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The Madonna Timeline: Song #56 – ‘Words’ – Winter 1993

{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.}

The iPod has gone back to the early 90’s, when Madonna released the darkly-shaded ‘Erotica’ album. It was the perfect fit for an icy winter, and the somewhat icy heart I had at the time. I wasn’t always the best boyfriend. Oh, I tried, but in my younger years I was much more selfish (if you can imagine), much less concerned with any sort of altruistic love, and extremely exacting that I would be the one in charge. It is with a bit of embarrassment and shame that I admit one of my ex-girlfriends claimed that ‘Words’ was the perfect embodiment of the man I was when I was with her.

You think you’re so smart
You try to manipulate me
You try to humiliate with your words
You think you’re so chic
You write me beautiful letters
You think you’re so much better than me.

Now, I’ve honestly never thought of myself as better than anyone else (better-dressed perhaps, never wholly better), but that was the only line that didn’t ring true. There was manipulation, humiliation, and I could write a killer letter. Balk if you will, but I also don’t consider myself the most attractive guy, so I developed other talents, starting with my way with words. If my face and body didn’t entice (and more often than not they didn’t), or my fancy outfits failed to impress (as if!), I could still capture a heart with a clever turn of phrase. A little bit of laughter went a long way, and women were somehow better at men at seeing through to the heart of a person, to the kindness and goodness of a soul even when the rest of the package paled in comparison. That didn’t bode well for the life of a gay man, but back then I was still forging my way with the ladies.

But your actions speak louder than words
And they’re only words, unless they’re true
Your actions speak louder than promises
You’re inclined to make, and inclined to break.
Words, they cut like a knife,
Cut into my life, I don’t want to hear your words
They always attack, please take them all back
If they’re yours, I don’t want anymore.

It carried over to the men I dated as well, and when you’re the one who finally gets hurt, you sometimes make up your mind to be the one who’s on the inflicting end from that point on. To be in control of your emotions, to act as if you could care less – these were the desired states of existence.

You think you’re so shrewd
You try to bring me low
You try to gain control with your words.
But your actions speak louder than words
And they’re only words, unless they’re true
Your actions speak louder than promises
You’re inclined to make, and inclined to break.
Words, they cut like a knife,
Cut into my life, I don’t want to hear your words
They always attack, please take them all back
If they’re yours, I don’t want anymore.

While it’s a standard slice of 90’s dance-pop, ‘Words’ is a pretty strong song, unfortunately under-rated like much of the ‘Erotica’ album. Dark and gritty, with the residual heat of love-gone-awry, Madonna’s delivery reeks of disdain and regret, both with the object of her derision and herself. There is anger here, backed by strength and simultaneously under-laid by vulnerability – a rather nifty accomplishment for a piece of pop filler. Not to mention the fact that the bridge is just pure heaven:

Friends they tried to warn me about you
He has good manners, he’s so romantic
But he’ll only make you blue
How can I explain to them?
How will they know?
I’m in love with your words, your words…

Looking back on that time, on the almost-man I was becoming, I see my folly, and my cruelty. I hear the words and cries of those few women I’ve ever dated, and I know the ways I’ve hurt them. I would inflict similar pain and heartache upon some of the men in my life. Hurt is hurt, regardless of sex and gender, and I did deserve a come-uppance.

You think you’re so sly
I caught you at your game
You will not bring me shame with your words

There aren’t many blog posts where I openly admit to my failings. I have thousands of “friends” on FaceBook and Twitter to regularly take the piss out of me; this is the sole space of the Internet where I can craft and create the image of the man I would most like to be. Yet there is room for honesty, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides, we have to own up to our mistakes if we are to learn from them. If they never happened, we wouldn’t improve or evolve, and I am hell-bent on both. Even so, it’s tough thinking back to the jerk I could be, and even tougher when it was Madonna’s words being used against me.

But your actions speak louder than words
And they’re only words, unless they’re true
Your actions speak louder than promises
You’re inclined to make, and inclined to break.
Words, they cut like a knife,
Cut into my life, I don’t want to hear your words
They always attack, please take them all back
If they’re yours, I don’t want anymore.

The bottom line: guys can be dicks. And, technically speaking, I’m still just another guy. To hear Madonna aiming such accurate accusations at the man who has done her wrong had its own influence on me, even if it wasn’t until years later. God knows I’ve certainly had my dick moments. Some days, I still do.

Too much blinding light
Your touch, I’ve grown tired of your words…
A linguistic form that can meaningfully be spoken in isolation
Conversation, expression, a promise, a sigh, in short, a lie
A message from heaven, a signal from hell
I give you my word, I’ll never tell.
Language that is used in anger
Personal feelings signaling danger
A brief remark, an utterance, information
Don’t mince words, don’t be evasive
Speak your mind, be persuasive
A courage, a commitment, communication
Words.

Song #56 – ‘Words’ – Winter 1992-1993

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