“In the grandiose rooms you don’t focus on music,” notes Leonard. “It’s possible that we were more recused because there was literally only room for she and I and [engineer/mixer] Michael Verdick when we made True Blue.”
Looking back, Madonna recognizes there was a real spark between her and Leonard. “He encouraged me as a songwriter,” she says. “He encouraged me to dig deep and explore areas of my emotional life that I probably hadn’t really gotten into yet.”
A creative breakthrough came with Live To Tell, written for the soundtrack of Madonna’s then-husband Sean Penn’s crime family drama At Close Range. A mysterious and highly emotional ballad which spoke of murky childhood secrets, it revealed a new gravitas to Madonna’s writing. “Pat had a dark side to him,” she says, “and so that kind of brought out my dark side.”
“Yeah, that’s very fair,” Leonard laughs. “Especially right around that time. I was pretty dark.”
“It was kind of inspired by the movie,” Madonna explains, “and family secrets and the things that make you who you are, but you don’t necessarily want to share. Mix that in with my own childhood and my own growing up and all of that. My real experiences get mixed in with things that I imagine.”
The song added weight to Madonna’s imperial phase, when she was primarily gaining notoriety as a troublemaker, with a sense of hits mainly written by outside songwriters. various hoo-hahs surrounded her key singles from the period – Like A Virgin (brazen sexual provocation), Material Girl (wanton greed), Papa Don’t Preach (take your pick from pro-teenage pregnancy or, at the other extreme, anti-abortion lobbying). Surprisingly, Madonna insists she didn’t see the controversies coming.
“No, she says, shaking her head. “Because I grew up immersed in literature and poetry and humour and irony and I just assumed everyone had the same sense of irony I did. Of course, I was wrong. I didn’t get that people wouldn’t understand the duality of things. That you could say you were something you clearly weren’t and people would get the joke. But no. They didn’t Literalists. Literalists have plagued me all my life (smiles). Death to the literalists…”
You seriously never thought, This might be misinterpreted!
“No. (Firmly) I’m telling you, no. I had no idea.”
Great pop music should stir sh*t up though, shouldn’t it?
“Yeah. Maybe I just unconsciously choose things that are gonna stir sh*t up without really knowing that it’s gonna stir sh*t up. Honestly, I don’t know, I wasn’t sitting there in my laboratory of sh*tstirring, going, “Ooh this is gonna fuck with people.” No… that’s just my nature. So it just seemed normal.”
“I don’t think there was any sort of intentional thing going on there to upset people,” says Patrick Leonard. “I never felt that from her. None of this was like, ‘Let’s manipulate people’s feelings and emotions.”
Next she’ll be telling us that her Like A Prayer single (1989) didn’t firmly and knowingly poke a stick at the Catholic church…
“Oh, but the Catholic church needs to have a stick poked at it, for God sakes,” she exclaims. “Doesn’t it? On the other hand, I love going to a beautiful Catholic church and hearing the mass in Latin and smelling the incense and the whole pomp and circumstance and drama of it all. It’s beautiful, it’s hypocrisy. But we have to poke at our institutions. If you can’t poke at institutions, then you might as well just live in a fascist state. (Brightly) Which is what we’re living in now. Yay! Woo!”
MOJO tells Madonna that the week before we’d pulled out our old vinyl copy of the Like A Prayer album and that, 25 years on, it still bears the scent of patchouli it was originally imprinted with. The fact visibly tickles her.
“That’s funny. Wow. Terrible, terrible perfume. Urgh… I can’t stand it.”
Wait a minute… you don’t even like patchouli? “I don’t any more. It’s a tree hugger’s smell.”