Everything I know I learnt from Madonna – Wayne Tunks and the pop star muse. (Theatre Review)


Photo of Wayne Tunks performing ‘Everything I know I learnt from Madonna’ by Katy Green Loughrey.

I have a tale to tell
Sometimes it gets so hard to hide it well
I was not ready for the fall
Too blind to see the writing on the wall

Madonna – Live to tell.

We appropriate and colonise music more than any art form. A book takes you from your world and transports you into its own, a sculpture or a painting lifts the spirit by imposing a certain vision onto your experience.  A film gives a viewer a form of electrified hope, but even the most ardent film lovers will tell you that you can only watch a certain film so many times before it is stripped of its power over you. But all of this is not true for music. We take a song or a piece of music, and it morphs into our existence. It references our own life, to the extent it can seem the song was made for this moment, this relationship, this first glance, this breakup, this job seeking, this wedding, this funeral, this hope I had at the start of this journey. We take a song and it we make it ours and in this phenomena, music is entirely singular as an art form.

Part of the popularity of pop music and its impact on our lives, lies in its ability to exploit our relationship to sound. We use music all the time to evoke feeling, to accompany feeling or to define feeling and the addition of lyrics and exciting visuals potently enhances this connection. It is this relationship Wayne Tunks reveals and examines as he slowly works his way through the meanderings of failed love affairs that each brought him a little closer to home; the one relationship that is a constant, that never lets him down and fulfils him at his deepest, is the one with Madonna his heroine whose lyrics seem (mysteriously) to constantly define his search for himself. The connection may be superficial, but it is private (so who cares) and it is socially sanctioned by the duplicate behaviours of loners the world over. This is what music is for, a refuge from the impossibility and limits of speech, a place to run and be known when, euphoric or destitute, we feel misunderstood:

“At that age, music meant more to me than anything.”

“I could reference every important moment of my life to a Madonna lyric.”

“I was being called a faggot before I was gay… I was heavily in denial, and only Madonna was getting me through.”

In this way, Wayne Tunks gives Madonna a dignity the woman herself could never hope to achieve. But this is true of all our music makers who transport us on the painful journey into the heart of ourselves. Wayne Tunks is disarmingly open in his confessions, revealing in the process, not only the pain and difficulty of a young gay male trying to find his way to love, but also the longings within each of us to be understood, recognised and seen. Through the relating of his persuits of love we see the cry of the pining teen – if only Madonna knew me, I’m sure we could be friends. Our musical heroes become the great relationship we long for and the promise that through all the failed connections, their greatness means we are somehow on the right track. In matters of love and its mirror journey, the travels to find ourselves, we need the strange anchor of these faux relationships that seem so real to hold us tight and help us see value in our passionate sufferings.

A man can tell a thousand lies
I’ve learned my lesson well
Hope I live to tell
The secret I have learned, ’till then
It will burn inside of me

Madonna – Live to Tell

Wayne Tunks brings all his experience to this warm-hearted writing, starting from the unlikely place of Madonnas lyrics out of which his feelings flowed, her lines being a talisman of years of emotion. Although he removes all his layers and shamelessly tells his most sorriest stories of love – why do we somehow look so foolish and vulnerable when we claim to love someone who never loved us back, for surely it is the greatest display of courage – that represent a journey through which he makes a declarative stand to be accountable for his own choice. He is rewarded with the great love affair, but even more than that he is rewarded with the prize moment, when we can sit in our room filled with the remnants memories and trinkets of our journey, and feel at peace and happy for all the experiences. He performs his beautiful monologue with the pride and strength that brings a tear to the eye and reminds us that the greatest love affairs we have will not always be with a flawed lover: mostly they will be with the great icons to which we attach the best pieces of ourselves.