The Age Of Madonna: Touched for a Very Long Time

The Material Girl has long been a cover girl, regularly gracing magazine covers for the last 25 years. See how she has changed her image over time with this sampling of covers spanning 1984 to the present.
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 10, 2008

Madonna, OMG, you are 50.

You have said again and again that you never read newspapers or magazines, even though you are always in newspapers and magazines, so this is in some way wasted space and energy.

Then again, she needn't be present for us to talk about her. This has always been the key element to how Madonna has spent half her life, deliberately deaf in the center of the buzz. Madonna turning 50 is not about Madonna. As ever, it's about the rest of us, who are always caught watching Madonna do whatever it is Madonna currently does, even if when whatever Madonna is doing is nothing more than growing old.

"So what are you going to do when you get older, Madonna? Are you going to be going on 50 and still get up onstage and shake your booty, like Cher? What happens when your body goes?"

"Then I'll use my mind." -- From an interview with Madonna, in Vanity Fair, October 1992

Here are 50 or so disconnected thoughts (candles on a cake, if you will) for and about Madonna's half-century mark. Starting with the start, not with her actual birth (on Aug. 16, 1958) but with her entrance into the collective consciousness:

On a sweaty August morning 1.3 zillion years ago, some girls showed up at our back-to-school orientation junior year changed, with their hair chopped just above the collarbone -- messy, bleachy, streaky, rooty and tied in raggedy bows. Black plastic wristwatches and rubber bangles stacked around their tiny wrists. Black bras. Just a few of the girls, not all of the girls. Madonna happened in the exact right time, in the exact right way. Father Rene went over the dress code once again, for those who needed a refresher.

Rosaries, for example. Rosaries are not to be worn around your neck, is that clear?

That was no longer clear. The Madonna train had left the station. Even the sourest of us -- Led Zeppelin fans, stoners, wrestlers, cynics, student newspaper editors -- were on a Madonna train we did not know we'd boarded.

You had to disregard a lot of good musical advice to go where Madonna was going, which, listening now, was straight back to disco. You had to ignore the professional critics and thoughtful guys in art class who wore Converse All-Stars and had R.E.M. and Elvis Costello albums, who begged you not to listen to that crap. People who hated Madonna never understood that some of us liked her just to make the people who didn't like her even more apoplectic about the fact that she was getting more and more famous.

To go consciously, you had to go unconsciously. Parked at the reservoir on a Friday night, "Lucky Star" came out of the stereo speakers of a Camaro or a Prelude or a Scirocco and three or four people did the dance exactly as Madonna and her dancers did it in the video, every single step. That these brave souls were not pummeled by drunk jocks, that the cassette was not yanked out and destroyed, signified that Madonna had broken through.

The Madonna thing came, at first blush, with so much that was good: glad rags, vintage stores, granny sunglasses, costume jewels, trench coats -- that Salvation Army insouciance, which, any real student of fashion and culture will tell you, Madonna had just stolen from everyone else. The Madonna thing came with clear directives: Express yourself, be yourself, winner take all. Some of us started going to a nightclub, very dark inside, didn't serve alcohol, but it did serve remixes, tracks of dance songs that never ended but just blended: New Order, Shriekback, Belouis Some, the Smiths. People said it wasn't a gay club, it was bi. Very important thing to make clear in 1985.

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