The Big Issue : Edition 506
THEBIGISSUE4–17MAR2016 15 Brigitte Nielsen, with a touch of that other iconic blonde, Marilyn Monroe, offset by jet black caterpillar eyebrows – but, then, time moved slowly in Port Melbourne in the 1980s.) We could then leap forward to 2000, when I bought a tape of Music (released by Madonna in that year) while on an ill-advised road trip with a visiting Swiss tourist with whom I was attempting to conduct a holiday romance. As the silences between us became increasingly icy, I found solace in the title track, ‘Impressive Instant’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me’. And then there was 2006, when I spent most of the winter wearing the same clinging pink outfit (well, mine was probably a few thousand dollars cheaper) that Madonna did in the video for ‘Hung Up’, the extraordinary single from her then current album, Confessions on a Dance Floor. There are plenty of other examples, but I share this handful of vaguely digressive anecdotes as a way to wonder aloud whether – in our rush to praise Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and their ilk from the rooftops – we’ve forgotten Madonna’s standing as one of the most crucial pop artists of our time. Is this possible? The facts speak for themselves: with more than 300 million records sold, she’s the best-selling female artist of all time. But what can Madonna do at this point in her career to remind us that she is also one of the world’s most intriguing pop artists? MADONNA LOUISE CICCONE has always been nothing if not chameleon-like. With the release of each new album, the question isn’t so much, “I wonder what the songs will be like?” (until the late-90s, the answer was inevitably “Not all that different”), but more, “What persona will Madonna have adopted now?” At times it has seemed as though no-one was more aware of this than the woman herself. USICALLY SPEAKING, WHEN it comes to your “all-time favourites”, there are bands and artists that spring to mind immediately. If someone bails youupataparty,onadate,orata family function and asks, “So, who do you like?”, they’re there at the drop of a hat. The question sets off a Pavlovian response and you promptly spout a handful of names: perhaps The Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton, Midnight Oil, AC/DC’s “early stuff, before the new guy...” The favourites are the obvious ones: the artists whose records routinely top “best-ever” polls in magazines and on radio stations; perpetually in the collective unconscious; the cream that rises to the top of pop cultural memory. I’ve always been more interested in the second-place getters – the performers whose music and art has long played a key role in your life but who, for whatever reason, you forget at that crucial moment of being quizzed. For me, that artist is Madonna. Had you found yourself discussing popular songs with me over a plate of canapes at a party any time in the past few decades, chances are Madonna wouldn’t have rated a mention. And yet, when I look back over my life, there she is, appearing at pivotal moments like some sort of musical fairy godmother. We could start back in 1986, which was when I received my first invitation to a birthday party with a dress-up theme. The theme – chosen as it was, I assume, by the parents of the four-year-old child we were celebrating – was “punk”. Looking at photos of me en route to the party, I am clearly dressed (despite the presence of a Sex Pistols badge as the sole nod to the party theme) as Like a Virgin-era Madonna. (By 1986, Madonna herself had actually adopted her True Blue look – platinum blonde a la Helmut Newton’s muse M The entertainer known as Madonna has always pushed the boundaries. But, on the eve of her Australian tour, Clem Bastow wonders whether the star has forsaken her revolutionary roots.