On August 16 2015, singer/songwriter Joe Henry shared a touching birthday tribute to his sister-in-law, Madonna:
This is the young woman I met shortly after our family’s move to Michigan in 1975 – as I entered my sophomore year of high school and, she, her senior one. Together, we were in the Thespian Society; and in that winter’s first production, we were cast as mother and son – the wife and child of Ralph Waldo Emerson – in a play about Thoreau.
She was whip-smart and short on patience; and to tell the truth, she scared me more than a little, but along with her sister Paula, her presence upon my landscape nudged open a door through which I would pass and find my life utterly and forever changed…that unusual and sprawling family becoming, years later, my own.
No one is more surprised than I by the way our lives have expanded; by the way that our journeys have diverged and become entangled. Like anyone, I can sometimes forget to see the flesh and blood/heart and mind behind the parade float that is her public persona. But then I will find myself across the kitchen table from her, sharing a martini, and be additionally shocked to recognize anew the compact, terse-yet-compassionate human at the switches.
I have told this tale before, but it bears repeating: when Elvis Presley died on this date in 1977, this upstart professed in real-time that she felt his spirit had passed out of his body and through her own in exodus.
I laughed at her then for such outrageous self-possession, at the arrogance that I assumed must allow her to declare such publicly.
Today, when there is laughter, it is the laugh of recognition I hear – and it begins somewhere high above me, where things that once seemed implausible play with wild abandon and in broad daylight.
Happy Birthday, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone.