Madonna feels she’s being punished. Punished for being honest, punished for talking about sex. As she prepares for the release of her new album this month, she invited us to her home in Miami to make her response clear: “I’m not sorry.”
“I have been forced to live a false life, and all the people I know, with the exception of a handful, have been affected by my being famous. People don’t relate to you as the person you are but to a myth they think you are, and the myth is always wrong. You are scorned or loved for mythic reasons that, once given a life, like zombies stalk you to the grave” – Marlon Brando
“That’s near Madonna’s house,” says the cabbie as I read out the Miami address. “It is Madonna’s house,” I reply, so impressed by this information that I’m unable to speak for the rest of the journey. We swing past Sylvester Stallone’s house – which, a sign announces, is called Casa Rocky – and then pull up in front of a smaller, more anonymous house. The only indication that someone famous lives here are the black cloths draped behind the gates to block the view from prying eyes, but everyone seems to know anyway. As I press the buzzer outside, a Jeep pulls up on the road. “Say hey to Madonna for me,” the driver yells cheerily as the gates swing, open on to a driveway flanked by a tall, straight avenue of palm trees leading up to a fountain lit up in the night air. At the gatehouse, a shadows, black-clad figure that I later learn is the caretaker, Albert, points me towards the house, and as I get there, another man in black jeans and T-shirt swings open the entrance grille. Madonna’s assistant isn’t here, he says, she won’t be long. I sink into an overstuffed sofa in the living room, and he disappears. I’m on my own in Madonna’s house.
Once the request for an interview has been granted, this had all been remarkably easy. There were no pre-conditions, no contracts to sign, no PR people trying to specify what could and could not be asked as is often the norm these days. A date was set first in Milan, then in Miami. When I arrived at my hotel, Madonna’s assistant, Caresse Henry, called to give me the address and phone number, then arranged a time for me to come over and listen to the new album. Now celebrities – let alone celebrities as big as Madonna – rarely let journalists into their homes. They prefer anonymous hotel suites, offices or restaurants. Nor do they generally hand out their phone numbers or invite you over to play with their stereo while they’re out. There was some debate about the pictures used to accompany this article, but it was nothing compared to, say, the torturous negotiations that pre-ceded the Kylie Minogue story in the June issue of this magazine. As Madonna is later to tell me, “I’m a big girl. If I don’t want to answer a question, I can just tell you. Most of those celebrities have difficulty expressing themselves to begin with, which is why there’s so much… carefulness going on.”
But that is later. For now, I’m still convinced that this is some sort of test, that I’m being watched. I start to feel ridiculous sitting so rigidly, and I have a look around. The house, decorated by Madonna’s younger brother Christopher, is beautiful in a simple, expensive yet unostentatious way. The arched doorways are picked out in fossilised local coral, the main ceiling is panelled wood. The furniture is tasteful, minimal and comfortable: big cream sofas sprinkled with fat cushions, church candles everywhere, dark wood in the 12-seater dining room. Downstairs is mainly open-plan, with a large, cool living room leading to a formal dining room at one end, an office/TV room at the other, and doors opening out into the garden. The house was featured in September’s issue of World Of Interiors, so I can tell you that there are six bedrooms, and that the art on the walls is mainly nineteenth century and by Charles Victoire Moench, Bouguereau and School of Tiepolo. The next day I got myself a drink, so I can also report that the kitchen is a gleaming white, the fridge well-stocked and that the two flickering surveillance monitors next to it were the only noticeable signs of heavy security. The impression is neat, ordered, free of clutter, but lived in too — this is no showcase home.
Finally, Caresse arrives, full of apologies, calling out until Madonna’s new puppy, Pepito, comes tumbling downstairs to join us. A handsome, playful, white pit bull terrier, he was a present for Madonna’s 36th birthday two weeks before, and is so intent on sniffing, licking and jumping that he has to be taken away again before I can listen to the record. It’s hard to judge music when you hear it once, at volume, through good speakers. What I heard sounded good. Some of it sounded great. It’s a more mature sound, based around a polished street soul/swingbeat drum and bass rather than house beats. There are songs here, not the dance-based doodles that formed the basis of “Erotica”. Instead, “Bedtime Stories” is a pop album, which is always what Madonna has done best — better than almost anyone. Four of the tracks are produced by Nellee Hooper, and one of these —”Bedtime Story”, the one most likely to become a club classic after a remix — was written by him with Bjork. Babyface wrote two more tracks, singing backing vocals on “Forbidden Love”. The rest were by R&B songwriter/producers Dallas Austin and Dave Hall. The theme is not sex but love, although the most striking lyrically are the defiant “Survival” and “Human Nature” — the latter the kind of track Prince would be making if he hadn’t lost the plot as well as his name. “Oops I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex / I’m not sorry,” goes the chorus. “You punished me for telling you my fan-tasies / I’m breaking all the rules I didn’t make / I’m not your bitch, don’t hang your shit on me.” This time, it seems the negative press has hurt.
