For me, watching backawayslowly’s pilgrimage to the Madonna shows has been a fun spectator sport. He has the same fever that I catch when Bruce is on the move. I appreciate his unbridled enthusiasm, and it’s hardly misplaced. Madonna has contributed more to our culture than many care to recognize, and her music was part of my soundtrack during the best years of my life. I’ve thought long and hard about whether to pony up for a pair of tickets to her DC show but I can’t. It just wouldn’t be the same.
Billy loved events, big and small. Whether it was an upcoming concert, a weekend getaway, or waiting for a premium to come in the mail from box tops he had saved - it was the anticipation that lifted him. He was every bit as happy if he found a Marlboro Mile on the ground to add to his collection or if he landed tickets. It was the waiting; the promise of a prize, or the eagerness itself rather than the outcome for Guyster.
Billy was on the phone, online, and hooked into a network of friends in order for him to secure us a pair of tickets for her show on September 13, 2001. I was out of work, broke, and the tickets were expensive.
“I’m taking you this time,” he said, with pride.
It was his fourth time seeing her live, and he was determined to show me that she was all that. He didn’t need to prove anything; I already knew. His efforts paid off with a great pair, right to the side of the stage a few rows off the floor. When he got them, he didn’t realize that 9/11 would happen, or that he would lose his job on the 12th. There was nothing but joy when he finally got those tickets in his mitts.
However, 9/11 did occur, and his job, at which he worked for so long, evaporated without a moment’s notice. Madonna cancelled her show, and we sat home that night watching the smoldering wreckage with the rest of the country. Madonna would reschedule her show a few days later; it would be her first since the national tragedy.
We arrived at Staples Center early, ate a dinner of Panda Express, snuck a joint on the top outdoor deck of the arena, and I bought Billy a retro necklace with Madonna’s name spelled out in silver letters. He was wearing a green tank top, baggy jeans, and his favorite Docs.
“Put it on.” I said.
“No way, man!”
“Turn around,” I said. He spun and I took the necklace out of its plastic pocket, and hooked it around his neck. “Turn around and let me see.”
“How’s it look?” he asked, looking down as he tried to see but he couldn’t. It was too tight around his neck for him to look at it.
“Cute,” I said. I kissed him, quick and soft.
“Stop it!” It was his familiar shorthand for Thank you. I love you, too.
We took our seats armed with a couple of beers, and we waited, watching the arena fill up with fans and fervor. He was so focused that night, on the edge of his seat, literally, and mentally he danced way before the lights went out.
Madonna wound her way through a tightly choreographed show, stopping once to plead for peace and understanding. The crowd started a growing boo before she flipped the bird and launched into her next song.
Toward the end, maybe it was an encore, she did Holiday and the lights went up in the arena. And Billy and I were dancing like crazy people. I glanced at him as he faced the stage, mouthing the lyrics, and he tried to dance his signature dance in the confines of our aisle. He was happy. I caught that glimpse at an unguarded moment of rapture. I loved that look.
The music was ringing in our ears when we made our way back to the car. He rolled his window down, lit a cigarette, and said, “I’m wore out.”
“She was awesome.” I said.
“Yeah, she was. I loved those bell bottoms! She was really…” his voice trailed. He looked out the window and found a private space all his own for a second.
“Madonna!” I said.
“Yeah. She sure was,” he said, wistfully, anticipating his next big event.
Dave, have a great Madonnalicious time! I’ll be thinking about you.