Suzanne Fields

Madonna hasn't been "like a virgin" for a long time, but the Material Girl is desperate for new material to keep her warm in a cooling spotlight. Sean Penn, her ex, is in trouble, too. He needs a pen name. Both have been eclipsed by events that have cast them deep into the shadows.

Madonna lost her direction and edge looking for the zeitgeist. Her new album dropped off Billboard's Top Twenty after only three weeks. Her pop vulgarity once tapped into the rebellious spirit of the times, but her current sensibility is more suited to the '60s.

Her ex is in the wrong decade, too. He's locked in lawsuits with the language of the 1950s, accusing movie producer Steve Bing of "blacklisting" him because he spoke out against the war in Baghdad. Penn is an "oldcomer" to bad publicity, but Madonna managed to get out of the marriage unscathed by his bad press. She even profited it by it, by looking sympathetic.

But now the national mood has changed and she's getting bad publicity on her own. She cancelled a music video of herself decked out in army fatigues, aping Che Guevara, throwing a hand-grenade at a George W. Bush lookalike. One music insider calls her persona a "tired shtick," and she offended the lefties by trying to capitalize on one of their cherished revolutionary heroes, selling nothing more than herself.

Trendsetters with a sharp ear for the buzz hear another message in the decline of Madonna's pop appeal. The newest generation of teenagers and young adults are discovering - horrors! - music their parents and even grandparents enjoy.

"The Great American Songbook, as well as the styles of traditional jazz and swing, are experiencing a tremendous resurgence" observes John Berlau in Insight magazine. The country may be in a mood for eloquent reflection, for grace and wit in language and a soothing and moral elegance in attitude. You could call it comfort music. Cole Porter lives.

When Diana Krall, a Grammy winner in 2000, released a new album called "The Look of Love" six days after Sept. 11, she nixed the usual publicity tour and joined her neighbors in New York, two miles from ground zero, and sought spiritual sustenance in church, in the somber strains of Brahms' Requiem and in tears of lonely grief. The album, grasping the spirit of the times, tugging on the heart strings with a fresh tempo and moving style, sold a million copies.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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