“One writer said recently that I liked to ‘wade into the fire,'” she continued. “I hadn’t thought about it until I read those words, but I think it’s true. I don’t like things to be black-and-white. Papa Don’t Preach was sent to me by Michael Ostin, the man who also discovered the song Like a Virgin. As soon as I heard Like a Virgin, I knew that’s what I wanted to call my album, just to tick everybody off. It was a loaded statement that I knew would be misinterpreted. People thought I was saying I just wanted to have sex, when it meant just the opposite. It celebrates the idea of feeling untouched and pure. I liked having the secret knowledge that what it said was good.”
“Everybody also misread Material Girl. I thought a song about a girl who wants everything was absolutely hilarious and that people would get the joke. It made me realize that you can’t expect everybody to get your sense of humor. But since then I’ve found that people eventually do get what they didn’t initially. That’s been a nice sur-prise.”
The loudest clucking over Madonna’s supposedly evil influence came during her 1985 “Virgin” tour, when droves of girls arrived at her concerts dressed in trash-flash getups.
“Those kids got the joke, but their parents didn’t,” Madonna said dismissively. “You didn’t see any of those girls running off and doing awful things because they bought my records or went to my concerts. What they saw in me was a rebel kid who says what she wants and does what she wants and takes a joy in life.
“I’ve always dressed to provoke people,” Madonna reflected. “It all goes back to when I was a child attending Catholic schools, where you have to wear a uniform and everything is decided for you. You start going out of your way to do things that are different in order to stand out. It was a rebellion I carried with me when I moved to New York to become a dancer and didn’t have a lot of money. At my dance classes, all the ballerinas had their hair tied back in a bun, so I chopped all my hair off and ripped my leotard down the front and put little, tiny safety pins all the way up, just to provoke my teacher, because I knew it would annoy her. I was saying, in effect, ‘Where is there a rule that I have to wear a black leotard and pink tights and have my hair in a bun? Does it make me a better dancer?'”
“Going out dancing in clubs with my girlfriends in New York was a big deal then, and I would always dress for provocation,” Madonna continued. “When I was young, I used to get rosaries all the time. They were very beautiful, and I became so infatuated that I started collecting them and hanging them on my doorknob. One day I put one around my neck, and I liked the way it looked. So I decided to wear two, and then three. It got a lot of interesting responses, so I started piling them on. At the time I had short hair that was growing out and at an awkward stage. So instead of using a headband to keep it off my face, I took a pair of tights and tied them around my head. And instead of wearing foundation garments on the inside, I started wearing them on the outside. I liked the way that looked, too. All of a sudden, I was supposed to be making a huge fashion statement, but it wasn’t intentional.”
A movie career is the natural next step for Madonna, who made her Hollywood debut playing the title role in Desperately Seeking Susan and followed that up with Shanghai Surprise, in which she costars with Sean Penn. The new movie, a love story, is set in China in the late 1930s. In it she plays a missionary who falls in love with a drifter. For Madonna, filming this movie proved to be sheer torture.
“We didn’t get to shoot in Shanghai, because in 1938 the city was a den of ill repute and the Chinese government is ashamed of that image,” she said. “We ended up having to shoot a lot of it in the old slum areas outside of Hong Kong. I’ve never seen such an ugly city. It is a concrete jungle of nothing but shopping malls and skyscrapers. Many of the places where we shot were run by the Chinese Mafia, and we had to pay them off to work on location. Sometimes they sabotaged us to get more money. Once, they killed our power generator, and we had to close down the set. Another time, we were in a village about an hour outside of the city with only one tiny road leading out. They blocked the road and demanded fifty thousand dollars to let us leave. All the cops had been paid off, and no one would help us. The movie was set in the summer, but we were filming in the winter, and so I nearly froze. Sean got to wear long johns under his baggy suit, but there was nothing I could wear under my thin little dresses to keep me warm, so I kept getting colds. To top it all off, we had a lot of problems with the director. If nothing else, it was a great survival experience.”
Although Madonna has been offered many movie projects, some of the roles she has coveted have eluded her. “I read the story of the torch singer Libby Holman and wanted to do her biography so badly,” she said. “I called up the producer Ray Stark, who owned it, but he said he had already promised it to Debra Winger. I was also interested in doing a remake of Judy Holliday’s Born Yesterday, but Whoopi Goldberg is supposed to be doing it.”
Madonna is somewhat torn between pop stardom and her movie ambitions, but music is still her first love. “Music will always be a part of my life, though I don’t know in what way,” she reflected. “To me, music is a much more accessible art form than movies, because it touches everyone. More people hear the radio than go to movies, which are a lot more elite. With music, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from.
“I always knew I was born to be a star, but I never in my wildest dreams expected that I would become this big,” she continued. “It’s the greatest thing but also the hardest thing in the wad when you have everybody’s attention and the admiration and support of people you really respect. If you want to get a message across to people and affect the mass culture — whatever that message is — you can do it. But, at the some time, you belong to everybody. Coming to terms with that part of it can be a bore. It’s all finally a trade-off.”
The song on True Blue that best describes what it’s like to be Madonna in 1986 — the center of a media tornado — is called Where’s the Party? “It’s my ultimate statement about what it’s like to be in the middle of this press stuff with everybody on my back and my world about to cave in,” she said. “Whenever I feel like that — and it does get to me sometimes — I say, ‘Wait a minute. I’m supposed to be having a good time here, so where’s the party?’ It doesn’t have to be this way. I can still enjoy my life.”