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Madonna, All Hail

This week, in a beautiful generational symmetry, EO and I went to Madonna’s Rebel Heart concert here in Hong Kong. My one and only Madonna show prior to this was a floor seat at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center on the Like a Virgin tour, May 1985, a few weeks before I graduated from high school. This spring, EO will attend her first formal dance and ‘graduate’ Y11 before beginning her school’s two-year IB program. Over thirty years between our rites of passage and yet here was Madonna – in fearsome form and wicked wit, middle-aged, twice-divorced, sex-obsessed, foul-mouthed – here was fucking Madonna.

Madonna cage

The Queen, in her cage.*

The fourth best-selling musical act of all time. Superseded only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.

Madonna.

The most successful solo artist in the history of the American singles charts. Let that sink right in while I say her name one more time.

Madonna.

Screw the haters. To hell with the ageist TMZ brigade. Go home if her show starts too late for you. I don’t care how old she is or who shares her bed or even what kind of person she is behind the scenes. All that matters is what she brings to the stage, and in that arena Madonna reigns. Unrivaled. Matchless. Supreme.

Madonna supper

Feast your eyes and pass the wafers.

She transported her full show to Hong Kong – not always the case with touring artists in Asia – and played for over two hours, joined by her band, back-up singers and about 20 dancers. The concert was a button-pushing visual feast of multimedia images, lights, poles, ramps, stairs, hydraulics and dance. Lots of dance. Throughout the show, Madonna moved seamlessly from one cultural theme to another: Samurais to start; Catholicism (of course) to heat things up; Matadors, Greasers and Flappers to express love and more sex, sex, sex; and then “Holiday” fun to finish. I expected the button-pushing and restless cultural curiosity; Madonna has always championed the unusual and the underground, the more provocative the better. She’s a human synthesizer, and I say that as a compliment. What surprised me, however, was the lightness and vulnerability she showed. She chatted, joked, queried and proclaimed to the audience: don’t ask questions, there is no answer. She wore the mantle of Queen both proudly and irreverently.

Madonna male dancer

Body by Madonna.

But if I could distill her performance, nay her entire artistic existence, down to one point, I would say very simply that Madonna is about the body. All shaking ass, thrusting bosom, beating heart. Her hand on a thigh and a head in her crotch. As a dancer first and foremost, she understands the visual power of motion, of open legs and intertwined limbs. Or as her concert showcased, the stunning impact of one shirtless, muscular man moving on an empty stage with only a billowing scarf for company.

Her raison d’être, if I dare to speculate, has always been about celebrating the amazing, ecstatic things we can do with our bodies, alone and in company. She made that statement with her very first single, “Everybody”, which was released in 1982. Every / Body / Come on / Dance and Sing. And she continued that manifesto by shining a light on how others try to stop us from said ecstasy, whether it’s an overbearing patriarchy, Catholic constraints on sexuality or our very own hang-ups. Every / Body / Get Up And / Do Your Thing. Madonna’s body electric is both personal and political, and she makes her stand not only with music and lyrics but movement as well. As if Martha Graham were a pop star…

After the show, EO and I speculated as to what Madonna would do between her two shows in Hong Kong. (If you see her hiking The Peak, tell her I said Hi!) I figured after 2+ hours on stage, in heels, she probably needed some serious physio, or at least a massage. The thought made me a little sad. Madonna’s getting older, her knees must be killing her.

I know a lot of people reckon she’s well past her prime, that the best she can do these days is hitch her wagon to Nicki Minaj or Drake. But I disagree. Though I hadn’t seen her in concert for decades, her Rebel Heart show was indisputable proof that her creative vigor and taste for provocation is alive and well. She still owns the stage, whether she’s alone and singing “La Vie En Rose” or leading her dancers down the catwalk in a fantastic rendition of “Deeper and Deeper”, everyone strutting and vogueing. Even EO said she didn’t think Madonna was trying to be a teenager. The Queen was dancing, singing, doing her thing, and we were lucky to be a part of it.

Madonna solo

Kneel, Genuflect, Rise, Repeat.

