I was really struggling to figure out if I bought Madonna’s second album before I bought the first one. It’s very important that I know. I do know that I was a Cyndi Lauper fan first. My 6th grade picture features my spiked hair (I spiked it because I was in love with Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon, who also had spiked hair), mismatched earrings, and a Cyndi Lauper pin on my shirt. Thank you, Cyndi, for giving me the courage and the fashion sense to express my elementary school self.
Cyndi was a lot of fun! She looked cool, she was so unusual, and I wanted to be just like her. If only I could move to New York and shop at the cool thrift stores she scoured to create her outrageous style! If only my mother would let me dye my hair red and shave half of it off with little squares in it. Sigh. It was not to be. But my mother did not hate Cyndi Lauper. She did not think I should imitate her, of course. But I do not recall her speaking negatively overall about her.
Madonna, on the other hand, bugged the shit out of her! Madonna was so overtly sexual, she had such a fuck you attitude, and I was so taken with her. Not that my mother was ever a prude, but I think she just didn’t like that I was so into her when I was only 11. And when she writhed around the stage at the MTV Awards? Forget about it. That’s it—that’s when I first saw Madonna. The 1984 MTV Music Video Awards. It was the fall of 1984, and I was in 6th grade. Now I got it. I was a devoted MTV viewer at the time, as were we all. I don’t remember hearing much about Madonna before her performance, and I really don’t remember thinking it was so bizarre or sexual for her to do what she did. But my mom hated it. She thought it was disgusting.
I don’t know if my mother’s hatred of Madonna made me like her more, really. I just think that I was intrigued by her because she just didn’t give a fuck. Who doesn’t want to be like that? Her look was a slutty version of Cyndi, and I wanted to look like that. I already had hundreds of rubber bracelets and junk jewelry, so now I needed to tie dirty rags in my hair and wear crucifixes and fingerless gloves. I needed to.
The picture of Madonna on the album sleeve with the lyrics was exactly what I wanted to look like. She’s got her white, fingerless, lace gloves on, tons of chains and beads on each arm, she wore this great dangly heart earring (the other ear held a cross), her boobs were about to pop out of her top, her hair was a sexy mess, and her makeup flawless.
I was not allowed to wear makeup, but I could wear all the jewelry I wanted. Broken chains, fucked up earrings, pipe cleaners—I would make fashion out of anything I found! I always wore the colored rubber bracelets, and the ones filled with sparkly water, plus whatever random crap jewelry I had on the right arm; the left arm was exclusively reserved for my extensive collection of black rubber bracelets. I tied up my spiky hair with old scarves that grew stiff from all the hair spray and Dep hair gel I needed to keep my hair looking sharp. How I longed to bleach my hair! But since I had good parents, they did not allow that to happen. The closest I ever got was when we went to Virginia Beach the summer after 7th grade and I used sun-in; my dark brown hair turned orange.
Madonna’s videos got more popular on MTV, and the ones from her first album definitely helped create the Madonna wannabe sensation, of which I was a card-carrying member. Her outfits in “Borderline” and “Lucky Star” were just fabulous! When we saw her dancing on the gondola drifting through the canal in Venice in the “Like A Virgin” video, holy shit, that was the outfit! Black dress with cut-out sides over blue Spandex leggings, tons of necklaces, hair looking messy with roots showing, but that was on purpose. Wow. I was very impressed. There are many cool outfits in this video, including the lacy fluorescent green/yellow top with black bra-looking thing underneath, sexy, low-rise black skirt with decorative spiked belt, and her hair neatly tied up in a large black bow like a female factory worker in the 40s. Stunning.
The video for “Dress You Up” presented a more covered up Madonna. Hmm. Not sure how I felt about this. You could still see her bra under her lacy shirt, but she was wearing a gaudy jacket (gaudy now, the height of fashion then), tight green skirt (you could see her belly), and leggings again! I loved it, though I really wanted her to just take the jacket off and show us her bra! But I saw this as the formal Madonna, you know, what she might wear to high tea or a fancy dinner. I liked her best when she was skanky. Because I wanted to be skanky, too.
All of her videos were amazing, and each one gave me new ideas to express myself through my appearance. But some were more about attitude. The “Material Girl” video was the greatest thing ever. I would play that song over and over and over while dancing like Madonna on my bed in front of the dresser mirror. I hated pink, so I had no pink gown like she did to look more authentic, but I had the moves like Madge back in the day! If only I could be as glamorous and scandalous and she was. (That would come much later.) I wanted to be a tease, I wanted to use men for their money and let that experience make me rich! That would be the solution to all of my 6th grade problems. All I wanted out of life was for boys to like me.
But they didn’t. I was a freak. I was the only kid in my school to wear all that jewelry—everyone knew me as “Mrs. T”—the only girl with spiked hair, the only one completely obsessed with celebrities to the point that I thought I was one. I mean, I was notorious, and all the kindergarteners thought I was cool and colorful; they would play with my jewelry when I sold milk in the lunch room. I loved that everyone knew me! I was the Madonna of my school.
There were some parents who did not like me; I think they thought I was a bad influence on their kid. Funny. I rebelled in elementary school, and never went on to have sex, do drugs, drink, smoke, or sneak out of the house. My good friend Barbara had a super religious mother—she always reminded me of the crazy mother in the movie Carrie—and though I spent a lot of time at her house and she came over to mine a lot, her mom thought that rock ‘n’ roll was the devil’s music. This was not the 1950s. This was 1984. I couldn’t believe that anyone felt that way anymore. But I did not care. Rock ‘n’ roll was my life!
Madonna guided me through the end of elementary school and beginning of junior high. Her music and videos and fashion influenced me more than I realized at the time. I mean, I was obviously physically trying to be like her, but as I look back at the woman I became and the way I conducted myself at certain times in my life, I can trace so much of that back to Madonna. When her nude pictures came out and so many people criticized her, she blew it off; why should she feel ashamed? I liked that, not because it was some new age feminist statement about owning her sexuality (which it was, but I did not think in those terms when I was 12), but because I wanted to be bold and outrageous and get away with shit. To many people, that is dangerous. The influence Madonna had on me during my formative years ran pretty deep. She brought me to being confident in myself. She brought me to love Marilyn Monroe. And most importantly, she brought me to the gays! I am thankful.