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“Truth or Dare ?” by Madonna : Harper’s Bazaar

And all the homeless people on the street. This wasn’t anything I prepared for in Rochester, Michigan. Trying to be a professional dancer, paying my rent by posing nude for art classes, staring at people staring at me naked. Daring them to think of me as anything but a form they were trying to capture with their pencils and charcoal. I was defiant. Hell-bent on surviving. On making it. But it was hard and it was lonely, and I had to dare myself every day to keep going. Sometimes I would play the victim and cry in my shoe box of a bedroom with a window that faced a wall, watching the pigeons shit on my windowsill. And I wondered if it was all worth it, but then I would pull myself together and look at a postcard of Frida Kahlo taped to my wall, and the sight of her mustache consoled me. Because she was an artist who didn’t care what people thought. I admired her. She was daring. People gave her a hard time. Life gave her a hard time. If she could do it, then so could I.

Madonna - Harper's Bazaar / November 2013

When you’re 25, it’s a little bit easier to be daring, especially if you are a pop star, because eccentric behavior is expected from you. By then I was shaving under my arms, but I was also wearing as many crucifixes around my neck as I could carry, and telling people in interviews that I did it because I thought Jesus was sexy. Well, he was sexy to me, but I also said it to be provocative. I have a funny relationship with religion. I’m a big believer in ritualistic behavior as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody. But I’m not a big fan of rules. And yet we cannot live in a world without order. But for me, there is a difference between rules and order. Rules people follow without question. Order is what happens when words and actions bring people together, not tear them apart. Yes, I like to provoke; it’s in my DNA. But nine times out of 10, there’s a reason for it.

At 35, I was divorced and looking for love in all the wrong places. I decided that I needed to be more than a girl with gold teeth and gangster boyfriends. More than a sexual provocateur imploring girls not to go for second-best baby. I began to search for meaning and a real sense of purpose in life. I wanted to be a mother, but I realized that just because I was a freedom fighter didn’t mean I was qualified to raise a child. I decided I needed to have a spiritual life. That’s when I discovered Kabbalah.

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears, and I’m afraid that cliché applied to me as well. That was the next daring period of my life. In the beginning I sat at the back of the classroom. I was usually the only female. Everyone looked very serious. Most of the men wore suits and kippahs. No one noticed me and no one seemed to care, and that suited me just fine. What the teacher was saying blew my mind. Resonated with me. Inspired me. We were talking about God and heaven and hell, but I didn’t feel like religious dogma was being shoved down my throat. I was learning about science and quantum physics. I was reading Aramaic. I was studying history. I was introduced to an ancient wisdom that I could apply to my life in a practical way. And for once, questions and debate were encouraged. This was my kind of place.

When the world discovered I was studying Kabbalah, I was accused of joining a cult. I was accused of being brainwashed. Of giving away all my money. I was accused of all sorts of crazy things. If I became a Buddhist—put an altar in my house and started chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”—no one would have bothered me at all. I mean no disrespect to Buddhists, but Kabbalah really freaked people out. It still does. Now, you would think that studying the mystical interpretation of the Old Testament and trying to understand the secrets of the universe was a harmless thing to do. I wasn’t hurting anybody. Just going to class, taking notes in my spiral notebook, contemplating my future. I was actually trying to become a better person.