If Madonna had sold her soul, then maybe it was time to buy some of it back and return to the U.S. If anyone was gonna do the manipulating it was gonna be her. Yes, back to the states where you can fool all of the people some of the time. But contrary to popular belief Madonna contends “I’m not Alexis from ‘Dynasty’.” And there were honest-to-goodness dues to be paid. Like the year she spent living in an abandoned Queens, New York, synagogue writing and rehearsing with rockers Dan and Ed Gilroy, now part of the Breakfast Club. It was the Gilroys who taught her the musical ropes, teaching her enough rudimentary guitar chops to allow her to pen rough sketches of tunes. Prior to that her only experience was with an old U of M friend Steve Bray, also working with the Breakfast Club, who shares a few songwriting credits on Like A Virgin.
But it wasn’t happening. The bands, in a couple of configurations, were too rocky for Manhattan, a town where the idiom hasn’t had a real voice since the Ramones. More importantly, they were too conventional for Madonna, who was drawn to the simmering dance music scene in the downtown clubs. The split came (and with it Madonna’s reputation as a cutthroat) when Madonna and Bray ran into Danceteria DJ Mark Kamins who remixed “Everybody”, the demo track that eventually scored the record deal and left all her suitors, including Kamins in the cold. Veteran producer Reggie Lucas got the call and the rest is herstory. Sleazy? “I never f**ked anyone to get anywhere,” argues the Catholic girl late of learning institutions called St. Frederick’s, St. Andrew’s and Sacred Crown. As was her youth amid a litter of eight children, every day in her budding career was a struggle for attention. In New York City however, there are options other than a quick tumble in the hay. Besides, Madonna had been known for years, one of those club urchins who, like her boyfriend Benitez, entertained dreams of broader horizons.
To make it in New York, she had to get out of town. Enter the videos. From director Steve “Billie Jean” Barron’s “Burning Up” to “Lucky Star”. Bellybutton city. The little lady and the little screen added up to the big time. It was a great tease/ruse, each passing clip fueling the public’s curiosity. Does she or doesn’t she?
“If I didn’t have video, I don’t think all the kids in the midwest would know about me,” says Madonna, offering the stock answer. “It takes the place of touring. Everybody sees them, everywhere.”
Blah, blah, blah. No, Madonna doesn’t watch MTV. But she likes Sheila E’s video. As the conversation moves, Madonna appears less the hardened showbusinesswoman than girl trapped inside a diva’s life. Almost Valley Girl when she’s talking about her image: “I don’t really have a bizarre image. You don’t have to chop your hair off or dye it some absurd color to look like me.” Fer sure.
Money is not important, according to Madonna, who once trained with New York’s prestigious Alvin Ailey troupe. “My business sense isn’t very good,” she says. “If someone says you’re getting a half-million advance I go ‘big deal, I don’t care.’ I’m not interested as long as I have enough money to pay the rent and buy all my rubber bracelets and stuff. I’m not material-oriented (what about her song “Living In A Material World”?). I bounce checks all the time.
“I used to borrow money from people, let some poor sucker take me out for dinner and then I’d go ‘Can I borrow a hundred?’ ” Nice girl.
When Madonna talks about life on the set, it’s more like “method whining.” The hardest part of movie making?: “Just sitting around and not feeling like you’re useful all the time on the set. I read books, I do lots of situps in the trailer, make calls from payphones.” In Desperately Seeking Susan Madonna plays what she calls “… a pig. She eats all the time.” Deep.
Madonna has also contributed her voice to Vision Quest which also looms as more teen shlock. She’s also working on her own screenplay, “loosely based on my life but not exactly. It’s not going to be a Prince movie. Don’t worry. It’ll incorporate all my talents. I’m going to dance in it and sing in it.” Yet, her semi-literate mediaspeak notwithstanding, there remains a peculiar fascination with Madonna, the “Boy Toy” as her belt says, toying with our fantasies. The men who would like a naughty little girl and the little girls who would like to be a tad naughty. The yuppies looking for something a little more down and dirty. It’s a wonderful scam, more durable than Lauper’s, less brittle than Lennox.
The joke, of course, is on Madonna herself. Fame has released demons from her closet: “My father has this habit of giving old high school boyfriends of mine my phone number in New York. I could kill him. I get phone calls from these guys, ‘Remember me? We went out in the tenth grade.’ I go ‘No, I don’t remember you.’ ”
She’s right. Forget about people you meet on the way up. Especially if they’re from Pontiac!
© Faces Rocks