Madonna’s lack of interest in drugs is another reason for her success: The biggest career killer is the mixture of a person who’s very confident in her judgments with drugs that impair those judgments.
“I just like the idea of pills,” she says as she stretches her legs on the wall of the cabin. “I like to collect them but not actually take them. When 1 fell off my horse, 1 got tons of stuff: Demerol and Vicodin and Xanax and Valium and OxyContin, which is supposed to be like heroin. And I’m quite scared to take them. I’m a control freak.”
Just the other day, Madonna was in Portugal, where she obsessively rehearsed the first live performance of her undeniably catchy electropop single “Hung Up” thirty times for the MTV Europe Music Awards. The result: She not only stole the show but, nearing fifty and wearing a leotard, still managed to be the best-looking woman on the stage that night.
For Madonna, whose stage productions have become as career-defining as her albums, the next projeel is to start planning a tour for the new year. “I want to make people feel like they’re inside a disco ball,” she says, beginning a show description that in part sounds like a non-ironic version of Ua’s Popmarl. “I want to explore the idea of making the dancers more personalities in the show and having their stories come out. And we want to devise a sound system that’s surround-sound, because the standard system in a sports arena is crap for people watching, and it’s crap for people onstage.”
“Confessions On A Dance Floor” began as a musical film. The French director Luc Besson, best known for The Fifth Element, was writing a screenplay about a woman on her deathbed looking back on the life she thought she had lived but, due to senility and amnesia, didn’t actually experience. Madonna, who was set to star in it and write the music, began working with Stuart Price, Pat Leonard and Mirwais on songs spanning the last century of popular music.
“I had to write music from the Twenties, big-band stuff from the Forties, Sixties folk music a la Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez, punk, and music from now, which is where ‘Hung Up’ came from,” she explains. “I made my own research book, and I had tons of reference material. But when I finally got the script, it was 300 pages long. And I was really not happy with it. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be. It just wasn’t.”
The disappointment still lingers in her voice. Like most successful people, Madonna is not a quitter. Though she may not get back on the horse that threw her, she will definitely get back on a different horse. (Which is exactly what she did that morning, when, against the advice of her handlers, she went horseback riding for the first time since the accident.) So though she didn’t like the script, she refused to abandon the material she’d written.
“After so much work, I was kind of devastated,” she says. “But I loved the song ‘Hung Up.’ So I thought, ‘Let’s just keep writing in this direction and see what happens.'”
The CD was recorded in Price’s tworoom apartment in the Maida Vale neighborhood of West London. “The studio is a tiny room with a roof that comes down really low,” Price tells me. “I mean, 1 can’t stand up in there. She can, because she’s a little shorter than me. And the equipment there is my old keyboards and an old mixing desk. Most studios cost thousands of dollars a day. My apartment costs the price of a good cup of tea a day. My African neighbors used to come out and say, ‘Is that Madonna going in your apartment?’ and I’d say, ‘No, it’s just a friend.'”
Confessions may be the first time in her career that Madonna has looked backward. As the lights of Frankfurt beckon in the dusk outside the window, she reminisces. “| Confessions I brought back the time I was recording my first record, with Steve Bray. We worked in a very casual way in his apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan] with these street sounds coming in through the windows being recorded and not giving a shit. In a recording studio, you always sing in isolation. And 1 hate that. I hate being cut off from everybody. I hate that I can’t hear what they’re saying | in the control room until they press the talk-back button.
“To me, recording this album was like going back. It was so liberating. I want to be in the shit holes. I want to be in a small place with no furniture. 1 want to keep it the way it was when I started, sitting on the floor and scribbling in my notebook. work best under those circumstances.”
Working with Price, Madonna often found herself thinking about her early days in the New York club scene. Acting on the advice of her hometown mentor, a dance teacher named Christopher Flynn, she dropped out of the University of Michigan and moved to Manhattan in 1977 with no friends, no money and no real-world experience. All she had with her was brunet ambition. She used to carry books around all the time because “you never know when you’re gomg to get stuck in a room or on the subway with nothing to do. And 1 hate wasting time.”
And so it was that she found herself at her first New York club, Pete’s Place. “It was kind of like a restaurant-bar-disco, and everybody was so fucking cool,” she recalls. “The guys all had Forties suits on and porkpie hats. And the. women were so glamorous. They all had red lipstick and black eyeliner and high heels. And I felt so dull. Because. 1 was kind of embarrassed, I just sat in my corner and read my book. It was an F. Scott Fitzgerald book, Jazz Age Stories. I was like, ‘OK, I don’t fit in. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m not dressed appropriately. There’s nothing cool about me. I’m going to go read a book.'”
What’s interesting about this story – besides thai if you had happened to be at Pete’s Place that night and decided to talk to a mousy girl reading a book alone, you might have gotten a chance to date Madonna – is her fear of being dull as a motivation for her protean career.
The plane lands on a private airfield in Frankfurt, where two helicopters are waiting for Madonna and her crew: a large helicopter and a small one. Guess which one Madonna climbs into?
A big blue illuminated M appears on the ground, letting us know we have reached our destination: the nearby city of Mannheim, where local record-label reps have somehow convinced Madonna, Green Day, Shakira and Carlos Santana that the best way into the hearts and minds of the German people is to appear on the longstanding television show Wetten Dass…? (in English, Wanna Bet…?), which tonight involves four guys wagering that they can stuff ten full drum kits into an SUV in four minutes.