Despite the occasional hoot of laughter and slow, spreading smile [directed into the middle distance, rather than at you] we have stumbled upon a surprisingly earnest version of Madonna. Flippancies are sometimes engaged, oftener shot down in flames. The crinkled eyes are thrillingly familiar, but very good at doing “suspicious”.
Madonna’s current favorite words are “mystic” and “spiritual”. From the hare krishna garb to her current listening – dominated by Talvin Singh’s Anokha club compilation Soundz Of The Asian Underground – she is looking East, with a beats-enhanced Sanskrit prayer, “Shanti/Ashtangi,” taking pride of place on Ray Of Light.
Like the title track, and the churning, underwater “Skin,” it wouldn’t sound out of place booming out of bulging speakers at London’s Little Goa, Return To The Source. Instructively, she intends to perform a smattering of club dates in the States and Europe later in the year.
“Passion and sexuality and religion all bleed into one for me”, Madonna once told Q, and we are no strangers to the inventive theology of she who fondled a sexy black Christ in her “Like A Prayer” video.
The mystic talk may seem incongruous from the one-time personification of feckless ’80s fun – and her personal cocktail of Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism is certainly convenient – but hey, this is Los Angeles, where Madame Raza’s Psychic Help enjoys lucrative Beverly Hills shopfrontage on Wilshire Boulevard and shady guru Deepak Chopra’s influence is everywhere, represented here by Madonna’s red wristband. And after all, she doesn’t talk any more shit than The Verve.
Q: Is it best with religion to spread your bets?
Madonna: Absolutely. I do believe that all paths lead to God. It’s a shame that we end up having religious wars because so many of the messages are the same. The whole idea of karma and “do unto others”, it’s all the same. It really is.
Q: There’s a prevalence of water images on this record: “Swim,” “Mer Girl,” “Drowned World”…
Madonna: Well water is a very healing element, as you know.
Madonna: Well, there’s water in birth and there’s water in baptism and when you go into the bath or in the ocean there’s a feeling of cleansing, a feeling of starting all over again. Being new, being healed. That’s sort of what’s going on in my life and I’m exploring that element in my songwriting.
Q: “Swim”‘s all about redemption, but why are you so concerned with it? Have you been that bad?
Madonna: Well it’s not just about me. It’s imploring others to seek redemption too. Because it’s definitely a response to what’s going on in the world as well.
Q: What specifically?
Madonna: [With heavy sarcasm] You mean besides Galliano’s next collection? Well, let’s see. Lots of things concern me. I suppose the main thing is people’s obsession with negativity. People are so bitter and envious of other people doing well. People used to talk to one another and be a lot more resourceful and creative. But television and computers, this instant society we live in, has taken that ability away from most people. There are too many people resigned to their lot in life.
Q: Why are you thinking this way now?
Madonna: Well, maybe the same horrible horrors have always been happening in the world. Maybe I’m just paying more attention. It just seems to me that there’s more extreme bahaviour as we approach the year 2000. People seem to be divided into two camps – between people that are searching for something to anchor the spiritually, people who are trying to evolve their own consciousness and figure out the bigger meaning for life, rather than, OK, I’m here to make lots of money and have a good time and that’s it. On the other hand, I feel like I’m always reading about teenagers killing themselves or parents killing their children.
Q: Have you ever known black despair?
Madonna: Puh-lease! I’m the Queen Of Despair! Read the lyrics to my songs! I felt despair many times in my life, but I have very good survival mechanisms. No matter how bad it gets there’s something that stops me seeing life as completely hopeless. I still indulge myself in lots of melancholy.