Damn It, Madonna (La Isla Bonita and Memory)

By Michelle Railey

Sometimes I think about the universe in terms of the Cosmos: grand, enormous, unfathomable. Stars and millenia and humans just don’t register. We’re very small, materially and temporally.

And other times, I make the mistake of visiting the ladies’ room while the Muzak is playing loudly. And what it’s playing is La Isla Bonita (a single by Madonna released in 1987, from the album True Blue, 1986.)

Damn the universe, 1986-1987 kind of weigh a lot. Doesn’t matter that the cosmos disagrees.

I know a place called San Pedro.

I know a place called San Pedro, too. In that place, we watch contests (every day!) between Debi Thomas and Katarina Witt: who is the better Carmen on ice skates? (Debi Thomas has the better outfit, if you ask me.)

We spend our free time arranging our hair with pastel colored things from Goody: light yellow, palest pink. Peach. Mint. Aqua. Lavender. It’s a good time to be alive.

We spend the rest of our time switching out the colors of the inserts in our Converse cheerleading shoes: sure, there’s like 16 colors of plastic pieces to put in behind the star (I’m going to be edgy and go with burgundy and purple — who’s with me?) And, well, admittedly, there is still more time remaining (the late 1980s were full of free time; you can ask anyone who was there) so I’m going to use my Crayola broad-tip pastel markers to make new inserts for my cheerleading Converse: bubblegum pink (check). Mint (check). Peach, lavender, lemon (all the colors of the 1986-1987 rainbow): check, check, check.

Just like I’d never gone, I knew the song.

And every slumber party (and there were a few that happened then) is colored by “La Isla Bonita”. See, we’re all going to lip sync it while holding on to our buttermint-colored Casios. We’re going to lip sync Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Whitney Houston. But mostly Madonna, because, my god, what is more sensitive than True Blue, I was made for you? Though, granted, we’re all feeling “Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty.” Truth be told, we are also very big slumber party fans of El Debarge and Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam; of Bananarama (Venus was her name) and Robbie Neville and Miami Sound Machine. We’re even pretty keen on Howard Jones and Stacey Q (Queen of Hearts).

Music is good at this time, these weird smudgy 1986-1987-y years. And while we may not lip sync all of it, well, we’re big, big fans of Duran Duran (Notorious) and Pet Shop Boys (West End Girls) Among others. Lip Synching is a many, varied thing. Much like love. Just with more lip gloss.

And, well, after the part where we eat Doritos and sing La Isla Bonita (in our non-slumber party- free time, we will totally spend our time doing fake interviews with Jim McKay explaining our awesome Carmen ice routine; our lip gloss will be subtly but shinily shell-colored; very Sand and Sable), we will play Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board.

As it turns out, this game totally works: you and four of your closest friends really can lift your little sister into the air, just with your first and middle fingers. Truly.

I mean, you gotta turn out all the lights, turn off the Miami Sound Machine and the Friday Night Videos: You have to commit.

In the dark, chanting: “Light as a feather, stiff as a board. Light as a feather, stiff as a board.”

Bonus points if you add a scary story to freak out the “board,” so to speak.

Light as a feather. Stiff as a board. “A young girl with eyes like a desert; It all seems like yesterday, not far away.

As it turns out, Samuel Pepys wrote about young women playing the same game: in 1665. It was said in French, then. It was little girls, “all kneeling, each of them, upon one knee.” The chant went “Voici un corps mort/ Raide comme un bâton, / Froid comme le marbre/ Légere comme un esprit, / Léve-toi au nom de Jésus-Christ!) (Here is a dead body/ Stiff as a stick / Cold as marble / Light as a spirit / Lift yourself, in the name of Jesus Christ).

Light as a feather, stiff as a board. Red and black polka dots. Spanish-ish + music + Pastel things + Coke jerseys ($45.00 each at the department store- Lazarus or L.S. Ayres – ): The Berlin Wall hadn’t fallen yet. We had the metabolism of kids. Well, because we were just kids.

Madonna is playing in the air somewhere. Time has flown. It isn’t 1986 or 1987. But…

K-mart had jeans and sweatshirts of every color of the pastel rainbow: peach and mint. Aqua, pink, lavender.

If you didn’t have a Liz Claiborne purse, you didn’t even have a purse.

Check your Swatch: what time is it?

Check your ass: Guess? Palmetto? (Good job! Question mark or palm tree = trying).

The pastels rule; practice your hurkey and polish your Converse; read up on your Sweet Valley High. Mostly, though, practice your lip sync skills. “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight.”

But, mostly, A Young girl with eyes like the desert / It all seems like yesterday; not far away.

Cosmos and millenia, be damned: what do you mean that it’s not 1986-1987 forever?

(I was pretty good at spelling bees and I had some really good pastel sweaters. And slouchy socks. And a pink Casio.)

Music and scent make memory go crazy. Tonight? It’s all Madonna and Light as a Feather and everything pastel and/or cheerleading.

If I could, I would wrap all my rings in angora and sleep in cheerleading jump positions**, because eventually, girl, you’ll get the hang of it. Go, Fight, Win!

If I could, I would corral all my friends. I would buy several cheap pizzas. I would turn out the lights. Maybe (if I were feeling adventuresome) light some candles. We’d play Light as a Feather and lift some people: Up, up, up.

Like magic.

Like 1986, like 1987. Like the rhinestones on Debi Thomas’ unitard.

It all seems like yesterday; not far away.

I can’t even believe that, in the morning, I will not have to go to my locker.

We are forever 12. 13. 14. We are forever kids. On a beautiful island.

La Isla Bonita.

*If you go to a school named “Western,” this will inevitably turn into “Western girls.” Rightfully so. We wore booties. And we dated, if we were lucky, “Eastern” (go, Comets!) boys.

** This was actual advice in a “So You Want to Be a Cheerleader” type paperback. My twelve year old self bought it from the Scholastic Book Fair, along with a couple unicorn/Pegasus color-it-yourself book covers. Good thing I had all those pastel markers.

2 thoughts on “Damn It, Madonna (La Isla Bonita and Memory)

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