Later, as we wait for Albert to bring the Range Rover round and drive me back to my hotel, Caresse tells me that this is the smallest of Madonna’s three houses. The Los Angeles one is big, baronial, like a castle. The New York apartment is, well… very New York. The Miami one is special. “I like this one best,” she says. We talk about the new album. “Did you really like it?” she asks anxiously. “Maybe people will write something nice now. I just hope they’ll all go and pick on someone else for a change.”
The unease in the Madonna camp is unexpected, but understandable. These have not been an easy two years for Madonna. Since the release of In Bed With Madonna, it seems she can do little right. Proud of the film documenting her Blonde Ambition tour, she had granted more interviews than ever before, and familiarity bred contempt. Even more hype surrounded the release of her Sex book, followed by the the disappointing “Erotica” album and the critically-panned film Body Of Evidence, all of which were seen as signs of her decline. The box office success of Penny Marshall’s feelgood female baseball film A League Of Their Own, the hit singles “This Used To Be My Playground” and “I’ll Remember” (which is one of her best-selling singles ever, spending 24 weeks in the US charts), and the sell-out Girlie Show tour have all conveniently been forgotten. “Madonna a-gonna!” screamed the headlines when the tour came to Britain, and tabloid stories this year have often portrayed her as a sad, sagging figure resorting to lesbian affairs to hide her loneliness. In the US, a perhaps ill-judged appearance on David Letterman’s late-night talk show in which the word “f***” was uttered more than once led to a similar thrashing. Rather than relishing the controversy as he did when she appeared on his show with Sandra Bernhard and the two hinted that they were having an affair, this time the host pursed his lips and played the puritan.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see that In Bed With Madonna, however good a film it is (and it is — check it now that the fuss has died down and see for yourself), was misinterpreted and caused her damage. It is easy to see that Sex — a collaboration, lest we forget, with top photographer Steven Meisel and top art director Fabien Baron, neither of whose reputations were tarnished as a result — only compounded this damage. The usual rescue remedy for American celebrities is the confessional: some expression of regret, followed by the public airing of a hitherto private problem, be it addiction to drink or drugs or childhood abuse. But Madonna is not up for such staged soul-searching. She isn’t after the sympathy vote. Instead, she has a theory, a theory she returns to again and again as we talk.
“I’m being punished,” she tells me calmly when we meet the next day. “I’m being punished for being a single female, for having power and being rich and saying the things I say, being a sexual creature — actually, not being any different from anyone else, but just talking about it. If I were a man, I wouldn’t have had any of these problems. Nobody talks about Prince’s sex life, and all the women he’s slept with. Nobody talks about any of their sex lives. You have to be intelligent about that and say, ‘OK, what’s being said here?’ I’m being punished for having a sex life. For enjoying it and for saying that I enjoy it. I really think it’s that simple.”
My meeting with Madonna is not as I’d rehearsed in my head. Approaching the house in daylight now, a miniature Jurassic Park is enacted under my feet, tiny herds of lizards fleeing before me as I walk across the courtyard. Caresse shows me the garden overlooking the bay, watching carefully in case Pepito falls into the swimming pool. Instead, he obligingly craps in a corner, a major development. And so it comes to pass that when she comes downstairs, my first conversation with Madonna is about dog shit, about the macho owners that have given pit bulls a bad name, and the fact that Pepito would have to be castrated and muzzled if I took him home to England. “I might still give him to you,” she jokes. “He’s eating all my shoes — I’m planning his murder even as we speak.”
The Madonna I meet is nothing like the Madonna in these photographs: she looks younger, smaller, less imposing. But nor is she the pale, spotty, plain woman many interviewers claim to have been greeted by. This Madonna has short, yellow blonde hair slicked back from a very pretty face with minimal make-up: black mascara, red lipstick. There are a couple of very fine lines on her forehead, but nothing more — probably rather less — than most people in their thirties. She is wearing a long black dress, black bra peeping fashionably out between the narrow straps, high-heeled mules, a pale blue ribbon tied round one ankle. She is relaxed, friendly, and has a loud, open laugh.
