Q: How do yu get over that?
Madonna: Sometimes I write. I spend time with people that I know will get me out of it. My daughter, or friends that will tell me what a wanker I’m being.
Q: Can you imagine how dark is must have been for Michael Hutchence?
Madonna: I know, I thought about that too. I don’t know what the real story is. It’s just tragic, so tragic. I can’t imagine getting to that place. I’ve tried to imagine but I can’t. It’s like trying to imagine what death is, you can’t. If you have a child I would think, no matter what, you could try and hang on for them. But I don’t know, I wasn’t in his shoes.
Two weeks later, a London flat, and Sheffield Wednesday are murdering Newcastle on Match Of The Day. The phone rings, “It’s Madonna,” barks Madonna.
A rain break in shooting for the video of “Frozen,” one of Ray Of Light’s lowering ballads [bearing the unmistakable, primary-colored imprint of Madonna’s longtime co-songwriter, Pat Leonard and an enormous, Gothic string score courtesy arranger du jour Craig Armstrong], has occasioned the call.
Along with “Nothing Really Matters” and “Power Of Good-Bye,” “Frozen” is Madonna fans’ Madonna, testament to her “reining in” of William Orbit’s more tangential instincts. “He’ll tell you I’m a taskmaster,” predicts Madonna, “that I like to crack the whip.”
For his part, Orbit is impressed by his new boss’s musical control-taking and recording wisdom. “She kept on telling me, Don’t gild the lily. And the other thing she’d say,” he adds ruefully, “just as I was ready to crawl home exhausted, was, You can sleep when you’re dead.”
“In the studio she’s totally sleeves-rolled-up,” continues the soundscaper. “You think of her as a performer, a pop icon, this force of entertainment. You don’t perceive Madonna as a great producer, but that’s exactly what she is.”
What Madonna describes as the more “tripped-out, ambient shit” from the Orbit sessions will emerge on a future “remix odyssey” record, putatively titled Veronica Electronica.
Q: Are you pissed off by the assumption that your producers do most of the work? Or, come to that, that Maverick is a plaything that you have little day-to-day involvement in?
Madonna: I don’t think about it very much. You know, the people that know, know, and that’s all that matters. The Prodigy know and everyone who comes to my label knows and everyone who works on my records knows what’s going on. The people that make assumptions like that are being chauvinistic. [Smirks] I’m quite used to people saying things that aren’t entirely accurate.
Q: Your singing used to be criticized as “squeaky”. No-one could say that about this record.
Madonna: I found my voice in doing Evita, because I had to study extensively with a vocal coach. And I found range and parts of my voice that I never knew I had. I’d only been using this much of it. It’s a good find, by the way.
Q: Do you still drum? Do you see a kit set up in a studio and think, I’ll have a go?
Madonna: I have secret desires to. I’ve accidentally walked in on a band playing like a Holiday Inn or something and thought, I can play better drums than that.One of these days. If I go on tour and we’re doing rehearsals, you can believe I’ll be sitting behind the drums when everyone’s gone and there^s someone sweeping the floor.
Q: Is it a reflection of the way you’ve changed or the way that everyone else has changed, that no-one’s horrified by you any more? “Madonna reveals part of her own body shock,” that wouldn’t make many headlines these days.
Madonna: [Grins] I don’t think there’s anything left to reveal is there?
Q: Maybe not but you don’t have to. You won.
Madonna: I guess I won. If in the middle of all that chaos some positive message got out, then I won. But it’s not terribly much fun, being a rebel or being a pioneer, I have to say, because you become a target for everyone’s fears. You have to be incredibly resilient and there were times when I wished that I hadn’t been so outspoken, because it was so exhausting to constantly have to defend myself. Looking back on it, it was a great education for me and it was very liberating for me, because when you’re not popular in any sense of the word and everyone seems to have turned on you, you kind of have a freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want, because you don’t have to please everyone. Let’s face it, all the stuff I’ve been going on about for years, people have learned to accept it. Nowadays it doesn’t sound so outrageous, that’s how we are, every decade we become more open to ideas. Homosexuality is no longer a debate in pop culture, but even ten years ago it was considered terribly outrageous. We’ve come a long way. But I’ve changed too, so it’s both.
Q: So you believe in progress, despite the evidence?
Madonna: [Huffily] Of course I believe in progress. That’s why we’re here – to transform ourselves and other people. It’s the nature of our species to progress.
Q: You seem to be pretty happy with where you are. Are there any ambitions that still niggle at you?
Madonna: I’d like to learn how to paint. I love painting and I’m always in awe of people that can do it. People say I should just do it, but I think, No, because what if I suck? I’d be so disappointed.
With a click and a whirr, Madonna disappears into the ether. Thousand of miles away, she waits for the rain to stop falling on the desert so that she can get on with her job. You reflect on a rather powerful observation made by William Orbit.
“Madonna’s on this journey,” he reflects, “and if you’re smart you’ll get on board for the ride. But it doesn’t matter if you do or you don’t, because she’s going to get there anyway.”
And in case you were wondering, she ate the Christmas pudding.
© Q Magazine