There was a time when I was young — and I mean, like, super young — when I routinely brought to school with me the Madonna and Like a Virgin albums, as well as the “Angel/Into the Groove” single. Cassette tape versions, no less. The little school desks we had back then included a small compartment on the inside right at the inside edge, molded by the metal form, designed to hold pencils and other utensils beyond the text and notebooks that were pushed back into the hollowed out workstation. It was on the furthest left side of that compartment where I stored those cassette tapes; in fact, that section was exactly the width of those old cassettes.
Not once in my memory do I recall them played in the classroom, or in a “ghetto blaster” at recess, or a Walkman. I just brought them with me and stored them in the desk all day like jewels, artifacts that a collector wouldn’t dare leave out of eyesight for a sustained period.
I had no idea what “Like a Virgin” meant so, perhaps needless to say, it wasn’t my favourite. In fact, I can’t recall the original allure, but I was a fan back then in a way that I never could be again. One day Noreen asked me if I’d heard the new song, it was “Live to Tell,” and, coming from a household that listened to only country radio, I said no. I got the True Blue album on vinyl soon after, woefully convinced it would be the format in which I’d continue from that point to build my collection. The following year, I bought with my allowance the Who’s That Girl soundtrack… on cassette.
And as far as Madonna goes, that was it for me.
Too young to understand what was happening artistically with the You Can Dance compilation as well as the Dick Tracy soundtrack, by the time Like a Prayer and the first Greatest Hits albums came out I was exclusively a country music fan. But even in my young mind the promotional antics (the Pepsi commercial, the Sex book) proved more a turn-off than attraction.
This morning I watched Madonna: Truth or Dare for the first time and I love it, but I think only from an historical perspective. It predates The Real World, the grand-daddy of reality TV, and so doesn’t pack nearly as much a provocative punch as it must have 25 years ago. From this distance, as a 2016 entertainment, it still works. Remarkably.
In an age of information abundance, it seems necessary to search out the things beyond what’s spoon fed to us. Two years ago I found the extended mixes of “Who’s That Girl” and “Causing a Commotion,” two of my all-time favourites. I personally edited them down to a more manageable (for my ears) 4.5 minutes, and fell in love with the small flourishes, deviations from the 30-year-old original mixes that made the songs new all over again.
Likewise today, Truth or Dare wasn’t enough. While browsing online after the film ended, intrigued by the bit players (my “Where Are They Now?” concerns regarding the backup singers and dancers), about a half hour of mindless clicking and reading led me to Ciao Italia: Live From Italy, the concert video from 1988. Apparently it’s the full performance from the 1987 Who’s That Girl Tour. This is the tour that preceded Blonde Ambition and it very much prefers performance and song over spectacle. “Like a Virgin” was part of a medley, for example, that included “Dress You Up” and “Material Girl,” and somehow managed a delightful mashup with “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch.”
It’s perhaps the one Madonna tour I would’ve preferred, had I ever the option to see any one of them live.
You can almost sense the idea of a film like Truth or Dare developing from that 1987 experience, in the same way we’ve all taken our turn at some point to say, “my life should be a reality show.” Compare the little boy dancer who shows up every few songs on stage to the way she later refers to herself a mother-figure in the movie. It’s like Who’s That Girl was a transition tour, a mile marker separating the “take over the world” ambition from the Dick Clark interview on American Bandstand from the self-aware performance artist that came almost immediately thereafter.