounce of “Bedtime Stories;” the towering, influential beauty of “Ray of Light” and the disco-heaven of “Confessions on a Dance Floor.” I found the chewy center in 2008’s “Hard Candy” and think much of the electro-pop current running through 2012’s “MDNA” was ahead of the curve.
Last year’s “Rebel Heart” is Madonna’s finest work in a decade, a diverse collection of songs that found her alternately defiant and vulnerable. Radio largely overlooked it. But she’s still queen of the dance floor. “Bitch I’m Madonna” was her 46th No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart, making her the artist with the most.
She’ll perform new and old songs Tuesday at Toyota Center. I’ll be there, lip-syncing along to every word.
The annual Madonna events at South Beach nightclub have become reunions of sorts for a small circle of friends. No matter how long it’s been, we come together for a night of music and video, Madonna shirts and selfies. It draws a huge crowd of new and longtime fans who sing along with every iconic hit.
Madonna’s music continues to be a part of my life, now that I’m a father. Before our son was born, we painted his nursery with bluebirds and music notes. Lyrics from one of Madonna’s sweetest songs are written high across a wall:
“Never forget who you are, little star.”
It’s a credo Madonna herself, despite so many tired carps about age and gender, seems to have carried throughout her own life.
By Joey Guerra (HoustonChronicle)