MUST READ: The Age Of Madonna: Touched for a Very Long Time, this person KNOWS their shit!!!!
The Age Of Madonna: Touched for a Very Long Time
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 10, 2008; M01
Madonna, OMG, you are 50.
You have said again and again that you never read newspapers or magazines, even though you are always in newspapers and magazines, so this is in some way wasted space and energy.
Then again, she needn’t be present for us to talk about her. This has always been the key element to how Madonna has spent half her life, deliberately deaf in the center of the buzz. Madonna turning 50 is not about Madonna. As ever, it’s about the rest of us, who are always caught watching Madonna do whatever it is Madonna currently does, even if when whatever Madonna is doing is nothing more than growing old.
“So what are you going to do when you get older, Madonna? Are you going to be going on 50 and still get up onstage and shake your booty, like Cher? What happens when your body goes?”
“Then I’ll use my mind.” — From an interview with Madonna, in Vanity Fair, October 1992
Here are 50 or so disconnected thoughts (candles on a cake, if you will) for and about Madonna’s half-century mark. Starting with the start, not with her actual birth (on Aug. 16, 1958) but with her entrance into the collective consciousness:
On a sweaty August morning 1.3 zillion years ago, some girls showed up at our back-to-school orientation junior year changed, with their hair chopped just above the collarbone — messy, bleachy, streaky, rooty and tied in raggedy bows. Black plastic wristwatches and rubber bangles stacked around their tiny wrists. Black bras. Just a few of the girls, not all of the girls. Madonna happened in the exact right time, in the exact right way. Father Rene went over the dress code once again, for those who needed a refresher.
Rosaries, for example. Rosaries are not to be worn around your neck, is that clear?
That was no longer clear. The Madonna train had left the station. Even the sourest of us — Led Zeppelin fans, stoners, wrestlers, cynics, student newspaper editors — were on a Madonna train we did not know we’d boarded.
You had to disregard a lot of good musical advice to go where Madonna was going, which, listening now, was straight back to disco. You had to ignore the professional critics and thoughtful guys in art class who wore Converse All-Stars and had R.E.M. and Elvis Costello albums, who begged you not to listen to that crap. People who hated Madonna never understood that some of us liked her just to make the people who didn’t like her even more apoplectic about the fact that she was getting more and more famous.
To go consciously, you had to go unconsciously. Parked at the reservoir on a Friday night, “Lucky Star” came out of the stereo speakers of a Camaro or a Prelude or a Scirocco and three or four people did the dance exactly as Madonna and her dancers did it in the video, every single step. That these brave souls were not pummeled by drunk jocks, that the cassette was not yanked out and destroyed, signified that Madonna had broken through.
The Madonna thing came, at first blush, with so much that was good: glad rags, vintage stores, granny sunglasses, costume jewels, trench coats — that Salvation Army insouciance, which, any real student of fashion and culture will tell you, Madonna had just stolen from everyone else. The Madonna thing came with clear directives: Express yourself, be yourself, winner take all. Some of us started going to a nightclub, very dark inside, didn’t serve alcohol, but it did serve remixes, tracks of dance songs that never ended but just blended: New Order, Shriekback, Belouis Some, the Smiths. People said it wasn’t a gay club, it was bi. Very important thing to make clear in 1985.
A Madonna song would come on (“Only when I’m dancin’ can I feel this free/At night, I lock the door, where no one else can see”) and half the people would stomp off the floor in a very defiant, music-snob form of protest.
Those of us who remained, remain.
“Though I have fears, I think truthfully I’m going to live to be a very old age. If what I’ve gone through hasn’t killed me yet, nothing’s going to. That’s my [bleeping] opinion.” — Madonna, to Vogue, October 1996
Nobody believed Madonna would last. No story about her ever neglects to mention that fact, the improbability of her success, the enthralling triumph of complete mediocrity. In my house, we maintain a secret archive of magazines on which Madonna appeared on the cover. It’s remarkable how many of them feature a headline to the effect of “the New Madonna” and “Madonna’s New Look” and “Madonna Now.”
I used to worry that Madonna would die, suddenly, and I have to write something fast and smart and obituary-like on deadline. Now, I believe Madonna will live to be 119, and there will be no one left to write about her when she dies, except somebody who edits an online journal of the terribly obscure.
Twenty years ago, feminist scholars went bananas trying to deconstruct her, interpret her as a text. The ivory tower vogued, as Madonna Studies showed the path to an endowed chair in the semiotics department at Whackadoodle U. Madonna, scholars theorized, was (is?) the great liberator, showing the way to sex as an irrelevancy, then sex as a relevancy, then sex as an altogether different weapon, ibid and op. cit. Dissertations piled up and died on academia’s vine. Some were collected into a tome called “The Madonna Connection: Representational Politics, Subcultural Identities, and Cultural Theory,” and on and on, until finally there was nothing more to say. It was just records, it was just concerts, it was just some lady from Michigan who hated Catholic school.
Then came the articles in Forbes, BusinessWeek, Fortune: Madonna as the extremely shrewd CEO of Herself Inc., calculations within calculations.
