Yes, but you’ve only got aliens?
“You never know. It could come in handy. I may have to bribe a pack of somethings. To trade my underpants for some shoestring potato chips.”
The sky or the sea?
“I think the sea. The sea is very healing. The sky seems really far away. The ocean I can jump into.”
A new Sean Penn movie or Warren Beatty movie?
“That’s the toughest one of all. (long pause) I couldn’t choose. Sean’s attracted to certain kinds of movies, so I would know that if he was in a movie or directing it, it would have a certain darkness to it, it would probably be violent, and it could be interesting. But then Warren, he’s a more intelligent filmmaker, and I know it would probably have a more resonant truth to it.”
Laughing with friends or crying with lovers?
“Laughing with friends, definitely. That’s stupid. Wouldn’t you rather laugh with your friends?”
I’m not sure. I think I might actually pick the other one.
“Well, you’re really f*cked up, okay? And you gotta take care of that.”
I never said I wasn’t f*cked up. I was just trying to find out if you were.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
Well, are you?
“Of course I am. I’m in the entertainment business.”
We talk about her mother. There is a song about her mother. It is called “Inside of Me.” When my world seems to crumble all around. And foolish people try to bring me down. I just think of your smiling face. About how her mother is a silent source of strength for her. The song talks about the secrets they shared, the games they played. Madonna tells me about the bedtime stories her mother would tell. Stories about a garden. All the vegetables were the different characters, and there was a rabbit who would come along and try to eat them. The bad person. It made Madonna feel safe, and their few years together are her treasure. Everywhere Madonna has lived, by the side of each bed is a picture of her mother. Different homes, different pictures.
Madonna’s name is as strange to her as it may be to you or Me: “Why would my mother name me after herself? My father didn’t name his first son after him. It’s almost like it’s because, ultimately, I was going to be the next. The only one.” Madonna Ciccone – the first one – died when Madonna was six. Cancer. When she was five she realized something was wrong. Her mother kept disappearing to the hospital. But no one ever really explained. There is one story which is the saddest story. Madonna told it once, just after she became famous, and I have never heard her tell it since. She does not mention it today and – though I will bring up many things, too many things, which will be painful for her – it is one story I cannot bring myself to mention. In the story, Madonna’s mother is already ill, but her daughter is too young to understand. Madonna wants her to play, but her mother is too weak, and has to refuse. So Madonna hits her mother. It ends with her mother, helpless, in tears.
One day, the news came. Madonna’s father answered the telephone in her grandmother’s kitchen. He hung up the phone on the wall. He was crying. No one had told Madonna her mother was going to die, but now she heard that her mother was dead. It was a huge mystery. What is death? She didn’t really know. For years she was expecting her mother to come back. Her father told her not to cry, to keep it all in, to go to school. “I think he had to do that,” she reflects, “because I think he was falling apart. But, on the other hand, you have to deal with your grief.”
She read a book this year called Motherless Daughters. It was really good to read that. To know that other people have felt the same. It must also have been strange to turn the pages and discover, inevitably, that she herself appears in it. (Or perhaps not so strange. She will tell me – and the implications are chilling if you think about it – “I’m brought up in every article about everything.”) On page 272 the author writes, “As a performer and self-marketer, she is visionary and coyly manipulative. But from underneath all the glitz comes the cry of the motherless child: Pay attention to me!”
I ask Madonna which kiss she will remember forever, and it is not one of passion but one of sleepy, uncomplicated motherly love. When Madonna was five she couldn’t sleep, so she tried to get between her parents in bed without waking them. She snuggled in, thinking she had fooled them. But her mother was awake.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she said.
“Please let me stay,” her daughter answered.
This particular night, she got what she wanted. She can remember it so well. Her mother, and her mother’s red nightgown, and the way her mother gently kissed her on her forehead.
“That,” says Madonna, “was heaven.”
The kiss from a man which Madonna will remember forever was her first: Tom Marshowitz behind the convent when she was in the fifth grade, pressing her up against the wall and kissing her on the lips and then running away, as the electricity ran up and down her spine like the bottom had dropped out of everything, like she’d never be the same again.
She lost her virginity a few years later, at fifteen, to a boy called Russell Long. I know this because Mr. Long – now a mustached family man who drives for UPS – detailed the experience with some tenderness in a British tabloid newspaper in 1990. Madonna challenges me to supply verifying details.