Can a strict mommy, raving royalist and connoisseur of fine art still be a pop goddess and provocateur nonpareil?
Why else would we be so
Mad for Madonna
Norma Desmond doesn’t live here. There are no dead bodies in the swimming pool. Actually, there was hardly a swimming pool to speak of before this week, just a “birdbath,” according to the lady of the manor, until her boyfriends, the strapping athletic type, complained. Probably only once. Now they have a proper Beverly Hills swimming hole, which, in its unpainted state, the L.O.T.M. Thinks resembles “an Eastern-bloc pool.”
Still, the house is formidable, a 1926 classic California Spanish hacienda, two stories with white stucco walls, low ceilings, pitch-dark doors, porticos, tiles and a courtyard. Although it’s not on Sunset Boulevard, it’s close by, nestled in with other stately figures along a winding, well-known Old-Hollywood street once peopled with the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball and Agnes Moorehead. A visitor might deeply desire to see the baroque trappings of a true legend, but the playground equipment in the front yard suggests something more user-friendly. Instead of Norma’s dead monkey, there is a Chihuahua named Evita underfoot as one is led into the foyer, while an 18th-century painting of angels dominates the staircase, past a living room of gold upholster sofas and French antiques, by a wall with a famous self-portrait of Frida Kahlo, and out into a bright covered patio. A handsome man who might be the pool guy strides out in a white T-shirt and athletic pants. “Have you seen the missus?” He asks. This turns out to be Guy Ritchie, her guy, the British director (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Snatch) touted not only for his boyish good looks (how many blond hotties are there in England?) but also for his brazen charm and quick wit. “I need to find my bird.”
In time his bird appears, apologizing. “Sorry I’m late.” Then a pause. “I’m late in my own house. Can you imagine if I met you out in town somewhere?” She’s dressed down in a black sleeveless T and wild patchwork jeans, wearing light makeup, her soft blond hair very natural-looking. Firm handshake. For having just come off a four-day video shoot, Madonna, at 42, seems startlingly fresh. (“Really? I’m a good actress,”and she can’t resist adding, “contrary to what everyone says.”) She is still taking in the reality of this being her house – she and Richie moved in mere weeks ago. “We’ve been in renovation hell,” she says. Diane Keaton, the last owner, left behind not a stick of Stickley – “just a clock. A nice clock.” Madonna admires the restoration Keaton did on the Wallace Neff-designed house and fears “she’d probably be horrified now because I’ve got paintings of naked ladies everywhere. This house is quite masculine. I thought it needed to be more female-ified.” Having previously lived in the more secluded hills, Madonna adjusting to actually hearing her neighbours across the hedge. “It’s like proper suburbia,” she marvels, “just what I’ve been trying to get away from all this time!”
As if she could be confused with the girl next door. Or with the superstar next door, for that matter. To paraphrase Norma Desmond, it’s the videos that got small, but not hers: Madonna’s 14th album, Music, which fuses electronica and acoustic mood trips, has scaled charts worldwide and launched her on a promotional juggernaut including club gigs in New York and London, her first five performances in seven years. At the same time she embraced the twin personae of Lady Love and Material Girl, putting her considerable energies into raising daughter Lourdes, or Lola, 4, by her ex-boyfriend and onetime-trainer Carlos Leon, and baby Rocco, who arrived last August, her son by Ritchie. In a good groove? “Absolutely.” Recluse? No. Out there is more like it. And, frankly spread a little thin. “I live a highly scheduled lifr,” she says ruefully.
Home, inevitably, can seem as conceptual as her videos. “It’s where my family is,” she says. It shifts. Right now L.A. Is home because we just made this home, all of us together, and, you know, Rocco was born here. Once we find a place in England [where she has spent much of the past year and a half] and make that our own, then that will feel like home.” Rumors of an impending wedding have swirled about, but Madonna’s camp disavows knowledge of any plans.
Yet for all the domestic flurry, Madonna the Artist is never far from view. “Last night I dreamt I was teaching poetry to very young girls and the lesson for the day was haiku,” she recounts, sounding slightly mystified. “Five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables. They were really young, so we did it in dance steps, like you stomped out of rhythm of the haiku.” Here she is, then: Madonna as teacher-poet, not to mention miner of cultures (Hispanic, Indian, ghetto, gay), channeler of exotica (“last night I dreamt of San Pedro”) and erotica, who finds sex in religion, religion in disco, the chic in shanti. Now her roaming artistic vision is aligning on japan, even as she sleeps. “Just don’t use that damn ‘reinvention’ word,” she pleads. Oh, yeah, Madonna the Blunt.
But also, perhaps, Madonna the Happy. Today she emanates an ease. A quickness to laugh. And shrugs off those who might just as soon put her in the piece-of-work diva category. “I can’t remember what the misconceptions are anymore,” says the most famous, and famously provocative, woman on the planet. “That I’m cold? That I’m calculating? Well, maybe it just means I’m highly organized, ambitious and focused, and those are traits people feel more comfortable attributing to men.”
Madonna focused on Richie, 32, a couple of years ago at a party thrown by Sting’s wife, Trudie Styler. “He’s gorgeous,” says Madonna. And “talented. He’s English. He’s got a sophisticated sense of humor.” His sexiness, she maintains, comes from “his intelligence, his humor… his super-macho ways.” A macho Englishman. “Give me macho or give me death,” she declares without even thinking. Perhaps, it’s suggested, Guy needs to get more in touch with his feminine side. Her scoff is percussive. “No – that’s my idea of expertise. He can get in touch with my feminine side!”
After Madonna fell for Ritchie, she took a big shine to his homeland. “Sometimes I feel like I’m in an Avengers episode,” she says of London, referring to sleek sixties TV series. “You drive around and see the old taxicabs or down Saville Row and see the old shops with custom-made suits for men and bowler hats and hunting shops. It’s just charming.”
