She's the hottest, shrewdest be-bop darling on the pop charts - a crossover dream with a powerful, girlie-sweet voice and the best dancer/performer since Michael Jackson: hip enough for the attitude of the Lower East Side, hep enough for the thousands of East Coasr fans in the nightclubs who've seen her show or the "Burnin' Up" video. Although there are plans to form a band, Madonna (her given name) currently performs to a pre-recorded rhythm track, with three back-up dancers who mimic her lead in a sort of Ruggedy Ann, "Solid Gold-gone-berserk" choreography: a very happy dance.
A product of Detroit, Madonna is endowed with a geniune dose of Motown. Good grades and great dancing earned her a scholarship to the University of Michigan's dance program, and from there she headed to New York, where she danced and starved in the Alvin Ailey School and the Pear Lang Dance Company. Next she became a back-up singer/dancer for a European tour of Patrick hernandez whose manager recognized her potential immediately and sent her off to Paris, "where we make big star." Things became a little too comfortable, and after a great deal of ennui and money spent, Madonna returned to the East Village with the idea of joining a new wave band.
Making a demo of original meterial, Madonna hustled the tape until Mark Kamins, the disc jockey at Danceteria, finally played and then produced it. The song, "Everynody," became a club favorite and her first single, followed by "Holiday," "Physical Attraction," "Burnin' Up," and most recently, "Borderline." Her album, "Madonna," (Warner/Sire) was released last summer. Currently managed by Fred DeMann (Michael Jackson's ex-manager), Madonna will make her film debut in Jon Peters' "Visionquest" this August.
Madonna: I'm remixing "Borderline," the next single we're releasing. We're doing a seven-inch and a dance mix... It's been a really long day: if it looks like I haven't slept in three days it's because I haven't.
Glenn Albin: Tell me about your film Visionquest.
M: We shot it in Spokane, Washington. It was very cold, lonely and boring. I do three new songs, two that I wrote and one other that's a ballad. Jon (Peters) and I met for another movie that he's producing, and when it came time for Vision Quest, they didn't want to get an actress to pretend she's a singer. They wanted someone with a lot of style already.
GA: You met Barbra Streisand through Jon Peters. How was your meeting with her?
M: Oh, it was great. I had dinner at her house and she was genuinely ineterested in an exchange as one singer to another. I has this rag tied in my hair the way I do, and she wanted to know everything about the way I dressed, the jewelry I wore, the way I sang, about how I grew up in Detroit.
GA: What do you think of people comparing you to Frances Farmer, and the new Monroe? But the best one I heard today - Baby Dietrich.
M: That's what Scuvallo called me. I was lying on the floor posing for photographs and he's going, "Lower your eyelids," and so I did that and he's saying, "Oh my God, it's Baby Dietrich." I couldn't stop laughing. Everyone gets compared.
GA: So what about the kids you grew up with, the black kids in Detroit? I mean, you come from a house with eight kids and a housekeeper.
M: Housekeeper meaning a big, fat black maid that made dinner for us, not this hoity-toity girl in a little white apron.
GA: The point is that you come from a different part of town than these kids who were your friends
M: No, they lived right down the street. I grew up in Pontiac, and it was during the riots and all the black people, the black families were coming into the neighbroughood, and all the white families were freaking out and moving out. That was during the '60s when all the looting and stuff was going on. We were one of the families that didn't move.
GA: So this is where your "soul" came from, from Pontiac? Just living in Detroit you obviously have pride for Motown, but it's got to be more.
M: Well, you see, I went to the Catholic school there. I had to get bused there from the neighborhood I lived in, and most of the kids that lived down the block went to the local public school. So, I'd come home in my uniform, but I didn't hang out with the girls in my school.
GA: And you sat on their stoop and you did stuff together?
M: Yeah, and they were always playing records, those little portable old 45s that you could carry together like a suitcase; they just stuck them out on their front porch or in their driveways.
