Steve Ralls

Happy Birthday, to the Diva Who Brings Us to Our Knees

Filed By Steve Ralls | August 15, 2007 7:51 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: birthdays, Cyndi Lauper, kabbalah, Madonna, Malawi, reinvention, steve ralls, The Advocate


It was on August 16, 49 years ago, that the world bestowed upon us the magnificence of Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. The little girl born in Bay City, Michigan would arrive in New York in 1978 with $35 in her pocket . . . and the world would never be the same.

Madonna has reinvented the model of a successful businesswoman; reinvented the music industry; challenged our pre-conceived notions about sexuality and art; shown us the proper use of a riding crop; and taken the world on a journey of empowerment, individualism and sheer electro-ecstasy. Along the way, she has also discovered Kabbalah, campaigned for an end to the AIDS epidemic, adopted an orphan from Malawi, had two children of her own, married a successful film star (then a successful film director) and sold 175 million albums. She has, as the character Edwina Monsoon noted on Absolutely Fabulous, “dragged us kicking screaming” into the future.

For all that, and so much more, we take a moment to give thanks for her Madge-sty and the empire of fabulousness she has built for us. We are, after all, only guests on her dance floor.

When she first appeared on the music scene, one critic wrote that Madonna wouldn’t last, but Cyndi Lauper would be with us forever. With apologies to Cyndi, one hopes the critic has been appropriately tarred, feather and shipped off to Siberia. There has, perhaps, never been a more mistaken prophecy in the history of pop culture. Mrs. Ritchie has stayed . . . perservered . . . and dominated. She teaches classes, amazes masses, and inspires countless gay men to want to be her.

“I am my own experiment,” she once said. “I am my own work of art.”

Along the way, Madonna has always taken her gay friends along for the adventure. “In school and in my neighborhood and everything, I felt like such an outsider, a misfit, a weirdo,” she told The Advocate. “And suddenly, when I went to the gay club, I didn’t feel that way anymore. I just felt at home. I had a whole new sense of myself.” She went on to say that, “I feel like I’m always working with gay men. For some reason, that’s who I have the most camaraderie with. I don’t really know why. I think, on the one hand, I feel their persecution. They are looked at as outsiders, so I relate to that. On the other hand, I feel that most gay men are so much more in touch with a certain kind of sensitivity that heterosexual men aren’t allowed to be in touch with, their feminine side. To me, they’re whole human beings, more so than most of the straight men that I know.”

And when asked if the music industry was homophobic, she replied: “They’re not going to be when I get finished with them.”

Madonna is a woman of her words, and she rarely minces any of them.

“I like the human body,” she also told The Advocate. “I like flesh. I like things that are living and breathing. And a finger will do just fine. . . . I’m not really interested in dildos.”

From lecturing us about the wastefulness of dildos to buying a house for the Messiah, the Queen of Pop has done it all.

Madonna has shown us how to be spiritual (“There’s Mary Magdalene—she was considered a fallen woman because she slept with men, but Jesus said it was OK. I think they probably got it on, Jesus and Mary Magdalene.”); powerful (“Sometimes you have to be a bitch to get things done.”); and opinionated (“Listen, everyone is entitled to my opinion.”). And on top of it all, she’s shown us all how to put our fierceness on display, without shame, and “get up on the dance floor . . . Vogue.”

Yes, we owe much to her Madge-sty. She defined the 80s, sang to us from the balcony of the Casa Rosada in the 90s (for which she was robbed of an Oscar) and danced into the new century a reinvented icon of magnificence. She’s always been there for us, even when “time goes by so slowly.”

And she's never once been shy about living her life like she wants it.

“When I get down on my knees,” she once pronounced, “it’s not to pray.”

And so today, as we near a half-century of living in Madonna’s world, let’s get down on our knees . . . on the dance floor . . . and show some love for the Material Girl who dared to be herself, and along the way, dared us to be who we are, too.

