Throughout 2022 I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number ninety-seven.
As the VP of Licensing at Warner Music, I fielded requests from around the world for our catalogue’s music to be utilized in all sorts of venues. I licensed Bruno Mars songs for Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation CDs. When you hear Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” playing at CVS while you’re purchasing deodorant and suppositories, you have me to thank. If Hallmark wanted to sell a Valentine’s Day card that played Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” they’d come to me.
From Holland I received a request for “Like a Virgin” to be placed on a chip in a plush toy – a pig. A pig with a blond ponytail, a cone bra, and a headset. You can put lipstick on a pig – nay, you can put lipstick, a blond ponytail, a cone bra, and a headset on a pig and have it “sing” “Like A Virgin,” it still isn’t Madonna. By that time in my career, Madonna and I had developed a very close relationship, in my mind. As her best imaginary friend, I knew she wouldn’t go hog wild over this proposal.
How did this toy company conceive of this product?
“Two things that are popular – plush animals and Madonna. If we combine the two we’ll be rich! But what should the plush be?”
“A material squirrel!”
“Who’s that squirrel?”
“What it feels like for a squirrel?”
“Hans, fuck off!”
“Well, what’s your brilliant idea, other Hans?”
“Madonna is a woman who brings home the bacon, so what about a pig? Who doesn’t adore Porky Pig? Or Piglet? Or Wilbur? Or Babe? Miss Piggy is a boss, an icon, just like Madonna. Pigs are highly intelligent, just like Madonna. Pigs are playful, just like Madonna. Pigs are very social, just like Madonna. Pigs like to roll around in mud. Pigs can breathe through their butts. Our Madonna plush needs to be pig!”
“And what song?”
“’Like a Virgin.’ After all, pigs have to make it through the wilderness.”
“No, they –.”
“Did I not tell you to fuck off? This Hans is going solo.”
Research demonstrates that most followers of the Jewish discipline of Kabbalah, as Madonna is, are not fans of pork products to begin with, and would consent to being portrayed in such a manner when pigs fly.
Ordinarily I would dismiss it out of hand and not expend my valuable time on something that at best would be received with a disgusted snort; however, at the time I received the request, Madonna was angry with Warner about something or another. I had two choices:
- Present the request to her. If I do that, she’d complain that Warner sends her insulting and degrading requests (BEING A PIG IS NOT INSULTING AND DEGRADING, MADONNA!, not that she ever actually said it was. They’re intelligent, social, playful and can breathe through their butts. (That’s 100% true, btw.) Listen to what the Hans said!). Presenting the request to her would likely result in permanent damage to our one-way pretend friendship, something she wouldn’t want to happen; or
- Don’t present the request to her. If she should she somehow find out about it, she’d complain that Warner withholds financial opportunities from her. She’d never forgive me, her bestie, for this, and our non-existent relationship would cease to (non-)exist.
I was stuck between a pork and a hard place, sweating like a pig over what to do. Ultimately, I figured out how to handle the situation and salvage the relationship I didn’t have with Madonna. I sent an email to her manager: “I received a license request that I’m guessing you’d like to pass on, though I’m forwarding to you the details as I wish to ensure you see every request we receive.” Score! Her manager responded that in all likelihood they’d say no, though she appreciated my consideration in letting them know about it. My simple act of doing so brought Madonna and me closer. She was the first person I reached out to to write the foreword for my book, and I was the first person to receive a “no” to that request, via a member of her legal team. That no came sooner than the no for the plush toy, as before they gave me the definitive answer on that, Madonna’s manager wished to see a prototype of the Virgin pig.
The company making the request did send me a prototype. I desired to hold on to it, knowing Madonna’s office would not permit it to be mass produced, resulting in me with the only Madonna pig in the world. I love goofy tchotchkes, and a Madonna pig would look great on my shelf next to my Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam sweat socks, my Terence Trent D’Arby electric toothbrush, and my Sophie B. Hawkins “As I Lay Me Down” hammock. Well, that hammock isn’t on a shelf. It’s in my pig sty of a primary bedroom closet with my Sanyo version of a Sony Betamax. Damn, I wish I had a backyard.
I said to Madonna’s manager “Let me know when would be a good time for me to stop by with the pig,” to which she responded “Just messenger it to me.” Dang! I knew if I do that I’ll never get that piggy back, and I’ll think of it every time I glance at my shelf and see my Aerosmith thermos, my Teena Marie sunglasses, and my Michael Jackson duffle bag. Well, that duffle bag isn’t on a shelf. It’s in my pigpen of a primary bedroom closet with my Sanyo version of a Sony Betamax and my Sophie B. Hawkins “As I Lay Me Down” hammock.
The pig took her trip from Burbank to Beverly Hills and never returned. Madonna’s manager confirmed this deal was a no go.
Madonna hasn’t brought it up in all the times we’ve spoken since, which is never. I appreciate that she didn’t let this license request get in the middle of our pretend friendship, and I can still enjoy her music, even though I’m sure that somewhere there’s a plush pig with a blond ponytail, a cone bra, and a headset, that “sings” “Like a Virgin,” that instead of being prominently displayed on a shelf is sitting in someone’s slop heap of a primary bedroom closet.
As I listen to Madonna’s True Blue, my #97 album, I still thrill to the strings that open “Papa Don’t Preach” and at the time of its release “Live To Tell” was her best ballad yet. Throw in “Open Your Heart” and “Where’s the Party” and “La Isla Bonita” and the title track and you have a bangin’ album.
There’s more Madonna to follow on this list, but for today, th-th-th-that’s all, folks!
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