It’s generally a sign of a rock star’s age–and fading relevance–when her fans are called “the faithful,” even when the artist in question is the renegade Roman Catholic-turned-Kabbalist Madonna. At 47, the singer kicked off her latest world tour this week with an act patently designed to appeal to her die-hards, who like their irreverence adminstered with a little glitz. Halfway through her accustomed set of costume changes and simulated sex acts, Mrs. Ritchie performed her ’80s hit “Live to Tell” while affixed to a mirrored cross and wearing a crown of thorns. “Just another day at the office for Madonna,” yawned her hometown paper, London’s Daily Mail.
Madonna once earned herself great notoriety, of course, by hashing out her none-too-original but flashily expressed feelings about Catholicism in her videos and stage shows. Once upon a time, before “The DaVinci Code,” the Vatican condemned her “Like a Prayer” video, in which singer frolicked amid burning crosses and danced with a black Jesus. But in a time when the church is fending off claims that Jesus was married with children, and Christ is spurting blood like a geyser from the cross in Mel’s “Passion,” neither Jesus’ sexuality nor his death retains much power to shock.
Her mock crucifixion’s impact is doubtless diluted, too, by Madonna’s own abandonment of Catholicism for Jewish mysticism. (Last night’s show also included a shofar, the ritual ram’s horn blown at the Jewish New Year.) Surely, one benefit of adopting Kabbalah is being rid one’s lapsed-Catholic hangups–unless, as we begin to suspect, Madonna’s martyrdom complex never had much to do with the church or Jesus. In an odd complement to her “Like a Virgin” number, slides of Madonna’s broken bones, suffered in a fall from a horse, flashed behind her on a mammoth screen, like the relics of St. Madge. When you attain the rarified stratosphere Madonna operates in, who but Jesus can really feel your pain?
So while the Catholic League and Madonna’s hometown state religion, the Church of England, have made their usual protests to her new show, their defense of the traditional cross feels off point. Asked an Anglican spokesman, “Is Madonna prepared to take on everything else that goes with wearing a crown of thorns?” Duh, dude, she totally already has!