"There is no love stronger than a mother for her son,” sniffled Madonna on Sunday on stage in New Zealand. Since her son, Rocco, 15, remains steadfastly in London with his father Guy Ritchie, Madonna strummed a plaintive guitar in tribute. Madge has been trying to get custody over Rocco, and taken the court response badly. That said, custody seems a ridiculous word for the living arrangements of this sturdy, confident young man often spotted behaving perilously on a skateboard or out and about with West London’s young women.
Rocco Ritchie is not a babe in arms, however Madonna tries to frame it. And besides, these “Madonna Unplugged” portions of her recent tours – pared-down hits sang in “Kumbaya” style to save her knee cartilage – are bad enough without her motherly histrionics.
I’ve loved Madonna for more than three decades. I’ve defended her through the naked hitch-hiking stage, the Kabbalist kiddy-author period and even the Malawian baby-adoption era. I sat through Evita, twice, damn it. The woman’s perpetual imperiousness and her indefatigable swagger have empowered a billion gap-toothed girls like myself to indulge in blue-sky thinking.
But on the matter of Rocco Ritchie, the world has never seen Madonnna Louise Ciccone appearing to behave so pettily. In the Rocco saga, Madonna looks quite simply like a mother who isn’t getting her own way despite deploying all her usual manipulations. It is not remotely attractive to observe. She’s tried love-bombing on Instagram and she’s tried guilt-inducing on-stage soliloquies. Then came deploying translantic legal teams. These things appear to have acted only to keep her son a stubborn 3,500 miles away.
In the 1980s, the 90s and the noughties I took strength from Madonna as a woman who didn’t take no for an answer. Even if that “yes” led her to do things like make eye-meltingly bad films with Rupert Everett or rap “I do yoga and pilates and the room is full of hotties” while dressed like Che Guevara. Still, I wonder if the Rocco situation is the very first time, here in 2016, that Madonna’s demands have not eventually been met.
Let’s pause to examine, for example, this “There’s no love stronger than a mother’s love” epistle from Auckland. It’s all very Clinton’s Cards. It’s all too Facebook on Mother’s Day. For Madge, it’s a bit off-message. Is a mother’s capacity to love really greater than all the non-breeders, myself included, with our poor bronze-grade, sterile hearts? I expect to be casually informed a dozen times per week that a mother’s love is a higher grade by definition out of my reach. But Madonna has always tended to spare me this shit.
But this is the thin end of the Madonna “not thinking straight” wedge. A calmer mind might see that presently Rocco seems to think his rough ‘n’ tumble, pseudo-Cockney dad is awesome and his boring old pop-icon mother is a bore. But it has certainly not always seemed this way. For many years Rocco and his mother’s Instagram accounts have reverberated with happy holidays full of jet-ski races and balcony jumps, as well as their shared political endeavours. They were as thick as thieves, even if right now Rocco believes swinging London is where his heart is, as opposed to wretched, tedious New York.
Clearly, Madonna must find this exasperating. But teenagers are, by nature, fickle, Machiavellian and challenging. Thin-lipped, exasperated parental expressions are one of their main energy sources. If Madonna had simply trilled on hearing Rocco wasn’t coming home, “Fine, I’m so glad you’re happy with your dad and his new wife and their baby! Have a great time in London! Our time apart will be so nourishing for your soul”, I’m certain the boy would have done a complete volte-face within six months.
Because if Rocco Ritchie is anything like most teenagers, he will be at odds with his father too in the fullness of time. Perhaps, like many teens, it would be over cars, boozing, money, smoking, school grades, leaving the front door open at night, using the kitchen as an after-hours nightclub or letting the family down for Sunday lunch because he is asleep somewhere in a hedge.
At this point, he would have boomeranged back to Madonna. She would have put down her acoustic guitar and been ready in New York to pick up the slack. The more furious Madonna has appeared to be about Rocco being with Guy, the more it has looked like a smokescreen for her anger at her ex-husband, his younger wife and their new baby. Desperately Seeking Susan-era Madonna would have known this. Rebel Heart Madonna is behaving like the mother out of Sorry! with Ronnie Corbett whenever Timothy tried to go on a date.
Pleading with a hulking young man, who is having a lovely time in London, to get on a plane and come home to mummy is one sure way to make him detest you. Expressing your motherly fury by bombarding Instagram with baby photos, before hiring lawyers, is a method to keep this fight alive for years.
I’m not sure how this egocentric grasping and controlling fits in with those peace and love Kabbalah-mumblings the singer has peppered her art with for a decade. It might be time to find that magic red bangle, Madge, and see if it’s still under warranty. Right now, it’s letting you down.