I rewatched Truth or Dare yesterday. I hadn’t planned to, but I fell asleep on the couch while Heidi was watching Japanese anime which somehow fits into her current work-in-progress (no, I have no idea how it fits in, I’ll be as surprised as the rest of you.) Anyway, she put on the Blu-ray of Truth or Dare when her movie was over and just let me sleep until I woke up. I woke up during the first bit of concert footage – “Express Yourself” – mostly because the volume level between the documentary portion and the concert portion was so disparate. I’ve been saying I’m going to rewatch it for months, but it just never happens, so I’m eternally grateful to my wife for having just decided that’s what I was going to wake up to.
I always say that Truth or Dare is not an easy watch for non-fans or even casual fans. There are parts of it that make me squirm uncomfortably. There are parts of it that are so obviously staged. Anyone thinking for one second that Madonna wasn’t in charge of what was seen and what wasn’t seen is out of their mind. That said, I’m so glad that Truth or Dare exists because it is an amazing time capsule, a living document chronicling Madonna on her Blond Ambition Tour at what is arguably the height of her fame. Watching the movie nearly 15 years after it was released, it (like “Rush Rush”) has aged much better than I think anyone could have expected. Madonna is so young in Truth or Dare, and it shows. She is worldly, yet naive. She is a bitch and a loving, doting mother figure to her dancers. Self-centered and bossy, yet giving and generous. I also love the, with a few notable exceptions, almost completely live vocals – flaws and all – in the concert footage. I’ve always said that the ability to appreciate Madonna’s frequently imperfect live vocals is what separates the men from the boys in Madonna fandom.
In an act bordering on Madonna sacrilege, I’m a bit critical of Blond Ambition in that I think that a lot of the dance moves are VERY high school show choir. For God’s sake, she does jazz hands at one point! But there’s no denying that she was one of the first people, and certainly the first woman, to launch an ambitious tour like this, a blueprint that she continues to use for her more recent tours. The fact that the footage in Truth or Dare is the only professionally shot live footage of the tour that is commercially available makes the film even more important as a document of Madonna’s career.
But what I really want to talk about is “Keep It Together.” The last single from Like A Prayer and the closing number on Blond Ambition, I’ve always felt like it’s one of Madonna’s forgotten songs. As the last single from an album, it’s bound to be an also-ran. Even I had kind of forgotten about it until I watched Truth or Dare yesterday. “Keep It Together” is, above all, an ode to family and how much they influence you, even and especially when you don’t always see eye to eye. I imagine Madonna’s relationship with her family defines “complicated.” How many of us can truly say that our relationships with our family of origin are completely uncomplicated? How about our relationships in general? I always say, if the relationship isn’t at least a little bit complicated, you really don’t know each other all that well. I think Madonna sums it up best in what is one of her patented killer bridges:
When I look back on all the misery
And all the heartache that they brought to me
I wouldn’t change it for another chance
‘Cuz blood is thicker than any other circumstance
But what really made me want to write about this song is its live performance on Blond Ambition. To date, this is the only time the song has been performed on tour (Dear Madonna: please resurrect it for the next tour.) Performed in some sort of bizarre homage to A Clockwork Orange and mashed up with Sly & the Family Stone’s “Family Affair”, it is one of my favorite of her live performances. Her vocals are pretty good considering it was the last song of the night, even though the part where she sings “It’s a family afffaaaaaair” is a bit of a 300 pound robin note (at about 1:25 in the video.) Here it is, in all its glory.
Chairs always make a performance better, right?
Alas, Blond Ambition was not a tour I saw live, although it’s probably the one I wish I could have seen of all the tours I missed out on. I just hope she takes my advice and brings it back for the inevitable tour in 2015. It deserves to have another moment in the spotlight 25 years later.