Becky Johnson: Did you ever actually break away from the church?
Madonna: Oh yeah. As soon as I left home. That was one of the great things about leaving home. I moved to New York when I was seventeen, and I had lots of terrible moments. I was afraid, I didn’t know if I’d done the right thing. I missed my family, and then I’d say, well, at least I don’t have to go to church every Sunday. So that was one of the rewards.
Becky Johnson: What aspects of Catholicism have remained with you and shaped your worldview as an adult?
Madonna: Well, I have a great sense of guilt and sin from Catholicism that has definitely permeated my everyday life, whether I want it to or not. And when I do something wrong, or I think is wrong, if I don’t let someone know I’ve wronged, I’m always afraid I’m going to be punished. I don’t rest easy with myself. And that’s something you’re raised to believe as a Catholic. Everyone’s a sinner in Catholicism, and you must constantly be asking God to cleanse your soul and begging him for forgiveness.
I don’t know if this was more my father or Catholicism, but I was also raised to believe that idle time wasn’t good. You always had to be doing something productive, either your schoolwork or prayer or housework, never sitting around and never having too much leisure time. You always had to be challenging your mind or body, and that has definitely shaped my adult life. Also, I think in Catholicism there’s a great sense of family and unity, and even though I’ve been though periods of time where I never wanted to see my family again, they’re very important to me. Families in general are important to me. I was also raised to believe that when you marry someone you marry him for life. You never give up.
Becky Johnson: You were the oldest girl in a family of eight, and spent most of your adolescence running the household and nursing the other kids after your mother died. Did you resent having to do that?
Madonna: I didn’t resent having to raise my brothers and sisters as much as I resented the fact that I didn’t have my mother. And that my ideal of my family was interrupted. My stepmother was very young, and she just wasn’t ready for a billion kids who were extremely unwilling to accept her as an authority figure. So it was rough. We all resented it.
Becky Johnson: You were six when your mother died of cancer. You said in another interview that her death was a turning point in your life – you could either “be sad and weak and not in control, or say that it’s going to be better.” Was your mother a role model for you in that respect? Did she have the same kind of will and strength?
Madonna: I think she had a lot of strength. I didn’t notice it as much when I was younger, but looking back on it… she was ill for a long time and she never allowed herself any sort of self-pity, you know. And we really tortured her when she was sick, because we wanted her to play with us. We wanted her to do things when she was tired, we picked on her all the time because we just didn’t understand. But I don’t think she ever allowed herself to wallow in the tragedy of her situation. So in that respect I think she gave me an incredible lesson.
But in reference to that quote about me not wanting to be sad or weak or not in control, that really came, I think, when my father remarried. Because for the three years before he married, I clung to him. It was like, OK, now you’re mine, and you’re not going anywhere. Like all young girls, I was in love with my father and I didn’t want to lose him. I lost my mother, but then I was the mother, my father was mine. Then he got taken away from me when he married my stepmother. It was then that I said, OK I don’t need anybody. No one’s going to break my heart again. I’m not going to need anybody. I can stand on my own and be my own person and not belong to anyone.
Becky Johnson: Would you say there was a definite change in your personality at that point? Did you go from being introspective to being much more extroverted? Or vice versa?
Madonna: Well, it was at the same time that I started to rebel against religion, to be conscious of what I consider to be the injustices of my religious upbringing. It kind of happened all at once. And yes, I think I was always very outgoing or outspoken. I think I just got even more fearless. Not afraid to say what I felt. Blunt. Lots of mouthing off. [laughs]
Becky Johnson: Are your brothers and sisters like that too? Or are you the only loudmouth in the family?
Madonna: Some of them are really outgoing. Some of them are very introverted. As in all big families, there’s a whole hierarchy and lots of different personalities. There are the dominant forces and the submissive ones.
Becky Johnson: Growing up, were you closer to your sisters or your brothers?
Madonna: I didn’t feel close to anybody in my family when I was growing up. I felt like an outsider in my own house. I didn’t feel close to my older brothers, they were just typical older brothers who tortured me all the time. And I didn’t feel close to my sisters. There was a lot of competition in our family, and I was always vying for my fathers attention and all that, so, I worked really hard in school. I was a straight-A student, and they all hated me for it because I did it more for the position I was going to have in my father’s eyes that for whatever I was going to learn by studying. I just tried to be the apple of my father’s eye. I think everyone else in my family was very aware of it. And I kind of stood out from them.
Then when I got a little older – when I was in high school and started dancing really seriously – I’d say I got closer to my brothers. There was a lot of unspoken competition with my sisters. My oldest brother opened my eyes to lots of things, and I didn’t see him as just my creepy older brother anymore. And my younger brother would come to dance classes with me.
Becky Johnson: Are you close to your father now?
Madonna: Yes, I am.