Lovers and such. If Madonna had as many lovers as catalogued in the press then she would be hard pressed to achieve mush else. What we know is that Lourdes’ father is Carlos Leon, as personal trainer who was 29 when the pair met in Central park. There have, reportedly, been other men since the birth of Lourdes, although Leon, who has seven per cent body fat, remains close to both of them.
Then there is the personal fortune of around $200 million and her successful record label Maverick, set up in April 1992 by Madonna’s ex-manager Freddy DeMann and of which she is enormously proud. According to the contract, Madonna must come up with seven albums, each of which receives an advance of $5 million as well as offering a platform for books, movies and other recording artists. Warner Bros has a 50 per cent stake in the company. There were teething problems. Maverick’s first project was Sex, its first music signing, Proper Grounds, disappeared without a trance, and its attempt to sign Hole got a famous finger from Courtney Love. But in 1994 everything changed when Maverick signed Alanis Morissette whose Jagged Little Pill sold in excess of 25 million copies. And when America woke up to the enormous success of The prodigy it was Maverick who secured the rights to distribute them there. With a long, sharp laugh she says that the main thing she has learned from Maverick is ‘what a pain in the ass artists are’.
‘Oh God. All I think about is: “God, if I was as rude to my record company as these people are to us…” It’s unbelievable.’
I ask how Maverick changed her relationship with Warner Bros. ‘They’re still buggers to me,’ she says. ‘They still treat me like… Ugh! Fahgeddit! I don’t want to even go there! Warner Bros still act like I still have to prove myself. After all the records I’ve sold for them, the success of the label, you have no idea. I mean Guy, my partner and I, we scratch our heads every day, we think they should be kissing our asses.’
She says that at the moment she’s happiest when she’s in London, where she is currently looking for a home. She has sold up in LA after a stalker, Robert Dewey Hoskins threatened to slash her throat and twice broke into her estate. The second time he was shot and wounded by one of Madonna’s bodyguards, and was sent down for ten years last March. Currently she is in New York where she lives near Central Park in the duplex where Warren Beatty famously accused her of not wanting to live off-camera. She has no photos of herself but an art collection, including a Picasso, a Leger and a Basquiat, which she has described as her most prized possession (she dated Basquiat and when they split he demanded she return the paintings he’d given her). It’s at this apartment that William Orbit one day appeared fresh off a plane with a bag of cassettes which he tipped out on the floor and rummaged among to find what might become the sound for her new album. There is also a picture of Muhammad Ali inscribed: ‘To Madonna. We Are The Greatest’.
Strange rumors occasionally surface. My favorite featured a visit last year to a pet psychiatrist when Madonna’s Chihuahua, Chiquita, was acting up. The amazing diagnosis was that the animal had become jealous of her daughter. Madonna does not have a favorite piece of newspaper tittle-tattle, finds most of it ‘tiresome’ and is quietly resentful of the suggestions made in some areas of the media that she was an unsuitable parent when it was announced that she was pregnant. ‘That was annoying,’ she says dryly and in a way that makes you understand the extent to which it pained her.
She does not like to be called a pop star, preferring instead the phrase ‘performing artist’. I suggest that despite the acres of newsprint devoted to her and the best efforts of our telephoto democracy she has survived relatively unscathed. She lets loose a big, breathy laugh and hunches a little. ‘Relatively,’ she says, by way of qualification. ‘Well, I am resilient, I’ll give myself that.’
Why are you [still] doing it?
‘Because I have something to say,’ she replies firmly. ‘It’s a growing process for me. An adventure.’
Ray Of Light suggests that Madonna has regained her understanding of the moment. When her last album, Something To Remember, was released in November 1995, she complained that ‘very little attention gets paid to my music’. And while the collection had its attractions it was clear that this kind of brawny balladeering should be left to the caged imaginations of the Celines, Mariahs and Whitneys. In one album we saw what Madonna, God forbid, might become: a twenty-first-century Barbra Streisand.
It’s not a pretty thought, admittedly, but at least it offers some perspective on Madonna’s core talent: Persistently staying in touch, mirroring and exploiting the fault lines of contemporary culture, in essence staying interested, giving us what we want.
You ask the woman whose life is a work in progress, if she has a motto. ‘Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends,’ she laughs. It’s a line from John Maybury’s biopic of Francis Bacon, Love Is The Devil. It makes her laugh. She says it’s ‘the mutt’s nuts’ which is as good a piece of vernacular as you’re likely to pick up all week. She won’t tell me a joke though, she says she never remembers them. And I don’t tell her a joke. She just won’t get it.
The afternoon has passed and Madonna’s answers are shorter. She is tired of accounting for herself and maybe even a little bored. The voice that we have lived with almost as long as she has, fades with the daylight. She smiles and it occurs to me that while she may sometimes feel lonely, she is never really alone for we measure ourselves against her journey, her extraordinary vault from the humdrum to the universal. And what a life, what a face. She has lived with it and she will surely die with it. But she’s alright with that. She’ll be ready.