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Leland Frances | August 15, 2007 8:31 PM

Oh me oh my. When I first started reading this I thought it was a send up of Madge Queens, but the more I read the more you appear to be serious or stoned or both. Chacun a son queer. :- )

At least this helps explain your intoxication with Reichen "Do You Want Me To Take My Shirt Off Now" Lehmkuhl. Maybe you can combine both fantasies and Her Madgeness will perform on Reichen's "Lift the Ban" cruise. You know, the one where he's exploiting concern about DADT while not even pretending to give any of the profits to SLDN....

Grace Jones anyone? Jobriath? The New York Dolls? Somewhere Disco Tex and the Sexolettes are weeping, I tell ya. Weeping!

There's a lot of bold claims here. Can you explain how Madonna "reinvented the music industry"?

Seems like she just appropriated a bunch of stylistic tropes from gay subculture and sold them back to us on behalf of corporate america.

Steve Ralls | August 15, 2007 8:40 PM

Actually, I don't remember expressing any opinions about Reichen or his cruise. ;-)

But I DO have to ask (and perhaps show my age): What is a Madge Queen, Disco Tex and the Sexolettes?

Steve Ralls | August 15, 2007 9:00 PM

For starters, she was the very first musician to embrace the LGBT community, bring them front and center to many American homes, and send a message to millions of people that sexual orientation was not something to be attacked . . . but rather to be admired.

She also turned the male-dominanted industry's subjugation of women on its head: Madonna showed that women, too, could be powerful sexual beings. And she took on the Catholic church's outdated stereotypes about race, gender and sexuality. I'll also wager that she's given more money to AIDS charities and gay causes than just about anybody reading this blog.

There's been no musical artist more copied, more talked-about or more critiqued than Madonna.

If it wasn't true that Madonna was a one-woman phenomenon, I don't think she'd hold the record for the highest-grossing female tour in history, or that she would have stayed such a point of debate among the public.

She's done good things, above and beyond her music, and she should be saluted for that, too. She's a modern-day feminist, gay-rights activist and cultural icon.

Leland Frances | August 15, 2007 9:30 PM

First clue: "FLY NAKED" jewelry....

As for showing your age [or a fresher, bigger, full-length picture of your David tatt perhaps :- )], camp, like love, is often wasted on the young, but never apologize for it [not that you were].

And thanks for the opportunity to discuss the Queen's Vernacular and one of our all-time favorite records and moments in time.

"Madge Queen": from the camp practice of combining a [usually] benign use of the term "Queen" for gay man with another noun identifying a passion he has, e.g., Size Queen [not that you are]. Madge Queen = Madonna Queen. Such usage is, as I'm sure you know, one of those once exclusively gay expressions that have made been adopted [stolen?] by nongay culture and used, probably as often as not, to describe a nongay person of either gender, e.g., Drama Queen. The variations and ubiquitousness of nongay use of closet, closeted, in the closet never cease to amaze me. Why oh why didn't we copyright it?

Disco Tex [AKA Monte Rock III]: An outrageous, bejewelled, feather boaed, pock-marked, seemingly always speed-high Puerto Rican hairburner turned singer who had one megahit, "Get Dancin'" just as disco was reaching its orgasmic best in the gay community, and before being adopted, hell, stolen, by straights, but getting enough attention that even Johnny Carson, Merv "Kiss Boys? Who, ME?" Griffin, Mike Douglas, Dick Cavett, et al., had him on.

He's now moved on to Vegas, where else; the only kind of unreal place where his kind could still survive in a way. The now Rev. Rock performs his own weddings, so if Nevada ever legalizes gay marriage head over to to schedule yours!

Here's a brief clip of his biggest hit [which I WORSHIP to this day!!!!]. REALLY crank up your sound to appreciate it in such short form here when HE comes on at .20:

Then there's the long deconstruction below that is almost all exclusive to

“The bagpipe-type drone of the saxophones at the intro recalls "Hoots Mon." Then the boot-stomping beat kicks in concurrently with gloriously artificial crowd cheers and whoops to suggest a marriage between the Miami/TK beat and Slade's brand of glam-Doc - KC and the Sunshine Band doing "Cuz I Love You." Excitable female backing vocals yell "Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeeeeeeaaaaahhhhh!" ...[Rock] storms into the song, yelling indiscriminately in Brooklynese and Spanish at 300 mph: "Turn yourself on! We've got to get together and BOOGIEWOOGIEWOOGIEBOOGIE!! Radar Love is here!!!"

