Like many provincial teenagers she knew that she would leave for the big city as quickly as she could. She says that she knew she wanted to leave Michigan from the age of five. She lasted one term at her home-state university on a dance scholarship. Her heart wasn’t in it. Even though she’d never visited, there was really only one place for her: New York, the true home of the ambitious.
She arrived, in her late teens, at La Guardia airport and took a taxi to Times Square. She had no money or connections and lived hand to mouth, eventually settling in a tenement on the Lower East Side at 4th and Avenue B. Every weekend she went clubbing in search of A&R personnel and DJs who might be able to assist her career. She recalls dancing to ‘Don’t You Want Me’ by the Human League at New York’s famous Danceteria club.
‘I didn’t know what I was going to become,’ she says when asked if it ever crossed her mind that she might fail, ‘but I knew that I was good at what I did. When I came to New York I wanted to be a dancer and I had an enormous amount of confidence in that area.’ Her voice hardens a little. ‘I didn’t have any choice because I wasn’t going back to Michigan. So, for me, there was just no way that I was leaving. I was just going to stay in New York and learn how to survive. How that manifested itself I didn’t know.’
Enamoured by New York nightlife, she met people who could help her career and befriended influential DJ Mark Kamins who, after being impressed by a cassette of her music, produced the singles ‘Everybody’ and ‘Burning Up’ which brought Madonna her first success in the dance charts. On the strength of this she was signed to Sire records and released ‘Holiday’ which was produced by Jellybean Benitez and hit the top spot in the US dance charts before crossing over to become a worldwide hit in 1983. When she first arrived in the public realm, she seemed like nothing more than a cute little pop missile of the month. This was not the case. At 25, she was an adult, which perhaps partly explains the longevity of her career: she had fought, struggled and experienced much before tasting success. This was no overnight thing, no teen sensation.
With her first royalty cheque she bought a synthesizer and a bike which she had to carry up all six flights to her new apartment, a loft on Broome and West Broadway. Deep down she also carried much resentment about her family, was often unhappy and relied greatly on music, which she had written was ‘a vehicle for transcending misery (the story of my life)’ to get her through thin times. Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ meant a great deal to her. Yet, within five years, she had made two of the definitive pop albums of the decade – True Blue in 1986, and Like A Prayer in 1989 – creating a world of opposites and attraction, the plus and minis, the virgin and whore, which sparked a change of electricity that ran up and down the spine of pop culture. She understood the power of image on a way that only Michael jackson had done before, starring in elaborate theatrical videos that introduced her to a global market via TV. In 1989 her video for ‘Like a Prayer’ was censured by the Vatican, but no matter, she was off and running, working like a bastard, touring, recording, acting. This is the story of her life: she believes that the important things must be earned, must be learned.
She has never stopped and talks about needing to make another album, going back on the road again. Her work has been her passion even though she has realized she might never get the recognition from her father that she once craved.
His favorite female artist is Celine Dion.
Still, she has dreams. She says she dreams about all kinds of things, works out her demons (that phrase again) dreaming about her past, dreaming about her daughter. She dreams of those who make a strong impression on her and dreamed of Sharon Stone, of Courtney Love. recently she went to see some musicians playing ancient instruments. One of them played a device that was shaped like a gourd, with three strings on it. beneath there were 32 minute strings which resonated when a bow was drawn across it. ‘He was sitting in the lotus position and I was completely fascinated by him,’ she says. ‘There was something that looked really fragile about him, like he was going to kick the bucket any moment, but also something really magical and powerful. He seemed otherworldly to me. He was completely detached from everyone in the room and all the other musicians.’
That night Madonna had a dream. She dreamt that the man could fly. ‘I want you to fly,’ she said to him. ‘I know you can fly, and I want you to show me.’
The man was irritated by the request. He didn’t want to have to prove his powers. he wanted Madonna to have faith. But Madonna wanted to see him do it and she got her way. The man lifted off the ground hovering above her, flying around.
She believes that dreams are a way of communicating, that when we sleep we ‘plug into some kind of universal memory bank’, that the physical world is only ‘one per cent of what’s actually going on out there’. She tells a story in which she was staying at a friend’s house and had a dream about having to beat rats off. In the morning she discovered that someone else sleeping in the same house had to leave a retreat because of a rat infestation.
‘I am 100 per cent sure that I was visited by someone in my dreams last night,’ she says.