Manipulating people, that’s what I’m good at. Madonna says it matter-of-factly. and smiles. Her upper lip stretches taut across her wide mouth, her teclh flash, and she laughs. The laugh says she’s making a joke, and you’re not meant to believe it. But the eyes tell you to believe. The wide round eyes, staring innocently but urgently at you implore you to believe her. She is serious. She’s a serious girl.
Madonna wants desperately to be a star. A big star. Having a Number One single and a Number Two LP in the US, as she did in December, is nowhere near enough. She got in trouble for saying on American TV that her ultimate goal was to rule the world. She says to me instead that it is to stand next to God. and laughs. But I believe her.
There is something special about her. It has little to do with her singing, which is indifferent, nor her dancing, which is merely proficient, nor her fashion sense, which we can summarise best perhaps by saying she is a fast learner. It has something to do with the beauty and sexuality she radiates, but even more, it is the effect of her extraordinary personality. Madonna is a strange, uniquely American creation: on the outside she is all ambition and determination, raw will to succeed. But on the inside, like a grain at the centre of a pearl, is a strange and unexpected fragility. The tension between these two makes Madonna a fascinating, even irresistible character; one who. it is all too easy to believe, is destined for the success she craves.
Possibly she will do it as a pop star, you feel but perhaps more likely, as an actress. And there are some people in New York who are saying she will be the next Marilyn Monroe …
Madonna is a child-woman, says Maripol, her French-born clothes designer. She is fun and joyful, but she is also a femme fatale. She is vulnerable – but then she’s not that vulnerable. She’s not tough exactly – but she’ll survive through anything. She’s a natural star. She is born to stardom.
What she was born to, in fact, was a large lower-middle-class Italian-American family in industrial Detroit, Michigan. The Ciccones might have been a very happy family, if Madonna’s mother hadn’t died early on of cancer, tragically misdiagnosed by the doctors. Young Madonna was only seven at the time and her world was shattered. Her father couldn’t cope with taking care of six children and holding down his engineering job, working on defence systems for the Chrysler Corporation, so the children were sent off to live with various relatives.
After several months of shuttling from relative to relative. Madonna’s father hired a lousckeeper and all the children were able to eturn home. But for Madonna there was no :oing back to the stability of earlier days. Her father went through a succession of housekeepers, none of whom Madonna remembers liking. He eventually married one of them, when Madonna was ten.
My father’s marriage was a surprise to us because we all thought he was going to marry someone else who looked very much like our mother, and we were rooting for her. She looked sorta like Natalie Wood, or that’s what 1 thought she looked like when I was a child. But then suddenly he didn’t marry her … I wasn’t that fond of my stepmother. She was really gung-ho, very strict, a real disciplinarian.
Without getting excessively,Freudian about it, it seems fair to say that Madonna’s childhood experiences have a lot to do with the fragility and insecurity which Madonna exudes. But at the same time, she was a fighter. And the struggle to win the love she sought from her father, in competition with her stepmother and the seven other children in the house, turned the little girl into a very precocious young woman:
From when I was very young, I just knew that being a girl and being charming in a feminine sort of way could get me a lot of things, and I milked it for everything I could.
The strict discipline of her Catholic school education reinforced Madonna’s feelings of being lonely and unloved – she describes Catholicism as dark, painful and guilt-ridden – and responded by becoming an even more flamboyant attention-getter.