The Madonna Timeline: Song #73 – ‘Turn Up the Radio’ – Summer 2012


{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.}

Looks like I jumped the gun on this one by talking about it a few days in advance, but I had no way of knowing that the next random selection of the iPod would be the one I just referenced a week or two ago. This is a historic occasion, as it marks the first time the Madonna Timeline selection lines up perfectly with the current Madonna single. It’s a testament to her endurance, and a fantastic selection for a summer anthem.

When the world starts to get you down,
And nothing seems to go your way,
And the noise from the maddening crowd
Makes you feel like you’re going to go insane
There’s a glow of a distant light
Calling you to come outside
To feel the wind in your face and your skin
And it’s here I begin my story…

This is, at first glance, classic carefree Madonna at her dance-poppy best – a return to her ‘Holiday’ roots, where it all began some 30 odd years ago. (For those who doubt her legendary status, think about this: it just entered the Billboard Dance chart as her 60th entry there. That’s right, 60.)

Turn up the radio
Turn up the radio
Don’t ask me where I wanna go
We gotta turn up the radio

Madonna has never been one to look back – it’s one of her most admirable qualities, and the very thing that has kept her forward-moving career on that one singular track. A lot of her fans would have her simply repeat former-glories, but that’s never been her way. Even if she winks back at what she’s done (as she does both in this song and its accompanying video), she’s never been about the past.

It was time that I opened my eyes
I’m leaving the past behind
Nothing’s ever what it seems
Including this time and this crazy dream.

She’s also been about the power of a pop song to transcend its limited boundaries, becoming an epiphany unto itself – the very act of escapism as its own goal – and ‘Turn Up the Radio’ re-asserts her mastery of the genre. I’m not going to claim there’s anything ground-breaking here, and those who have never been under her spell may cry banality (like they always do when dissecting her lyrics), but the glorious majesty of a catchy melody wins out. Score one for ear candy over lyrical dinner. And yet there may be something deeper here…

I’m stuck like a moth to a flame
I’m so tired of playing this game
I don’t know how I got to this stage
Let me out of my cage cause I’m dying
Turn up the radio
Turn up the radio
Don’t ask me where I wanna go
We gotta turn up the radio

At first I thought this was going to be a straight-forward reading of a perfectly-crafted summer pop ditty. The infectiousness is there, the timeliness is present, the video is a slightly nostalgic reminder of the simple premise of having a good time, but the last few times I was listening to this (in the shower, of course, and in the car), a new reading struck me.

I just wanna get in my car
I wanna go fast and I gotta go far
Don’t ask me to explain how I feel
‘Cause I don’t want to say where I’m going…

Maybe it was the rocky start to this season, and the resulting melancholy (the nightmare of jury duty still haunts me), but it suddenly seemed that this song wasn’t just about having a good time, it was about insisting upon it – begging, pleading, and crying for it. This wasn’t a simple ode to a joyful moment. This was a desperate cry for escape and deliverance.

It brought to mind Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘The Ninth Symphony of Beethoven Understood At Last As a Sexual Message’ in which the poet turns the ‘Ode of Joy’ by Beethoven into a harrowing description of rage and anger. This was what I was thinking about when trying desperately to get back into the song, to find the joy again. I found myself singing, and then screaming, along with these very lyrics, this part right here, and I couldn’t tell the tears from the shower water or the rain, I just pounded wet fists against whatever would withstand them.

Turn down the noise and turn up the volume
Don’t have a choice cause the temperature’s pounding

As the percussion trampled with its stomping beat and the music raced to its inevitable release, I tried tearing a hole in my despondence, ripping away at the heart that gave both light and darkness, inconceivable happiness and inconsolable sorrow, in a dance of desperation ~ a dance to the death of something.

If leaving this place is the last thing I do,
Then I want to escape with a person just like you

The torrents fall down, the world crashes around, and like flotsam I feel like I’m floating in the lost abyss of an open sea, drifting and flailing and powerless to the ebb and flow of a life swirled beyond my control.

Bopping around like a moth to a flame,
I’m so sick and tired of playing this game

And I cling desperately onto the silly things that once mattered, that once seemed to make all the difference, and nothing seems to help. It is all so pointless, so futile, so damning – and so we fight for the fun and escape, for the way out of our miserable little lives, for the only way we know how.

We gotta have fun, if that’s all that we do
Gotta shake up the system
And break all the rules,
Gotta turn up the radio until the speakers blow.

Song #73 – ‘Turn Up the Radio’ – Summer 2012

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