Blog

The Madonna Timeline: Song #63 – ‘Bad Girl’– 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.}

This is one of those songs that has a number of memories attached to it, adding to its resonance over the years, evolving into something that morphs to the scene at hand. That’s the way it is for many of Madonna’s best songs – they open themselves up to multiple-readings, myriad meanings, and in so doing operate on many levels. ‘Bad Girl’ was released in the rather snowy winter of early 1993, a rocky time in the aftermath of the Erotica brouhaha, and over the years all I have left of the song is a pastiche of rather shaky memories, without narrative or structure – mere wisps of images, elusive as smoke, and as hard to grasp.

Something’s missing and I don’t know why
I always feel the need to hide my feelings from you
Is it me or you that I’m afraid of?
I tell myself I’ll show you what I’m made of
Can’t bring myself to let you go…

Scene 1:
The back roads of upstate New York. Holding my high school girlfriend’s hand, not knowing if we would make it through the coming summer – our last at home – not knowing how to hang onto the night, I sit in the backseat of a friend’s car. The snow muffles the evening, as our friends sit in the front and talk of other things. Beneath amber street lamps, it glows an eerie yellow. On nights like this, the snow is a frigid comfort. As the wheels spin on a slippery patch, it seems as if even in the case of a crash, the snow would cushion the blow, blunt the impact, gently toss the car back on track. Luckily, there is no crash that night, just the soft crunch of white stuff beneath the wheels. I look out the window, gaze up into the falling flakes, peer at receding eternity, and squeeze her hand a little harder.

Don’t want to cause you any pain
But I love you just the same
And you’ll always be my baby
In my heart I know we’ve come apart
And I don’t know where to start
What can I do?
I don’t want to feel blue…

Scene 2:
The snow has turned dirty. The years have clicked ahead. The messy end of another winter leaves mud and salt swirling on the streets. A new girlfriend, an end to innocence, and the difficult duplicity of adulthood.

A betrayal of the heart. A betrayal of the body. A betrayal of the sacredness of sex. The scent of another woman on her fingers, the impossibility of it, the slutty suspicions confirmed and quickly sent into oblivion with a smile. We had both been bad then, and we both smiled to ease the double blow. We took the pain we inflicted and felt and ran with it, delving deeper into our mutual destruction, powerless to salvage more than a slow-fading disdain.

The snow soon melted, dirt unto dirt, and the winter went away. The women of my romantic life were filing into the past, into the dim but warmly-remembered history of a somewhat messy path to the man I always was but never acknowledged. The age of women, at least for me, had come to its conclusion, and the only question was how much trickier might men prove to be?

Bad girl, drunk by six,
Kissing someone else’s lips
Smoked too many cigarettes today
I’m not happy when I act this way.
Bad girl, drunk by six,
Kissing some kind stranger’s lips
Smoked too many cigarettes today
I’m not happy, I’m not happy…

Scene 3:

A stranger’s bed. A morning after. A dim gray glow of dawn. He has had his drunken way with me, and I with him. Untangling my limbs from wrinkled sheets, I sit on the edge of the bed, rubbing the sleep from my contact-irritated eyes, blinking to see clearly, and wondering at another mess I’ve made. I seem to recall a third guy – yes, there were three of us – and it was never as hot as it’s made out to be. Even in the supposedly-fun and unattached debauchery, there are jealousies and entanglements, but somehow I had been the one to last, to win, to stay the night – though in the rising sun it felt anything but a victory. One cannot win through submission. One cannot triumph in degradation. One merely survives, if one is lucky, and moves on.

Something’s happened and I can’t go back
I fall apart every time you hand your heart out to me
What happens now? I know I don’t deserve you
I wonder how I’m ever gonna hurt you
Can’t bring myself to let you go
Don’t want to cause you any pain
But I love you just the same
And you’ll always be my baby
In my heart I know we’ve come apart
And I don’t know where to start
What can I do?
I don’t want to feel blue…

As for the song, it was a commercial dud, adding to the perceived failure of the ‘Erotica’ album, but it came with one of the best videos Madonna has ever made. Directed masterfully by David Fincher (yes, that David Fincher), it tells the dark story of a woman losing herself in wine and cigarettes and one-night-stands. We’ve all been that woman at one point or other – at least I certainly have – and it’s a frightening place to be.

It doesn’t seem so at the time. I mean to say, it’s a long spiral downward – and not all of it is bad – so when you’re finally looking up from below, it can come as a shock to see how far you’ve descended.

Bad girl, drunk by six,
Kissing someone else’s lips
Smoked too many cigarettes today
I’m not happy when I act this way.
Bad girl, drunk by six,
Kissing some kind stranger’s lips
Smoked too many cigarettes today
I’m not happy, I’m not happy…

This is an epic video – cinematic in scope and visuals, with just enough intrigue to drive the narrative, and it features one of Madonna’s strongest performances. Her blank face beautifully framed by the softest of bright blonde curls, she gives off the emptiness of her character while fighting for feeling. Through it all, her hurt is palpable, her pain apparent, and her trajectory bound solidly to imminent destruction. It is the perfect almost-apology for the Erotica period, a video capsule of self-punishing come-uppance, in which Madonna may be sending her naughtier-self into an exile from which she has never returned.

I’m not happy, I’m not happy this way
I’m not happy this way
Kissing some kind stranger’s lips…

Song #63 – ‘Bad Girl’– Winter 1993

Back to Blog
Back to Blog