I’m shivering cold as I wait in the car while my Mum use the back of a CD case to scrape off the ice. Slowly with each passing crunch, she reveals the world outside the windscreen. She smiles at me as everything comes into focus.
“Madonna,” she says, brandishing the CD case. “She can do anything.”
Most of my morning rides to school were accompanied by the queen of pop, not that she would ever know that my Mum, a scouse woman who grew up on a council estate, idolised her the way she did. And, by proxy, so did I.
Madonna instilled in me a sense of self, of womanhood — and of girlhood, too.
Her music, the soundtrack to the turbulent and deep, uncompromising love my mother and I share for one another.
In our secondhand car, where more often than not, the footwells would swell with water, I was allowed to sing (read: belt out) to Like A Virgin, What It Feels Like For A Girl, Express Yourself and slowly but surely, the lyrics infused in me a sense of self. As I grew, I felt empowered by the thought of holding onto my pleasure, of putting myself first, of love and of heartbreak.
We knew all the words, my mother and I, but we knew more than that. We knew, intrinsically, as an eight-year-old and a forty-something-year-old, (she never has told me how old she is), what the world had in store for us.
Between each sharp intake of breath, and as each word wrapped itself around our mouths, we knew there and then that no matter how hard we tried, our sex would define the way we moved in the world. And this frightened my mother no end.
By this point in my life, my mother and father had separated, then divorced, then fought. Caught between the crossfires, I found myself to be quite lost during my teens. The car rides stopped, as I opted for the bus to quite literally anywhere else.
Madonna and my mother took a backseat while I searched for my identity. I was troubled and confused by my attraction to men and women, without the language or representation to fully understand what that meant outside of what we would call biphobic slurs now. Sluts, greedy, confused — none of which I wanted to identify with.
Leaving home, my relationship with my mother had deteriorated. We were no longer friends, though we loved each other very much. It was hard for her to let me go and it was hard for me to grow up.
In my halls of residence, alone, after my Dad had left me with a food shop and some words of wisdom, I turned on my iPod speaker and iPod (yes, I am this old), and played Frozen followed by The Power of Goodbye. I missed my Mum, I wished my Dad could have stayed but above all else, I was so glad to be so very far away.
The following years flitted quickly, as twenties often do. Heartbreaks and friendship breakdowns were all accompanied by the Madonna soundtrack my mother had played in our rusting Rover all those years ago.
Many years later, (and many life lessons later), in a surreal turn of events, I find myself sitting in the VIP box at the O2 in London, in what feels like a homecoming of sorts. I’m about to watch the biggest performance of my life. I fizz with excitement as Bob The Drag Queen introduces the star of the show - Madonna. I can’t believe I’m here, watching the sold-out Celebration tour.
Despite fears she might not make it through a recent illness, she is nothing short of spectacular. Sexy, outspoken, fearless, and brazen, she opens with Nothing Really Matters to rapturous applause. The atmosphere is electric. I can’t help but sing and dance along to Get Into The Groove and in what feels like a movie-like flashback, I look to the left and feel my mother singing with me.
As I’ve grown, and as my mother has too, our bond has become stronger and less fraught. What was once a difficult relationship for both of us is now galvanised and unbreakable. I think of her during each performance and try and video call her. I think of those frosty mornings driving to school, and the sad days following the divorce – both life events punctuated by the music being played before me. No answer.
The show goes on. I weep at the tribute made to those lost in the AIDs crisis. The collective sadness is palpable in the crowd and the gesture is poignant and personal. I think of my mother, who lost many people close to her during this time and of the millions upon millions of people who have lost their lives following the outbreak.
As hundreds of faces of people flood the set and stage surrounding Madonna’s performance of Live To Tell, I look around to see the tearful faces of hundreds of people watching on. We are all touched by trauma, and all connected by our grief.
In many ways, watching the Celebration Tour is like walking through my mother’s life – Madonna and my mother are of similar age (by my calculations). In every song she plays, I see my Mum at different stages of her life. As a pretty young thing in the 80s doing her nurse training, dressed in that new romantic style, vogueing in the Gay Bars of Liverpool, to a PhD student singing with her daughter in the car while she dives her to school. Her life is flashing before my eyes.
The tender moments Madonna shares with her children on stage make me yearn for my own mother. I wish she was here. I wish she was experiencing this with me. So much of our lives have been entwined with Madonna’s music. Finally, she calls me back.
We sing and cry together, as thousands around us do the same. So many of us share parasocial relationships with Madonna. I wonder if she knows how much she has impacted these far-flung relationships between mothers and their children everywhere. I hope so.
I hope amidst the thousands upon thousands of faces she stares at she knows that her music has articulated where words have failed. Has spoken of sex, empowerment, confidence and love in a way many of us are unable to communicate or teach.
Madonna says ”The most controversial thing I’ve ever done is to stick around″. From mothers and daughters everywhere, we’re so glad that you did.