She in turn has been embraced by the English, her every crumper chronicled by Fleet Street, and that has had its downside. “Unless you want to be in Hello magazine, you don’t go shopping.” She had tried dropping into a few nightclubs, “but the problem is, as soon as I get to the floor everything starts to move over; then I get crushed and it’s no fun – and I can’t really look at anybody. But I can look at people on the street. That’s where I do my people-watching.” She wouldn’t mind checking out boutiques, “but I don’t have time. When I do video shoots and photo shoots, designers make me things and that sort of comprises my wardrobe for the season.” She can’t, however resist the bountiful English antiques shops or the pubs. “We love pubs!” she says. “The house we’ve been renting has a really cute one around the corner.” Guy appears again on the patio and Madonna enlists his support on this: “C’mon, tell him what’s so great about a pub.”
Guy males a randy joke instead that cracks her up.
“Well, pubs are dark,” he says, moving on. “They’re just conducive to drinking and socializing.”
“Drinking and talking,” says Madonna. “It’s not like a bar where people just get sloshed and try to pick up people to shag. That’s boring. Families go to pubs, little kids. I brought Lola. She loved it.”
Besides, where better to meet the English? “I like the English. They’re eccentric. They’re just living to avoid confrontation. But they appreciate subtlety and itony.” She has dined with Prince Charles, whom she found “tres charmant… funny, dry. A naughty little boy.” Naughty like dishing other people in the room? “It was more like self-deprecation, making fun of pomp and circumstance and being royal, in a way.” Certainly the proper pop queen knows how to genuflect in a foreign court.. “I think it’s great that there’s a monarchy. People should stop slagging them off,” she says, continuing to slip into Britspeak. “I like good old queens and kings. They hark back to a time … I mean, you know, long live the Queen.”
Whom she hasn’t met. Yet. “I’d like to. Lola wants to go over to her house. It’s so funny – every time we go to Buckingham Palace I go, ‘See that? That’s where the Queen lives,” and she says, ‘But, Mummy, can’t we visit the Queen?’ I say, ‘Yeah, let’s go ring the doorbell.'” For all her fame and fortune, Madonna is still, deep down, that scrappy girl from Bay City, Mich., who as a teen was grounded for a whole summer for sneaking out to a David Bowie concert. “No matter how much money I have, I’m always going to have middle-class, Midwestern, puritanical aspirations and spending habits,” she says, almost convincingly.
“Are you going strangling?” Madonna asks Ritchie. That’s her word for judo. Lola, who’s now in the kitchen sampling the cook’s latest experiment – french fries, to Madonna’s mild shock – takes karate, in addition to French classes and art lessons. “In London she was going to the Judokai that Guy’s been going to since he was a little boy,” says madonna. “They have karate for children starting at age 4. It’s the only kind of karate Guy approves of – a non-mincy kind of karate. Not froufrou. Like yoga versus power yoga – one has been homogenized for people who are not remotely interested in the real discipline.” Madonna has been doing non-mincy yoga for four years, trying o get in five days a week. “I just make sure I jam in an hour and a half in the morning. Even if I have to get up at 6.” No longer a fun of strenuous workouts, she has nevertheless regained her fit shape post-pregnancy. Next she’d like to add martial arts to the mix, but “right now all I can handle is my career, my children, my yoga and my guitar lessons.” She pauses and thinks. “And my house decorating and my album promotion. I have no social life!”
She and Lola bond on the fashion front. “She’s got a pretty sophisticated wardrobe for a 4-year old,” says Madonna. “She loves clothes, jewelry, playing dress-up. She’s the girliest girl I know. Next to me.” Not that Lola is completely indulged. “We run a tight ship. If I said yes to everything my daughter asked for, she’d be dead – she would have eaten so much sugar she would have gone into shock!” How was having a second child been different? “It’s more time management. Also I’m less careful. Before, I was more worried about leaving Lola with somebody, or about the way I was holding her. I viewed her as a more fragile thing that I do my son. Now,” she jokes, “I’m a bit more cavalier about handing him to the gardener.”
Luckily, Guy has proven to be a game dad. “He’s very attentive,” says Madonna. “And more interested in the teeny-tiny-baby phase (than you might expect). Most guys are all fingers and thumbs – goo-goo ga-ga and somebody else change the diaper.” Guy and Rocco, she says, enjoy “their special bath time together … but they’re twins. Sometimes I’m the one who’s fingers and thumbs; I look at him and he doesn’t look anything like me and I think, Am I the mother?”
Madonna has in the past admired the your house-my-house relationship of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, reasoning that it’s good to miss someone, but with Guy, she allows, “I miss him when he’s gone for three hours.” Might that much devotion rattle a one-woman declaration of independence? Doesn’t love frighten her? “Every single day,” she says. “I mean, duh. Love is scary, isn’t it? I’m not scared about commitment – that’s nothing. I’m scared about love. Loving something – anything – intensely, there’s major fear and awe. I guess if I were a highly evolved being I’d say fear has nothing to do with it, but I don’t think I’ve reached that level of consciousness yet.”
Such musings suit this woman. But so does the black-with-gold-dequins “cyber-cowgirl” bell-bottom affair that Dolce & Gabbana designed for her impending concert in New York. The country-western influences on Music, she explains, “add a certain warmth to the techno.” But it’s also a hot look. “I think you have to try on a lot of guises before you know who you are,” says Madonna. So if you’re looking for the real Madonna, choose the guise you like the best: visionary vixen, Hollywood hausfrau or mistress of time management. She’ll give you just enough evidence to make each case, giggle through your closing arguments, and be on to the next thing before you can say – if you dare say it in front of her – reinvention.
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