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The Madonna Timeline: Song #64 – ‘Nothing Really Matters’ – Late Winter 1999

{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.}

Nothing really matters
Love is all we need
Everything I give you
All comes back to me.

At the time, I was deep into my first serious adult relationship with a boyfriend. We were driving South – to Tennessee – to visit his home and family. It felt like a big deal, but also the most natural thing in the world. We left the Northeastern Winter, traveling into the Spring of the Southern mountains. We arrived as dusk settled on a balmy but cool late-winter night.

This has always been one of my favorite times of the year in which to travel – the stultifying stagnation of Winter usually has me beat down by this point, and I’m antsy and bursting to go somewhere – anywhere – and there’s no better where than a road trip.

The year of ‘Nothing Really Matters’ had been a snowy one in Boston, but as we drove deeper into the warmer climate zones, the dirty snow melted away, so that by the time we reached Tennessee, the ground was barren of Winter, even if Spring had not yet broken.

Looking at my life,
It’s very clear to me,
I lived so selfishly
I was the only one.
I realize that nobody wins
Something is ending
And something begins…

I don’t remember much of my meeting with his Mom. We got along well, talking for a bit in the kitchen after I put my bags in Paul’s childhood room. A walking iris bloomed in the front window of the living room. For the first time in my life, it was a plant I didn’t recognize.

(Later, years later, I’d find a walking iris in a local greenhouse and bring it home. They’re a strong breed, multiplying at the end of their blossoms like a spider plant, each one a new baby waiting to send forth roots once in contact with soil. The blossoms come at the tail end of Winter, just in time to soothe a snow-weary countenance.)

Nothing really matters
Love is all we need
Everything I give you
All comes back to me.

As I went to bed, alone, in my boyfriend’s old room, after he kissed me goodnight and went to sleep on the couch, I felt the daunting task of possibly entering a whole new family. It was a happy worry though, and I had the hope of one day belonging.

Sleep took a while to arrive. The room was bluish gray in the dim night, the shadows of toys and books were long and deep. Lying in his bed, I wondered what he’d been like as a boy. Would we have been friends? I breathed in the scent of the pillow, curling into myself, trying to forge into his past and his dreams.

Nothing takes the past away
Like the future
Nothing makes the darkness go
Like the light…

For the next few days we explored Chattanooga – visiting a cave and the historic sites of war battles, posing in front of waterfalls and cannons. We had dinner with his Dad and his girlfriend. At an imported furniture store we examined a Japanese tansu, and I bought a collection of heavy marble spheres, polished to a high gloss. (To this day, they sit in a green bowl in my living room, an echo of the past, a pleasant reminder of that almost-Spring week.)

As we walked through the town of his youth, thoughts of a future life together rolled out before me, like some long hallway runner, and I felt warmed at the thought. Everything about my boyfriend warmed me at the time – it was my heart that held a chill.

You’re shelter from the storm
Give me comfort in your arms…

In all, it was a very pleasant visit. As in much of our relationship, I was in a somewhat hazy space of not quite letting my guard down, but that time together was a happy one. As for Madonna, this song marked the last single from the ‘Ray of Light’ album, and it was a bittersweet close to that heretofore-unmatched musical era. To accompany it, she shot one of her most ravishing videos, based loosely on the book ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’

It was a spectacular image overhaul – her hair black, shiny and bone straight – and fifteen years into her long line of transformations, it was a glorious reminder of her power to surprise and find new inspiration.

The video features a vivid, red-accented, kimono-draped atmosphere with a striking Japanese motif – a slightly disturbing clip of high-pop-art that shows what video can, at its best, achieve. She performed this song live on the Grammy Awards – her first-ever Grammy performance.

(Vocally, not her best – nerves seem to have gotten the best of her – but visually a stunning echo of the video.) She deservedly won a few golden gramophones that night – for the ‘Ray of Light’ album – and looked radiant doing so.

Nothing really matters
Love is all we need
Everything I give you
All comes back to me.
Song #64 – ‘Nothing Really Matters’– Late Winter 1999
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