Madonna Talks About Turning 50 -- Sort Of, By John Norris

'This year has been amazing so far,' singer says. 'That's how I look at 'it.' '

Among the repertoire of characters created by the inimitable Molly Shannon, one of my all-time favorites is Sally O'Malley, the spry, irrepressible quinquagenarian who likes to mix it up with the kids, shouting, "I'm 50! 50 years old! I kick! And I stretch! And I kick!"

Yes, she does. But alas, Sally doesn't kick, stretch, dance, perform or frankly look quite as good doing it as another woman about to celebrate the big 5-0 on August 16: Madonna. And what a year it's already turning out to be for her. She directed her first feature, "Filth and Wisdom," which, despite an iffy reception at the Berlin Film Festival, has supporters; she produced a documentary on poverty-ravaged Malawi and its orphans — and managed to raise upwards of $3.5 million for the cause at a star-studded Gucci event; and in March she was inducted into a little club known as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Of course, there's also last week's release of a new Madonna album, Hard Candy, which has drawn many raves. The record also, despite its triumvirate of contemporary producers (Pharrell, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake), has a decidedly retro feel in places, harkening back to some of her earliest dance hits. Suffice to say "Candy Shop," "Miles Away" and "Heartbeat" would not sound out of place next to "Everybody," "Borderline" and "Lucky Star." And as if to reinforce that point, Madonna's record-release show at New York's Roseland last week was replete with old-school touches: Kangol hats and dayglo on the dancers, graffiti projections and a vintage subway train for the finale.

Hard Candy also marks a page-turning moment for the biggest female star of her generation. It's Madge's last album for her longtime home, Warner Bros., before she bolts to a "360 deal" with Live Nation.

Anyway, might all of this make for a moment of reflection, of taking stock, of (heaven forbid) nostalgia?

Not if you're Madonna. The woman has never been much for such sentiments — and here's what it was like trying to draw her into the topic backstage at Roseland:

John Norris: With the Hall of Fame, with the Warner thing ending and with Live Nation starting — and with something happening on August 16 — do you look at it all as a milestone, or ...

Madonna: Define "it," please?

Norris: This year.

Madonna: This year has been amazing so far. That's how I look at "it."

Norris: Yeah, but not anything more than that? Nothing more momentous, or...

Madonna: Life is getting better.

Norris: No chapter ending, one beginning?

Madonna: [Looking at me quizzically, like I have two heads, and shaking her head] No, just continuing. Did you not hear the song I was singing tonight? "There's no beginning and no ending"? Yeah?

(Head here for more of Madonna giving me a hard time.)

Madame Sarcasm is referring to "Give It 2 Me," one of the party-heartier tracks on Hard Candy and a lyric that I must admit I'd previously thought had more to with dancing or sex. But apparently it's more of a manifesto of sorts.

Another couplet from the same song goes "They say that a good thing never lasts, and then it has to fall/ Those are the people that did not amount to much at all."

Point taken, my lady.

Much to the music industry's delight, Madonna doesn't appear to be letting up on the live-performance front, either: Another tour is in the works for the late summer and fall. In fact, though dates have not yet been announced, chances are good that Madonna will celebrate her 50th birthday either in rehearsals for the tour or on the road.

For 25 years she has been the gold standard when it comes to arena-show dazzle, and there is no reason to think that won't continue. There is also no reason to think it won't make lots and lots of money: She has become as reliable in that department as U2 and the Rolling Stones. Speaking of whom, at Roseland last week, before launching into a rocked-up "Hung Up," Madonna busted out a little of the classic riff from "Satisfaction," then asked the crowd, "What, did you think you were coming to a Rolling Stones concert?"

On that note, last week a friend of mine (and rabid Madonnaphile) brought to my attention something Madge said 10 years ago in a 1998 VH1 special called "Madonna Rising." The show's host (and her BFF at the time) Rupert Everett asked Madonna whether she could see herself "like Mick Jagger, at age 50, still stomping around Madison Square Garden?" Her reply? "I do not." She went on to explain that while she didn't think there was a "stop date" for her, she did not see herself making pop music and videos in 10 years' time.

Ah yes. Well, none of us want to be held to things we say on tape. I am sure I have said things I no longer believe. However, when I brought this up at the very end of our interview last week (and remember now, this is after Madonna's rep had three times told me to wrap it up, and after Justin and Madonna had said they wanted to "go drink"), she denied having said it, telling me that in fact she had said she didn't see herself "running around in limousines" — and continued by telling me that I was "once again, not paying attention"!

Well, this time, Madge, I'm afraid ya did say it — we've got the tape!

But really, who cares? We should all be happy that she doesn't have an "end date." One of the last things she said to me was, "John, you need to live in the moment." I so do! I get focusing on the here and now, I get not looking back and moving forward. And I so get that age ain't nothing but a number. So I'll let Madonna have the final word: Not from the interview, but rather with one more lyric from her next single, "Give It 2 Me," that speaks for many of us:

"Don't stop me now, don't need to catch my breath/

I can go on and on and on/

When the lights go down and there's no one left/

I can go on and on and on."