Madonna's 60th-birthday flashback: When the diva revealed her smartest career move

Madonna turns 60 on Thursday, Aug. 16, and in the 35 years since she released her debut album, the diva has infiltrated and influenced every sphere of pop culture. Her achievements are dizzyingly impressive. But what does she believe was her smartest career move? When asked that loaded question by Yahoo Entertainment in 2003 — at the time of the release of her controversial and prescient ninth studio album, American Life — she offered an unexpected answer.

“I think it was really smart of me that I learned how to play guitar,” the pop icon revealed.

Madonna first learned guitar in the late ’70s from her then-boyfriend and bandmate, Dan Gilroy of the new wave band Breakfast Club. More than two decades later, she picked up the guitar again in earnest during her Music era, taking lessons from her touring axeman at the time, Monte Pittman of Prong. She has played guitar on every tour since, and in 2002 at the Orville H. Gibson Guitar Awards, she was nominated for the Les Paul Horizon Award, which honors up-and-coming guitarists. She’s even wowed metal fans by shredding on some Pantera! However, with a multipage résumé like hers, it’s still surprising that she would cite this as one of her shrewdest artistic decisions.

Madonna, a woman who’s worked with everyone from Nile Rodgers to Prince to Britney Spears, also expressed pride about her uncanny ability to recognize and recruit fantastic collaborators. “I think it was really smart of me to have the luck to hook up with [Music/American Life/Confessions on a Dance Floor producer] Mirwais and [Ray of Light/Music/MDNA producer] William Orbit and lots of talented musicians, writers, and producers that I’ve worked with throughout the years. I think I have a good sense of that. That’s another thing I’m good at — quite a talent!” (Madonna recently revealed that she is back in the studio working on new music with Mirwais.)

Madonna did express frustration with the fact that her contributions to cinema have rarely gotten their due. (“I think people are unbelievably rude when it comes to critiquing or reviewing the films that I made. … I think they were personally attacking me, and it’s really obvious.”) But when she was asked what she thought her greatest talent was, she became unexpectedly humble, blushing and giggling. “What I’m really good at? I don’t know. I think I’m really a good dancer. Yeah. Next question!”

Even after so many years in the spotlight, Madonna still didn’t have any advice about how to cope with being an A-list celebrity — “I can’t say any advice someone gave me specifically, because no one gave me advice about being famous as I was coming up” — but she did get into a Ray of Light-like Zen state of mind as she offered one cryptic quote. “I like what Gabriel Garcia Márquez said: ‘Fame is a form of misunderstanding,’” she mused. “That sticks with me.”

—Additional reporting by Dave DiMartino

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