Madonna – The Confessions Tour/I’m Going to Tell You a Secret
By Matthue Roth
On Madonna’s new documentary I’m Going to Tell You a Secret– one of two DVD/CD packages she’s put out in the past 8 months–she finishes her tour in Israel, coinciding with the eve of Rosh Hashana. It’s breakfast time, she’s drinking a cup of coffee and reading in the newspaper how (this is paraphrased) “the American singer Madonna is ending her tour here to show solidarity with the Nation of Israel.” She reacts to this, like, “I’m not showing solidarity with anyone, I just want to see fucking Rabbi Luria’s grave!”
While this might be a characteristic example of celebrity Jew-baiting (the modern phenomenon in which celebs (you know who they are) say things that are ostemsibly only to trigger the criticism of right-wing haredi Jews who wouldn’t care about them in the first place), with Madonna, you can always be sure there’s thought behind it. For her 2006 Confessions tour, she started off her live show with a horseback-riding motif in movies, multimedia, and dancers, which quickly evolved into an SMBD dance, and climaxed in Madonna being chained to an eight-foot-tall cross while singing the moving, repentant ’80s ballad “Live to Tell.”
The thing of it is, it’s Madonna. It’s tacky, it’s over-the-top, it’s larger-than-live and it’s honest. When she sings cheeky dance-pop lines like “I Love New York,” you know she means it. And when she writes a song about the Middle East, she calls in cowriter and duetist Yitzchak Sinwani, a Yemenite Jew who plays shofar on her live tracks and wears a foot-high turban, but also actually talks to her and learns with her about the subject matter.
It’s not perfect, no. But it’s fitting to the rest of Madonna’s oeuvre–the CD, like the concert, gives us just less than enough of her early hits and her mid-career hits to be satisfied; teases us with a two-hour dance routine, but the lady herself is off the stage for nearly a quarter of it–that she goes deep, comes out with a few nuggets of amazingness, and shrouds them in veils of herself that serve to tantalize, but not whet, our appetite. That’s our appetite for pop-Madonna, our appetite for emo-Madonna, and most of all, our thirst to know what she’s really thinking, because, as pop and glittery as she is, she really does have substance. In short: yeah, she doesn’t care about the holiest day of the Jewish calendar and just wants to see Rabbi Luria’s grave, but she actually wants to know Rabbi Luria’s secrets. And that wanting, that honesty and that thirst, is the emotional backbone of Madonna–we just have to dig a little deeper to find it on this boxed set.
Following the Rabbi Luria’s grave altercation, Madonna went to Rosh Hashana services at the Kabbalah Center in Tel Aviv, and rounded it out by speaking about her new favorite holy book to a crowd of hundreds. And she actually, really sounds intelligent–and, damn if I didn’t walk away with a few nuggets of Torah knowledge. So there.