I wanted to do everything everybody told me I couldn’t do. I had to wear a uniform to school, I couldn’t wear make-up, I couldn’t wear nylon stockings, I couldn’t cut my hair, I couldn’t go on dates. I couldn’t even go to the movies with my friends. So when I’d go to school I’d roll up my uniform skirt so it was short, I’d go to the school bathroom and put make-up on and change into nylon stockings I’d brought. I was incredibly flirtatious and I’d do anything to rebel against my father.
Her craving for attention led her into performing. At school, she was a cheerleader and a baton-lwirlcr, but soon became more ambitious:
Every chance to make up a little song and dance routine, I took advantage of it, and I always got standing ovations. Finally I decided to devote myself professionally to it. I started taking ballet classes with a really strict ballet teacher – he was very Catholic and disciplined. He’s the one who really inspired me. He kept saying ‘you’re different’ and ‘you’re beautiful’. He never said I’d make a great dancer, he just said you’re very special.
Dance and performing provided the outlet for her energies that she was seeking, and filled the voids she felt.
I never had a group of friends in school. I kept to myself and did what I wanted to do. But it bothered me. I think I was lonely in lots of ways. And when I latched onto the dance thing, I was with older and more sophisticated people. I fell really superior. I just felt that all this suffering that I felt for not fitting in is worth it – I don’t fit in because I don’t belong here, I thought. I belong in some special world.
Madonna talks about the the development of her extrovert, showbiz ‘sex-kitten’ persona with an almost clinical detachment. It is as if she too is amazed that such a lonely little girl could grow such a rock hard outer layer of ambition. But grow it she did, and by her late teenage years, the determination to be a star utterly eclipsed everything else in her life.
I asked Madonna if, as a Catholic, she found it difficult deciding to lose her virginity.
Oh no. I thought of it as a career move.
Laughter – and again those wide eyes which refuse to let you take it as just another joke.
At 17 Madonna set off in search of her special world – she went to New York. It was the first plane ride of my life. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have a place to stay, and 1 only had $35 in my pocket.
Times were rough at first. She moved around constantly, was often broke, and didn’t really enjoy the dance schools she enrolled in. But she graduated to the world of rock’n’roll, sensing that it held out the best possibilities for stardom.
The story of her rise to fame has such a methodical inevitability, you’d think it was written in Hollywood. Indeed, Madonna’s story would have made a far better film than the actual Flashdance. In New York she met a boy named Dan, who persuaded her to join his rock band and move in with him. He taught her to play guitar and write music. Then a boy named Steve, an old boyfriend from Detroit, whom she bumped into by chance in New York, inspired her to take her music in a disco direction, and to make some demo tapes.
Her next boyfriend introduced her to New York’s thriving new wave nightclub scene. Madonna developed an interest in trendy fashion and became one of New York’s night people. She went to the trendy discos nearly every night, and told everybody she met that she wanted to be – was going to be – a big star.
It was in the NY clubs that she developed her own dress style, one which is still with her. Picture it as a wrestling match between knitwear and lingerie, with major damage sustained on both sides. She makes up for the skimpiness of her garments with a stunningly excessive collection of jewellery, mostly in metal and rubber, much of it with a strong Catholic motif (crucifixes and rosaries in places which would give nuns apoplexy). The jewellery – from Maripolitan on Bleecker St. – is mi/ch the best bit, and you don’t need to have the body of Madonna to wear it.