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In Bed With Jerry, the Madonna collector

Photo: Curtin Knapp

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You wouldn’t know from his suburban Canberra home that Jerry Kirbell is a massive Madonna collector. There’s no sign of the Material Girl anywhere, writes Danny Corvini.

Jerry was horrified when he had to pull his personal collection out of storage to show it to curator Dr Hannah Paddon from Canberra Museum & Gallery and it sprawled across three rooms: It was like, ‘Holy crap!’ I was seeing stuff that I didn’t even recognise,” laughs Jerry. The highlights of his collection are now the subject of the Madonna 40: A Celebration exhibition that’s on at CMAG until March 2024.

While Jerry moved to Canberra in 2016 to work as a carer for the NDIS, he was just a 12-year-old boy growing up in a small working class English town when Madonna hit the scene in 1983 with first single Holiday. It was love at first sight: “I bought Smash Hits magazine every fortnight and seeing Madonna on the cover with a neon green sweater and messed up hair was just stunning,” he says. “I was hating high school and she was my salvation.”  

The burgeoning collector started buying 45 RPM singles, then albums, 12” singles and imports; but, much to his disappointment, was too young for her first UK tour. That changed with the ground-breaking Blonde Ambition tour: “I had tickets for every night and for every bit of damn merchandise I could get my hands on!”  

Jerry has now seen Madonna performing a total of 26 times and declares the Blonde Ambition tour, which features in the documentary In Bed With Madonna, and The Confessions Tour, as the best. His favourite musical stages of the constantly-evolving artist includes True Blue, Like a Prayer, Erotica, Confessions on a Dance Floor, as well as the more recent Madame X. “I like that that album is her telling a story. It flows beautifully and I love that.”

He had the chance to meet the superstar in the flesh in 2004. “I was at home one evening and it came up on one of the Madonna websites that she was doing a book signing the following day for the first 250 people in the line. My husband at the time was working late and came back from his shift and I was like, ‘I need to go to London. I need to go to London now!’ So we drove to London and got there just before the tubes opened, shot across London and I was number 75 in the queue!”

“Her face is probably the thing that I remember most about that experience and at that time she was still putting on a little bit of a British accent,” says Jerry. “I just garbled about how much I would die for her and got the token, ‘And would you like a book?’ Then you get ushered out and I just kind of cried. I’d always heard this thing about her where there could be 100 people in the room but you only notice Madonna and it’s so true. She just has this.. I can’t even explain it… there’s a presence about her which is just kind of off the scale.”  

Jerry ramped up his collection in the age of eBay: “It was promotional box sets and things like that. At the time, they were still kind of semi affordable. 

“My favourite items will always be stuff from concert tours,” he says. “I was lucky enough to win one auction quite early on which was an unused Live Aid ticket, an American Live Aid programme and T-shirt. I love those. A drum tech sold me drumsticks from the MDNA show in Hyde Park in London and his crew T-shirts. Other things like Smash Hits magazines mean just as much, and ads for records and things like that. I don’t particularly value things on what they’re worth.”  

The CMAG exhibition will be Like a Prayer answered for Madonna fans: “What I’m trying to do is to cover every aspect of her career in music, film and theatre, chronologically,” says Jerry. “There will also be random things like an Evita premier programme signed by Stephen Meisel, who was a photographer for her Like a Virgin album. When she launched the Material Girl line at Macy’s she had Kelly Osbourne and Lourdes as part of the promotion and there’s like a signed photo of both of them. Things like that.”

There will also be a party on November 10 where, naturally, you’ll hear nothing but Madonna. 

CMAG is at 176 London Circuit, Canberra