Immaterial girl

"Wow, Madonna's a Rock Star!" grumbles a friend to my right, with only an applique of irony. She's playing a guitar these days, you know.

We're once again traveling the distance from anticipation to realization with our favorite heroine of image control, Miss M, as she racks up high-ticket ratings with the Sunday night HBO simulcast of her all-the-rage Drowned World tour.

Most of us are not new to the controversy here. High ticket prices in smaller venues meant that virtually nobody you know -- except the gayest of gay, really -- obtained tickets, and must now be forced to gather in far more random (even smaller) venues for the consolation prize of televised Material vainglory. After all, we couldn't not watch.

In Ft. Lauderdale, where the tour washed up some two weeks ago, every gay bar in town was nearly drowned with the expected tributes to Madonna's blonde ambition, offering pageants and karaoke incidents, along with superfluous performance appearances by her bigger hipping side girls. Here, the Parliament House booked the show on all of its bar screens for drunken public consumption, especially for those who couldn't get tickets or HBO. This is some heady crowd control.

Me, I've gathered with an unlikely crew of girls who like girls -- um, mostly blonde -- to watch the Material girl in her latest appraisal of her own cultural prominence. Bearing in mind that lesbians make the perfect Madonna companions, this is sure to be a good time ... Right?

"It's kind of like watching the Super Bowl," offers my straight gal pal with an import bottle hanging out of her mouth. Right. The Gay Super Bowl.

Several "Look at her abs!" "Look at her arms!" and "Look at her legs!" later, and the festivities are moving along quite nicely.

"My substitute for love ...," coos our princess in bondage-pants as she opens the set, and already the cat calls have deepened into doe eyes. Seems Madonna's acquired a big strum Bowie face in her 40s, and she's working a somber pout to its glam rock apex. But as with most things Madonna, the substance isn't there. Merely the substitute.

Which is sad, really. On Saturday night, fellow New York nightlife survivor David Byrne peeled the roof off of the House of Blues with a soul stirring performance of nothing but substance. He has skipped the blonde and gone gray, to be sure. But, still, there isn't a person in the head-bopping audience that isn't sure that he's really meaning it ... or that they're really feeling it. It's the realization without any of that manipulative anticipation, and it's enough to make one of my rambunctious friends attempt a stage climb -- not to grab a lock of hair, though.

"It's just so good!" he slurred. "I had to get closer!"

And you may find yourself, indeed.

Now, thanks to HBO, I couldn't be any closer to Madonna, practically climbing up her schoolgirl skirt for a glimpse into her true artistry. Only, there isn't any self here to find. Just a void of shock graphics and Seigfried and Roy bombast laced together by latter-era Madonna drivel.

She's not even being nice about it. Following her recent hit Don't Tell Me, in which she assumes some sort of "Urban Cowboy" line-dance tribute, Madonna assumed yet another accent (the first since her half-there British snootery). This time it's a redneck drawl -- to goad her hometown crowd.

"Y'all don't think I forget where I'm from, now, do ya?"

Except the southern drawl doesn't really travel to Michigan, does it dear? Whatever. "Don't tell me to stop," and so on. Stop!

She doesn't. For a good half-hour, Madonna pops around the stage in her "Memoirs of a Geisha" garb, slapping around her wacked out dance troupe and promoting Japaname rape scenes behind her. It's all standard shock fare by now, but just the same ... Why are we watching?

"I love her," offers one girl toy.

"I hate her," offers another.

I don't really care, I grimace.

Neither does she. Her previously controversial interracial paean, Secret, is dramatically backed by images of the distended bellies of famine. My baby's got a secret? My baby's got malaria.

Oh, and Madonna has a baby. Okay, two. But tonight she wants to make sure the world knows, sporting a bedazzled wife-beater, emblazened with the word "Mother."

I half expect supposed pal Britney to pop out with either a "Daughter" or "Fucker" shirt, depending on the intensity of the choreography, but am sadly disappointed. Instead, it's just a finale of the herk-jerk anthem, Music, lit up with overlapping images of Madonna's career.

This would be the realization: nostalgia. And as the credits begin rolling, the first one seems the only one that matters. "Conceived by Madonna," it says.



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