I ask her if she knows what her father really thinks of her.
“Mmmm,” she says, which seems to be what she always says when an answer does not appear immediately. “I don’t really know. I think there is a little bit of fear and a little bit of intimidation, but I think there is also admiration and respect, because he raised me to believe in hard work, and he recognizes that I work hard. I mean, I would prefer it if he could profoundly intellectually understand the things I do, but maybe so he can treat me the same as all my other brothers and sisters when I come home, he has to keep certain things at a distance.”
Madonna halts our conversation. She has some things she wants to say.
Madonna: I feel like you’re trying to be my psychiatrist. Maybe I should pay you when this is over.
Me: That would be fine by me.
Madonna: (laughs, then speaks rather coldly) What does that have to do with my music?
Madonna has a new record. It is called Bedtime Stories. I like it very much, though whenever I try to mention this to Madonna today, the message doesn’t seem to get through. Strange. I will ask her about a particular lyric, and her answer will twist itself into contortions as she defends herself where there has been no accusation, until it stalls in its own wilderness and she will say, for instance, “I’m not sure what you’re asking me, or even what I’m saying.”
There is a sadness in some of the songs, but when I mention it, it is as though I have fingered her as a permanently heartbroken piece of emotional debris. She will complain, with firm outrage, “I feel as though you’re trying to portray me as this grief-stricken, depressed, lonely person, and I’m quite not.” In fact, I just want to talk, and it is her answers which end up dwelling on the darker sides of life. It is she who tells me the things that seem so poignant and forlorn: “People think if you’re rich and famous that people always come up to you and say, “Wow! You’re incredible!” But the fact of the matter is, no one comes up to you and says that, because everyone thinks everyone else says it, and so they’re going to be the person who doesn’t kiss your ass. And then you go through life hearing nothing from everyone. The same goes for love. People meet you and they think, “You’ve had a million lovers – you’re just going to break my heart.” And so they will it into being. They keep saying, “You could have anything you want – why would you want me?” and you eventually say “You’re right, I don’t want you, because you keep saying that and it’s so boring.”
And then it will go the other way again. “It’s not like I’ve given up hope or anything, and I’m not sitting in my room by myself every night.” And she will say her most recent discovery, which she will refer to as a spiritual awakening, is the simple one alluded to in her single “Secret” ? that happiness lies in your own hands.
And then it flies around once more, and she will be explaining how she is usually drawn to people who are dark and sad. “Most interesting people are sad,” she will say. “Most people that think are sad. Because life is sad. But?”
“on the other hand, it’s not.”
Some things we agree on: Sad endings are better than happy endings. We are the kind of people who are seduced by Jeanette Winterson’s novel The Passion. (Madonna sent her a fan letter last year – “kind of dorky, I guess? ” but received no reply.) We are not the kind of people to cry over The Bridges of Madison County. (Myself, I haven’t actually read it. Friends whom Madonna respects persuaded her to. She laughed hysterically. She felt like she was reading a Hallmark greeting card.)
Most of the things you can think about Madonna, people have already said. I tell her about a booklet, Madonna’s Secret, which details her abduction by aliens and explains how she has written about it in her songs. “That’s good,” she says. “I’ve never heard of that one.” Then she mutters, “Too much time on their hands.”
Let’s say it’s true. Let’s say you’re on an alien planet. Which of these would you miss the most: Your fame or your art collection?
“My art collection. Well, look at that Picasso. My art collection is the soul of other people – the blood, sweat, and tears and soul of other artists, and that is infinitely more valuable than fame.”
Men or women?
“Which I would miss the most? (long pause) Oh God, I’d have to say men. Because, they’re so boring and so retarded but… I just really need them. (laughs) You know, in bed. But it’s tough, because women are so much easier to talk to. Sex, conversation ? what’s more important?”
Maybe you’ll find a man that can talk.
“Well, I’ve heard that they exist. I’ve found some that can talk. (laughs) But they inevitably smell bad.”
Good manners or bad habits?
“Good manners. Bad habits are just laziness. I always appreciate good manners.”
Fine wines or fine lingerie?
“Lingerie, definitely. Wine gives you a headache. Lingerie is pretty to look at, nice to touch, and other people enjoy it too.”