The magnitude of Madonna | ET REALITY

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MADONNA: A rebellious life, by Maria Gabriel


“I want to be alone”, Greta Garbo dancing character she famously said the line in “Grand Hotel,” a quote permanently and only semi-accurately attached to the actress after she retired from public life. Garbo ranked No. 1 on the Golden Agers chart on one of Madonna’s biggest hits, “Fashion”, but the pop star has long seemed to embody the complete opposite of this maxim. She wants to be surroundedas if it had Dolby sound.

“Before Madonna even had a manager, she had a court of valets and minstrels who followed her everywhere,” noted record executive Seymour Stein.

Although technically a solo vocalist, Madonna has been backed by dancers. From the beginning of his career in the early 1980s. He has six children: two biological and four adopted in Malawi. Many more consider themselves her spiritual descendants: gay men to whom she has mothered them; younger female artists she inspires.

And she has toured the world with an elastic entourage of friends, writers, producers, directors, managers, photographers, publicists, reporters and fans, all of whom helpfully populate Mary Gabriel’s large, indignant new biography of her: a stubborn and obstinate -brick bulwark against any detractor who swings in the moat of her castle.

“Madonna: A Rebel Life” is one of those books that is measured in pounds, not pages: almost three, which would have been more if the publisher had not decided to publish the endnotes and bibliography online instead of in print. Doesn’t fit on the small StairMaster shelf at the gym – a classic Madonna piece of exercise equipment – although you could lift it later to flex your wrists.

If, however, you walk into an aerobics class, not only is there a good chance the instructor will play a song from Madonna’s catalog, but he’ll probably be wearing a microphone with hands-free headphones, and that’s it. very Madonna too. As Gabriel points out, although the technology was used before by pilots and Kate Bush, it was her subject who popularized it on her 1989 “Blond Ambition” tour.

However, for this book, the woman born Madonna Louise Ciccone in 1958, the same year as Prince and Michael Jackson, kept quiet. Her voice comes from numerous past interviews, recorded performances and occasional posts on Instagram, where early in the pandemic she topped Gal Gadot’s “Imagine” video with one. of herself naked in a bathroom among floating rose petals, declaring Covid-19 “the great equalizer.”

The closest Gabriel gets to Madonna in person is a half-dozen conversations with her brother, Christopher Ciccone, whose 2008 best-selling memoir, “Life With My Sister Madonna,” caused at least a temporary rift between the brothers, professional collaborators. for a long time. (Madonna’s sense of betrayal is difficult to reconcile with her ardent defense of personal free expression.)

Gabriel also talks to about 30 other sources, surprisingly few for the scope of the work, and uncovers some interesting archival nuggets, such as Norman Mailer, in a first draft of the more than 200 he wrote for a 1994 Esquire profile, describing Madonna as a “pint-sized” Italian-American (he used an ethnic slur instead) “with a heart built from the cast-iron balls of a hundred peasant ancestors.”

Previous Madonnagraphers have been entirely unauthorized (Andrew Morton, J. Randy Taraborrelli) or have taken a more approach “Thirteen ways to look at a blackbird” getting closer; universities have offered complete courses about his. Gabriel brings additional intellectual credibility to the task. “Love and Capital,” his book about Karl Marx and his wife, Jenny, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; her group portrait of five female painters, “Ninth Street Women,” was enthusiastically received. But she doesn’t describe her own connection to this project, as she did to the others, and this reader was left wondering if it might be less love than capital.

Not that Gabriel doesn’t diligently defend Madonna’s cultural importance: inviting us to consider, for example, her Mylar-wrapped coffee-table book “Sex,” battered by judgment when it was published in 1992, in much the same way as The James Baldwin’s novel “Giovanni’s Room.” She extensively relays the praise of curator Jeffrey Deitch, who worked with Madonna on a 2013 multimedia installation called “PRoX-STATIC=Cess.”