GA: And that was your first place to dance?
M: Yeah. And they didn't have to go in to eat dinner or anything. I thought that was great. I envied them. They didn't have any rules.
GA: When was the last time you were back?
M: This Thanksgiving. I called my father from Washington where we were shooting the movie and said, "Jellybean's with me and we're coming to Detroit, so be ready." I came home with black pants, a black T-shirt, no jewelry at all and my hair just sort of not combed - that's pretty conservative. No boots or spiked or anything, and my father spent most of the time looking at me, going, "You always dress like that? Is that a costume?"
GA: What's your music about?
M: It's all about escapism. To make people forget about the problems of the world. It's just to cheer people up. People go out to dance to get away and forget about their problems, like a holiday, and that's what the music's about - to get together and forget.
GA: The East Village today is the scene like Greenwich Village was in the '50s, but it seem to be much more fashion-orianted.
M: It is. It's fashionable to "slum." To live with five people in an apartment and to wear the same outfit every day, to never comb your hair and to live on jellybeans - no pun intended. You know, half the people I hung out with from the downtown area have totally snubbed me. They think that I'm selling out and stuff. If I go back to clubs they won't talk to me. Nasty little digs like, "Little Madonna, now she's a big star and she can't talk to us." That's why I don't feel a real unity with all those people, becuase half of them have totally pusted me anyway. They say like, "Oh, she never really hung out anyway, she's not really downtown."
GA: But you obviously still go out.
M: When I'm around weekends and I'm not too tired. Saturday night at the Roxy are great now. I go to the Fun House, too.
GA: What gives you confidence, which you seem to have in abundance?
M: Well, I grew up in a really big family and in an environment where you had to get over it to be heard. I was like the she-devil.
GA: I suppose you were the loudest?
M: Yeah. My father used to pay us money for the grades we got on our report cards, and he geared me up for being competitive when I was really young. My mother died when I was really young so I didn't have this image of what feminine girls do or anything. And my father never brought me up to get married and have kids, he atually braught me up to be very goal-orianted, to be a lawyer or doctor and study, study, study. We didn't get allowances, but we definitely got rewards for achieving. And I have all these brothers and sisters so, of course, I sought out the opportunity to be number one all the time. I got the best grades, straight A's. Subsequently, all my brothers and sisters hated me.
GA: Did you fight with them?
M: All the time. I was the tattletale of the family. I was the rat-tink. I had my father wrapped around my finger. No, no, I mean I was the oldest girl. I had two older brothers, but they would skip classes all the time. They were really bad boys.
GA: What sort of music did you listen to when you were growing up?
M: When I was growing up, my older brothers were into hard rock and I hated it. And they would purposely scratch the needle across my pop records, like my Incense and Peppermints record, and my Gary Pucket Young Girl Get Out of My Mind record, and they would tell me it was trash, and say, "Get that sh*t out of here." Then they'd put on something like Mahavishnu Orchestra.
GA: What's "Boy Toy" on your belt buckle?
M It's my tag name. It's what I am when I write graffiti... I like nicknames. I think Jellybean's got the best one though. The name of my publishing company is "Webo Girl." It's actually a direct translation: "Webo" means "Ball shaker" in Spanish. But it's the name of a dance... like the Smurf. It's the way everybody was dancing awhile ago, and I named my publishing company that because me and this girl Debbie and this girl Claudia were the only white girls that could Webo at the Roxy. And Kano, the graffiti artist, painted on the back of our jackets, one of the painting, one of his pieces and it said, "Webo Gals." And that was the name of our group.
GA: Do you envision a time when they'll be marketing the Madonna Doll?
M: The doll who's hair you don't have to comb.
GA: With little rubber bracelets and a drawstring in the back.
M: And the only thong she says is, "Stop pulling my hair." "Leave me alone," "How much money do you make?" or "Come here, little boy." © Interview Magazine