Wednesday, February 8, 2012

No. 848 – Drowned World / Substitute for Love

Performer: Madonna
Songwriters: Madonna, William Orbit, Rod McKuen, Anita Kerr, David Collins
Original Release: Ray of Light
Year: 1998
Definitive Version: None

I was fine with Madonna at the Super Bowl. Madonna actually makes sense, when you think about it: She’s all about prerecorded, well-choreographed glitz. I’d rather see her out there than Springsteen or—God help me—The Who faking their way through some all-too-predictably lame set.

But how the heck does Madonna find her way onto this list? Simple. At least half of Laurie’s friends are gay men and most of the rest are women—most of whom love Madonna. Whenever Laurie’s posse vacations together in Wisconsin, Madonna on the boombox is as inevitable as my drink cup being filled with rum punch. Maybe it’s the rum, but whenever I heard this song (2 CD tracks, 1 song), I liked it.

The first time I heard it was my second Fourth Up North in 2006. When I landed my current job in April of that year, of course, I lost most of the free time that I had enjoyed the previous three years. That’s the trade-off for the paycheck, but as someone much wiser than I once remarked: You need money to live or you’ll starve.

But that summer it meant I would have to leave Wisconsin in the middle of the week, because I didn’t have any vacation time accrued. And Laurie did something unprecedented: She let me drive her car home.

This was a big moment. Yes, we had lived together for the past 10 months, but she never let me drive her car by myself. However, the alternative was that we would drive separately, which made no sense. So I drove her car, and she’d get a ride home with others.

I left on the Fourth of July. From our location on the grassy shores of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage up in the hinterlands of the Northwoods, it’s about a six-hour drive, maybe seven with traffic. By the time I got to Chicago for the final stretch from the Kennedy to our apartment, the municipal parks along the way were filling up as the sunlight began to fade.

As I soon learned, the Fourth of July in Chicago is for individual’s fireworks displays—like the one I conducted the day before in Wisconsin—and evidently they’re well-attended.

At about 9 p.m., the cannonade started, and because Laurie and I lived close to a large park, it was loud. I couldn’t see anything out of our dining-room windows that faced the park, but I could hear it—even with my headphones on. It went for a solid two hours and just when I started to wonder whether I would get any sleep that night, the assault stopped as suddenly as it had started. I guess the informal agreement is the city lets you do your thing as long as you quit at 11, so people can get some sleep before going to work the next day.

But walking through to park the next morning to where my car was parked was like walking through a riot zone. Paper and debris and burned-out firework hulks littered the park. Several places were completely covered in multicolor paper shards, and the stench of gunpowder lingered. I’ve never seen anything like it.

And you thought that halftime show was a spectacle. At least Madonna had someone clean up after her.

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