“God has given you one face,” Hamlet said, “and you make yourselves another.” But had the great Dane met Madonna before saying the above and, in effect, prophesying much of the modern condition, he might have added, “and another and another and another …”
The pop phenomenon born Madonna Louise Ciccone in Michigan in 1958 has, over the course of her career as a singer, songwriter, actress, filmmaker, and pure entertainer, become the living paradigm for the character-based, image-centric presentation of an artist. And her evolutionary mutability—the quicksilver ability to grow and change and live spectacular multiple lives in and beyond the public eye—has given each viewer and each listener their own favorite Madonna. From her early years in rough-and- tumble New York City of the 1980s to her Sex (book) goddess 1990s and the equestrian splendor of the early aughts in England, each chapter of her life is related as a kind of Dickensian parable of perseverance, of will, or of self-invention, as she weaves herself together out of blond ambition, yoga, or prayer.
And perhaps Madonna the Icon is herself her own greatest work of art—something so vastly influential as to be unfathomable, knitting together all of us for whom she has provided the soundtracks, all of the sensibilities she has informed, rattled, challenged, provoked, and then reimagined again, all of the notions of beauty, of an artist, of a performer that she has shaped, reshaped, and upset yet again. With a 13th studio album due out in 2015, Madonna is reaching a new level of artistry, creativity, and, perhaps, identity. Even as she reimagines herself yet again, she remains a masterpiece.
On a night this past November, Madonna sat down with her friend, the performance artist, magician, card sharp, and similarly unclassifiable talent David Blaine in New York to talk about the power of silence, the necessity of failure, and hearing the word no.
DAVID BLAINE: I brought a whole bunch of cards with questions that I think are really fun, so we have these as a backup plan.
MADONNA: A backup plan, or do you want me to choose one now?
BLAINE: Choose one. But I don’t want you to go with the obvious card that’s sticking out more than the others.
MADONNA: I’m not that kind of person. I never go for the obvious. [picks a card]
BLAINE: Should I read it to you, though?
MADONNA: Yeah. I can’t read your illegible handwriting.
BLAINE: This is a good one. So I stayed in a box for 44 days in complete isolation. It was a self-imposed solitary confinement. But … I want you to close your eyes. Can you imagine what it actually feels like to be completely isolated, all by yourself with nobody to talk to?
MADONNA: For 44 days?
BLAINE: For a day. Have you ever done that?
BLAINE: Okay, so think about it. What would it be like?
MADONNA: I’d really enjoy it at this point in my life.
BLAINE: Keep your eyes closed.
MADONNA: Okay, sorry. I think I would really enjoy it, stillness and quiet, because I feel like people are always talking to me, at me, asking things, questioning me, wanting information, work, music, loud noises, children—it’s endless. So the idea of a whole day of silence sounds very seductive to me.
BLAINE: What do you think your brain would fill up with?
MADONNA: Ideas. [both laugh]
BLAINE: Ideas. You can do that while you hear noise.
MADONNA: I do, but when I come home from work in the studio, I just want silence. I don’t want to talk to anybody. I don’t want to answer any questions.
BLAINE: It’s important to find that, once in a while.
MADONNA: I started doing yoga again, which I haven’t done in years and years and years. I’m so used to exercising with music playing very loud, and when you do yoga, you’re just listening to your breath, and I find that also incredibly … What’s the word? Not nurturing, but …