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The Madonna Timeline: Song #119 – ‘Wash All Over Me’ – Winter/Spring 2015

mad wash all 101

{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.}

There’s a sea anemone exhibit at the New England Aquarium in which the sea anemones are delicately lit, their tentacles waving gently in the current, while tiny bubbles float daintily to the surface. It’s tucked into a dim corner and the surroundings and the anemones themselves are so tranquil they are like sweetly-singing sirens, beckoning the unwary into their peaceable kingdom.

Yet if you watch long enough, lulled into a sense of stillness and calm, you will be harshly shocked by a sudden splash of a wave that bursts into the tank in a deluge of bubbles and tumultuous churning. It’s a rather effective mimicking of the ocean shoreline. The first time it happened I jumped back. Just a little kid, I had been peering intently at the magnificently-arrayed tentacles, my vision narrowly focused on this anemone world, so when that wave crashed into the tank, it was an unexpected explosion. Yet after my surprise, after the jolt of displaced water and air, things settled down again. The anemones remained in their places – only their pretty tentacles had waved wildly in the current. Anemones know how to anchor themselves, attaching to rocks and holding on with a tenacious grip that defies the most powerfully turbulent wave. I think of them when I hear this song.

IN A WORLD THAT’S CHANGING, I’M A STRANGER, IN A STRANGE LAND

THERE’S A CONTRADICTION AND I’M STUCK HERE IN-BETWEEN.

LIFE IS A LIKE A DESERT, AN OASIS TO CONFUSE ME

SO I WALK THIS RAZOR’S EDGE, WILL I STAND OR WILL I FALL? 

TURN A BLIND EYE, TRY TO PRETEND THAT NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS

TORN BETWEEN THE IMPULSE TO STAY OR RUNNING AWAY FROM ALL THIS MADNESS

This Rebel Heart cut – the final song on some versions of the album – was originally conceived as a racing dance-stomper, but that demo was transfigured into this power ballad, complete with dirge-like marching drums, signaling the end of something.

Madonna has often hinted at the end, in all its myriad forms.  ’Live to Tell‘, ‘Spanish Eyes’, ‘Something to Remember’, ‘Mer Girl’, ‘Lament’, ‘Gone’, ‘Falling Free‘  and perhaps most daringly in ‘Take A Bow‘ (at a critical period in her career – when the post-Sex/Erotica backlash had public opinion dwelling on whether or not her career was finally over) Madonna has never shied away from questioning her own mortality, or the notion of an ending in abstraction (including the oft-predicted and ever-wrong end of her career). She has attributed some of this obsession to the death of her mother, which left her with an ending, but no real notion of how to begin again. Instead, she filled that hole with a race to live the fullest and most daring life she could, not wasting a moment, as if the ticking of the clock and her own impending end were things she could outrun. Thus far, she’s succeeded, but that hasn’t stopped her from occasionally confronting it in her work.

WHO AM I TO DECIDE WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

IF THIS IS THE END THEN LET IT COME,

LET IT COME, LET IT RAIN, RAIN ALL OVER ME

LIKE THE TIDE, LET IT FLOW, LET IT WASH ALL OVER ME, OVER ME…

For Madonna, things have always had to get a little crazy from time to time. She yearns for that tumultuous wave to come crashing down on her every so often, knowing that a jolt that shakes you to your core is the best way to rebuild. Like those beautiful and seemingly-delicate sea anemones, she relishes the rough and tumble push and pull of life’s current. Those anemones may look like exotic flowers blooming beneath the ocean’s surface, but they know how to hang on, and they carry a stinging poison in those pretty tentacles.

ALL OF MY ILLUSIONS COULD BE SHATTERED IN A SECOND

YOU COULD THREAD A NEEDLE WITH A TEARDROP FROM MY EYE

IT’S A CRUEL INJUSTICE TO BE WITNESS TO THE THINGS I SEE

LOOKING FOR THE ANSWER WHEN IT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME

FROM THE TOWER OF BABYLON WHERE NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS

GONNA WATCH THE SUN GOING DOWN, I’M NOT GONNA RUN FROM ALL THIS SADNESS

Outside the New England Aquarium, the wind whips around Boston Harbor with a viciousness only the ocean can unleash. Standing at the water’s edge, the city behind me, I recall other times when standing here was all I could muster. In the aftermath of heartache, in the despondent longing and hopeless wish for a pair of arms around me, I would go to the harbor to feel the sting of salt water. Outside the aquarium there was no glass wall keeping the waves from reaching us. There was nothing to stop the wind from pricking any exposed skin with that mineral-spiked water.

WHO AM I TO DECIDE WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

IF THIS IS THE END THEN LET IT COME,

LET IT COME, LET IT RAIN, RAIN ALL OVER ME

LIKE THE TIDE, LET IT FLOW, LET IT WASH ALL OVER ME, OVER ME…

On certain nights, after trying to be as pretty and tenacious and dangerous as those sea anemones, I’d stand there feeling nothing but weakness. I thought the cold and the water and the winter would knock me down. I thought I’d never move beyond that demarcation, where water and land and sky met, where the shame of the past mingled with the possibility of the future. Yet I didn’t fall down. I stumbled a bit, and I’d stumble again, but I somehow kept going. The wind and the water rushed over me, but I was still there. A little bedraggled, a little beaten down, but still alive.

LET IT WASH ALL OVER ME, OVER ME…

LET IT WASH ALL OVER ME.

SONG #119 – ‘Wash All Over Me’ – Winter/Spring 2015

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