The Madonna Timeline: Song #29 – ‘He’s A Man’ – Summer 1990

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

It was the summer of 1990 – the summer of Dick Tracy, the summer of Blonde Ambition, and the summer of my trip to the then-Soviet Union. It was a summer of intrigue, of mystery, of wooded night walks, whispered secrets, and thick, hot days in which the sun beat down relentlessly and made one wonder whether the cool of night would ever come again.

All work, and no play, makes Dick a dull, dull boy…
Career gets in the way…
Square jaw, such a handsome face,
Why do you have to save the human race?
Life of crime, no it never pays,
Clean up the streets and make your secret-get-away,
All alone, in your room with your radio,
No one to hold you, had to let her go…

At this point, Madonna was still the only artist whose entire albums I learned inside out. ‘He’s A Man’ was the lead track on her I’m Breathless album – Music from and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy. It was heavenly. And the album marked the first time she went in a Broadway/show-tune direction. Madonna singing Sondheim? Sign me up, and sign me up fast. I was just becoming a show tune queen, and this certainly helped to cement the deal. Sondheim was a hero to me for ‘Into the Woods’. I know most of his adoring public hearkens back to ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ or ‘Sweeney Todd’, but my first Sondheim experience was ‘Into the Woods’, and I loved it. Follow that with the three songs Madonna did with him on I’m Breathless, and this album was on non-stop rotation for the entire summer of 1990, much to the chagrin of my brother whenever he was trapped in the car with me.

You’re a man with a gun in your hand,
Waging a war between good and evil can be a bore.
If you don’t take time, it’s not nice,
So here’s my advice,
Take your love on the run,
Oh God let me be the one,
A man with a gun.

‘He’s A Man’ is a seductive, slow-burning introduction to the whole feel of the Dick Tracy movie and that entire glamorous/gangster era when everybody was holding out for a hero named after a penis. Myself, I had not yet joined the hunt for Dick, so I watched the adventure from the periphery, all of fourteen years old and not quite ready to give up the childhood ghost. For that moment, listening to Madonna sing about it was all I needed. The rest took place in my head.

All boss and no brains,
Bullies and thugs, they take up all your time in vain.
Can’t let go, someone cries and you hear the call,
Who’s gonna catch you, don’t good guys ever fall?

It had a lounge-like bar feel to it, and though the hard stiff stuff stung my lips and burned my tongue, the atmosphere called to me in the seductive plucking of a bass and the languid runs of a smoke-addled pianist. A jazzy undertone ran throughout the record – and that summer – and in the midnight talks of adolescence, in the longing and the confusing want, Madonna sang her siren songs for a Dick, and I listened and pined along with her.

All alone, in your room with your radio,
No one to hold you, I would never let you go…

Song #29: ‘He’s A Man’ – Summer 1990

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