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Madonna Interview : Harper’s Bazaar

Madonna - Harper's Bazaar Magazine / June 1990

So much has been made of Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone’s astonishing powers of self-discipline that one hesitates to contribute further to The Legend. Just imagining the powerhouse breezing through her exhaustively documented daily regime – her fierce excercise program and work schedule – is a wilting experience. It’s clear that no one pushes herself harder than she and that every droplet of sweat shed in one area has its reward in another. Her 25-city world tour, Blond Ambition (including a four-night stint at the Los Angeles Sports Arena that sold out in 68 minutes), will serve as a promotion for her album, I’m breathless, which will serve as promotion for her appearance as Breathless Mahoney in the film Dick tracy. Everything connects to something else. Madonna may be the only woman who networks herself.

Her pop appreciation of Marilyn Monroe – never more purposefully drown than in Madonna’s new video, Vogue – clearly stops at the 50’s icon’s dark beauty spot and pillowy white-blondness. Personal setbacks sent Monroe creeping into her bedchamber with liqour bottle and a canister of sleeping pills, while Madonna regards sulking as something to be bullied into submission.

“I allow myself a 24-hour mourning period,” she says in her clipped, supremely assured voice. “Then I snap out of it so I can get on with everyday life. Maybe deep down inside, I’m not over it. But for all intents and purposes, it appears that I am.” And on the topic of career rejection, it sounds as if she views her work as a community project that some obstinate neighbor refuses to pitch in on. “I rationalize that the people who aren’t going to help me just aren’t worth it.”

Madonna - Harper's Bazaar Magazine / June 1990

Yet for all her frosty determination there is a certain lovable put-up-or-shut-up-courageousness about Madonna. How can one not be impressed when she matter-of-factly recalls tossing herself from 40-foot-high diving board for a scene that never made in into her Like A Prayer video? “When I got to the top I looked down and went, ‘Oh God, it’s really far.’ Then, I figured, ‘What the hell?'”

Even better is how she evolved into the nerviest of impresarios. “I’m impulsive and I don’t mull things over,” is how she describes her bombs-away approach ro decision making. “And when I make big mistakes… They’re gloring. Then I have to eat humble pie.” Such cool is only admirable. Once, with a pack of strobe-popping paparazz at her heels, a dimbulb doorperson barred her entrance from her own private party, asking if her name was on the guest list. “Donna, Ma.” was what she shot back.

It’s curious that while so much has been made of Prince’s total creative vision, Madonna is credited mostly for her shimmy and style.On her current world tour, she had her hand in everything from the music to the sets to, presumably, the contraversial dismissal of Karole Armitage. (Though it’s fun to picture Madonna and her dancers hopping around to Armitage’s karate-chop choreography, her replacement, Vince Petterson – who transformed stiff jointed Whitney Houston into Diet Coke’s groove machine — more represents Madonna’s commercial sensibilities.)

Madonna - Harper's Bazaar Magazine / June 1990

The lack of attention paid to Madonna’s progression as a songwriter might have something to do with her own self-consciousness on the subject. “I think of a character and a situation before I write a song,” she begins slowly. But after five minutes of explaining the genesis of “Live To Tell” (“I thought about the relationship with my parents and the lying that went on”). she abruptly concludes: “I know this sounds very pedestrian and boring. It’s not.”

Such sudden vulnerability is unexpected, especially in light of how her songwriting partner. Patrick Leonard, marvels over her precise efficiency: “You can play just about anything and she’ll say, ‘This represents this to me.’ and write something very quickly.” In fact, the pair has never spent more than three hours composing a song, in which time Madonna not only dashes off the lyrics but often records a lead vocal track as well. With over 30 million albums sold, Madonna’s song-per-minute paycheck computes to a mind-boggling sum.

Madonna - Harper's Bazaar Magazine / June 1990

The seven songs she and Leonard co-wrote (over a three-week period) for Dick Tracy and her I’m Breathless album were shrewdly composed to give psychological oomph to her role as the slinky Breathless Mahoney. The Gershwinesque ballad “Something To Remember” is about Breathless’ heartbreak over Tracy’s brushoff. “Hanky Panky” is a campy Big Band take on S & M (“Ain’t nothin’ like a good spanking!”), the naughtiest version of which Disney Studios reportedly ordered sanitized.

Of course, she and Disney executives ultimately share the same grand scheme: that Dick Tracy will be the box-office hit of the summer. Madonna’s slew of post-Desperately Seeking Susan flops seemed less about her lack of invention than about directors too intimidated by her celebrity to shape her manic performances. But it makes perfect sense that Warren Beatty — a strong-minded filmmaker who also has a personal understanding of her charisma — would be able to draw out her best. Does she think Dick Tracy will make her into a movie star? “Uh-huh.” Madonna says with casual authority. “And if it doesn’t, something else will. Just give me some time.”

© Harper’s Bazaar