By Lisette Prendé
I dressed up in my hippest outfit for the evening. I wore my blue stonewash jeans with pink high top sneakers and a denim jacket. It was the late 80’s and denim on denim was considered an acceptable fashion choice.
Under a shroud of moonlight we ventured out for a night on the town. After a visit to the toy store, where I procured my very first My Little Pony (baby blue with pink hair), we headed to McDonald’s where I was allowed to order whatever I wanted. I chose a Hamburger (no pickle) Happy Meal with a chocolate thick shake and a chocolate ice cream sundae for dessert.
I ate slowly, relishing every exhilarating moment of being up well past my bedtime. As I chewed and slurped I gazed around the restaurant at all other people who were out and about at this crazy hour (7pm), just chilling, like it was nothing special. I noticed a group of teenagers at the table near us. They were laughing loudly and throwing pickles at each other. I couldn’t believe it. They were out at night without their parents! Nor could I believe that one day I too may do the very same thing.
One girl at the table caught my eye. She had hair like mine, blonde, curly, but hers, in hindsight was probably permed. She wore it piled high on her head in a messy pony tail. She was dressed in a pair of ruched pink leggings, a tulle mini skirt and had a heavy dusting of bright purple eye shadow on her eyelids. But it was her T-shirt that caught my eye. She wore a black t-shirt with a picture of a pretty lady on it. A lady I knew from somewhere, but where? She looked so familiar.
The lady on the t-shirt was pretty in a strong dominant kind of way. She had hair once again, similar to mine. Dark golden blonde and wavy. She wore it loose and it hung below her shoulders. She wore a black bustier with pearls and a long rosary around her neck. Her lips were bright red. Below her picture was one single word, written in red jazzy font.
I turned to my mother and asked “Mummy, what’s a Maddo-Nah?”
My mother’s eyebrows met each other in confusion as she chewed and swallowed her mouthful of fillet-o-fish. “What’s a what? She replied.
Her eyes slid sideways as her mind tried to turn the cogs that may uncover the meaning behind what I was saying. I figured it was time to give her a clue, to I extended a small finger at the teenage girl who wore the T-shirt. My mother turned her head to see.
“Ooohh! Madonna!” She laughed “You mean Madonna! She’s a singer!”
“What does she sing?” I asked innocently.
What followed would have been embarrassing if I were older than 12, but at six my parents could do no wrong. As they both launched into a rendition of Madonna’s greatest hits, I simply watched in awe. Soon I realised I knew these songs! I loved these songs!
The group of teenagers turned their heads and sniggered as I sung along with my parents to such gems as Material Girl, Lucky Star, Get into the Groove and, Like a Barge-in (sic).
After the remnants of my thick shake rattled their way up the straw it was time to go home, but not, my dad announced, before we make one last stop.
The record store was located on the main road, down a flight of linoleum steps. Music posters lined the walls, advertising Michael Jacksons’s Bad, U2’s Joshua Tree and the upcoming Battle of the Bands at the Hillcrest Tavern. I tottered down the steps behind my parents and passed a cardboard cut-out of a handsome woman in leather pants by the name of Bonjovi. My parents lead me up to the counter, where a green mohawked young man stood applying sticky price tags to a stack of records with a price gun.
In response to our request for “Maddona’s latest album”, he asked simply. Record or cassette? We opted for cassette. I looked down at the familiar pretty lady on the cover, dressed in a wedding dress. There it was. My very first album.
At home I lay awake in bed listening to what would become the building blocks of my musical education. There had been other music before this. My parents had definitely done their part in exposing me to the classic greats, but this was my first musical investment.
From Material Girl, I learned the importance of a good beat and that simplicity in music is always very effective, but that catchy clever lyrics can’t be beaten. From the music video of the same song I learnt that surrounding yourself with lots of men can only help increase your sex appeal and that everyone looks pretty in a pink dress.
From ‘Like a Virgin’ I learnt eventually that the lyrics were not in fact “Like a Barge-in” and that it is best not to ask your mother what ‘virgin’ means in front of her church going mother-in-law. I also learnt of the power that vocal performance has on a song. Like a Virgin wouldn’t have anywhere near that same about of chutzpah if it wasn’t for Madonna’s sweetly demure vocal delivery. From the video I learned that in Venice there are lions that walk the streets.
I learnt about covers from Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, when after announcing it as my favourite of the album my dad advised me that “she didn’t even write that one herself!” He proceeded to dig out an old album by Rose Royce. After he dusted it off and whacked it on the record player, I was torn. I couldn’t decide which was better. Thus I learned the very nature of the cover. The intention is to bring something new to the original, not necessarily to surpass it.
Madonna taught me a lot. They say it takes a village to raise a child and I’d have to say that Madonna was part of my village. She taught me swagger and sexuality. She taught me to go hard or go home. From Madonna’s Like a Virgin I learned the basis for good classic synth pop, which has not been effectively replicated until the release of Taylor Swift’s 1989 – another one of my favourites!