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The Madonna Timeline: Song #102 – ‘Masterpiece’ – Holidays 2011

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

It was holiday time in the year 2011. I walked the streets of New York, visiting Chris and Suzie, but for this moment between day and night I was alone. Twinkling Christmas lights glowed in shops and restaurants. People hurried by with gifts and shopping bags. The gorgeous panoply of a night in New York, and all its noise and quirks, its glimmer and shimmer, its heartache and gorgeousness. How could such beauty and sadness coexist so closely together?

Well in advance of her upcoming album, Madonna had leaked ‘Masterpiece’ in support of her new film ‘W.E.’ which she directed. It played over the end credits (not soon enough for Oscar consideration, but it did end up winning the Golden Globe for Best Song). Upon first listen, I was hooked, in the same way that some Madonna songs have of instantly capturing my attention and love, speaking to me as if I was the only one who could truly understand.

The impossibility of loving something so perfect, or of loving someone so beautiful that they exist only on a pedestal, is something most of us experience at one point or another, but mostly from afar, never as the recipient of such adoration. We all think we want that, and maybe some of us really do.

On the street is a different sort of beauty, an intangible one. New York during the holidays can be really stimulating, or really depressing. Hovering somewhere between the two, my evening began, and ended. It was a jewel of a moment – hard, gorgeous, impenetrable, striking – buffeted by friends and loved ones, but isolated in the middle, and maybe the end too.

If you were the Mona Lisa
You’d be hanging in the Louvre
Everyone would come to see you
You’d be impossible to move
It seems to me that’s what you are
A rare and priceless work of art
Stay behind your velvet rope
I will not renounce all hope

A week or two later I found myself in Boston, walking through the Public Garden as dusk fell. It was just after the golden hour, when brave artists would have been packing up their easels in the spring, if people still tried to create, if they still tried to make something of beauty. The branches that once held leaves and spring blossoms were barren – the only adornment being a few light-catching segments of ice, and some stalwart crotches of snow. The last vestiges of the day faded quickly, and soon it was dark.

That weekend, to escape the cruelty of the cold, I went to find respite in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, its center garden courtyard filled with greenery, backed by the soft fall of water, cushioned by a blanket of moss. Potted tree ferns arch finely reticulated fronds over gravel walkways. It would be an ideal place to get married, if they allowed it. Instead, couples can merely hold hands, or steal quick kisses. No ceremonies or receptions are allowed. No matter – today there is no one to hold my hand.

And I’m right by your side
Like a thief in the night
I stand in front of the masterpiece
And I can’t tell you why
It hurts so much
To be in love with a masterpiece
Cause after all
Nothing’s indestructible

Several works of art were stolen from this museum back in the early 90’s. It happened right before I started at Brandeis, and I remember it being in the Boston papers whenever a lead was followed. A couple of men dressed as police officers convinced the security team to let them in late one night, then proceeded to tie them up, and steal several priceless works, cutting them rudely and crudely out from their frames.

To date, the crime has never been solved, nor the stolen pieces found. The empty frames remain hanging, as Ms. Gardner’s orders were that nothing in the museum be touched or moved no matter what. I walk by those spooky frames, eerily empty of all the beauty they once held, and want to cry at the state of the world. It turns out that beauty can be robbed ~ cut out, rolled up, and stuffed into the night, never to be found again. Not yet, anyway.

From the moment I first saw you
All the darkness turned to white
An impressionistic painting
Tiny particles of light
It seem to me that’s what you’re like
The look-but-please-don’t-touch-me type
And honestly it can’t be fun
To always be the chosen one

Across the room from one of the missing works, I walk to the window looking down into the courtyard. Where were you, Ms. Gardner, when your painting went missing? What tears did you cry when they tore out your heart? A carpet of baby tears spilled onto stone far below, while delicate orchids drooped their weeping colorful cargo. Sometimes beauty made the heart ache.

And I’m right by your side
Like a thief in the night
I stand in front of the masterpiece
And I can’t tell you why
It hurts so much
To be in love with a masterpiece
Cause after all
Nothing’s indestructible

Christmas Eve at my family home in Amsterdam, NY, that same year ~ 2011. Candles flicker on the piano, stockings hang from the mantle, and Christmas music plays softly in the background. Decked out in holiday finery, and the scent of Tom Ford’s Santal Blush, I am unimpressive for any of those reasons, at least for those assembled here tonight. My niece and nephew bound down the hallway in their diapers. The family is together, intact. It will be the last time. I want to cry for how beautiful it is, how wonderful life can be. I want to cry because I know it cannot last.

Nothing’s indestructible, Nothing’s indestructible…

Beauty swirls around me, glittering and sparkling from the Christmas tree, light bouncing among the crystals of a chandelier, and dazzling the eyes. I loosen the silk tie around my neck and slip off the suddenly-stifling pair of wing-tips from my feet. Years ago I would lie down in this very space, on this very carpet, and look up at the tree. I would squint my eyes until it went slightly out of focus, until the lights merged and danced and became abstract spots of color, orbs of illumination. I would feel overwhelmed by its beauty, and the first drops of moisture would splinter the images before my eyes, fracturing their pretty perfection.

I wanted company as much as I wanted to be alone.

And I’m right by your side
Like a thief in the night
I stand in front of the masterpiece
And I can’t tell you why
It hurts so much
To be in love with a masterpiece
Cause after all
Nothing’s indestructible
Cause after all
Nothing’s indestructible. 
Song #102 – ‘Masterpiece’ – Holidays 2011
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