The Madonna Timeline: Song #112 – ‘Take A Bow’ – Winter 1995

{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.} 

Surrounded by a decorative circle of mosquito netting, I cradle the phone against the side of my head. In the dramatic tableau of my childhood bedroom, which has grown up along with me, I have created a world that is somewhere between Norma Desmond’s cocoon of a boudoir and the sumptuous candle-laden lair of the Phantom of the Opera. In the dim light of a fading winter’s night, I listen to a man’s voice but it doesn’t betray lust or love or even like, and I wonder if it’s all just a game. The January darkness has fallen quickly, and a thaw has left pools of fog across the hazy streetscape outside the window. At the tail-end of my winter break from Brandeis, I alternately dread and wish for the return to campus, and to Boston. My longing for connection supersedes any rational suspicion; my want for love overpowers any hesitation or concern. More than anything else, I’m in love with the idea of being in love, but I do not see that then. All I feel is longing, and so I stay on the line and listen and try to be funny and lovable and witty and enthralling. Nerves get the best of me, so there is mostly silence from my end.

Take a bow, the night is over
This masquerade is getting older
Light are low, the curtains down
There’s no one here
(There’s no one here, there’s no one in the crowd)
Say your lines but do you feel them
Do you mean what you say when there’s no one around?
Watching you, watching me, one lonely star
(One lonely star you don’t know who you are)

A phantom vision, a gentleman rising from the fog, appearing in the light of a street lamp. Whispers, glances, furtive eyes and tentative touches – a wisp of an encounter, ephemeral and fleeting,

For someone who had such little actual experience in matters of love, who’d never had a love affair that went beyond a year or so, my heart felt battered and bruised. Mostly my love went unrequited, and there’s a different kind of heartbreak in that. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all… or was that not the case? What happens if there was nothing to lose because you never really had anything in the first place? Does that discount the hurt? I would not know enough to compare.

I’ve always been in love with you
I guess you’ve always known it’s true
You took my love for granted, why oh why
The show is over, say good-bye.
Say good-bye, say good-bye…

On the radio, Madonna was beginning her longest run at the #1 slot, as ‘Take A Bow’ shot to the top thanks in part to an American Music Awards appearance with Babyface, who co-wrote the song. It was sweet and beautiful, and went with the softer vibe of the ‘Bedtime Stories’ album. The song itself was saccharine but effective, and Babyface’s luscious melodies were candy for the ears. Still, it was imbued with enough sadness and regret to make it more than just a passing fancy. The best of her songs straddle that line.

The video for the single was a lavish piece of cinematic beauty and breadth, shot in Spain and documented for an MTV making-of special entitled, “No Bull!” in which Kurt Loder interviewed the blonde diva, and the video would end up winning accolades and awards for its simple heartbreaking story of a woman’s love for a bullfighter. Something went wrong somewhere along the way, and she ended up alone, streaks of tear-stained mascara running down her face.

In the video, Madonna cradled a television, caressing it like a loved one ~ the notion of loneliness obvious and crushing. I sympathized with her lonely obsession, the tinges of want and desire, and the echoes of what once was coupled with the realization of what could never be.

We thrashed beneath the sheets, we cried out streams of anguish, and in the end we ended up right where we began – alone and unlucky and heartbroken.

Make them laugh, it comes so easy
When you get to the part
Where you’re breaking my heart
Hide behind your smile, all the world loves a clown
(Just make ’em smile the whole world loves a clown)
Wish you well, I cannot stay
You deserve an award for the role that you played (role that you played)
No more masquerade, you’re one lonely star
(One lonely star and you don’t know who you are)

After winter break, I returned to Boston by myself, the temporary thaw and fog-filled nights turned into memories, the veracity of which I could never be quite sure. I worked on creative projects that I’d send out to my friends – ‘Whimsy’ and ‘Preference’ – in a desperate attempt to stay close to people, to not give up. Yet increasingly I felt isolated and alone, trapped in a turret of Usen Castle, with Boston but a dim glow in the distance.

The sun filtered through the bare branches of an oak tree, falling in orange shafts and moving over walls of painted cinder blocks. I’d sit and stare at the digital red numbers of my alarm clock, before the light drained from the room. I thought of the first man I ever kissed. I thought of the last time I saw him, and of the cold winter that followed. I listened to Madonna and wondered how far my heartache was from hers.

All the world is a stage (the world is a stage)
And everyone has their part (has their part)
But how was I to know which way the story’d go
How was I to know you’d break
(You’d break, you’d break, you’d break)
You’d break my heart?

Her paramour took a bow, then took his leave. Is this what men did? The only guy I’d been with had left before the snow came. He’d done worse things to me before that, but whether I was blinded by love or too young to know any better, I hadn’t wanted him to leave. He’d left a wake of regret over something in which I had no say, no control. The terrifying and forlorn barren desert of the heart. A literal no-man’s land.

I’ve always been in love with you
(I’ve always been in love with you)
Guess you’ve always known
You took my love for granted, why oh why
The show is over, say good-bye

Yet after every winter came the thaw. Not the tricky, brief ones of January or February, but the lasting, sustaining and final thaw that obliterated winter once and for all. It happened that year, as it did every other. Maybe it was messier than usual, maybe it took a little longer, but soon enough spring had arrived. Winter took its bow, and said its farewell.

Say good-bye (bye bye), say good-bye
Say good-bye.

SONG #112 – ‘Take A Bow’– Winter 1995

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