"Get Dancin'" has an extremely strong case for being the most important single of 1974, and is certainly the key record in taking gay disco out of The Loft and into the world. In its shameless marriage of Glitterbeat, Cotton Club shimmy and barrio R&B it manages to anticipate just about everything which punctumised pop in the '80s.... Sir Monti instructs. "You can't think of all the WRONG things in the world!" No sooner has he looked back in angst that he re-engages in mischief with a succession of orgasmic groans ("I'm turning myself on!") before again urging liberation on his audience, i.e., us - "Nobody cares how you wear your hair, darling, just keep doing it!"

Disco Tex also comes out of the same and venerable tradition of operatives like the Johnny Otis Show. And, as with the latter's verging-on-the-demonic/hysterical "Mama He's Making Eyes At Me," the song drops out halfway through, seemingly with exhaustion ("My wig is wet. My chiffon is wet! I am worn out! I am exhausted!"), before an insistent clavinet hauls it back in again, doubly reinforced ("Please help me! You must forget all your troubles!").

Do the Sex-O-Lettes really sing "Fuck you" at 4:33?

Sir Monti, meanwhile, attains extrabodily transcendence. He quotes from "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" but advises with a wink, "Sweat, and you'll just get wet." His reverberating scream of "DAAAAAAANNNNCE!" at 5:24 suggests falling through a trapdoor into the abyss, but at 5:35 he's rescued again by an unlikely Orange Lodge marching band. He goes for the final climax ("I'm KILLING myself baby!") before signing off with a defiant "Rock 'n' roll is here to stay!" answered by an immediate Glitter Band "HEY!" as the record collapses into its glorious self.

There was to be a second and even bigger hit single in 1975, "I Wanna Dance Wit' Choo" ("Dig my rhinestone tap shoes!"), and best of all an album, Disco Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes Review, which three decades later remains one of the most startlingly original and compulsive of all dance albums. All eleven tracks are segued and underscored by the same conjured crowd noises, and while you briefly observe that you could sing the tune of "Born With A Smile On My Face" to "Jam Band," you gasp as it's suddenly submerged by Leslie cabinet psyched-out guitars. Then it's straight into "Shirley Wood" which pretty well invents Prince, though the eventual bitonal clarinet and trumpet lines suggest a pitched battle between Purple Rain and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra. As for "Around The World," intoned with deft coolness by one Luann Simms, its coldly irrational Glitter stomp winks "Goldfrapp? We were there first and best." Even Freddy Cannon is brought back from the living dead to sing the outrageous "Outrageous," and as we reach "(I See Your) Name Up In Lights," the Latin influence becomes more pronounced (so much so that when "Me No Pop I" first came out I briefly assumed Coati Mundi to be Disco Tex), except that Sir Monti keeps pulling it into chasms of manic dub. Meanwhile, the remarkable "Love Is A Killer," credited to "The Chocolate Kisses" who sound very much like fellow Bob Crewe-produced act Labelle, is the Shirelles forcibly relocated to the barrio frontline. Compulsory listening (and dancing) for music which, out of all 1974 pop, is most fiercely redolent of pop in 2005. END QUOTE

Steve Ralls | August 15, 2007 9:41 PM

Leland! While I appreciate the musical feedback (and I'll check them out, to boot!) I have to reiterate I've never commented about Fly Naked jewelry either. ;-) Bil and Alex invited me to post my PERSONAL thoughts and comments here, not those of any organization I work with or am affiliated with. (first clue!)

Aside from our disagreement about her Madge-sty, you might be surprised to learn that we agree, more often than not, on other topics! (second clue!)

