The Madonna of the Road
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Published in: July-August 2024 issue.


October 14, 2023 – May 4, 2024

A Rebel Life
by Mary Gabriel
Little, Brown and Company
319 pages, $38.


THE ARRIVAL of Madonna: A Rebel Life, by Mary Gabriel, could not have been better timed. In the fall of 2023, the pop star launched a concert tour, which she called “Celebration,” as a showcase of her greatest hits. The tour was abruptly stalled by a health scare and hospitalization for a bacterial infection. Madonna, as always, survived, and she played the Gloria Gaynor hit “I Will Survive” to reinforce this fact once she hit the road for her twelfth world tour. This coincided with her recertification by the Guinness World Records as the biggest-selling female artist of all time (more than 400 million records sold).

            The Queen of Pop is unique in that she has maintained her mainstream appeal while holding onto a loyal gay male fanbase. “Each generation has its female ‘gay icon,’ from Mae West to Elizabeth Taylor to Judy Garland to Bette Midler,” writes Gabriel. “But for many—perhaps most—lgbtq people born between 1960 and 1980, the female icon is Madonna.” I wrote about her in this magazine when she turned fifty years old. She’s now 65 and surprisingly spry for her age, though she sported a knee brace during the tour. Gabriel relays one of the artist’s admissions: “[I am a] broken doll held together with tape and glue.” During a Seattle performance, a male backup dancer, in high heels, dropped her and, true to form, the Material Girl laughed it off. She kept singing, lying on the stage, perhaps in keeping with her song “Over and Over” (1984), in which she offers this advice: “And if I fall, I get up again now.”

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Colin Carman, who teaches English at Colorado Mesa University, has an article in the newly published book Romantic Women’s Writing and Sexual Transgression (Edinburgh University Press).