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Madonna Interview : Arena

Who?

‘I don’t want to talk about it. You know when you do an interview, I don’t want to bring up names. But I think that happens all the time.’ She pauses. ‘And now you’re sure I’m completely bonkers.’

Bonkers, no, although her search for spiritual enlightenment had led her, once again, to be put in the pillory, this time for flirting with panacea merchants and gurus who claim to administer parts of the future as well as a number of different organized religions. She has used Catholic iconography, explored Buddhism and is now studying Kabbala, an ancient Jewish mystical tradition.

‘I subscribe to the school of being incredibly well informed before buying into things,’ she says. ‘I’m not just jumping on a bandwagon going, “Vote for that person”. It’s about experience.’

What do you get from Kabbalah?

‘Looking at my life from a different perspective,’ she says. ‘Studying comparative religions in general, the mystical interpretation of any text is going to be interesting and fascinating and going to have some truth that you can relate to. The whole thing about spirituality is that at the end of the day everyone thinks you’re a wanker and you’ve lost your marbles and trivializes it. The fact is that it’s hard to explain. It is very personal. And, you know, you change your mind all the time to. So, that’s the other thing – I don’t want to commit to anything.’

Which has been the case, in greater or smaller measure in other aspects of her life. She has yet to find an enduring love, although has a daughter and the memory of her mother looms large. In 1985 she married actor Sean Penn while 13 news helicopters hovered above them. By 1989 the marriage was over, and although she has referred to Penn as her ‘one true love’ you suspect that still the most overpowering relationship she has had has been with her own fame.

Maybe she will never see her for what she is, never be able to properly make out what is in her heart, so we choose to interpret her as a woman in cast-iron balls, the girl who asked for everything and got it, and by the same token forever prejudiced her relationship with humankind. Or most of it, for occasionally, she meets people who have no idea who she is. A few weeks before she had gone to watch a performance by a group of Indian musicians and singers. She slipped into the room with no fuss and sat and watched the performance. Afterwards they approached her and asked her who she was, what did she do? The man who had invited Madonna told them she liked to sing. ‘Oh, you’re a singer!’ the musician said. ‘That’s wonderful.’

Her voice quietens a little, when she tells the story, although it is laden with pleasure. “They were just relating to me as a human being,’ she says. ‘And I liked it. It was nice.’

Someone else who relates to Madonna as a human being, specifically a mother, is her daughter Lourdes, who was born by Caesarean section weighing 6lb 9oz in October 1969. Named after the most celebrated Christian healing shrine, Lourdes has offered her mother catharsis of a kind. “The great thing about having children,’ she says, ‘is that for the most part it turns us back into human beings.’ Having a daughter has caused her to think about her own mother’s death, to confront pain she has carried around for a lifetime and write about it explicitly in songs like ‘Mer Girl’.

There’s nothing like having a baby to make your face your own… mortality or immortality or however you want to look at it,’ she says.

When the birth was imminent, photographers stalked out every maternity ward in Beverly Hills in pursuit of the $350,000 reward offered for the first shot of the baby. With that in mind, can Madonna offer her daughter a life with a semblance of normality?

‘I think it’s going to be gradual,’ she says. ‘She comes and she watches me rehearse for things, and she watches me on stage, and she watches me shooting things, and she watches me on stage, and she watches me shooting things, and I think she’s very clear that what I do for living very expressive, music has a lot to do with it. She sees what’s going on. So when she sees me on stage she just thinks I’m being silly, which I occasionally am being. So it’s not going to come as big shock when she grows up one day and realizes that I’m an icon, as you say.’

What’s been the most surprising thing about motherhood?

‘How much I could love something,’ she says. ‘That’s been the most incredible… You say that you feel it with other people, with lovers and such, but you just can’t imagine it.’