If I want to be impressed by someone's upper body, I'll take my (or my boyfriend's) shirt off, thank you very much. :-P

thank you for a heartfelt ode to a woman who has devoted herself fully to her life purpose ... creating recordings that make our bodies move to the music and go with the flow and putting together the best live performances ever. i for one will be lighting a candle in madge's honor tomorrow. happy birthday madge! WE LOVE YOU!

I think Madonna has brought a lot to gay culture (whilst stealing some for her own!). And, while we're going there, if you're going to be standing around with your shirt off, Steve, feel free to wander over here - boyfriend too! What the hell! Leland too! *grins*

Well, Steve, much you say is true but more than one of your wheels falls off in the process.

She was robbed of the Oscar for Evita? No wonder Leland first thought you were joking. Granted some other nominees that year were hardly memorable but do you really want to match all the rave reviews of Judi Dench in “Mrs. Brown” with ones like these - - “What Madonna does not do, what Parker does not trust her to do, is act. She tries on an emotion, then discards it, leaving Eva's inner life opaque. Missing is the connecting tissue that marks a true characterization, such as the one that another rock diva, Courtney Love, delivers in The People vs. Larry Flynt. Love plays for real; Madonna plays for effect. It's the difference between acting and showing off.” – Peter Travers – Rolling Stone

And she did what I thought impossible -- made Don’t Cry for Me Argentina boring.

“For starters, she was the very first musician to embrace the LGBT community”


“bring them front and center to many American homes....”

Exactly how? And how do we know it? Was there a poll done?

She also turned the male-dominanted industry's subjugation of women on its head”

I think another gay icon named Barbra might have something to say about which woman did that first.

“I'll also wager that she's given more money to AIDS charities and gay causes than just about anybody reading this blog.”

A VERY cheap shot that is beneath you.

“There's been no musical artist more copied, more talked-about or more critiqued than Madonna.”

Michael Jackson biographers might disagree.

“If it wasn't true that Madonna was a one-woman phenomenon, I don't think she'd hold the record for the highest-grossing female tour in history, or that she would have stayed such a point of debate among the public.”

By such criteria, rap is the greatest musical expression EVER. Fuck you Beethoven.

“She's a modern-day feminist, gay-rights activist and cultural icon.”

Please document TWO things she’s DONE in the last five years that justify your calling her a “gay-rights activist.” Not just lip service, but ACTION. Hell, she doesn’t even make the cost-free obligatory cameo appearances at HRC dinners or AIDS walks. Which you might recall Cyndi Lauper does – - and more.

I admire your passion and am glad to hear someone continues to bring you so much pleasure out of bed but by such hyperbole about Madonna you unintentionally demean many others and forgive me show your age.

Steve Ralls | August 15, 2007 10:51 PM

Two things (and more) that she's done, courtesy not of me, but of Media Matters:

I don't recall Barbra (love her though I do) incorproating much sexuality into her music, though.

And for more about what she's done re: the first musician to embrace gays:

And for proof that I'm not the only one who embraces those ideas:

AEven out singer Ari Gold said one of the biggest thrills of his life was the day he met Madonna:

So there ya go.

OMG people on this site can debate ANYTHING! This is completely OUTTA CONTROL!

But I'll jump in anyway....

I like Madonna's music, but I suppose that there's a line between liking her music and attempting to normalize her music, i.e. making it something that others should like, for whatever reason. People rebel against that sort of thing, and queers in particular do (I think we're a bunch of non-conformists at heart, and watch someone non-conform to that).

Probably why I generally have a problem with the idea of a "gay icon" who isn't gay. It's just like, there's a group of gay people who really, really like a singer or actor or whatever, like Madonna or Cher or whomever, and suddenly the "gay experience" intimately involves that person. It harkens back a time when I met a queer guy in college who had no idea who Cher was. She just didn't get much play in the neighborhood he grew up in which was mostly poor and non-white.

See? There, I can do this too! But I'm going to turn on Confession on the Dancefloor now, which I bought right after it came out, because I only have two things on my mind: boys and a beat.

um madonna may not be gay, but she is definitely queer. so maybe you'd like it better if we said she were a queer icon.

