Unhelped And Unloved
When I next saw Madonna a few weeks later it was in the living room of her apartment, which she had not yet finished decorating. The space was large, high-ceilinged, with a big fireplace, on either side of which were shelves partially filled with books. An open window gave on to Central Park, where the tops of the trees were a green carpet undulating in the heavy summer air. She was wearing cutoff jeans and a shirt.
Her hair was carelessly twisted and caught in a clip. She wanted to show me a painting by Frida Kahlo, the wife of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.
The painting was in the little hall coming into the apartment, and there was a startlingly nightmarish quality about it that brought me up short. A woman lay naked and unattended on a bed with the head of a baby protruding from between her legs. She is alone, unhelped and unloved in her travail. One knows the baby is dead.
It’ss called “My Birth”,’ Madonna said. ‘Frida Kahlo suffered a great deal, har whole life was suffering. That painting’s about surviving and dealing with pain and hardship. I’m attracted tc people who live those kinds of lives and also manage lc create something out of it — whether it’s an emotional hardship or a physical hardship, and Frida Kahlo had both.
She was crippled, she was married to an insanc man who tortured her and cost her a great deal.’
She went to a bookshelf and took down a biography of the painter and thumbled through it to a picture of Kahlo. ‘I love her,’ sha said, regarding the picture. ‘I tend to be attracted to things that are about the sadness of living, the ultimate loneliness of living. Maybe that sounds silly, but it’s true.
‘I lived in a loft in the garment district where no one was allowed to live. It was for offices and factory warehouses and stuff, and there was no hot water. There wasn’t even a fucking shower. Finally I had to leave because there was no heat. It was winter and I was sleeping on the floor surrounded by space heaters, and I woke up engulfed in flames. I jumped up in my nightgown and left the building with my shoes.
‘I think about all that a lot. I felt like l was camping outside in the wilderness for seven years. I never had any money and I never had any help, and probably having to deal with all that and having to struggle to survive has made me as tough as I am, turned me into the bitch that most people think I am.’ She paused, looked around at the apartment and out over the lovely expanse of Central Park, and smiled. ‘But it was meant to be, because here I am.’
But success has not been an unmixed blessing.
The biggest trade-off is just lack of privacy, not being able to walk down the street without being bothered, my loss of anonymity. But it’s a double-edged sword. I grew up saying I wanted to be somebody. I tried to be different, tried to dress different, tried to be different. Finally you get what you’ve been searching for all those years, and then you spend the rest of your life trying to hide. It’s really weird. But that’s what happens. You walk around the streets with your eyes down. Just establishing eye contact is like asking for it.
‘But there’s no alternative. Except to change my life; to change what I do for a living. The only way I can end it is if I move to Boise., Idaho, and live on a farm and milk cows for the rest uf my life.
‘But I’m not going to do that. I prayed for 17 years to get out the Midwest, and I don’t want to go back.’
I wondered how far down the road she could see, what she thought she would be doing five years from now.
She smiled, but her voice took that tone of emphatic, hard-edged confidence it always takes when she talks about her work.
‘I’ll be doing everything I’m doing now only I’lI be better. I’m just letting my creative juices take me where they will. There aren’t a lot of great movies to do, so that just works out fime for me because I haven’t done a record in at least two years.’ The David Mamet experience behind her, Madonna is putting together an album of songs scheduled for release this spring. The LP is provisionally entitled ‘Like A Prayer’ and, as cm her last album, she is working with Stephen Bray amd Pat Leonard as cowriters.
But the focus of her life right now is to force the world to see her as she sees herself.
‘They thought they would wake up one day and I’d go away. But I’m not going to go away. They keep waking up and I keep not going away. And that just pisses them off. In the beginning they thought that I was the flavour of the month. A one-act Disco Dolly who was just going to pop in and pop out. But slowly as the years go by I’ve been showing a little bit more of myself. One facet and than another facet. And every time they think they have me understood, I do something else. It took them forever to accept the fact that I could write music and that I have something tp contributc in the world of music. They slandered me for the first two albums. Finally, on my last album, they said, okay, she’s talented. All right, she can write a good song. Now I`m going through the same thing with acting and movies. I was in this play, and it was the same all over again. To be accepted as an actress, I’m just going to have to work very hard, do everything I have to do, and let everybody else goof, say what they want. That’s the way it works. That’s the way it has always worked.’
© Time Out