The first time I heard Madonna sing she was telling me to get up and do my thing. I was 14 and dancing with Mitch Ruben, one of my many high school crushes. We were barefoot, dancing on the grass in the backyard of Lori Morgan's house. I couldn't make eye contact so I just swayed to Madonna's "Everybody," looking at the clouds, the grass, the sky, my feet. My mouth closed, I traced my braces with the tip of my tongue underneath my upper lip, snapping my fingers and feeling alive. High on hormones and Fresca, I lost myself in the lyrics: Let the music take control / Find a groove and let yourself go / When the room begins to sway / You know what I'm trying to say.
By the time high school graduation rolled around, I was one of a slew of 17-year-old Madonna wannabes donning a forearm full of black rubber bracelets, fake rosary beads and lace headbands. The song "Holiday" became my personal anthem, my break from the anguish of everyday teenage life.
In my 20s, working as a stripper, I danced to "Like a Prayer" without once thinking of the irony; if Madonna could burn crosses in her video, surely a naked dancer could give the pole a spin. "Vogue" was another stripping favorite of mine. I posed onstage like I was in one of her videos, letting my body groooove to the music.
After seeing the documentary "Truth or Dare," my Madonna obsession escalated. When rubbing elbows with the other club-hoppers in Waikiki, I wore fishnet tights complete with hot pants and a black, mesh body suit with a black bra underneath.
A couple of years later I met one of Madge's backup dancers at a club. I took it as a personal message that he was coming on to me and slept with him almost immediately. After the walk of shame in his hotel (a scene completely reminiscent of "Justify My Love"), I phoned my best friend (a gay dude, naturally) and we giggled for hours.
After an earth-shaking heartbreak in 1998, I shed countless tears to "Power of Goodbye" -- only to feel cleansed and stronger after repeating her lyrics: Freedom comes when you learn to let go / Creation comes when you learn to say no / There's no greater power than the power of good-bye. She just got me.
I'm now in my early 40s and, although my wild days are behind me, I am still influenced by Madonna. On the treadmill I think of her toned body as I try to visualize my old stripper self underneath the coat of cellulite and body fat. "Jump" reminds me to focus: I haven't got much time to waste, it's time to make my way. And I push myself just a little bit harder.
To some, she's too radical. Others may say she's tired. But for me, she'll always be part of my pop culture DNA, an artist who weaved her way through the fabric of my self-evolution timeline without ever missing a beat.