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The Madonna Timeline: Song #132 – ‘Devil Pray’ – Winter/Spring 2015

mad devil pray 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.}

A stand-out track from Madonna’s most recent ‘Rebel Heart’ album, ‘Devil Pray’ intertwines drugs, booze, religion, and faith into one folksy sing-along, somewhat reminiscent of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and unlike anything she’s done before. Surprisingly spiritual, melodically accessible, and as fun to sing as it is rich to ruminate upon, this is classic Madonna, over three decades into her reign.

TAKE MY SINS AND WASH THEM AWAY

TEACH ME HOW TO PRAY

I’VE BEEN STRANDED HERE IN THE DARK

TAKE THESE WALLS AWAY

 

I’VE BEEN SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN

‘TIL I’M ALMOST DROWNED

GIVE ME SOMETHING I CAN BELIEVE IN

TEACH ME HOW TO PRAY 

At the end of the winter of 2015, I drive along the Massachusetts turnpike. Dirty snow, but not a lot of it, winds along the edge of the road, and gritty salt and mud spray coats the front of the Ice Blue Show Queen. We are both a little tattered at the end of the winter, both in need of escape. She longs for a sunny day in the driveway with Andy, I long for a similar day behind the house and beside the pool. Each of us pines for something just beyond our grasp, but at the tail end of the forlorn season neither expects much.

AND WE CAN DO DRUGS AND WE CAN SMOKE WEED AND WE CAN DRINK WHISKEY

YEAH, WE CAN GET HIGH AND WE CAN GET STONED

AND WE CAN SNIFF GLUE AND WE CAN DO E AND WE CAN DROP ACID

FOREVER BE LOST WITH NO WAY HOME

 

YEAH, WE CAN RUN AND WE CAN HIDE

BUT WE WON’T FIND THE ANSWERS

IF YOU GO DOWN THEN YOU’LL GET HELP ALONG THE WAY

BUT IF YOU WANT TO SAVE YOUR SOUL

THEN WE COULD TRAVEL ALTOGETHER

AND MAKE THE DEVIL PRAY

In Boston, candles flicker in the condo, their reflection mingling with the patches of snow seen beyond the window on Braddock Park. One reaches the end of its life, quietly expiring in a thin wisp of smoke. It smells like winter; spring is not yet in the air. Hunkering down with a cup of hot green tea, I sit on the couch and open a book, enjoying the simple luxury of the moment, waiting for the winter to go.

MOTHER MARY CAN’T YOU HELP ME

‘CAUSE I’VE GONE ASTRAY

ALL THE ANGELS THAT WERE AROUND ME

HAVE ALL FLOWN AWAY

 

THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET’S GETTING WARMER

LUCIFER IS NEAR

HOLDING ON, BUT I’M GETTING WEAKER

WATCH ME DISAPPEAR

My mind wanders back to Brandeis, to a small pool of water in the midst of three houses of worship. Founded on the principles of diversity and freedom of religion, Brandeis ensured that each sanctuary offered a suitable space for its disciples. As a Catholic, I stepped into the church and sat in the last pew, kneeling down as I made the sign of the cross. In a state of loneliness tinged with some slight homesickness, it was a way of reconnecting to my life at home.

Outside, the morning is pretty, filled with a low September sun that was just starting to burn away the fog. When I exit the church, my eyes need a moment to adjust to the light.

I will attend Sunday services only a few more times. My homesickness will soon abate, my loneliness will travel with me for life, and I will come to understand that God can be by my side at all times. That sanctuary opened up to me when I was a little kid, squirming around on the cool, cruel hardness of the dark-stained wooden pews of St. Mary’s church, and I realized that God didn’t require the ritual and the confinement, and certainly not when one was a child. I knew too, however, that my parents did need that tradition, out of superstition or blind faith, and even at that young age I knew that the way through, in the easiest way possible, was to pretend certain things. So I sat upright again, my feet dangling over the wood, my hands cupping a violet I’d picked from the back yard and brought now as an offering to Jesus. 

AND WE CAN DO DRUGS AND WE CAN SMOKE WEED AND WE CAN DRINK WHISKEY

YEAH, WE CAN GET HIGH AND WE CAN GET STONED

AND WE CAN SNIFF GLUE AND WE CAN DO E AND WE CAN DROP ACID

FOREVER BE LOST WITH NO WAY HOME

Shifting back to Boston, like walking to a different stained-glass tableaux, we revisit the end of winter. My book has been closed as my mind recalls those September Sundays at school. There is comfort in those memories, even as they are rife with tension and unresolved issues. One can’t return to certain moments with impunity and safety. Memories carry always the risk of forgotten agony and hidden heartache. Tonight, however, the risk has no unintended or ill consequences. Tonight, it is simply the return to a simpler time.

YEAH, WE CAN RUN AND WE CAN HIDE

BUT WE WON’T FIND THE ANSWERS

IF YOU GO DOWN THEN YOU’LL GET HELP ALONG THE WAY

BUT IF YOU WANT TO SAVE YOUR SOUL

THEN WE COULD TRAVEL ALTOGETHER

AND MAKE THE DEVIL PRAY

The next day, I return to the Massachusetts Turnpike, still bordered by brown snow, still dirty and dismal, and drive back to Albany. I sing along with Madonna as she tells her story. I think of all the places we’ve been together. I think about where we might go next.

OOOH SING HALLELUJAH

OOOH SAVE MY SOUL

OOOH THE DEVIL’S HERE TO FOOL YA

UNTIL MY STORY’S TOLD

SONG #132 – ‘Devil Pray’ – Winter/Spring 2015

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