Madonna and Rocco, Sigmund and Lucian

When one is an icon well-established in their field, it should be apparent that the decision to have children comes with an even greater burden than usual. That is to say, knowing full well that you have made it virtually impossible for them to ever succeed “in their own right.” Naturally, those not born into privilege would shout from the rooftops that there’s greater “honor” in being born rich than having to work for every little thing that wealthy tits take for granted. But someone like Ernst L. Freud, born to Sigmund, might counter-argue that the burden of being the progeny of someone iconic and influential does not only befall both “original” parent and child (the former because he has created a privilege monster and the latter because he will never have to try that hard at much of anything). It also befalls anyone born thereafter to the line. 

Lucian Freud, the grandson of Sigmund (and the man whose name Madonna spells as “Lucien”), would have probably liked to believe otherwise. Sure, he had some talent, as far as portraits go. But so do a lot of people. People whose “proclivities” will never get the chance to be nurtured and promoted because they must focus on other inane things, like making money of their own. And, of course, without the privilege of Ernst being a Freud, he wouldn’t have been able to flee Berlin so easily in 1933, during the unstoppable rise of Nazi Germany. Might have been forced to stay and face a firing squad, hence: no Ernst and no Lucian at all. And not only was Ernst and his family able to flee, but flee to London’s cush St. John’s Wood district in Westminster. Many, many decades later, the son of Madonna, Rocco Ritchie, would find himself pulled to London as well. If nothing else, because it was an excuse to escape Mother, who had been too traumatized by her almost decade-long stint in London and the English countryside with the senior Ritchie to ever want to return on a permanent basis (not that someone with her bank account and private jet access ever needed to feel “relegated” to any one milieu). 

Yes, life with Guy was hard, but life pretending to be the good English country wife was even harder. And that was what Guy had expected of her—the most irreverent and rebellious woman in twentieth century pop culture. Hell, even in twenty-first century pop culture. But perhaps Guy thought that because she was “getting on” in years (for people have been calling Madonna a “grandma” since she was in her thirties), she would be more amenable to “acting her age” and “settling down.” Not so. For after “trapping” him into marriage (as it was speculated with regard to her refusal to “get rid” of fetal Rocco—“I made up my mind/I’m keepin’ my baby,” etc., etc.), it was as though the thrill of “the chase” was gone for Madonna. She had proven, once again, that she could attract the interest of a younger man. Not only “attract” him, but get him to be her husband. 

Alas, she paid through the nose for that “conquest,” having foolishly believed in “love” enough to somehow not ensure that a prenuptial agreement was signed before the wedding, which Rocco’s christening piggybacked off of the day before at Dornoch Cathedral. One might say that, because Rocco was christened on such a land, he was doomed to tap back into his Anglican roots sooner or later (to use a term that also doubles as a Madonna song title). The U.S. never quite speaking to him as much as Angleterre. His sister—half-sister, mind you—on the other hand, seemed to want to do all the things that would emulate Mother, from attending the University of Michigan to moving to New York and becoming a scene queen. But even that “accomplishment,” too, was by sheer virtue of the privilege that came with being Madonna’s spawn. 

Perhaps Rocco thought that, by aligning himself with Father, he would have a better chance at succeeding on his “own merits.” Ignoring the fact that the Ritchie name itself evolved from a long line of affluent barons and knights, in addition to descending from an English royal. All it took was one person in the lineage—Patrick McLaughlin (the Madonna of the Ritchie line in terms of “pulling oneself up by their bootstraps”)—who actually worked hard to ultimately get Guy into the types of circles of the late 90s that would lead him to Trudie Styler producing Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It was through Trudie that Madonna met the “roguish” (all a front, of course) bloke at a dinner party where she agreed to release the soundtrack for the film on her label, Maverick Records. After all, it was an excuse to keep the relationship going. And, having recently developed a taste for British men thanks to Andy Bird, Madonna wanted to continue her sampling of the breed with someone slightly more, let’s say, “upscale” (Bird himself being an out-of-work filmmaker). And no, she did not keep Bird’s baby. 

After their wedding at the end of 2000, it was clear Madonna still saw herself as the ingenue of her “Like A Virgin” years, whereas Guy wanted to characterize her as “Like A Piece of Gristle.” And perhaps Madonna could see that Being Rocco’s Mother was not going to cut it as her sole source of fulfillment. For, not only did she release four albums and go on four world tours within the first ten years of his life, but she also sought to adopt another baby boy that might hedge her bets in terms of ensuring that this one would be utterly aware that Mother Knows Best. Always. Cue the “jokes” about how Black boys adopted by white women will inevitably end up in a dress. Maybe some part of Rocco was jealous about that (not the dress part). Felt as though Madonna was trying to replace him with someone “better”—or at least more “moldable.” After all, saying, “I gave you life” isn’t as powerful as being able to wield, “I plucked you from death and destitution in Malawi.” 

So it was that a period of unrest occurred between Rocco and Madonna as the former tried to find something of his own to latch on to… far from the clutches of his mother’s then ongoing Rebel Heart Tour. With music and film taken (and also fashion taken by Lola), it seemed going the more old school route of “actual” art—painting—was the best way to prove that he was a “unique” talent (adopting the styles of literally every other painter before him), separate from the worlds infiltrated by Mother and Father. While Lucian opted for Goldsmiths’ College, Rocco went for Central Saint Martins (famously name-checked in Pulp’s “Common People”). Rocco, like Lucian, also did his best to live a private life—if one can call “private,” by Rocco’s standards, frequently appearing at fashion shows and other public events. Lucian just wanted to focus on “the work” a.k.a. creating a bubble as vast and wide as well-to-do people are capable of. For it was no coincidence that he really only painted friends (including Andrew Parker Bowles) and family. Involving others might actually require a more concerted effort on his part. The need to actually challenge his comfort zone, which also clearly involved culling from one of M’s true favorite painters, Tamara de Lempicka (see: the “Open Your Heart” video). 

Appropriately enough, Madonna once sang, “Sigmund Freud, analyze this!” Who knew that, on some level, she would essentially be asking him to analyze the meta implications of the “Queen” attending an art show of someone who was only an artist because he was afforded the luxuries to be one with her son who is only an artist because he is afforded the luxuries (e.g. gobs upon gobs of expensive paint [thus the ability to mimic Freud’s signature impastoed style] and an education at Central Saint Martins) to be one. In other words, it all boils down to who you were born to.

The birth lottery is no one’s “fault,” per se (though one wouldn’t be surprised if the rich had found a way to secretly manipulate that as well). Bob Dylan described it best when he said, “I’m helpless, like a rich man’s child.” Because what are they really capable of without the help of their rich, established progenitor? Rocco will never have to find out. Nor did Lucian. Whose work is now displayed before Madonna and son in an exhibit sponsored by Crédit Suisse, affirming that art and commerce only coincide when you pop out of the right vagina. 


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