Becky Johnson: But you said once in another interview that you felt it was important for you to project a life-affirming point of view to your audience. That might be construed as a responsibility.
Madonna: Yes. Because it’s important to me to be positive. I think there’s too much negativity in the world. And I think there aren’t a lot of things which give people relief from that negativity, something life-affirming to look to or look for. I know it sounds trite in a way, but I think it’s important.
Becky Johnson: You also said in the same interview that you didn’t like yourself very much when you were a teenager. You said, “I didn’t think I was beautiful or talented. I spent a lot of time loathing myself and not feeling I fit in, like every adolescent does. When I started dancing, having a dream and working toward that goal – having a sense of discipline – I started to like myself for the first time.” Would you say work is a kind of internal monitoring system for you, a way of keeping the demons of self-loathing at bay?
Madonna: Yeah, but it has everything to do with feeling you can do something well. I mean, something to focus on takes you out of yourself – that’s natural. You don’t sit around all the time feeling you don’t fit in or wondering what you’re supposed to do with yourself for the rest of your life. And especially when you’re a teenager, it’s really important to fit in and feel there’s a reason, for you to be on the earth. You start moving away from your family, feeling like you want to be somebody, do something. And when you find something that you can do, and you can do it well, it gives you reason for living.
Becky Johnson: I guess what interested me about that quote was the revelation of self-doubt or self-loathing and the incredible will to overcome it. You don’t seem even remotely self-destructive.
Madonna: Yeah, well, that’s why I work so hard. I work at not being self-destructive. I think my nature is to fight back, to fight those demons that want to bring me down. I have this motor inside of me that says, No, I will not go down. I feel it pulling at me, and sometimes it’s stronger than at other times. But, yeah, working takes me out of that. And that’s why I work so hard, because obviously I must have a lot of demons I’m fighting.
Becky Johnson: Do you do anything else to keep yourself on an even keel? Like meditate?
Madonna: Well, exercise is absolutely necessary for me, because I don’t dance anymore. Dancing sort of brought me out of myself. Before I started dancing, I felt really physically awkward too. Not comfortable with my body. So what it does for me is twofold. I feel I can purge bad things when I exercise, and I also feel better physically. I feel superior, I feel like a warrior.
Becky Johnson: When you’re everything, are you aware of your thought process, or do you sort of just blank out all thought?
Madonna: You have to concentrate on your breathing when you’re exercising. You don’t really have time to get tripped up on one thought. Everything goes through a processor and kind of gets cleaned out.
Becky Johnson: A little like praying?
Becky Johnson: Do you pray?
Becky Johnson: As regularly as you exercise?
Madonna: Well I don’t pray every day at ten o’clock, but I pray a lot. It sort of happens on and off, whenever I feel like it, throughout the day or week.
Becky Johnson: You were raised a strict Catholic and went to Catholic schools all through your childhood, but you obviously rebelled against your upbringing at some point in your life.
Madonna: Yeah, I did.
Becky Johnson: At what age did you start to rebel?
Madonna: Probably when I was about ten.
Becky Johnson: And what form did the rebellion take?
Madonna: Well, when I was ten I started liking boys. That was the first form. I remember I wanted to chase after boys on the playground, and the nuns told me I couldn’t: that good Catholic girls didn’t chase boys. I didn’t understand what was so bad about it, so I would do it anyway. And I would get punished for it. I also remember being really annoyed that I couldn’t wear pants to school or church. My brothers could, and that seemed to me all locked up with religion. I kept saying to my father, “But why can’t I love God the same way if I have pants on?” [laughs] You know? And my father would always have these stock responses, like “Because I said so.”
So often I would be confused about who I was worshiping, God or my father. Then, as I got older, I hated the idea that I had to go to church all the time. We used to get up every morning at six or seven and go to church for an hour before school. It just seemed like such torture – I mean, school was punishment enough. Then I got into this whole thing with my father about: Why do I have to go to church to pray? Why can’t I take the basic principles of this religion – principles like being good and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you and live them? Why do I have to go to confession to confess my sins? Why can’t I just tell God directly? These things didn’t make any sense to me.