It was back in 1975. Jerry Kirbell was living in West Sussex in the UK when he heard Madonna was going to be signing books at Selfridges in London – for the first 250 fans.
“We jumped in the car at about 10:30 pm, drove to London and got there by about midnight, and waited ’til the Tube opened in the morning,” Jerry said. “That was at about 5:30 am – she wasn’t due to do the signing until the afternoon so we waited, and waited …”
The moment came. Organisers started letting the fans in three at a time behind a black curtain.
Suddenly Jerry was standing in front of Madonna. What did he say?
“I don’t remember a lot because I was so excited but I did garble some rubbish about how I loved her, shook her hand – a couple of times. I remember she was so petite and had the most penetrating blue eyes I’ve ever seen.
“All I can remember about the rest of the day is that I spent it weeping about London. People say that sometimes it’s not a good idea to meet your idol, but that’s not true. It was incredible.”
Fast forward to October 2023. Jerry has been living on Canberra’s northside since 2016 and although he has moved to the other side of the world – and away from Madonna, his passion for the singer knows no bounds.
In fact, it’s on display for all to see at the Canberra Museum and Gallery’s (CMAG) latest collectors’ exhibition, Madonna40: A Celebration, which marks her 40 years in the music industry.
From ticket stubs (Jerry has seen her in concert 26 times) to buttons, posters, rare photographs, advertising material and clothing to two autographs – “it’s really hard to get the authentic ones because there are so many fakes around” – there are more than 500 pieces of his collection in the Canberra exhibition.
Jerry is the first to admit his Madonna collection did not get off to the most sophisticated of starts.
“It was in the days when you sat by the hi-fi on a Sunday evening, just waiting to press that pause button and record the latest and greatest on to a well-used TDK cassette,” he said.
“My collection back then consisted entirely of radio recordings, scrapbooks of cuttings and one busted radio cassette player – destroyed while attempting to primitively tape-to-tape Madonna’s debut album, loaned from the local library for the week.”
CMAG curator Dr Hannah Paddon said she wouldn’t forget the day she visited Jerry’s Canberra home to see his collection.
A fan of CMAG’s collectors’ exhibitions, Jerry was keen to see if Dr Paddon and the gallery were interested in mounting a display about the Material Girl.
“I was talking to him at his house surrounded by Madonna ephemera – it was everywhere,” she said. “When there was a break in conversation, he said, ‘do you want to see the other two rooms full of stuff too?’.”
She did, and the hardest thing for both of them was to cull the items down to exhibition size – about 500.
The collection is displayed chronologically, album by album, from the tiniest Madonna guitar picks to posters that take up the best part of a CMAG wall.
Jerry said it was hard to name a favourite, but he would probably opt for a copy of Smash Hits magazine which showcased her on the cover – the first piece of Madonna-alia he bought in 1984.
Jerry picks up collection items anywhere and everywhere. From eBay to other fans, websites, concert merchandise, advertising material, thrift shops – and gifts from friends.
So what is it about this woman who has held the attention of millions all these years? For Jerry, it’s because she pushes buttons and courts controversy. “And I love her brassy side.
“That’s what keeps her popular,” he said. “Yes, she reinvents herself but she also surrounds herself with really cutting-edge producers, musicians, photographers, film-makers, smart people who can pick trends, that’s why she’s always ahead of the game.”
Madonna40: A Celebration is now on at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, Civic, until 2 March, 2024. Open daily. Free exhibition.