Madonna, however, had a surprise for them both. Neither Kamins nor Bray would be producing Madonna. The job instead fell to former Stephanie Mills producer Reggie Lucas. Why?
“I was really scared,” she says. “I thought I had been given a golden egg. In my mind, I thought, ‘Okay, Mark can produce the album and Steve can play the instruments.’ Uh-uh – Steve wanted to produce. “It was really awful, but I just didn’t trust him enough.” The pair had a bitter falling out. “Steve didn’t believe in the ethics of the situation.”
“It was very hard to accept,” he says today.
And what about Kamins? “Similarly, I didn’t think that Mark was ready to do a whole album.” Kamins got the word, not from the woman who had promised him, but from Sire. “Sure, I was hurt,” he says gruffly. “But I still had a royalty coming from the record.”
Madonna was still performing, but not with a band. Instead she’d hop onstage at dance clubs and sing to backing tracks or lip-sync, enlivening her performances with the sort of lusty dancing that has now become her trademark. That’s where Lucas – unaware of the intrigue that had preceded him – first saw his newest act.
“I wanted to push her in a pop direction,” he recalls. “She was a little more oriented toward the disco thing, but I thought she had appeal to a general market. It’s funny about that thing with Kamins. The same thing that happened to him pretty much happened to me on her second record, when they had Nile Rodgers.”
And the rest was history, though it was a history that was a long time in the making. The LP’s first single. “Holiday,” was not an immediate success, but Madonna was content. “All I said was, ‘I know this record is good, and one of these days Warner Bros. and the rest of them are going to figure it out.'”
It’s likely that her videos were the breakthrough, as Madonna perfectly merged her dance training with her knowledge of the randier things in life. How did she manage to put across such seething sexuality where so many have tried and failed? “I think that has to do with them not being in touch with that aspect of their personality. They say, ‘Well, I have to do a video now, and a pop star has to come on sexually, so how do I do that?’ instead of being in touch with that part of their self to begin with. I’ve been in touch with that aspect of my personality since I was five.”
Keeping her in touch with that side of her personality off the set these days is master mixer John “Jellybean” Benitez. The pair met during one of Madonna’s stints at the Fun House, the disco where Jellybean first earned his reputation. They have stayed together for the past year and a half, but Madonna flinches at the suggestion that this is her most stable relationship.
“Why does it seem like that?” she queries before giving a throaty laugh. “We’ve had our ups and downs, let’s not fool anybody.” Still, the relationship was serious enough for Madonna to bring him home and meet her parents. Why has Jellybean held on where so many have fallen by the wayside? Would you believe ambition?
“We both started to move at the same pace,” says Jellybean. “My career has exploded within the industry, and hers has exploded on a consumer basis. We’re both very career oriented, very goal oriented.” Which may mean that the relationship is safe . . . at least for the time being.
Our dinner is finished. Along the way, Madonna has coolly sussed out the room for us: Yes, that’s Rudolf of Danceteria in the corner with his girlfriend, Diane Brill. You know, she usually seems like she’s strapped in her clothes, don’t you think? Madonna’s been all but unnoticed, but that’s okay. In your hometown, coolness is its own reward. Elsewhere her influence is becoming pervasive. The Madonna clones are ratting their hair, putting on rosaries and baring their bellies from coast to coast.
It is an indication of the peculiar state of pop stardom these days that Madonna has gotten only the most fleeting glimpses of her own fame. She hasn’t toured – won’t, in fact, until next year – hasn’t performed live in a long time. She hasn’t even left New York a lot. She can count on one hand the numbers of times she’s been mobbed.
For now, the buzz of recognition is still easily dealt with, even on a trip uptown to Danceteria. “It’s like going back to my high school,” she coos in the cab, and her arrival does bring out that exact mix of admiration, excess cordiality and what-are-you-doing-here puzzlement. She gets a hug from graffiti artist Keith Haring and is kissed on the mouth by a nearly endless series of hepcats. (“Gotta be careful who you kiss on the mouth these days,” she says, wiping her lips.) There’s no gawking, no crush of unknowns, no autographs requested, but her presence clearly delights everyone else who’s there.
She’s an unqualified success. But did she exploit people to get there? “I think that a lot of people do feel exploited by her,” says Dan Gilroy. “But then again everyone’s got so many expectations about a relationship with her. She’s very intense immediately with somebody, very friendly. Perhaps people feel, ‘This is what our relationship is about,’ and then if there is any cooling of that, it’s taken to be a rejection.”
And what’s the final tally? In addition to reaping a chunk of royalties from Madonna and for the one song he produced on it, Mark Kamins says that his affiliation with her has given his career a shot in the arm. Reggie Lucas is inundated with projects. Steve Bray eventually patched it up with Madonna – “the relationship’s too old to have something like that stand in its way” – and shares writing credit with her on four of her new album’s songs. And Dan and Ed Gilroy of the Breakfast Club (whose first LP is due early next year) were able to find a new drummer to replace Madonna: Steve Bray, who has the final word on those whom Madonna has touched.
“Exploited? People say that, but that’s resentment of someone who’s got the drive. It seems like you’re leaving people behind or you’re stepping on them, and the fact is that you’re moving and they’re not. She doesn’t try to be that polite. She doesn’t care if she ruffles someone’s feathers.”
True, Madonna? She smiles. “C’est vrai.”
© Rolling Stone