OK. This will be my last chapter. The request was for two things Madonna’s done "in the last five years." The piece linked appears to have been written four years ago. The last year it identifies her doing anything in relation to AIDS (not a GAY disease, remember? But still great of her to do.) is 1987. TWENTY YEARS ago. The surplus of superlatives despite the fact that the author specifies nothing that she's done in between is indicative that he -- like she -- is coasting on the fumes of her reputation of our lady of AIDS.

Then there is his ridiculous valentine: "It is impossible to know exactly how much money the superstar has given to the battle for a cure because many of her donations have been anonymous, but even a conservative estimate places the figure at more than $5 million." HOW can he KNOW about her "MANY" donations if they were ANONYMOUS????? There's a word for this kind of a priori praise and that is "hagiography."

My statement about Barbra was clearly about women's power in the music industry, not women’s sexuality in music.

Your reference for your description of her as the first musician to "embrace gays" is not about that at all but about playing with traditional gender roles/images that you and only very little of the article mistakenly equate with homosexuality itself. As for the "originality" of such gender fucking, it mentions Garbo but it is Marlene Dietrich that Madonna has repeatedly stolen from and who appeared in "men's clothes" on screen as early as 1929. And only a year later, she shocked and thrilled audiences for "Morocco" not just for singing in top hat and tails (an 18 inch porcelain doll of her in this outfit can be had for around $2000) but because she kisses a woman on the lips SEVENTY YEARS before Madonna (taking off, why, yes, a top hat) kissed Britney's and Christina's on the VMAs.

Dietrich kept her very serious, very REAL kissing and more of women private, but her beautiful men's clothes (suits, hats, ties, blazers, slacks, shirts, shoes, overcoats) were famous and controversial (and expensively tailored) starting all those decades ago. Montblanc just announced a limited edition set of pens inspired by her “iconic trouser suits.” It’s one thing not to get the Dietrich pants echo in the video of Express Yourself but the direct Dietrich imitation in the Vogue video was much talked and written about. Even the live MTV VMA’s version had her dressed in a costume reminiscent of Dietrich’s playing Catherine the Great. Think of it this way, if you want to better understand your idol Madonna, and appreciate the courage of gender image challenges when it really did take courage, when pants were not even made or sold to the average woman, study Dietrich as Madonna clearly has. In 1992, the New York Times described her as “MARdonna.”

And the Wikipedia link is about gays embracing her not the other way around.

Enough. Enough. Enjoy your idol, but for a fuller flavored experience learn what’s behind the poses.

From one Madge Queen to another: Steve, your claims about her accomplishments may be overstated, but I, too, love Madonna! (Forgive me, Leland! I'll make it up to you at Christmas!)

Steve, I'm afraid you could have said that even the Oscar nomination was stolen from her! Hey, the Academy members can vote for whomever they want --- and "stolen Oscars" happen all the time. Ang Lee got the Best Picture Oscar stolen from him for BBM. Cissy Spacek stole the Best Actress Oscar from Mary Tyler Moore. Kevin Spacey stole the Best Actor Oscar from Denzel, although Denzel got it anyway the following year. "Stolen" Oscars are always someone's not-so-humble-opinion, and there are a few of mine.

But I digress ... by coincidence, I just recently downloaded from iTunes Madonna's "Express Yourself" video. Noticed two things: 1) her fluffy black cat reminds me of my own dearly departed Fuzzball, and 2) her crotch-grabbing in that video at first caused the world to gasp ... and now such gestures are practically required, and at least routine.

(And no discussion thread about Madonna is complete without including this word: bustier. There. Now it's on the page. Now we can move on.)

Yes, Steve, Madonna has changed the world. So, Steve, for Her Madgesty's 49th Birthday, head out onto the street and grab your crotch. (In fact, may I grab your crotch? Or maybe, your boyfriend's crotch?)

Thank you for posting this! I have always loved Madonna (Now Marti will really tease me).
It brings back my own Diva days...ahem. Well, we do share the same birthday.