The Madonna Timeline: Song #46– ‘This Used to be My Playground’ – Summer 1992


{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 turns out I already wrote the entry for this song last year, before the timeline took shape, but it still holds true, so I’m going to step back into the sun, dip back into the pool, and re-hash what I already wrote, word for word.

It was July 1992. I had just returned from a trip to Finland for a wedding, leaving the extended European trip early to attend a summer course at Brown University. I thought it would be a good thing to pad my high school resume for college (well, my parents thought it would be – I personally didn’t really care either way). It was a biology course, with some hands-on study at the Roger Williams Park Zoo.

Upon arriving at Brown, I experienced my first and only real bout of homesickness (well, after the age of ten at least) – I didn’t even feel it when I went away to college. This time I was searching for a private place to cry and remembering how I used to look up into the fluorescent lights of my first grade class hoping that they would dry my tears faster. The crying part was over by the second day, and when I found myself with the time and private place to do it again I didn’t even need to. Still, I missed my family, and to assuage the pit in my stomach I spent my free time searching the library at the University for genealogy books. Not that I ever expected to find any Ilagans there, it just felt good to look and make plans in my mind of when I would see them again.

My chosen project at the zoo was a study on the lemurs. I had noticed that one of them sat quietly, while the others ran circles around him, occasionally chasing him out of the way. It was my “hypothesis” that this lemur was more or less being hounded into submission, and was therefore not exhibiting all of his natural behavior. Looking back, it was probably the least scientific hypothesis ever almost-proven, but somehow I pulled it off and garnered an ‘A’ on it (which was the whole grade of the course).

By choosing the lemurs, which were off the beaten path of the zoo and not as exciting or awe-inspiring as the elephants or Tamarin monkeys, I could be alone, watching their antics and taking notes on behavior. I didn’t want to be around the other students, whom I suspected of intelligence greater than mine, but who displayed too many signs of immaturity. The ones I did find interesting – like the girl who wore a billion strands of tiny beads that she had strung herself – had ostracized themselves with their quirky fashion choices or frowned-upon habits of sleeping with each other.

I also had other concerns, in the form of one psycho red-headed roommate. He had written out a ten-plus page treatise on how he planned to join forces with Satan, take over the world, then double-cross Satan and have the power to himself. Not kidding. When he left for the day, I promptly took a huge risk, stole the papers, ran to the library and made a Xerox copy, then hid it in my luggage in the event that my body was found slaughtered under the bed at the end of the two weeks. Luckily he left me alone, as I must have seemed a non-threat in his quest for universal domination.

The noxious purple loosestrife was just beginning to show its bright color in the zoo’s natural wetlands, and staff warned us of how dangerous it was, in its propensity to take over the wetlands and choke out natives. Summer beat down upon the zoo paths, and I was grateful for the air-conditioned bus ride back to campus at the end of the day.

I didn’t explore Brown University as much as I perhaps should have. Part of me dreaded the idea of college so much that I shrank away from anything remotely connected to it, such as checking out what campus life was like, even if it was the doldrums of summer. I did walk around the small stretch of shops and cafes, and I explored some of the art shops that were there (being in proximity to the Rhode Island School of Design). On one such excursion I picked up an old Herb Ritts compilation – a beautiful pair of cloth-bound editions of some of his classic shots. In the black-and-white beauty found within its pages, I found a semi-solace from my loneliness, and a glimpse into a world so far and fully removed from my own.

On the radio I listened to Madonna’s ‘This Used To Be My Playground,’ a dirge-like lament on time gone by. It has not weathered the years well, and for quite a while I couldn’t even bring myself to listen to it because it was just so unspectacular. But it was part of my past, and part of that summer. A wistful look back on the season that used to be so carefree and celebratory. It was my last summer of innocence. The next Fall and Winter would bring my first girlfriend and last year of high school.

As for the song, it would prove to be Madonna’s last hit before the infamous ‘Sex/Erotica years, though according to producer Shep Pettibone, it was one of the last songs written for those sessions. That’s a lot of ‘lasts’ for a season that never does.

Wishing you were here with me…
Song #46: ‘This Used To Be My Playground’ – Summer 1992

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