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The Madonna Timeline: Song #133 – ‘Easy Ride’

{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 wasn’t starvation, it was simple hunger. The difference between a burnt bagel and a family torn apart and killed in the Holocaust. I do not lay claim to any sort of real suffering, not yet. But each of us has our own trials and tribulations, our own demons to be slain or worshipped. The longer we last, the more the world can wound us. The question is not who has suffered the most, but what we do with our pain if we are lucky enough to simply survive.

 

I WANT THE GOOD LIFE, BUT I DON’T WANT AN EASY RIDE

WHAT I WANT IS TO WORK FOR IT

FEEL THE BLOOD AND SWEAT ON MY FINGERTIPS

THAT’S WHAT I WANT FOR ME.

The rickety huts stood on stilts in the ocean off the coast of Manila. A glimpse of them seered itself into my memory bank as I visited the Philippines in 1997. We drove past the long rows of jumbled tin shacks, not much more than scrap pieces of metal propped up against each other, and groups of kids running and waving and smiling in the sun. Those smiles are what haunted me.

I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING, MAYBE SOME DAY I WILL

WHAT I WANT IS TO FIND MY PLACE

BREATHE THE AIR AND FEEL THE SUN ON MY CHILDREN’S FACE,

THAT’S WHAT I WANT.

The Westin Hotel in Manila is rich with dark wood. A pool extends behind it, and guards with conspicuous ear-pieces and sunglasses stand sentinel, lending a bit of tension to the most relaxing of moments. We take the elevator to our floor, and enter a spacious room. After a few days in the province with only a bucket for a shower, this is bliss. Then I think of those children again.

I GO ROUND AND ROUND JUST LIKE A CIRCLE

I CAN SEE A CLEARER PICTURE

WHEN I TOUCH THE GROUND I COME FULL CIRCLE TO MY PLACE AND I AM HOME,

I AM HOME.

Walking to the little balcony, I am dismayed to see the door has been left open a crack. Warily I suspect there will be mosquito bites in the morning. I walk onto the ledge and peer out onto the courtyard in front of the hotel. Half a world away from any home I’ve ever known, with an Uncle who left me to my own devices and a family I’d never met before, I’ve already done away with any shiver of loneliness. We’ve come to the end of our trip – my first to my Dad’s homeland – and in such a short time I’ve already grown up a little. For all the cock-fighting, beer-drinking, karaoke-singing craziness of the Philippines, it is the image of those kids that stays with me. They looked so happy, but they lived in such squalor. I’d never seen poverty like that. I couldn’t get my head around it, and knowing it was my own background and privilege that prevented me from understanding better didn’t make it any easier.

I WANT TO LET GO OF ALL DISAPPOINTMENT THAT’S WAITING FOR ME

WHAT I WANT IS TO LIVE FOREVER, NOT DEFINED BY TIME AND SPACE

IT’S A LONELY PLACE,

THAT’S WHAT I WANT

They lived in the extremes of dust and mud. It was caked on their faces and feet. Their clothes were torn and ragged, and their hair was matted and weighted down with dirt and oil. Most played in their dangerous terrain without shoes, and the ones I did see were worn flip-flops on the verge of disintegration. Yet they smiled, and laughed, and waved – and it was the most genuine and heartbreaking sort of joy I’ve seen in my forty-plus years: the utter bliss of being a child and having nothing to do but play the day away. I wondered what sort of terror they witnessed when a typhoon swept everything into the ocean, or disease and death stole parts of their family away.

I GO ROUND AND ROUND JUST LIKE A CIRCLE

I CAN SEE A CLEARER PICTURE

WHEN I TOUCH THE GROUND I COME FULL CIRCLE TO MY PLACE AND I AM HOME,

I AM HOME.

I’m sorry. I don’t know why I wrote all of this for a Madonna song. Maybe because one man’s supposed torture would be an easy ride for any one of those children. My life has certainly been easy in comparison, and I gratefully own up to living an enchanted and charmed existence. That doesn’t mean I haven’t seen things. It doesn’t mean I’m unaware. It simply signifies that everyone’s ride is different. Sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes it’s easy. Rarely is it one set thing. For the lucky, life can be long. The chance to be loved, the chance to run about and play on a sunny day – these pockets of salvation in the midst of hell are what get us through the journey.

In the darkest and most shameful part of my soul, I wondered if my discomfort at seeing such happiness in such seeming poverty made my misery mean so much less. There are ugly sides to almost all of us.

I GO ROUND AND ROUND JUST LIKE A CIRCLE

I CAN SEE A CLEARER PICTURE

WHEN I TOUCH THE GROUND I COME FULL CIRCLE TO MY PLACE AND I AM HOME,

I AM HOME.

As for this particular song on the timeline, it begins and ends with a flourish of strings, fitting bookends of elegance to Madonna’s ‘American Life’ electronic pastoral. This one is a down-tempo orchestral beauty that magically completes one of her most controversial, and therefore under-rated, albums. It’s also turning out to be one of the most ahead-of-its-time albums given the current state of political affairs.

I GO ROUND AND ROUND JUST

ROUND AND ROUND JUST

Being invincible doesn’t mean you haven’t been battered. In my experience, the most invincible among us are usually the most battered. But somehow, they get up again, they go on, they become invincible because of the battering the world gives them.

SONG #133 – ‘Easy Ride’ 

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