The singer doesn’t have to thank any lucky stars for her newborn success. She’s been planning this baby for a long time.
Madonna and I are face to face at a corner table at Evelyne’s, a cacophonous but spiffily appointed French restaurant in the heart of New York’s most newly gentrified neighborhood, the East Village. Things are changing rapidly in this part of town. Its Ukrainian meeting halls and no-frills eateries are under siege from the upscale crowd invading with their asparagus ferns and health-club memberships. Although in transition, many of the neighborhood’s blocks still have the same seediness they had when the teenaged Madonna Ciccone first plopped herself down in her own digs.
“The first apartment I ever had all by myself,” she recalls between sips of Campari, “was on Fourth Street and Avenue B, and it was my pride and joy, because it was the worst possible neighborhood I could ever live in.” Back then she was a struggling dancer, the girl from the University of Michigan who was “dying for attention – but the right kind, you know?”
She has gotten it. Her sirenlike voice and ultrasultry video presence have yanked her from downtown obscurity. She has notched two Top Ten singles, “Borderline” and “Lucky Star,” and her album, Madonna, has gone platinum and is still high on the charts after a more than forty-week run, postponing the release of the already recorded follow-up LP, Like a Virgin, itself as chock-full of hits as its predecessor.
Consider Madonna, though, and it’s easy to drift away from her songs and prattle instead about her videos. They have practically rediscovered what it means to project raw sex appeal: feverish tugging on her dress in “Burning Up,” as if she couldn’t wait to tear the garment off her body; her pouty-lipped antics for “Borderline”; and the upfront eroticism of “Lucky Star,” her breasts and bottom thrust at the camera, index finger teasingly tucked into her mouth. Still, her most important bodily part has been her naked tummy, exposed by her two-piece outfits, the curve of it oscillating through male minds everywhere.
Now Madonna has a spacious loft in even-tonier SoHo, a movie deal (she’s currently making Desperately Seeking Susan for Orion Pictures), and an expanse of money and stardom winging her way. Which is why she can glance out the window of this restaurant and say, “Feels great to come back to this neighborhood and know I’m not as poor as everyone else.”
That rub you the wrong way? Too bad – that’s her style. She’s in the same sans-midriff getup featured in her videos, but in person, she doesn’t adopt the coyly fetching approach you might anticipate. This is a woman who saves her sex-bomb act for the times when the meter’s running. And don’t let her oft-flashed “Boy Toy” belt buckle fool you. The men who have gotten close to her – tough guys a lot of them – have gotten their hearts broken as often as not. Throughout her life, there has been one guiding emotion: ambition. “I think most people who meet me know that that’s the kind of person I am,” she says. “It comes down to doing what you have to do for your career. I think most people who are attracted to me understand that, and they just have to take that under consideration.”
Some have; some haven’t and have lived to regret it. “You’d think that if you went out with someone in the music business that they’d be more understanding,” she says, “but people are the same wherever you go. Everybody wants to be paid more attention to.”
Madonna Louise Ciccone – she was named after her mother – had plenty of attention early in her life. Born in Bay City, Michigan, twenty-four years ago to a Chrysler engineer and his wife, she was the eldest daughter in a family of six: Daddy’s little girl. But her world shattered when she was six, as her mother succumbed to a long bout with cancer. The tragedy brought her yet closer to her father, and there have been few women in her life ever since. “I really felt like I was the main female of the house,” she remembers. “There was no woman between us, no mother.”
Her little world altered just as dramatically when Madonna was eight, on the night her father announced to the family that he was going to marry the woman who had been the family’s housekeeper. Madonna was shocked. “It was hard to accept her as an authority figure and also accept her as being the new number-one female in my father’s life. My father wanted us to call her Mom, not her first name. I remember it being really hard for me to get the word mother out of my mouth. It was really painful.”