One of the more niche testaments to my personal fandom is a spiral-bound, stainless steel art book, its title discreetly etched into the cover: “Sex.”
Yes, Cicconephiles (a term meaning a superfan of Madonna, taken from the star’s last name, Ciccone), I own Madonna’s notorious 1992 photo book released in conjunction with her “Erotica” album, the one that scandalized the zeitgeist with its nudity and depictions of sexuality. Most shockingly for a pop star at the time, many of the most risqué photos featured the singer herself. It’s a project that pretty succinctly sums up key aspects of Madonna’s career.
When it was announced that the singer would be playing three dates at the 2,297-seat Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco this November, there was much excitement among the Bay Area Madonna fan base. We are a Madonna-loving town with nights dedicated to her music at gay clubs and bars (most notably, Oasis does a yearly Mother show tribute to her) and there are even mentions of her in The Chronicle from early in her career in Herb Caen’s column in the 1980s. Her music and various personas from “Like a Virgin” to “Madame X” have stretched across a remarkable four decades.
So why do Cicconephiles still stan the 61-year-old performer?
I asked a few Bay Area superfans, and interestingly, everyone I spoke to frankly pointed out Madonna’s flaws: She’s not a perfect singer. She’s probably difficult to socialize with, based on her behavior on talk shows. She has maybe five good films, which isn’t terrible until you remember she’s made about 30.
But they also say that the flaws are partially why they love her. Maybe she’s not artistically above reproach, but she’s really committed to her vision.
She probably isn’t the most gracious person in the room, but does she need to be? Women, LGBT people and others at the margins are so often told to shut up and be pleasant that it’s always exciting when one of us defies that dictate. That defiance is part of her appeal, and San Francisco is a culturally defiant city.
Then the fans quickly launch into passionate testimonials.
Dancer Linda Gamino remembers her uncle, Rick, sneaking her a copy of Madonna’s “Virgin Tour” video as a child and how she would race home to dance with her idol. In high school, the first work Gamino choreographed for herself was to “Frozen,” a single off Madonna’s 1998 album “Ray of Light.”
“I’ll always remember seeing her in ‘A League of Their Own’ in the theater,” Gamino recalls. “Her character is tying her shoe, she looks up and we see her for the first time, kind of smirking. The audience here went crazy.”
Performer Terry McLaughlin has seen Madonna in concert four times and says part of why he’s spent as much as $500 to see her live is that she always brings A+ queer collaborators into her production, like fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier.
“She’s also been there with gay audiences as an advocate since way before it was popular,” says McLaughlin.
Victoria Sutton has seen every Madonna tour since “Blond Ambition” in 1990 and will be there at the Golden Gate (the shows run Saturday, Nov. 2, as well as Nov. 4-5). She notes that Madonna frequently tours leading up to elections and isn’t shy about addressing social and political issues artistically.
“I remember this one dance she did about gun violence that was really bloody and gripping,” says Sutton. “At 61, she’s not afraid to speak her mind, which makes it easier for me to do that at 53.”
Excitingly, Madonna’s many personas and artistic eras have kept us guessing what’s next. My friend photographer Frederic Aranda and I once joked about how we can keep track of events in our own lives by remembering what phase Madonna was then going through. The woman is such a force in pop culture that you can actually keep time by her (the only other person I can think of that you can say that about is Jesus).
Drag queen Venus D-Lite, a “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season three contestant, is well-known for her Madonna drag and says that San Francisco audiences even fawn over Madonna impersonators with enthusiasm.
“Maybe people like her because she likes to prove people wrong,” says D-Lite, whose next performance as Madonna is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 4, at the Cafe in San Francisco. “She kind of gives me the courage not to give a s— what anyone else thinks.”
My feelings about Madonna are best summed up by the “Sex” book. Like that tome, I admire that she has always had a completely committed artistic vision, even if that vision is sometimes flawed.
And, yes, I also love her defiance.
By the way, aside from all the social theory, the woman has also given us some pretty danceable music.
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