Q: There’s the line, “Had so many lovers / Who settled for the thrill of basking in my spotlight”. Was that a depressing realization? Did they really have much of a choice?
Madonna: Well it’s not to say that they were only attracted to me for that, but I realize that that was a big part of it. Power is a great aphrodisiac and celebrity is a great aphrodisiac.
Q: Do you feel disappointed in those people?
Madonna: No. Not at all.
Q: You once said rejection is a great aphrodisiac.
Madonna: That too, haha!
Q: You need a lot of aphrodisiacs.
Madonna: I think everyone does. I’m speaking for everybody. I mean, rejection – doesn’t everybody want the thing they can’t have? For fleeting moments of madness, that’s all you want, and then you wake up, pull yourself together and you move on with your life.
Q: Is the conviction that you’ll never find a… well, a soul mate, a haunting one?
Madonna: It has been. When you think about what I do and the kind of life I lead and the fact that I’m famous, I don’t think it’s a lifestyle that’s very attractive to people, unless they like the idea of attracting attention, unless they’re really superficial. You find yourself in a strange position. I come with a lot of baggage and it takes a strong, courageous person to have a relationship with me. I have those moments when it seems impossible. The moments of thinking, Oh forget it.
Q: The song “Nothing Really Matters” must be about Lourdes. Are you trying to say that this is the first love of your life that has no side to it?
Madonna: It has no side. She doesn’t know about me being famous. She hasn’t got a clue. And it’s completely unconditional love, which I’ve never known because I grew up without a mother [Madonna Ciccone Snr died of breast cancer when her daughter was 6]. I mean I did have my father, but I think that the love that you got from a mother is quite different. It’s had a huge impact on me, as I suppose it has on everyone who has children. But definitely, when you have children you have to step outside of yourself. You can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself, or feeling like you’re a victim in any way, shape or form. You really look at life from a totally different perspective.
Q: How is she coming along?
Madonna: She kisses everything. She kisses dogs, she kisses strange people on the playground. She says “dog” a lot, and “No”. She’s very good at saying no.
Q: You seemed to name her in the hope that she’d be some sort of healing influence.
Madonna: Absolutely. A healing influence on my life. Lourdes was a place that my mother had a connection to. People were always sending her holy water from there. She always wanted to go there but never did.
For someone who must be fairly certain that everyone she has a conversation with has already seen her naked, Madonna wears it well. Madonna, it is fair to say, has been a fruity. In her widely execrated Sex book, she wrote – and the prudish can change channels now – “Sometimes I stick my finger in my pussy and wiggle it around the dark wetness and feel what a cock or a tongue must feel when I’m sitting on it.” Perhaps we didn’t need to know this, but we all read it anyway.
Madonna’s relationship with the idea of intimacy is a unique one. Inside her Erotica album [an oddly coy record: its one “fuck” was bleeped] she is depicted licking her armpit, elsewhere bound and gagged and sucking a toe. The effect is strange-wise distancing.
Equally, we can marvel at the woman that picked up lover Carlos Leon while jogging in Central Park, sympathies with the survivor of the media madness [and boose and fights] that enveloped her marriage with Sean Penn and feel her desperate would-be mother portrayed in ex-boyfriend Dennis Rodman’s [imaginative, she maintains] autobiography, but empathy is in short supply. Madonna, as we have come to think we know her, puts up barriers even as she sultrily beckons.
Remarkably, Ray Of Light blows all that out of the water. “Mer Girl” ends the album, but was one of the first things recorded for it, a one-take vocal whispered quietly while William Orbit’s portentous track bubbles delicately about her. Madonna mourns her mother and depicts herself fleeing head-long from her past. “I ran to the cemetery”, she intones, “and held my breath. And thought about your death.” Bingo, and at least, real intimacy.
“She stepped out of the vocal booth, and everybody was rooted to the spot”, recalls Orbit. “It was just one of those moments. Really spooky.”