Then came Ladies’ Home Journal, with the angle of Madonna and Child — then another child, then off to Africa for another child. Madonna as human V-chip, shielding her children from, of all things, ice cream and popular culture: “We don’t eat any dairy here, we’re a TV- and dairy-free house,” she told Ladies’ Home Journal in 2005. If her children have behaved all week, they are allowed to watch a DVD on Sunday evenings. (If they have been really, really good, the movie is not “Who’s That Girl?”)
Since Kabbalah revamped her spiritual core at around age 40, Madonna became the sort of insufferably enlightened old lady who is only too happy to tell you what she’s too good for. She’s like those women you run into at play groups and the farmers market, only she is worth $600 million. We paid $200 to see Madonna in concert a few years ago. She came out and sang a lot of her hits — “Vogue,” “Like a Prayer.” Then she sang “Imagine” by John Lennon, almost atonally. “Please listen to the words of this song,” she ordered us. “We have to change the world.” She said this as if the audience had never before heard “Imagine” or thought about the lyrics. When you give Madonna your money now, what you’re buying is a thrilling opportunity to bask in her audacity:
You must listen to me.
We must change the planet, together, each one of us.
I have to get on my jet now.
Fly, earth mother, fly.
“Even when I was a little girl, I knew I wanted the whole world to know who I was, to love me and be affected by me.” — Madonna, to People, May 13, 1985
Two out of three, not bad. We do all know her, and we are all affected by her. (Yes, we are.)
The love part is the hardest.
She wanted to be loved?
As for love, Madonna is someone you have to hate in order to love. In Madonnaworld, scoffing is a value-added experience attached to pure fandom. Just watch a Madonna fan listen to the new Madonna album for the first time. There is such instantaneous loathing and fascination. You spend a week telling all your friends how bad the new album is, what a letdown it is, and then a week later, you magically decide you like it. The new songs take their place in a canon that stretches back into 25 years of half-hearted gym membership.
When Madonna released her hit song with Justin Timberlake this spring, I disliked it so much I had no choice but to love it, a skill I’ve mastered through the release of all her studio albums, soundtracks, concert recordings and two greatest-hits collections. Now I listen to that song on the elliptical trainer on which I go round and round with Madonna and never get anywhere. I’m not entirely sure of the lyrics, but I’m pretty sure it goes:
Madonna: I’m feeling old, have sex with me.
Justin: I’m down wit dat. Whatchoo got? Whatchoo want?
Madonna: I would like it fast, then slow, down there, in that place.
Justin: Where it at, girl?
Madonna: It’s right there. No, it’s there. Yes, no! There, wait — no, there. Tick-tock, tick-tock!
Justin: Oooh, save the world! Save the world!
Or something like that.
Summer horribilis! She for whom there was never such a thing as bad publicity cannot possibly be enjoying her latest headlines, can she? The narrative is seemingly no longer in Madonna’s control. (Unless it is. There is the possibility that she now masterminds her own “bad” publicity.)
The rumors (denied over and over) about an impending divorce from her second husband, Guy Ritchie, with both sides reported (also denied) to be lawyering up. Headlines about Madonna the succubus, accused (falsely, Madonna’s camp says) of luring A-Rod away from his spurned wife and new baby with the promise of spiritual enlightenment.
Headlines about her younger brother’s tell-all book, “Life With My Sister Madonna,” No. 2 on the New York Times list. (A summary of the book, of sorts: She was always a you know what, even at 5, especially at 17, even more so at 38. She still owes him for these myriad home-decorating jobs he slavishly agreed to do; she is such a you know what; she didn’t give him a very nice room in the Scottish castle where she got married; she deliberately didn’t tell him about the Kabbalah prayer meeting at Demi Moore’s house; oh, the nightmare of knowing her so well.)
One of the biggest Madonna fans I know says he stopped reading after about Page 22, because of the possibility that the book was too true, and worse, too banal. It has pictures of Madonna as a teenager, wearing a dress her stepmother made. It has pictures of Thanksgiving with the Ciccones. It is devastatingly unmythological.
“Listen, once you pass 35, your age becomes part of the first sentence of anything written.” — Madonna, to Out magazine, April 2006
It becomes the last sentence, too, my love.
A week or so ago, there were those death-mask pictures of Madonna, seen leaving a yoga class in London, sans makeup. In these pictures, she is gaunt and stranger than her normal strange, with Ginsu cheekbones and these throbbing veins snaking up and down the sinew of arms that have seen much mystical discipline. The world stares and stares at these pictures. Every magazine in the checkout line desperately seeking sutures: Madonna — What happened to her face?!
The Hollywood gossip shows all ask it, too — what’s wrong, what is it? Experts are called in, diagrams are made, and nobody seems to say, well, she’s 50 you know. She’ll be dead someday. We all will.
When you get to heaven, what’s the DJ playing?
“Ray of Light”?
Maybe, if you’re a Madonna anti-fan fan, you’ll get there and you’ll hear those synthesized chimes from the opening of “Lucky Star,” and it’s a Friday night at the lake, and it is always 1980-something, and it happens all over again.