The baby is no shut-in. Lourdes turns up to her mom’s photo sessions and was a presence in the studio during the creation of Madonna’s new CD, Ray of Light. It looks like the singer has decided no to exile the child from her work world. Stylists with memories of dodging flying dresses enjoy watching the two make goo-goo noises and exchange funny faces. When I ask if she’s worried about protection Lourdes la madre replies, “It’s the other way around. She protects me.
After Lourdes departs with her nanny, we move to the living room, designed by her brother Christopher in French Deco style inspired by Eugene Printz. Madonna joins me on the floor. Legers Les Deux Bicyclettes hang over the fireplace. In Madonna’s childhood home in Michigan, where she lived with the memory of her mother, she shared a room with her two sisters. She tells me that on her side of the wall she had posters featuring dancers and “dorky sunsets”. One of the latter, she says, included the message “Let your love like the sunset surround me.”
I ask who she was then. “I see a very lonely girl who was searching for something,” she begins, “looking for a mother figure. I wasn’t rebellious in a conventional way: I cared about being good at something. I didn’t shave under my arms and I didn’t wear makeup. But I studied hard and got good grades. Rarely smoked pot,” she claims, smiling conspiratorially, “though I’m sure I did from time to time. I was a paradox, an outsider and rebel who wanted to please my father and get straight A’s. I wanted to be somebody.
And boy is she. But — as she demanded in “Justify My Love” — now what? After years of scavenging from Marilyn, Mapplethorpe, and the rest, after her era of shifting images and postmodern voguing through identities borrowed from show business and contemporary culture, Madonna seems ready to ditch the trappings. Her lyrics, which have alternated between pop exuberance and what I call “confessions,” are more personal than ever. Always hesitant about acknowledging the sensitive feelings she writes about as her own, she says she likes “intimacy and anonymity.” But, on her new CD, Madonna seems to have less need to hide behind old boundaries.
Madonna doesn’t offer the biggest natural voice, and her lyrics sometimes sound like a schoolgirl’s diaries. What makes her music compelling, besides her way with sassy hooks and state-of-the-art sound, is the personality underlying the songs, the passion and necessity behind the emotional journey upon which she is embarked. Like a heroine in a serial, Madonna seduces us with the drama of her evolution and her life force. And frequently it’s riveting pop art.
“I’m trying to affect people in a quieter way,” she says of Ray of Light. “I set out to be honest about where I am now. I was only trying to deal with my truth right now.”
In “Drowned World (Substitute for Love),” Madonna ruefully assess the landscape of fame — it’s one-night stands and far-off lands — as if it were an old lover whose every breath and gesture she knows by heart. She steps up to the plate and starts singing, and she does not pretend that nothing has changed or that she is still a kid or that she is out to slay the world:
I traded fame for love
Without a second thought
It all became a silly game
Some things cannot be bought
Got exactly what I asked for
Wanted it so badly
Running, rushing back for more
I suffered fools
And now I find
I’ve changed my mind
When director/screenwriter Alek Keshishian, who launched his career with Truth or Dare, heard the song, he got the change: “She’s finally begun sharing the kinds of things you feel when you’re with her privately,” says her close friend. “I think Madonna’s been of the opinion that it’s self-indulgent to admit sadness and loneliness. Before, it was always ‘I have no regrets.'” says Keshishian. “This time it’s ‘And now I’ve changed my mind.’ That, to me, takes a great amount of courage.