“You don’t know whether to kiss me or to hit me. I get a lot of that”. So uttered a very sexy Madonna in her Breathless Mahoney role while talking to crime fighter Dick Tracy and boyfriend at the time, Warren Beatty, resplendent in his yellow trench coat) in the film Dick Tracy.
If ever one lined summed up the media’s love/hate affair with Madonna over the last 22 years, that one says it just perfectly. Having had a front row seat to this affair and often actually standing between the Material Girl and the press who continue to love her, worship her, trivialize her, criticize her, say she’s over and continue to write about her, begrudgingly respect her, still not sure of her talent – even with over two decades of solid hit songs, I can assure you it’s been a very wild and ever fascinating journey. Although being crushed against a glass wall at the Cannes Film Festival while the paparazzi brought their full force to shooting Madonna in her bullet bra was a little more than I bargained for years ago.
I can remember as if it were yesterday when this ball of fire strolled into my office a bit like a Christmas tree fabulously accessorized in the middle of the summer, many incarnations and lifetimes ago.
That hair (“It always looks the best after not washing it for 8 days”), the black rubber bracelets and torn tights (“oh everyone’s wearing them downtown”), the crucifixes that she either wore or carried around in a pillowcase (“Jesus is sexy”), the attitude – “No one’s telling me what to wear,” screamed Madonna at her first photo shoot with famed lenseman Francesco Scavullo. In some ways, she’s exactly the same. She was fearless when nobody knew who the hell Madonna was and she continues to be unafraid of what people think of her music or her mind. Though at the start, Madonna had no problem hitting you over the head with her message if that’s what it took to make you a believer. Her current commitment to Kaballah may have taught her that delivering her messages whether political or person in nature might best be expressed in a gentler way. Her fierce loyalty to what and whom she believes in is ever-present but she ‘expresses herself’ packaged with a softer hand that make no mistake ‘still wants to bring you to a higher ground’. The sheer force of her power has audiences leaving her new show in total awe – but not much different that the 3000 screaming gay boys at a disco in lower Manhattan in l982 when the blonde bombshell was singing “Lucky Star” to an instrumental track at 5:00 in the morning.
But what makes Madonna happiest these days, I asked her recently. “Oh, probably the sound of my daughter reading me a poem in French”, Said Madonna softly. “Well is there anything else you still wish for”, I inquired? “How about no more wars, for starters? How about everyone going to see Michael Moore’s new movie? What about my kids bringing their dishes to the sink after they’re done eating?” she said in no particular order.
There’s no question that an enormous part of her happiness these days can be seen on stage where Madonna has been most nights performing her current extravaganza “The Reinvention Tour”. “I finally decided to take my own personal look back on my music and my videos – really revisit them but put a new twist on them. I sat down with my manager and best friend, Caresse Henry to figure it all out. Next Jamie King, my director met with Caresse and I at my house. He arrived with a shoebox in which he created his vision of the show. I wanted to incorporate many elements of the Kaballah, my feelings about war in general and George Bush in particular. I wanted to enlighten and entertain the audience. I wanted it to be an assault on the senses. I wanted to perform in Israel for the Jews and the Palestinians at one show. Unfortunately my manager nixed that one due to security concerns. One of my goals was that every person in the audience should leave knowing that each of them could make a difference in this world. I wanted to thank my fans for their loyalty over the last 20 years and I think this show is my personal thank you to them,” said Madonna after her third cup of coffee one morning.
Having seen literally hundreds of Madonna performances since the day that Christmas tree walked into my office, I still cry when she sings “Like a Prayer” and still shake my booty to “Get Into The Groove” amidst 20,000 other Madonna fans. And what of the media and their response? Madonna never reads any of her reviews, which I think is a great idea. Her reviews are the love the audience sends up to her on that stage. I, of course, can’t stop reading the reviews – so many of them still begrudgingly giving it up to her. I don’t know an artist, aside from the Beatles or Elvis who can claim such an impressive number of hit songs that served as such an important influence and backdrop in people’s lives. What a body of work – and what a body is what I often say to myself while I continue to marvel at her stamina, her singing, her dancing, her beauty and her grace. Though Madonna has claimed that some of her cultural statements in the past were “pure exhibitionism”, there’s no question that her influence on female self-empowerment has changed the world. Perhaps this is threatening to some of the male critics. No one can deny that she’s opened more minds and more hearts as an artist and an educator about expressing yourself, believing in your dreams and fighting for them if necessary. Even the newest generation of little children has the chance to be enlightened by her series of children’s books. The latest, “Yakov and the Seven Thieves” shows an eternally optimistic Madonna that even “naughty people” have something to offer this world. “I’m naughty child No. l”, laughed Madonna.
So what’s the most important life lesson to learn, I asked Madonna before one of her shows. “My Kaballah teacher taught me that whenever in doubt about anything, ‘act like God’. And how would God act? He would be caring and loving. I try to be both and if there’s one lesson I can teach the world, that would be it.” Amen.