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The Madonna Timeline: Song #39 ~ Erotica~ October 1992

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{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.}

Erotica,
Romance…
My name is Dita,
I’ll be your mistress tonight.

This was almost the beginning of the end, and to anyone other than Madonna, the one-two punch of the ‘Sex’ book and the ‘Erotica’ album would probably have proved an insurmountable career finisher. Madonna herself has said she divides her career pre and post ‘Sex’ book, so when the iPod chose ‘Erotica’ as the next selection, I took a deep breath and went back to October 1992.

If I take you from behind,
Push myself into your mind,
When you least expect it,
Will you try to reject it?
If I’m in charge,
And I treat you like a child,
Will you let yourself go wild?
Let my mouth go where it wants to?

My fandom was probably at its first orgasmic crescendo, and Madonna was wielding her whip as Dita Parlo. It was all about sex, even if I wasn’t having any – at the start of my senior year of school, all that was yet to come, literally. The scratchy grooves of an old-school record signal the raw, gritty edge of the ‘Erotica’ single, then that devious and delicious bass-line kicks in, and before you know it the ‘Aural Sex’ catch-phrase of the promotional ads has delivered its promise in the five minutes of the song.

Give it up, Do as I say,
Give it up and let me have my way
I’ll give you love, I’ll hit you like a truck,
I’ll give you love, I’ll teach you how to… uhhhh…

To be honest, I think ‘Erotica’ is one of the weaker songs on the album, I don’t like speak-singing as a rule, and this follows on the same whispered tendencies of ‘Justify My Love’ – I didn’t like it then either. But at least there’s a better beat, and more of a melody, even if it is a dark one.

I’d like to put you in a trance – all over…

The ‘Erotica’ single, as well as the album, will always be remembered as the soundtrack to Madonna’s ‘Sex’ book, and rightfully so. Taken together, they formed a multi-media project ~ a prototype for selling wares with an artistic slant ~ this time an album and a book ~ and the singular, sensational theme only served to wet tongues, nether regions and wallets.

Erotic, erotic, put your hands all over my body,
Erotic, erotic, put your hands all over my body…
Erotic, erotic, put your hands all over my body,
Erotic, erotic, put your hands all over my body…
All over me…

There was something comical to sex too – both the first furtive fumblings with my own, as well as the humorous tone of much of the book (and the way I procured my copy). My friend Ann’s mother, Gin-Gin, bought the Sex book for me at the bookstore in Rotterdam Square Mall. I think it was 20% off the $49.95 selling price, and I told her to keep the change from a fifty for her troubles. The idea of the three of us executing this ‘Sex’ book mission in the middle of Rotterdam Mall always tickles me – and if you’ve ever met Ann you’re probably smiling at the notion too. She is one of the funniest people I know, and was my best friend at that tumultuous time. I picked up the album at the same time, in the music store next door – CD and cassette tape versions – and we listened to it on the ride home.

Once you put your hand in the flame, it can never be the same.
There’s a certain satisfaction in a little bit of pain.
I can see you understand me, tell me you’re the same,
If you’re afraid we’ll rise above, I only hurt the ones I love.

Once home, I brought the book into the basement, opened it up, and slowly began to turn the pages. With photographs by Steven Meisel, and Madonna in all sorts of nakedness, it was a feast for an adolescent’s eyes, even if mine were more drawn to the men than the Mistress of Ceremonies. It touched a deeper chord in me as well – one that resonated with my artistic yearnings, and inspired a creative drive to do my own thing no matter what anyone else thought. It may be the single most important lesson Madonna has taught me over the years. If nothing else, ‘Sex’ served as artistic inspiration. From its industrial (if slightly faulty) aluminum binding to its mirror-like Mylar sleeve, it was an exercise in how to execute a project, and the promotional hoopla that surrounded it taught me the importance of making a scene and marketing oneself.

Collectively, the whole experience made the music and the book just that: an Experience. It was more than just a record and a few pictures, it was a form of art, a positing of scandalous behavior by a woman taking her clothes off and forcing us to examine our own feelings on sex and nudity. In the most damning reviews (and there were many) was the essence of artistic controversy. Coupled with the sell-out success of the book’s first printing, it was a smash, albeit a detrimental exercise in go-for-broke shock de-value.

To launch the book and the album, Madonna had a Sex Party, to which she arrived dolled up as a Swiss Miss Milking Maiden, breasts pushed up to high heaven, blonde hair pulled into a double bun, and a stuffed lamb in her arms. God knows I love a party costume.

Give it up, Do as I say,
Give it up and let me have my way
I’ll give you love, I’ll hit you like a truck,
I’ll give you love, I’ll teach you how to… uhhhh…
I’d like to put you in a trance… all over…
Erotic, erotic, put your hands all over my body,
Erotic, erotic, put your hands all over my body…
All over me…

Oh, there was a video too. It was only shown after midnight on MTV, a quaint sign of the changing times, and was a grainy compilation of Super-8 footage taken on the ‘Sex’ photo shoots. It is, like the book and the album, a little piece of pop art, Warholian in aim and intent, as stylized and sleek as it is raw and nervy. A masked Madonna in a severe white collar and sheer, bosom-enhancing blouse, bends a whip and flashes Dita’s gold tooth. A bit spooky, a bit sexy, and, thanks to a cheeky smile or two, a bit silly.

The humor of the video, and the project as a whole, was largely lost on the public, who finally seemed to turn on her, and if ‘Sex’ and ‘Erotica’ were technically commercially successful efforts, the damage it inflicted on her career – and where she went from here – was almost irreparable. But that fall-out would come slightly later. For now she was still the Queen of the World, riding high on her fame and power, and taking the ultimate artistic risk by taking her clothes off for all the world to see. And see we did, watching with rapt eyes and dropped-jaws, still transfixed by this cheeky vixen, and waiting to see what she would do next.

I don’t think you know what pain is,
I don’t think you’ve gone that way,
I could bring you so much pleasure,
I’ll come to you when you say.
I know you want me
I’m not gonna hurt you,
Just close your eyes…
Erotic, erotic, erotic, erotic
Just close your eyes…

As for me, the whole ‘Erotica’ time period was fraught with suicidal adolescent angst. The darker tones of the album bled seamlessly into the dangerous undercurrents raging beneath my straight-A existence. Madonna’s rebellion was a pre-cursor to mine, a grand fuck-you to the establishment, and an almost transparent plea from a hurt little girl, that only a hurt little boy could ever understand.

Only the one that hurts you can make you feel better.
Only the one that inflicts the pain can take it away…
Erotic… A.

Song #39: ‘Erotica’ ~ October 1992

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