Twenty-four years ago this week, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” was the number one song in America—and it made me gay.
Let me explain: In the spring of 1989, I was 10 years old and living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Almost everyone around me was certain that Madonna was evil, especially because, in her “Like a Prayer” video, she made out with a black Jesus and danced in front of a field of burning crosses while wearing a black nightie.
Being a good young man, I didn’t want to go to hell by enjoying this satanic music. And yet, something about it called my name. Somewhere deep in my soul, I knew I needed to hear this song and watch the video. There was just something about the beat, about the irresistible chorus—and about Madonna herself—that kept my attention. (I’d already been a Madonna fan for years at this point. When I was 5, I saved up my allowance to buy “Material Girl” as a vinyl single.)
I watched the video for “Like a Prayer” every chance I got—sometimes through my fingers, thinking that made it less naughty.
In 1990, when “Vogue” turned me into a rabid Madonna fan once and for all, I decided to break down and buy the Like a Prayer album on cassette. I wanted the entire record—even though I still worried it was sinful.
No joke: The night before I went to buy it at Wal-Mart, I prayed to God to send me a sign if owning Like a Prayer was wrong. If He thought it would curdle my soul forever, then He just had to tell me and I’d let it go. When I woke up the next morning, though, there were no ill omens. I figured God didn’t give one good damn if I brought that patchouli-scented tape back to my house.
It was an important step in realizing that being myself wasn’t a sin.
So happy 24th anniversary, “Like a Prayer.” And thanks, God, for cutting me a break on this one.
Mark Blankenship would put “Like a Prayer” in his all-time top three. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship.