Madonna - "We Have Her Key"
- Category: Dr. J's Blog
- Published: Friday, 07 October 2011 17:03
- Written by Gary Johnson
I love comedian Robin Williams’ famous quote, “If you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there.” Now if I have to explain to you why that’s funny, I guess either you really weren’t there or you don’t understand the drug implications in the quote. I’m also pretty sure that you could apply that saying to any of the subsequent decades as well, but just for the following story, how about if we change William’s quote slightly to “If you remember the 80’s, you weren’t there”?
As a case in point, I received an email on May 21st of this year with the interesting title “We Have Madonna’s Key”. It was sent by Jim Davenport of a popular Essexville/Bay City band called the Burdons. It piqued my interest for several reasons. First of all, I had just written a long piece here on Dr. J’s Page called Madonna Misconstrued about the 1985 controversy in Bay City involving then-Mayor Tim Sullivan’s decision to renege on his proposal to award Madonna the key to Bay City in light of some early nude photos of her that were soon to appear in both Playboy and Penthouse magazines. Secondly, I had never heard that the Burdons, a band that I enjoy and have seen play many times, had been so honored. Thirdly, Davenport’s email stated that, “The Burdons were actually given the ‘Key’ to Bay City by Mayor Sullivan which was to be given to Madonna”.
The Burdons in the 1980's: (left to right) Paul Schultz, Scott Causley, Jim Davenport, and Dave Davenport
Davenport went on to write that, “At our press release he (Sullivan) spoke to this fact which really kind of upset us”. Jim’s email further stated that the band respected Madonna’s work and huge contributions to music and that the Burdons were “ashamed at being part of the bullshit politics involved in the process surrounding these events”. And last, but certainly not least, was Davenport’s assertion that “I have ‘the key’ sitting on a shelf at home”. Whoa! This is too good to be true! I might have a brand new angle on the Madonna controversy, as well as the actual key that would have been awarded her. I couldn’t wait to find out more.
I immediately wrote Davenport back thanking him for sharing the information and indicated my interest in displaying said key along with a vintage photo of the band in my Michigan Rock and Roll Legends display at the Bay City Motor Company. I also asked if he had a copy of the press release that he had referred to or any coverage done by the Bay City Times of the event.
Jim replied, “We would be honored to be part of the history of rock and roll in Bay City. We feel very strongly about our accomplishments and have many stories and tales to tell that would only add to the luster of the already rich foundation of music in Bay City”, but he didn’t mention anything about the press release or newspaper stories.
While at the Wirt Library to speak with assistant director Kevin Ayala about displaying rock and roll materials there, I went into the archives of the Bay City Times to see if I could find a news story of the Burdons getting the key to Bay City. I concentrated on the last five months of 1985, and when I came up empty, I expanded my search into 1986 and then 1987. There was no mention of the Burdons being awarded the key. Hmmm! There was also no record of it at City Hall either. But in that case, I found out that it was the fault of both Mayor Tim Sullivan and City Manager David Barnes, who did not bother to keep any records of who was given keys to the city during the time they were in office. (See: “Madonna - What Would Make Her Blush?” at https://www.michiganrockandrolllegends.com/dr-js-blog/166-madonna-what-would-make-her-blush
Then there’s the Burdons’ page at Myspace.com. There the band declares that they received “the key to the City of Bay City in 1985”. The band's biography contains a fair amount of the expected hyperbole, as it compares the Burdons to the Beatles back when they were performing in the clubs of Hamburg, Germany.
What set off my alarm bell, however, was the totally erroneous information about Madonna in the bio. It states that “the Burdons were given Madonna’s ‘Key to the City’ when the Diva thumbed her nose at her old hometown, refusing to accept the award." The band’s myspace bio further proclaims “that at that juncture, then-Mayor Sullivan gave it to the Burdons instead, noting they were more deserving”.
I found it distressing that the band didn't make sure to get the facts straight. In my humble opinion, the heart of great rock and roll should be about the truth. Madonna did not thumb her nose at Bay City and refuse to accept the award, quite the opposite is true.
In an attempt to find out more about the date and the reason they were awarded the key, I called Jim Davenport and set up an interview. Two of the other original Burdons, Paul Schultz and Scott Causley, came along for our meeting in one of the upstairs rooms at the Wirt Library. One of the first things that needed to be established was the date they were awarded the key. Although none of the three could come up with an exact date, it was finally determined that the key was given to them at the release party for their excellent first album, "The Burdons". Since the album was released in the fall of 1984, this means that they were awarded the key by then-Mayor Tim Sullivan approximately eight months before he reneged on his offer to award a key to the city to Madonna.
During the course of the interview, the band did admit that at that time they were getting high on more than one occasion as they explored the rock and roll lifestyle. So I guess the lapse of their collective memory regarding when they were awarded the key, and Sullivan’s supposed comments about them being ‘more deserving’ could be at least partly blamed on the effects from what they were smoking and drinking. This is where the slightly altered Robin Williams quote about the 80's comes into play.
