The opening line of the album ‘I traded fame for love’ suggests that she now has a more intricate relationship with her fame than ever before, although to speak of fame to Madonna is like asking someone who has lived with a condition for so long to see themselves anew. When asked about it she slips into the impersonal, as if fame were a universal experience, something we have all undergone.
‘Fame does a funny thing to you,’ she says. ‘Everyone thinks that they know you. Perfect strangers coming up to you and asking very personal things and touching you and taking liberties and asking you for thing. And if you weren’t famous then people would have too good manners to actually do those kind of things. Even though everyone’s paying attention to you, actually they don’t know you at all, which you feel just kind of exaggerates everything.’
Maybe this is modesty, shying away from the funereal toll of the subjective pronoun through defense. maybe it’s more than that – a separation of the person who brushes her teeth and has a daily disco with her daughter from the pop Frankenstein that she has created. Maybe it’s the way a middle-class girl from Michigan who took New York before conquering the world copes by putting some distance between the person she still is (or at least the person she feels she is) and the person she always wanted to be. Like many, she thought that fame would make her complete, furnish her as whole. What she discovered was that performing on a stage in front of 100,000 hysterical people can be as lonely as anything you can imagine.
She has been driven at speed through the Place de l’Alma underpass in Paris where Diana’s car crashed, has been pursued by paparazzi through the gloomy expense. There were mutterings when she was staying in London last March that photographers tried to flush her out of her hotel by setting off a fire alarm, nevertheless she concedes that the press, particularly in London, has given her a bit more room since Diana’s death and dismisses any suggestion that the video to her single ‘Substitute For Love’ , in which she is hounded by photographers in London, is in any way a reference to Diana’s death. ‘I was kind of confused and bewildered that people were drawing those kind of comparisons because that’s my life. I get chased by paparazzi to, and why people said I was trying to imitate her I don’t know. It really was like a night in the life of me.’
I ask her how it feels, now that Diana is dead, to be the most recognizable female face on the planet.
‘Really?’ she says. It’s odd that she appears not to have thought about this before, to have prepared a stock answer for a not unsurprising question. She stares into space for a few seconds as if trying yo think of someone else more famous. Really famous. Madonna famous. ‘It just seems so absurd,’ she says, eventually and not unkindly. ‘Anyway, it’s pretty strange thing to sit and think about: “I’m the most famous woman in the world.”‘
Maybe not; not if you’re Madonna. Fame is the defining aspect of her life – more than her music, or style, or movies she will be remembered for being one of the most relentlessly self-realized people of the century. Along with Monroe and Ali, Madonna will be remembered for defining the times by inventing and changing and promoting herself and ambition and, in so doing providing us with a way of understanding ourselves and remembering what we used to dance to, who we used to be.
Do you think about your own death?
Madonna: All the time.
Madonna: Why not?
Because it’s morbid and might depress you.
Madonna: It depends on how you look at it. If you start practicing yoga the whole idea is that you learn detachment and ultimately this is preparation for your death, and so you can’t help but thinking about death. There are actual positions in yoga that activate a feeling in you that supposedly – and this is based in ancient Vedic text – is very similar to the fear that you experience when you’re facing your death. And the idea is to bring yourself closer and closer to that feeling and actually make yourself really comfortable with it.
So the idea is not to fear death…
Madonna: Yeah, exactly. Which I still do. But I’m more comfortable with the idea of thinking about it. I mean, I grew up… [this seems a little difficult for her, she halts slightly]… I grew up incredibly fearful of death and obsessed with it because my mother died when I was so young, so I was very fixated on the idea.
How would you like to die?
Madonna: Really. I’d like to die ready.