Maybe we’ve all misinterpreted Madonna as the Queen of Pop (a dubious analogy to Aretha Franklin’s Queen of Soul) and she’s closer, on a grand scale, to Karen Finley, the performance artist who used to smear her naked body with chocolate or honey. ? In fact, when describing Madonna’s time in Miami, Gabriel writes of her “daily ritual of covering herself in honey and jumping into Biscayne Bay, where she floated until the honey melted,” with no apparent concern for sharks.

“Madonna: A Rebel Life” is organized as an intense, primarily urban, seven-decade travel itinerary. Like Franklin, Madonna lost her mother early in life and grew up in Detroit, where her father, who also had a half-dozen children, “thought we should always be productive,” she said. Her Barbie told Ken: “I’m not staying home doing the dishes. You stay at home! Am going out tonight. I’m going to go bowling, okay, then forget he!” Among his formative influences are JD Salinger and Anne Sexton (literary); the Shangri-Las and David Bowie (musical); Martha Graham and Frida Kahlo (visual). “The sight of her mustache comforted me,” she said of the latter.

I could be biased like a native who longed for rubber bracelets and lace socks and waited to hear if the FM radio would play.”Limit” to “la-la-la-la,” but the section in which Madonna arrives in New York City, although well traveled, is one of the most compelling in this book. She eats French fries that she takes out of garbage cans; she learns guitar in an abandoned synagogue in Flushing Meadows nicknamed “the Gog”; she brings a demo tape to the DJ booth at Danceteria; and, signed by Stein from her hospital bed, she hangs with a “cadre” of artists that included Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. She was also raped at knifepoint on a rooftop, an experience that was not publicly broadcast until Abel Ferrara’s punishing film. “Dangerous game” in 1993.

Having moved on to Hollywood (and later Broadway and the West End), she gave her male establishment the middle finger: walking away from an early marriage to Sean Penn, cursing David Letterman on air, and flatly shutting up Harvey Weinstein when offers comments. in “Truth or Dare,” his 1991 documentary. (“I don’t care what your point of view is,” he tells her. “I never want to hear it. Who the hell are you to tell me what kind of movie I should make?”) Her former lover Warren Beatty, who directed her in “Dick Tracy,” mocked how I wanted to live on camera all the time; Who with an iPhone now does the opposite?

Madonna is rightly celebrated here as a pioneer of AIDS education (she lost countless friends to the disease) and as a genuine philanthropist. But as she gains more experience with the press and becomes isolated by its fame, the book softens and suffers. The magnitude of Madonna, her interdisciplinarity, from MTV to “Avoid” – seems impossible to corral.

Madonna’s drug is work (she makes a discipline even of decadence) and “A Rebel Life” increasingly becomes a litany of far-flung descriptions and tabulations: borders crossed, records broken, shows put on, money made, countries visited, tested foreign cultures. “All the artists appropriate it,” is how Gabriel defends her from a frequent accusation. “It’s called inspiration.”

Clichés sneak into his prose. Madonna is burning the candle at both ends, causing a firestorm and is a lightning rod for controversy. She’s never taken the road most traveled, but she does take a long hard look in the mirror.

Speaking of mirrors: Gabriel recognizes Madonna’s talent for self-reinvention, but strangely ignores her transformation after cosmetic procedures and the resulting reaction, a delicate topic to analyze, but not irrelevant for someone whose work has been so intertwined with the image. “I’m going to make it easier for all those girls behind me when they turn 60,” the star said while promoting her 2019 album, “Madame X.” Well, some of those girls want to know why she can’t wave her skull cane at the anti-aging industrial complex.

“A Rebel Life” hits the mark but rarely soars, as Madonna did suspended from cables during her Drowned World tour. (Rather, the book is immersed in names, places, dates, and historical exposition.) Furthermore, evaluating Madonna’s legacy before she has a chance to recover from recent health setbacks It can be an incredibly premature task.

“The verdict again and again would be that he had gone too far, that his career was over,” Gabriel writes. “Time and time again, the jury got it wrong.”


MADONNA: A rebellious life | By María Gabriel | Illustrated | 858 pages | Small, Brown and company | $38


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