In 1985, I was 16 years old and spent my weekend nights cruising the streets of Kansas City in my 1979 Fiat Strada. I realize now that a four-door hatchback is not every teenage girl’s dream, but I loved that car because it was mine, because it gave me freedom, and because it had a really great stereo system.
I spent most of the money from my part-time job on cassette tapes that would become the soundtrack of my teenage years—The Bangles, the Go-Go’s, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. I was a straight girl back then, though my interest in the women of pop music should have probably been a clue. It wasn’t, however, and it took me years to figure it all out. Now, when I look back on my deep feelings for each of those women, I ask myself one question: Did I want to be them or did I want to do them? This is a very important distinction. Upon much reflection, I can say without a doubt that I wanted to do Belinda Carlisle, but I wanted to be Madonna.
I can say without a doubt that I wanted to do Belinda Carlisle, but I wanted to be Madonna.
Madonna became a pop culture phenomenon in 1983, and the first song of hers I loved was Borderline, maybe because I wanted to dance around effortlessly in a denim vest and kiss a man who seemed vaguely gay. (Of course, I had no way of knowing that I would do exactly that during my senior year in high school.)
I was drawn to Madonna because she was messy — from her hair to her fashion sense — and I was nothing like that. My hair was always perfect. Everything I wore matched, enabled by The Gap’s tendency to sell socks and shirts in the same exact hues. I wore penny loafers so shiny I could see my own reflection. I was a very good girl, and Madonna seemed like a bad girl but not really bad — more like a starter bad girl.
Though I had the self-awareness of a demented squirrel when it came to my sexuality, I had enough sense to know that I could never pull off Madonna’s style. Sure, I bought two mesh tanks to wear over things, but I quickly realized that I would have to ditch the penny loafers and that was never going to happen. I wish I’d had that same level of insight when I began inexplicably dressing like Ducky from Pretty in Pink.
But my love for Madonna deepened in 1985 when the movie Vision Quest came out and Madonna’s Crazy for You was the hit song on the soundtrack. I was a lover of pop music all through my teen years, but when I heard that song I was certain that there had never been a love song as beautiful and true as that one. In my mind, it was the ballad of all ballads. Driving home from an evening spent with my friends, I would roll down the windows and let the breeze blow through my permed hair as I listened to it over and over:
I never wanted anyone like this
It’s all brand new, you’ll feel it in my kiss
I’m crazy for you, crazy for you
This is where I have to confess that I am a hopeless romantic. I like happy endings and want the protagonists in every novel and movie to end up together in order to reinforce my belief that true love will triumph against all odds. I felt that way at 16, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I feel the same at 46.
In some weird way, Crazy for You felt like a promise to me. My friends were starting to date and I still had no interest in boys, but I wanted to believe that I would meet someone and fall in love. I knew I didn’t want Matthew Modine, but did anyone really want Matthew Modine? I just wanted to believe there was someone out there who would make my heart beat faster, who would hold me close and dance with me like we were the only two people in the room. That song helped me imagine what love might look like someday as I started to hope for my own happy ending.
Five years after Crazy for You came out, I did too and my vision of that happy ending began to change. When I look at the lyrics all these years later, I wonder if there was another clue for me in that song — there is no gender specified. It is a completely gender neutral song sung by a woman, and maybe that is why I could relate to it so much. I could put myself into the music and the imagined situation and feel love without constraints even if I didn’t understand it at the time.
In 2013, after same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota, my partner and I married after being together for 20 years. When we planned the party to follow the ceremony, I had only one musical request — Crazy for You — and that night, surrounded by family and friends, I danced with the person I love, the person I hoped for but never could have imagined when I was just 16. Twenty eight years after I heard the song for the first time and twenty years after falling in love, I stood with my arms around the woman I love, knowing she could feel it in my kiss.
(Graphic: Helen Jane Hearn/TueNight.com)