I expressed to the Burdons at the meeting that my real interest was in getting the story straight. Even though they had some errors on their Myspace page, it was still very important that they were honored with the key in 1984. That made the Burdons the first, and most likely the only, Michigan rock and roll artists to ever be awarded the key to Bay City. Since the history of rock and roll in Bay City has, for the most part, been ignored over the years, I think that the fact that they were so honored is pretty significant.
I am disappointed, however, that the Burdons have not yet corrected the misinformation about the key and Madonna on their Myspace page. I like the band’s music, and I have enjoyed talking to all four members of their current line-up. They’re all good guys, but I think that continuing to have inaccurate information on their page, especially information that unfairly trashes an artist of the caliber of Madonna, just ends up making the Burdons part of the “bullshit politics” that Jim Davenport decried in his email. Worse yet, it contributes to the very large pool of factual ignorance regarding the still simmering Madonna controversy in Bay City.
I seriously doubt that there is even one person in five hundred in Bay City who knows the facts surrounding Mayor Sullivan’s decision to renege on his offer to award the key to Madonna in the summer of 1985. Yet somehow, over the last twenty-three years, it seems that a large number of Bay Cityans have come to believe that the controversy was all Madonna’s fault and that she disrespected the city by refusing the key. The victim now gets blamed. Is Karl Rove at work here?
Mayor Brunner and the news team from the Ukraine.
I happened to be interviewing current Mayor Charles Brunner at City Hall around the time of Madonna’s birthday this summer. A video news team from the Ukraine had traveled to Bay City to do a story on why Madonna’s hometown has not recognized her vast achievements in any official way, and they also wanted to interview the mayor.
I sat through Brunner’s interview and cringed as his statements indicated that he clearly did not have a firm grasp of the facts surrounding the Madonna controversy of 1985. And this is the guy who wants Madonna to come to Bay City so he can present her the key. I was very surprised that Brunner hadn’t done more research on the matter since he was an obvious interview target. At least the mayor had the good sense to decline the Ukrainian interviewer’s request to have him sing “Like A Virgin” on camera.
I found it interesting that the ‘more deserving’ comment also came up in an off-the-record conversation with another official at City Hall. She said she was opposed to Mayor Brunner’s efforts to get Madonna back to Bay City to be awarded the key. The official said that there were “many more deserving people in Bay City than Madonna”.
I might agree with her in one respect if they awarded the keys to those many kind folks who contribute countless hours to volunteer work and charitable pursuits. Or how about all those fine people who donate blood, food, and clothing on a regular basis? But if you look at the rather skimpy records of who gets the keys in Bay City, it tells a different story. The St. Patrick’s Day Queen gets a key each year, as does each year’s Miss Bay County. Wal-Mart got a key. So did the Polish Dance Team in 1997. Various Catholic parishes and Bay City businesses have been awarded the key. The winners of various boat races in town have also been so honored. Author Mickey Spillane even got a key to Bay City when he visited here in the 1990’s. Are these recipients ‘more deserving’ than the most successful and influential woman in the history of popular music?
The Burdons have kindly allowed me to display their Bay City key as part of my Michigan Rock and Roll Legends display at the Bay City Motor Company at 1124 N. Water Street in Bay City. I hope you will take the time to check it out. The band has also contributed the album jacket from the record release party at which they were originally awarded the key. Another interesting item of Burdons memorabilia on loan is the guitar that was the only item recovered from a 1984 carjacking in Detroit that robbed the Burdons of both their van and all of their musical equipment.
I certainly appreciate the band’s contributions to the display and Scott Causley’s assistance in getting things up on the wall. Now we need the Burdons to really show their “respect of Madonna’s work and huge contributions to music” by correcting the erroneous information about her in their Myspace biography.
Note: A while ago, I received an email from Jim Davenport of the Burdons indicating that he had removed the erroneous information concerning Madonna and the key to Bay City from the band's Myspace page. Jim went on to explain that the band did not actually write the misinformation about Madonna but had cut and pasted it from articles in the Bay City Times and the Bay Area Review. I later found out, however, that The Burdons wrote almost exactly the same words in an email to mlive on March 9, 2008, after the online news site ran an interview with former Bay City mayor Tim Sullivan.
That's a pretty sad commentary on the journalistic skills of whoever might have written the articles for the above-mentioned publications or the Burdons temselves, if they indeed came up with the misinformation on their own. Penning something negative about an artist without bothering to check the facts is 'self-serving hack journalism' at its worst.
The mystery as to the actual source of the misinformation finally came to light in the September 16 - October 6, 2021, issue of the Review magazine. While writing about the documentary film, Smelly Little Town, that was going to be shown on opening night at Bay City's Hell's Half Mile Festival, Robert E. Martin revealed the culprit when he wrote: "this writer remembers when Dave Davenport of the Burdons phoned him one morning to explain the Mayor had called and asked if the group would like Madonna's key-to-the city, as they deserved it more than she did."