Gary Caruso | Friday, September 5, 2014
This is not about the lady who rigidly sits atop the Golden Dome emanating her mystical Catholic presence. It is about music from the ever chameleon-like mystical pop icon who clawed her way to stardom while influencing millions of youth along her career — and whose daughter is currently an incoming freshman at the University of Michigan. Longevity of life grants one a rather bizarre worldview of existence, because life is more than a mystery, as coined by Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. Loving those moments of existence remembered at the time of penned music is why an artist like Madonna can claim each of us as her children.
Life repeats experiences with minor subtleties from one generation to the next. While growing up southwest of Pittsburgh, my mother’s “Ciccone” family would attend Italian picnics and “Pisano” gatherings in other suburbs like Clairton, Greensburg, Trafford and Aliquippa. At one outing, I recall a rowdy young girl who for the summer was visiting her grandparents (themselves most hardily socializing near the refreshments). It was a time 45 years ago just as I prepared to enter Notre Dame when I vaguely remember this 11-year-old herself was still evolving her inner-self — a being that many would religiously follow a mere dozen years later.
My Ciccone family limb is not close to Madonna’s entertainment business, but not so remote that I would annoy her to disrespectfully snap selfies. In fact, as a former Democratic White House staffer with ties to Republican staff, I arranged for the Drowned World Tour staff to visit the White House in August 2001. As is typical of her strong principled stances, my offer was ultimately declined. But it does show that life easily presented an opportunity for a new encounter three decades after our first.
During that first 1969 encounter, our chaotic nation and iconic decade finally showed its drastic decline. In 1969, like this year — actually, every year — incoming freshmen have no inkling of how their lives could ever come full circle. Like today, my freshman wardrobe back then consisted of skinny pants. Like this summer in Ferguson, Mo., racial tensions erupted the summer of 1969 in York, Penn., when a lack of political diversity in the York local government led to murder, curfews and a National Guard presence. Like courts have overwhelmingly ruled in favor of same-sex marriage this year, the Stonewall riot of 1969 shocked those who felt that society was destroying their “traditional” way of life.
My generation’s now classic music evolved through genres like Led Zeppelin’s new heavy metal sound or The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” albums. “Sesame Street” excitedly debuted in hopes that low-income children could learn through the medium of television. Ironically, “The Brady Bunch” premiered between news-breaking events like the Charles Manson mass murders and the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. Politically, Senator Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge, killing his passenger.
While our government launched four NASA Apollo missions that included two moon landings, it also prepared and conducted its first military draft in decades that targeted us freshmen. Nearly 300 students at Harvard University seized a building where 45 were injured and 184 arrested. At Notre Dame, we students staged a strike in protest of the Kent State killings. Our faculty patrolled the campus overnight to dissuade rebellious students from burning buildings. The University president at the time, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, granted us options to freeze our grades and exercise our First Amendment rights or to continue attending classes. Nationally, my fellow freshman used Woodstock as a benchmark and convergence point for free speech in support of civil rights, anti-war and women’s equality campaigns. Throughout it all, music resonated as the soul behind our ideals of civility, peace, equality and sharing.
Looking back upon the 45 years washed away from my first steps on campus, I better appreciate what made me who I am today. I am a child of the hippie culture, a charter member during the summer of love and a spectator of Woodstock — later to convert as a disciple of Madonna. Yet Madonna, like all of us, wandered within her own being as far back as her summers in Pennsylvania through her jump to the Big Apple that launched her career. Her journey molded the principles she holds and expresses to millions yearning to discover more than a momentary thrill.
Some moments are made sacred by the people and events that grace them. Today, as the Class of ’18 stumbles on its way through campus life, they may hear the songs of generations past whispering to them if they dare listen. If they dare venture, insight comes while stepping away from the crowd. Truth derives from an unconditional acceptance of others, and respect for all of mankind. In many ways, today is no different than 1969. It merely had an earthshaking woman named Madonna enter the path two steps ahead of the crowd.