It was love at first sight. But Madonna and Jellybean were both being far too cool to admit it.
The rising disco singer first met DJ John “Jellybean” Benitez when she was taking her demo tape around the New York clubs. However it was only much later when he produced her “Holiday” single, which is now released in Britain, that true love flourished.
“I knew that record companies wouldn’t listen to my demo tape, so I started taking it round the clubs and giving it to DJs,” says Madonna.
“At that time I started hanging out at Danceteria – I love hanging out in clubs and dancing, and my dream was to make a record that I would want to go into a club and dance to myself. I met the DJ in the Danceteria, and he thought it was really great, and everyone danced to it. He was an ex-A&R guy and he knew a lot of other guys in the business and I ended up signing to Sire and made my first album.”“
“I met Jellybean when my first record came out. After “Everybody” was released he took me round to all the DJs in the major clubs – the Garage, the Funhouse, Studio 54 and those places were playing my records.”
“He liked me but nothing really happened in the beginning – we were both a bit cool. A lot of people bring his tapes and stuff, and I thought I’m not going to play up to that, I won’t make him think that I’m playing up to him to help my career.”
“After that I had to remix “Physical Attraction” and I was aware of the work he was doing. My album was almost finished and I decided to get Jellybean to produce one of the cuts – and he turned into my producer and my boyfriend. Everything happened at the same time.”
Now the pair share an enormous loft in New York’s fashionable SoHo area. Enormous, in fact, is an understatement.
Madonna and I are chatting over a fresh orange juice at opposite ends of a small table in the wooden floored flat, which is about twice the length of a school classroom. The table is the only piece of furniture and it overlooks the street bellow.
Various people bellow up to attack her attention six floors down. The doorbell don’t work in the converted warehouse, and when they are functioning, they get vandalized.
Madonna sits and talks quickly and precisely with her head in her hands. Every now and then she has to take a phone call and bursts into life, running and slipping down the length of the vast apartment. This is the centre of the Madonna/Jellybean partnership, Jellybean doing his famous DJ work down at the Funhouse, and Madonna concentrating on music and now films.
It’s a far cry from when she first arrived in the Big Apple from Detroit.
“Although I took to New York straight away I was really lonely,” she says. “I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have any money and I didn’t have anywhere to stay. You’re really confined, you’re a small fish in a big sea instead of a big fish in a little pond.”
“I was getting lost on the subway trains all the time and things like that. You really have to gear yourself to your work, that’s your focal point and that’s your security. Slowly I got to know it and become secure, and now it’s odd to think how scared I was in the beginning.”
Madonna’s work initially was as a dancer, taking her into a Broadway musical because she could sing as well. From there she got picked up by a management company and went to spend six months in Paris, but that got blown out when she realized that there were other artists who were breaking who would obviously get more attention than her.
Back in New York again, she settled down to learning every instrument in the book, and ended up drumming for a garage band. She quit when she decided she wanted to be at the front, and eventually decided to chuck it all in and make a demo tape single with the help of an old friend from Detroit she came across by mistake. The tape was taken to the clubs, and that brings us back to the beginning of the story.
So why should Madonna have been so successful? “Holiday” has shot up the charts in America and she’s had some acclaim here, although “Holiday” still has to prove itself.
“I think I’m one of the first disco personalities,” she says. “A lot of it is rather cold dance music, there’s no personality to it, and people are really forgettable. That’s difference with British music, I think. There’s a group and with it there’s a fashion, there’s a look, there’s something for people to attach it to. It seems there’s more coherence.”
“There’s already a big British invasion here because of that, I think, especially as there’s a bit of a glut right now as all the big people choose to put their records out and it doesn’t leave room for anything fresh.”
“Being brought up in Detroit and having older brothers who played soul music, it was my main influence, of course. I never listened to heavy metal or rock music. So my sound is the result of the kind of music I always liked.”
“I’m approaching it from a very simple point of view because I’m not an incredible musician. I want to keep it that way, I want it to be direct.”
“Jellybean has been an influence as well, of course. Down at his club the Funhouse, her mixes everything behind a pounding bass drum which dominates the huge club.”
“Everyone goes there to dance. There aren’t groups of people drinking or trying to pick up. Dancing is king. People gyrate in front of the mirrors which are set up on all the pillars supporting the huge warehouse on New York’s West Side. The more confident are up on stage doing their thing, and if anyone’s really hot on the dance floor, a small group will stand round and watch.”
Disco is not Madonna’s only talent. The singer has trained as an actress and a dancer, and has recently worked on a film about a wrestler who comes to the city to make it big.
“It’s a small part I have as a singer in a club where the boy goes with the girl,” says Madonna. “Each song is symbolic. One is from the girl’s point of view, as she’s not really attached to this guy. There’s a slow song where they dance together, which is the nearest they get to being really together and there’s one from the guy’s point of view where he knows he can’t have her and she’s leaving.”
“The film is a coming of age movie. The boy’s working out training for the Olympics and at the same time he’s trying to fit in. In the end he wins the big fight, but loses the girl.”
“It doesn’t sound much, but it’s really a very good movie.”
Isn’t Madonna in danger of losing out by trying to do too much? So many people who have crossed from one medium to the other have had a job making it in either field.
“You can cross over – Judy Garland did it,” she exclaims. “I don’t see how it’s not possible. If Sissy Spacek can be a country singer, why can’t I be an actress?”
“I don’t see it as being so diverse, especially with video becoming so strong. Certain things are central to any performer and one of those aspects is being able to watch them. After you’ve done an album you often have to wait around for six months until it’s promoted, so I might as well act in that time.”
“There aren’t any rules that say you can’t. Music is very important to me, but the thought I can only make records for the rest of my life fills me with horror. I think people who are talented at something are good at a lot of different things.”
© Record Mirror