The Madonna circus came to town last month amid the now-usual flurry of contention, pretension and apprehension. The Material Girl and her blonde ambition showed no signs of recognising any boundaries, as she stomped over the lucky few media hounds allowed access to the world’s most visible star. She visited Europe to plug the book, Sex, and the album, Erotica. With her new gold tooth dazzling the hordes before her, Madonna rode into town astride her metaphorical horse, Media Synergy. Not only is she selling print and music, but there’s a new film for release in the Spring of 1993 (Body Of Evidence), plus her very own new record label, Maverick.
The talk was all about her work. It seems that the book and the album are not as inseparable as they might seem to be. “They could stand completely on their own,” she states, adding: “I never intended them to come out at the same time. Originally my album was supposed to come out much sooner, and I wanted the book to come out next year, but the book company wanted me to release before Christmas — it’d make a nice present under the Christmas tree, right? I ended up delaying my album to do a movie, so they came out at the same time. They work together. But they could work separately.”
Apparently, Sex was a long time in the making. “About a year and-a-half,” she claims. The idea for it originally came from publishers.
“I was approached by several, just to write a book, not to take pictures. So I started to think about it and was interested in writing.
“Steven Meisel, the photographer, is a good friend of mine. We’ve done a lot of things together, and Steven has never done a book of photographs, like Herb Ritts or Bruce Weber. So I said to Steven: ‘Why don’t you do a book?’, and he said: ‘Why don’t you do one with me?’. So I decided to combine the two ideas.”
Reaction to the book would seem to suggest she has alienated a lot of younger Madonna fans. Not that it bothers her in fact it may have been the intention.
“I’m not worried, it’s a book for adults.” Despite her having a lot of younger fans? “Yes, but that does not require me only to make art that children can understand. I mean. I’m an adult now, so much of what I say is going to be too sophisticated for children. That’s not my responsibility. It’s not a book for children. They would be able to look at the pictures and understand them to a certain extent, but unless you read the text and understand the irony, the humour in a lot of it, you will not understand the book as a whole. And the book says: ‘For Adults Only’. There’s a sticker on the book. I think that’s as responsible as I can be. I’m not gonna change the way I think.”
Both Sex and Erotica represent a furthering of the singer’s journey into the realms of the sensational and shocking. She claims, though, that it’s not the intention of either to shock.
“My intention is to describe my fantasies and my dreams. I’m not saying everybody else has to think that way or approve of it, or behave the way I behave. They are my dreams, my ideas. Things that amuse and entertain me. So if people are shocked by it that’s their problem, that’s their hang up.”
Instead, she hopes that people will: “Just be amused, mostly, because I think the book is quite funny, a lot of the text is. To be amused or sexually aroused, or entertained in some way or another.” And the reaction she expects? “That there will be people who feel that way when they read the book. There will be other people, who are very repressed and have a lot of hang-ups, and they will read the book and be disgusted by it.”
In America, where the general understanding of the word ‘liberal’ means only owning one gun, not beating the children every day and going to church twice a week instead of five times, both book and album will undoubtedly provoke a wave of moral outrage. Is she not afraid, though, that in Europe, perhaps people are more likely to say: ‘Oh, she wants to shock us, but we’ve seen it all before’. “No, I’m not afraid.” Silly question, really.
There is a theory that now Madonna has gone as far as she possibly could to be sexually explicit and shocking, she will bring about a complete reversal of her public role. This she denies vehemently. “No. I don’t orchestrate things that way. I am a very spontaneous person. The songs I wrote were the songs I wanted to write. I wanted to do the book. I don’t think… ‘Hmm the next thing I’m going to do is join a convent.’ That’s undermining what I am as an artist. I feel inspired and I act according to it, and I can’t predict the future. If in six years that’s what I wanna do, that’s what I wanna do. I do it for me, not for everybody else.”
And she enjoys what she does, of course. “I love my job,” she shrugs.
Madonna-philes feel that the star has a great deal of sensitivity beneath her bravado exterior. She constantly refers to herself as an artist. Does it frustrate that her sensitivity is not noticed? “No, because the people who are sensitive do see it, and that’s all I care about. I don’t concern myself with the opinions of ignorant people.”
Opinions she does take notice of come from the many (male) producers who she has worked with in the recording studio for Erotica, that means Shep Pettibone and Andre Betts. The working pattern differs, she claims, from day to day “It’s different every time. I write all the words. Sometimes Shep or Andre will present a track of music to me and I’ll just write the words to it, and sometimes I have a melody in my head but I don’t play instruments so I’ll go to them and say: ‘This is what I hear in my head,’ and I’ll sing it to them and they’ll play it. Sometimes it’s just a phrase of music and we build from there, sometimes the music is absolutely finished and I just put the words on it.”
Why was Pettibone chosen? “Because I like working with him.” She shrugs again. Was that working with him, or because you like his work?
“I like working with him,” she explains. “I don’s like the work he does with other people, but I like what he does with me.”
Madonna’s management skills are currently being put to the test with the running of her own record company, Maverick. She says she’s not certain how many people it employs (“about 50”, but that, “I’m very involved. We signed two acts and a third is being worked on. The first one is a black rap group called Proper Grounds, kinds like Public Enemy, but with a Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix kind of background. Very political and very militant.”
“Then I signed another girl named Michelle. She sings and writes, as well as plays bass. She’s very creative; she’s kind of like Prince; she’s like a female Prince. It’s kind of street New York dance and rap.”
All aspiring Maverick acts have to do is send demos to the A&R department. “It’s the same with film scripts. We’re looking for new talent,” she enthuses. Is she also, with all this high-profile management involvement, interested in politics, perhaps?
“I think what I do is quite political.” Madonna stonewalls. She refuses to be drawn any further on the subject. Nor indeed on any of the current candidates for the forthcoming American election.
Asked about the prospect of another tour in the future, all she wants to do for now is just get through this week. “I think about it, but not right now. The soonest I would do it would be the Spring. Am I putting it off? Yes, mmm, sort of.” Before then there is another film, Snake Eyes, directed by Abel Ferrara, the Italian director who worked with Christopher Walken on The King Of New York. Shooting begins in January. So much to do. “Life is long and I don’t know how much more I will achieve,” reflects Madonna finally. “I have many dreams and I have achieved a lot of them, but as I live my life other things come up, other things inspire me. I don’t have a list, and I’m not checking things off”
Time to finish with a fatuous question. Doesn’t she dream of that house, those kids, that husband and a ‘normal’ life.
“I know lots of people that have families and husbands,” she offers, “and don’t lead normal lives.”© Vox