What up yo.
I want to talk about Madonna.
I grew up in the era of Madonna.
My brother Derek and I used to call her Madumma.
We were kids, 10 & 11…watching this new “MTV” channel and we wanted to see Van Halen‘s “Panama”, maybe Joe Jackson’s “Stepping Out”…but instead…
“Oh great, another Madumma video!!”
This is the 1980’s.
Mom had just passed away.
My Pop had a pretty tough task on his hands so he put out ads for women that would come and stay with us and watch us and help raise us.
We spent time with them, a few of them…and became very influenced by them in the early to mid 80’s.
Watching a ton of movies on cable that Mom wouldn’t have liked and Pop didn’t know about.
Well, we did manage to successfully order The Playboy Channel once. It was like goddamn Christmas.
Till he found out.
And he found out…he put a password on the Cablevision account.
We tried to call them to re-activate it, pretend we were him…we both had and have deepish voices…Derek could always do a great impression of my Pop…
May as well tell you story.
The call went something like this.
“Hello this is Cablevision, how may I help you?”
“Yea…this is Al Candela.”
“Hi Mr.Candela. Can I have your home telephone number and account number please?”
“Sure. That’s ###-###-####. And the account number is ###########.”
“Ok, is this Mr. Candela at ## Blank street in Huntington, NY?”
“Yea that’s me.”
“Great Mr. Candela, how can I help you today?”
“Yea. It seems that The Playboy Channel isn’t on anymore at my house. Do me a favor, reactivity that for me, would you?”
“Yes Mr.Candela. Well I see that you called us up and cancelled that channel a few days ago…”
“Yea, listen..that was a mistake. Could you just turn that back on for me.”
“Sure, that will be no problem. I’ll just need the password you put on the account and we can reactivate that for you right away.”
“The password…Oh right. Tell you what. Let me call you right back.”
“Derek! He put a fucking password on the account!!”
“What the hell could it be?”
“I don’t know!“
Derek’s always calm and collected in these situations.)
Me, I’m beginning to laugh.
Like nervously laugh.
I’m actually crying with laughter writing this.
So Derek decides to call them back.
“I’ll handle this. Give me that phone.”
(I start hysterically laughing as quietly as I can while Derek starts to dial.
Just un-fucking-controllable laughter.)
“Hello, this is Cablevision, how may I help you?”
“Yea hi. This is Al Candela. I just called before, sorry about that..Did I speak to you?”
“Yes you did Mr. Candela.”
“Ok. Listen. I want to reactivate The Playboy Channel at my house.”
“Yes Mr. Candela. Again, that will be no problem…I’ll just need that password you set up on the account and we can turn that back on for you right away.”
I’m dying. Here it comes…
“Yea listen. Just forget about the password.”
“Yea, I changed my mind. Just forget about the password. Erase it. No problem.”
“Yes Mr.Candela. I would need the password first to erase it.”
“Oh. Ok. Sure, I understand. Duncan?”
Duncan was our first dog. Pop didn’t like that dog. What the hell was Derek doing?
He was on the front lines man, taking heavy gunfire.
We were at Defcon 1
“Yea. Isn’t that the password I gave you?”
“No Mr. Candela, it’s not.”
“Oh. That should be it. Let me call you back.”
- Pop – 1
- Derek & Wes – 0
MTV began in 1981.
We knew all the new music, artists and videos because the channel was on constantly.
By the time we got into our late teens, our musical taste was closer to that of people 10 to 15 years older than us than that of kids our own age.
Madonna was never my cup of tea (or gasoline for that matter).
I liked rock music. I still like rock music.
When I was in ninth grade in 1989, the video for Madonna’s “Express Yourself” came out.
Madonna was moving into what seemed like the third phase of her of her career already and she’d only been around since 1983.
“Desperately Seeking Susan”, “Like A Virgin” & “Material Girl“
Then she cut and bleached her hair in 1986, married Sean Penn and became the “Who’s That Girl” Madonna. No one photographed Madonna like the late photographer Herb Ritts did. He shot this for the “True Blue” album cover…one of my favorite pictures from one of my favorite photographers
And finally, in 1989, the Blond Ambition, “Truth Or Dare” & “Vogue” Madonna was born and unleashed onto the world
At this point MTV had become an essential platform that new artists needed too work with in addition to their music to make it in the music industry. In my opinion, no one…except Michael Jackson…dominated MTV like Madonna did. The first MTV Video Music Awards took place in New York City at Radio City Music Hall in 1984.
Madonna took the stage for the first of many legendary VMA performances and performed “Like A Virgin”. Wearing a wedding dress with her silver “Boy Toy” pin stuck to the front… she rolled around the stage simulating sex in front of the thousands of people in the audience, on a show that would be broadcast to millions, while hosts Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler looked on shocked… And changed the music industry forever.
Derek and I weren’t calling her Madumma anymore.
I’m convinced now that without Madonna, there’s no way MTV would’ve risen to the heights it did.
So back to 1989. It’s the era of “Guns N’ Roses”, the era of “Public Enemy”, the beginning of mainstream ( excellent) rap music, the era of the Supermodel, the era of MTV, the era of excess…
it is the era of Madonna.
Madonna is hot, you get the picture, but she’s not some lazy music celebrity.
She’s a worker, she’s a dancer, she’s a performer…she’s an artist.
She hires a director to direct her next two music videos, videos that will impact her career greatly.
This director is an up and coming music video director with aspirations of working as a film director one day.
This director is David Fincher.
I’m watching MTV and Billy Idols new Music Video premieres.
It’s a cover of The Doors L.A. Woman. Love Billy. Loved The Doors (After seeing Oliver Stones film). But wasn’t necessarily glued to the tv for this…until the video began to play, and the visual aesthetic began to unfold. It was unlike any video I had ever seen.
It had the glamour and polish of Billy Idols video for Cradle Of Love, which at the time was massive on MTV and had everyone in an uproar…
But was this one was different.
It was ambitious. Dark.
It was a vision of L.A.’s underground nightlife that was a mix of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (which wouldn’t come out for 10 years) and George Millers The Road Warrior.
I blew my mind. I thought it was a visual masterpiece that was escaping everyones eye somehow ( and still do).
I waited a few months until a VHS tape was released of Billy Idols Music Videos, and I grabbed it for the sole reason that it had this video on it.
I studied this video, played it over and over again.
This video, and Cradle Of Love, were both directed by David Fincher.
So five years later, after having my brains blown out by Se7en, I did my homework and found out that this was the man that had created the Billy Idol video that rocked my face off six years prior.
Everything was beginning to make sense…
See if you dig what I did.
BILLY IDOL L.A. WOMAN MUSIC VIDEO:
So when you take Finchers genius visual, creative and original mind…
Then mesh it with the creative juggernaut that is Madonna.
You have a perfect storm.
Both “Express Yourself” & “Vogue” were in this constant rotation on MTV, influencing both Pop Culture and the Music Video worlds.
To me, I never like fads or what’s popular. If it’s too popular I avoid it until everything quiets down around it, all the Fad Vampires leave for the next big thing for them to suck on and I can appreciate it fully. That’s how I felt about Madonna. It’s not necessarily my type of music, certainly wasn’t when I was a teenager…but when I began to look back years later, as I got older and my tastes got a bit more refined…as I developed a love for photography and began to understand how visual minded I was due in part to my love of film …and…music videos really…I started to notice her contributions to the music, film and pop culture world. I could see what she had pulled off, what vision and courage she had…and she began to astonish me. Also, and maybe it’s just that I notice this more nowdays… but to me, diverse racial representation in the media in the late 1980s was a fuck a lot better than it is now. There was a unity , a beauty of all colors…a peaceful expression, a natural fluid togetherness in what was presented to the public that I feel has been lost for quite some time now in media. Madonna always seems to represent all races, genders and sexual orientations pretty equally without bias. Maybe it’s just me, but I swear that things have regressed in that way now. Seems to me that by her just being who she was, not giving a fuck about what anybody thought of her, by her being natural, she in fact presented a very positive message to her fans and to the public as a whole over the years. People may argue that, but I’m just saying what I feel and its my blog so I’ll say what I want.
It didn’t seem like she was pushing boundaries as much as presenting her vision of what was beautiful. And I dig that.
I just flat out respect the hell out of her.
Now…onto the videos.
MADONNA EXPRESS YOURSELF MUSIC VIDEO
“Express Yourself” the video. I’m not saying it makes a fuck-lot of sense… cats, milk, men in rain, turning some huge gear like out of a tripped out Thunderdome…but it’s beautiful. Fincher is a master, he is honing his skills here, refining them, developing them.
MADONNA EXPRESS YOURSELF MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS, 1989
She gets onstage at the 1989 VMA’s, the cheers from the crowd alone give you an idea of how excited everybody was to see Madonna perform her new single. Watching the performance is proof , is testimony of her devotion. Up on stage sweating, singing, dancing…with two people at her side…putting everything she has into her performance. She finishes and she is visibly pumped, proud of herself and aware of what she has just accomplished. She dominated. The best part is the final “YEA!!!”
Living in and taking advantage of the moment completely.
MADONNA VOGUE MUSIC VIDEO
You think you’ve seen it all and then Vogue is unleashed. Again teamed with David Fincher, shot in black-and-white (I really hope someday we get a nice remastered version of this), Madonna creates an entire movement. The song is an anthem. If “Express Yourself” was iconic, “Vogue” is career defining. “Vogue” is forever.
MADONNA: VOGUE MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS, 1990
The scale of the next year show is visibly bigger, more grand. Madonna would perform “Vogue” on this years show. With the production bigger than anything MTV had ever seen on it’s VMA show before. The number is complex, choreographed to the second. By the time Madonna is carried off stage… she’s a queen, and she knows it.
MADONNA PHOTOGRAPHS BY HERB RITTS:
HERB RITTS: PHOTOGRAPHER