: Joe Louis Arena
: Thurs., October 1, at 7:30 p.m.
For some reason Catholics get excited when the pope is visiting their town. Millions of Muslims make the pilgrimage to the Mecca. Christian and Jews alike when given the opportunity, view a trip to Israel, the Holy Land as a life changing experience. But as a non-believer I wonder will I ever have experiences that invoke similar emotions. Can I really compare religious experiences to going to see Madonna on tour for the first time? Or is it just the superficial musings of a fan boy unacquainted with the knowledge necessary to make such radical claims?
Agnostic, atheist, heathen, etc. The proper terminology isn’t all that important. The initial point I’m trying to make is that I myself have no formal spiritual belief system. So when I tell people that Madonna is my religion, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing so purely out of juvenile blasphemy. I often indulge in the shallow mocking of mainstream religious ideology (I think my decade long experience as a Baptist Christian entitles me to a bit of leeway to make light of it). So I’m sure that rebellious blasphemy does play a part in the joke. But is it just a light hearted joke? How important is Madonna to me? How big of a part does her very existence play in my life?
If Madonna is my religion her discography is my bible. My favorite “bible” passage? “Unlike the others I’ll do anything, I’m not the same I have no shame. I’m on FIRE!” goes the lyrics taken from her 1983 single Burning Up. A song about raw ambition and a drive to succeed. When I listen to it I can’t help but feel inspired. As a young Christian I can recall being taught to have a desire for the word of God that is like an “all-consuming fire”. Nothing consumes my time on google archives more than searching through scanned articles written about Madonna from three decades ago. My YouTube history is cluttered with old interviews, news reports and behind the music-esq documentaries (these are usually always terribly inaccurate by the way). I can honestly say I’ve seen just about every photograph she has taken from 83’-85’. A bragging right that makes me chuckle and reminds me of a bible passage from Psalms 27:8; Thy face Lord I shall seek. I know, more light hearted blasphemy, but believe me, I am being sincere.
The bible is filled with some of the greatest stories ever told. Whether they are all entirely factual doesn’t take away from their cultural importance. After reading numerous biographies and first-hand accounts from people in her past I can sincerely say that Madonna has one of the greatest rise to success stories in rock and roll history. Arriving in New York City from Michigan as a college dropout with only $35 to her name makes for a pretty good start to a rags to riches story. Whether it’s all entirely true or not is of little importance. Was Jesus born in December or April? Did eve eat an apple or a pomegranate? Did Jesus and Mary Magdalene ever get hitched? I myself don’t really care either way, I guess that’s the newly reformed heathen in me. But ask a Christian if it matters to them and I’m sure they’d say that it wouldn’t.
Although Madonna’s genesis is my favorite period to study, I do spend some time relishing in the rest of her magnificent 32 year career. I cant just cherry pick the parts of her “good book” I want to follow, and by that I mean I’m a fan of all her work. Even if I admittedly love some parts more than others. There’s a bit more leeway and grace in my pseudo religion. So I’m not going to foolishly attend this concert excepting an 80’s nostalgia show.
Thinking about the act of listening to your favorite music as a religious experience isn’t a unique concept. In preparation for writing this piece I’ve read a few articles where other writers have explored this same idea. “…a good concert reminds us that there is something bigger than ourselves.” Says blogger Matthew Moore. When we think of the phrase “something bigger than ourselves” it always has a spiritual context to it, usually when a person is explaining their belief or their desire to believe in some form of a higher power. Is Madonna my higher power? It’s a crazy thought so I’m still not so sure if that’s what I literally mean when I tell people that she is my “religion” But its so easy and perversely fun to continue to make these silly sacrilegious analogies.
Another lesson I recall from my Christian upbringing was the stressed importance of fellowshipping among other believers. At the time I rolled my eyes at that idea because I honestly believed it was just another line to guilt the congregation into bettering their attendance. Empty pews don’t do any good for a pastor’s reputation and neither do empty concert seats for touring musicians! But perhaps there is some truth in that lesson I am missing. Sure I can enjoy Madonna’s live shows in the comfort of my own home just the same way a Christian can substitute a 3 hour in person sermon with 20 minutes of700 Club. But any active church goer will tell you that it’s just not the same thing. There are advantages to fellowshipping with other believers. And when you attend a live show there is a sense of fellowship there as well. So with that in mind I have a feeling that watching Madonna’s tours through YouTube videos and communicating with fellow diehard fans through forums and messages boards will pale in comparison to finally conversing with them face to face in her presence!
I am looking forward to this experience. It’s my first chance to revel in the presence of a woman who’s life story and creative endeavors has held me in a feeling of constant revelation. I want to say it’s a once in a life time experience but I can’t say that with absolute certainty. For one she has made it very clear that she has no plans on retiring soon. So there could very well be more tours to come for the next few decades! Besides, calling it once in a lifetime would contradict all the cute analogies I took the time to make. I don’t think there’s a single major religion practiced today whose followers worry about the sudden mortality of their supreme being. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelations 23:13) “ I am everything…I want it to last forever” Says Madonna in a red carpet interview back in ’85.
I plan on making the most of experience because it’s my first chance to interact with people just as crazy as I am. This has to be why people attend church. There is joy in the act of celebrating one’s passion. And that joy is magnified when expressed within a large group. How can you not feel joy in a stadium full of people singing songs in one accord? “Lift every voice and sing.” “I sing because I am happy” These simple yet powerful lines from praise and worship songs do mean something when you use them within a context of something you sincerely care about. Is it as powerful an experience as claiming to be in the presence of God? That is up to each individual’s own self interpretation. Just like any other sincerely held belief.
Duane the Brand New Dog is a Detroit-based artist. Read our latest interview with him here, and his own music can be heard over here.