Sep 01, 2023, 05:55AM

Ray of Light

Madonna’s formula is effective as her legacy endures.

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Madonna 2015.

In the entertainment industry, Madonna’s rule has spanned for more than 40 years. There’s a reason she packs so much dynamite. A recent illness landed her in intensive care. Outpourings of support came from around the world. Now her family and fans are grateful she’s recovered. The postponed Celebration tour is scheduled to get underway in October.

Critics find it impossible understanding Madonna. Why? There’s no right answer. Madonna is a professional who cares, endured the test of time and continues to spark controversy. When artists accomplish creativity on that level, it’s extraordinary.

We’ve heard about lectures and coaching motivation sessions teaching us to aim high and pursue our goals. They say work is good for the soul. For some, there’s no such thing as downtime or relaxation. Many believe work is the only way to find purpose in personal and professional lives. After the pandemic global collapse, employees were left alone and required to operate remotely. You know what was discovered, a lot of people hated their jobs and had no drive.

What’s it like to be driven? Perhaps the sage, marble lions Patience and Fortitude who guard the Main Library entrance in New York City know the secret. One may quote them as saying, “Drive is something that keeps one going with persistence, consistency, and discipline. Positive outcomes generate self-perpetuating incentives, citing fear of failure as motivation.”

Which brings us back to Madonna. In Ninth Street Women, Mary Gabriel writes about five Abstract Expressionism painters in the 20th century. Guess who’s the subject of her upcoming book? In a recent New York Times op-ed “We Keep Getting Madonna Wrong” Gabriel points out, “Because she is a woman and pop star, critics generally dismiss her political statements as opportunistic grandstanding. But young people looking toward a future that seems closed to them see past that criticism.”

It takes effort to touch people’s lives. Few in the music business who’ve mastered the skill can boast of a multi-generational fanbase. Madonna’s formula is effective as her legacy endures. Every attempt to surpass the previous one, requires strength and being one step ahead of the curve. Sensation after sensation, cries out for new moves. Even after sorting out the kinks, pushing the envelope involves risk. If you go too quickly, we begin to see divergence.

Musicians need support in order to maintain and push their artistic integrity and seeing a live performance calls for patience and perseverance. Gimme shelter, because going to a concert today is a two-way street, that’s if you can even get a ticket. Audiences want their money’s worth because popular shows carry hefty price tags. Depending on how others might react at show, for example: glance over your left shoulder, and check out the unsteady person swaying back and forth next to you who appears to be “not in the moment”—any number of uneasy reasons can ruin a show.

Some believe they have the right to record any event and share. Others come from a similar school of thought: “It didn’t happen if it wasn’t recorded.” I assume most are aware that if you’re recording, a pushy, sleazebag lawyer has the authority to accuse you of violating someone else’s copyright. Every clandestine concert video I’ve seen online; just a wobbly mess of arms waving tiny screens in the air that looks and sounds like shit.

In September 2019, concertgoers had to hand over their phones and Apple watches to enter Madonna’s Madame X special performances at BAM. The items were placed in Yondr pouches and locked. Enforcing the policy caused a minor squeak at the door. The show expected to start at 10:30 began closer to midnight. I was there as the Brooklyn throng arrived in good spirits.

The audience was presented a Madonna playlist of new material in a flashy extravaganza which must’ve cost millions to produce. Knowing the heritage of the brand, her team explored every possibility. It takes a tremendous amount of labor to plan a theater production steeped in political, fashion, and dance content. Larger than IMAX display panels wrapped around the Gilman Opera House stage with high-definition audio-visual segments timed to intermingle with stage performances. Being immersed in a kaleidoscope of towering imagery, felt like the heart of Times Square. A collaboration with daughter Lourdes in a rendition of “Frozen” was moving. Around three in the morning, Madonna bid everyone good night.

I sat at a table across from Madonna once at The Odeon in early-1997. We didn’t speak or have eye contact. She was with Carlos Leon at the time. At first, I wasn’t even sure it was her and thought to myself “Is that really Madonna?” As one might expect, slowly but surely, a steady line of fans trekked across the crowded restaurant. By all appearances, politeness was shown to those who dropped down to their knees to genuflect before the celebrity.

But it was the lighthouse beams emerging from her hands that really caught my eye. A sizable diamond sparkler glistened away in its distinctive setting. The rays caused my brain circuits to malfunction. The knowledge that Madonna Louise Ciccone was the source of light served as a pleasant distraction while enjoying a frisée salad.


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