#Pride … meaningful media: Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 and Madonna’s I’m Breathless

Clark Hill assembled a list of “meaningful media” to honor Pride month, with contributions and (most importantly) heartfelt stories from all across our great firm. Thank you to my colleagues Hannah Reisdorff who organized the list’s development and Ray Koenig and Tobias Smith who are leading our overall Pride recognition activities. Here is my contribution to the list …

For me, there were two albums that helped me as a young high school man living in a small town in Indiana still trying to figure out what his sexuality might mean. Might be surprising to hear but in the late 80s there wasn’t a lot of good guidance for people like me. Lol. But I found a voice in two records that weren’t overtly LGBTQ but were recorded by artists who have always been allies to our community.

In 1989, I wandered into our mall’s Musicland and bought a cassette of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. It was all the money I had in my pocket, and that album with its day-glo, percolating inclusivity gave me a summer soundtrack that made me feel like the world could be a better place.

The following summer, I was chosen by the US Senate as a youth ambassador to Japan. A bit homesick, I bought another cassette, this time of Madonna’s I’m Breathless, a pastiche of songs from Dick Tracy and songs inspired by the film. Problematic as the song “Vogue” has become as we are increasingly sensitized to cultural appropriation, nonetheless its thundering pulse and message of liberation – as well as the fizzy camp with which the queen of pop delivered the album’s other show tunes – spoke to my soul and gave me a sense of self.

I still listen to both of these albums often, now streaming, and they transport me to a time of discovery and give me a sense of great gratitude that these artists were willing to push the envelope of popular entertainment and acceptance.