How many musical icons not only survive but prosper as they head gently in to that good night? How many still have something to say? The list is short. Prince, Jagger, McCartney, Aretha, Bruce? Maybe. Bowie we just lost, Streisand barely sings anymore, Diana Ross has been MIA for years. Sinatra got it right, but then who else? Who changed pop music forever? Who’s left?

Madonna.

 

*All Hong Kong concert photos courtesy of a lovely and talented friend who had way better seats than I did! 😉

 

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West Texas Boys: the good & the bad

It’s almost September and I haven’t filed on therockmom in over two months! What have I been doing? What have I been listening to?

Well, aside from entertaining the girls these eight weeks of school holiday, I’ve mainly been paralyzed with fear at the prospect of Rick Perry becoming the next President of the U.S.

Don’t laugh! And don’t underestimate this guy. He’s currently the longest continuously-serving governor around (of my home state, Texas). He can boast, fairly legitimately, of state job growth and low taxes. He’s never lost an election, going 10 for 10 since the mid-‘80s, and he has great hair.

That's a 10-4 good buddy on my scorched earth policy and the benefits of Aqua Net.

But he’s no powder-puff. If you don’t believe me, then take a look at ‘Dear Yankee’, by Paul Burka. That’ll clear things up for you.

So in the midst of all of this Perry-Bachmann anti-evolution, anti-climate change, anti-intellectual regression, thank God I’ve got another West Texas son to lift my spirits.

“Rave On” is the new Buddy Holly tribute album, and what a comfort it has been. Released this year in honor of what would be Holly’s 75th birthday (September 9), it’s chock full of Holly songs covered by some of my favorite musicians: Cee Lo Green, Fiona Apple (where have you been?), The Black Keys, My Morning Jacket, etc.

The album is a mixture of traditional and revisionist takes on Holly’s work. On the traditional side, Fiona Apple’s sweet duet with Jon Brion on ‘Everyday’, Karen Elson’s modest ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping’ (is she singing about her ex, Jack White?) and She & Him’s (aka Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward) ‘All My Loving’ sound like you’re sitting in a malt shop in your poodle skirt and letter sweater. On the revisionist side, I can totally do without Lou Reed’s grungy, feedback-heavy ‘Peggy Sue’. Man, this guy could bring down a Doris Day song! To that weirdness I’d also add Paul McCartney’s version of ‘It’s So Easy’, which sounds promising enough but then deteriorates in the last 20 seconds as McCartney blabbers on free form about a juke joint or some such nonsense. He’s so square.

Amidst the senior citizen rockers (John Doe, Graham Nash, Patti Smith) and hipster representatives (Modest Mouse, The Detroit Cobras, Julian Casablancas), the biggest surprise on the album – prepare yourself for this – is Kid Rock. With hand claps and horns, his version of ‘Well All Right’ strikes a groovy balance between ‘50s soul and meat-and-potatoes rock. Just like what John Mellancamp used to do.

Save us!

Buddy Holly grew up in Lubbock, Texas – about a three-hour drive from Rick Perry’s hometown of Paint Creek. If you know West Texas, a three-hour drive means they were practically neighbors. When I was in college, my Mom and stepdad lived in a little town southeast of Lubbock called Sweetwater. I’d drive five hours up from Austin on weekends to visit, and from about the town of Brownwood I’d play a game where I’d count how many miles I’d drive before I saw another car.

When Buddy Holly died in 1959, Perry was only nine years’ old, living on a vast cotton farm and spending, as he’s described it, “a lot of time just alone with my dog. A lot.”

Unfortunately, Perry’s early isolation didn’t breed a thoughtful, introspective gentleman. He’s more the flip side to Buddy Holly’s tender meditation. While Holly wrote and sang about a romantic world of love and loss – all by the age of 22, mind you – Perry cut $4 billion from Texas public schools.

I know it’s easy for me to look at the U.S. from afar, to read the NY Times online and pass judgment on a whole group of people who don’t believe that dinosaurs existed, or that greenhouse gases are bad for the planet. But, you know, at some point, Perry, Bachmann and those crazy junior Republican reps are going to have to accept that, for the next year or so, Obama is our President and they should just get on with building the healthiest, best-educated country they can – no matter what state you were born in, who your parents are, or what God you believe in.

That’ll be the day!