But she does know what it is to feel alone, to feel pain. And having a child has both alleviated and exacerbated this. We talk about mortality and she says: ‘I was thinking about that the other day. I was carrying my daughter to bed, and I just thought some day she’s going to be a very old woman and someone’s going to be carrying her. And the thought just devastated me.’
Listening to taped of our conversation over the following weeks I am struck by the number of time she yolks intimacy and death.
She has a reputation for control, or wanting to control, although I suspect that much of this is down to the fact that she is powerful woman and women are not allowed to be powerful unless they are also perceived to be manipulative. Men often fear her. She had not be sanctified like a Diana, Jackie or a Marilyn., but then she is no victim and is big enough to make her own errors, of which there has been more than one. Clearly there are parts of her life, namely her work, over which she still insists on exerting almost total mastery, but there are other areas where she feels freer. We talk about the song ‘The Power Of Good Bye’.
‘It’s about not wasting so much energy,’ she says. ‘It’s really about accepting [things] and the freedom that it gives you. I did waste a lot of time trying to hold on things and control things. The song is also about facing death because ending a relationship is a kind of death – that’s why it’s so hard to break up with people. If you become emotionally intertwined with someone else it is a kind of small death in a way.
‘So, you know, it all leads to the same place – fear of the unknown, fear of letting go, facing your own death. All of that is connected to the idea that life does go on and the reason that people don’t want to let go of people or things is because they see everything as finite. But, in fact, I don’t believe that is true. And if you can embrace that then saying goodbye to things can be very empowering.’
In her answers he uses the language of self-help a great deal, talking of ’empowerment’, ‘the growing process’, and ‘the next place’. She is clear that music is central to her own ‘development’ and throws her guard up sharply when it’s suggested that the fickle nature of pop music might not be a place for a grown woman.
‘Am I a grown woman?’ she asks.
You’ve turned 40, so society would say you’ve grown up.
‘So? That’s bourgeois society. I’m not interested in that.’
So you’re going to continue to do everything on your own terms.
‘Why not? I mean the thing is I do think that what I do is art. And does an artist, does the creative, you know, mind turn off at 40? Did Picasso stop painting at 40, youknowadimean?’
Are you still going to be having number one records when you’re 50? 60?
‘I don’t know. But, you see, that’s not how I define myself.’
Have you lived the best life you could have had?
‘Yes,’ she says without equivocation, without a doubt.
Her life, its actions and meaning has been the subject of much conjecture that she will never know or care about. From trashy cobbled-together supermarket biographies to a volume dedicated solely to dreams about her, there is much to read if you wish to experience the full gamut of opinion. The internet makes scary reading. (‘Hey Madonna whats up [sic]… I’m not some freako that wants to stick a dildo up your ass or something. I’m a little Asian girl that would love to chill with you some time,’ is just one gem.) Of little greater worth is the furious debate conducted by feminist academics as to the effect she had had upon womankind…
Once, her life was private.
Madonna was born in Bay City, Michigan, the eldest of eight children. Her father, Tony, was an engineer at Chrysler, her mother, whose name she was given, a housewife. Later the family was to move south to Pontiac where she shared a room with two sisters. As a girl Madonna spent her summers working in her father’s vegetable garden weeding and spraying insecticide, or she was sent to her grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania where she would be expected to work on the house and garden. The regime was rooted in instilling a work ethic: church before school, housework that was assigned by her dad’s chore chart, and no TV. (This, incidentally, is her top tip for successful parenthood: no TV.) Madonna was expected to defrost the freezer, wash the dishes, baby sit, vacuum. She was a voracious reader and loved the stories her mother told her about a garden involving vegetables and a rabbit.
The family was devoutly Catholic. On Good Friday her mother would place a purple cloth over all the religious pictures and statues in the house. This was before she fell ill with breast cancer, which would take her life when Madonna was six. Like many children who lose parent, Madonna expected her mother to return. But nobody talked about it. For years it seemed that way. Three years later her father married again, this time to the family housekeeper whom Madonna never acknowledged as a mother.
She learned to dance to get out of the piano lessons that her father insisted the children took. ‘I loathed sitting still,’ she says. ‘[Dancing] gave me a sense of belonging. I was very derailed by my mother’s death and I never really felt I fitted in very much at school and things like that. When I started to dance it meant that I was good at something. It made me feel special, so it helped my confidence.’