Nellee Hooper, she says, was a logical choice for the new album. “I decided that I wanted to work with a whole bunch of different producers. Bjork’s album is one of my favourite for years — it’s brilliantly produced, and I also loved Massive. So obviously, he was on the list. Nellee was the last person I worked with, and it wasn’t until then that I got a grip of what the sound of the whole record was, so I had to go back and redo a lot.”
Lyrically, I say, there’s not so much about sex and more about…
“Romance,” says Madonna. “Or the loss of. Unrequited love.”
So has the sex theme gone as far as it can?
“I feel I’ve been misunderstood. I tried to make a statement about feeling good about yourself and exploring your sexuality, but people took it to mean that everyone should go out on a f****fest and have sex with everyone, and that I was going to be the leader of that. So I decided to leave it alone because that’s what everyone ended up concentrating on. Sex is such a taboo subject and it’s such a distraction that I’d rather not even offer it up.”
She agrees that there is a defensiveness in some of the new lyrics, particularly “Human Nature”: “It’s my definitive statement in regards to the incredible payback I’ve received for having the nerve to talk about the things that I did in the past few years with my Sex book and my record. It’s getting it off my chest. It is defensive, absolutely. But it’s also sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek. And I’m not sorry. I do not apologise for any of it.”
The night before we met, while I was at her house listening to the record, Madonna was at the mall. She went with just one friend, no bodyguard, and they went to see a movie — Color Of Night with Bruce Willis and Jane March (“She’s so pretty. The only thing worth looking at in the movie, I have to say”). People stared at her. She saw them whispering, deciding that it couldn’t possibly be her. Inside, three girls sitting in front turned round to ask if anyone had ever told her she looks a lot like Madonna. And Madonna said yes, actually, she hears it all the time. She thanked them, and then they turned back and watched the movie.
It’s easier to do in Miami than anywhere else, she says, but she goes out like this often. I say it must be hard to stay in touch with reality, because her life must be so unreal most of the time. “That makes my life annoying, but it doesn’t make it unreal. It does get to be a pain in the ass — at times I wish I could be more spontaneous and just go outside my gate. But I try to make a point of saying dammit, I’m going to do it anyway. I don’t care if there’s 60 people outside my apartment in New York, I’m going out for a walk, and if they follow me, they follow me. I will not be a prisoner.”
But isn’t that dangerous?
“I don’t think about it. I just do it. I can’t afford to be so careful, to cut myself off from the rest of the world. I go out to clubs, I go running in Central Park, I go for bike rides and hang out with my friends, and people always say to me, ‘Aren’t you frightened? Where’s your bodyguard?’ But it’s all of that that attracts attention, and I just can’t function that way, I never could.
“My other way of thinking is that I’ve come this far in my life, and I know I’m a survivor. I have a guardian angel or someone protecting me. I moved to New York when I was 17 and I had nothing until I was 25. If no one fucked with me then, they’re not going to fuck with me now. I see someone like Eddie Murphy walk into a nightclub and they’ve got like 20 bodyguards and I just think that’s like driving a big fancy car. It’s showing off. It’s got nothing to do with security.
“There are ways to deal with it, if I can accept that my celebrity is this other reality, this parallel universe outside of me. It’s kind of like this big pet that I carry around with me everywhere — I know it’s there and I can laugh about it and try and live as normal a life as possible.”
The next film Madonna wants to see is Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. She doesn’t like action movies, the big Hollywood blockbusters. The best film she’s seen recently is Spanking The Monkey, an independent film that was a hit at the Sundance Festival. Before that, the last one she really loved was The Plano. Knowing this, her last two choices of acting roles make more sense. Both must have looked great on paper.
Her co-stars in Body Of Evidence were Willem Dafoe and Joe Mantegna, both acclaimed actors (Madonna had already worked with Mantegna in David Mamet’s play Speed The Plow). The director was Uli Edel, known for the arthouse hits Christiane F and Last Exit To Brooklyn. The story – about a woman who may or may not have deliberately killed her rich, ageing lover with adventurous S&M sex – appealed to Madonna, and she liked the twists in the plot that left you guessing. But in the last week of shooting, the ending was changed. Originally, at the end of a courtroom drama, her character got off in spite of her guilt. In the final version, she has to pay anyway, flying out of a window in a hail of bullets. “I fought it every step of the way,” she says. “But I had no control. Woman who has sex must die: that is the theme of that movie, but it wasn’t that way to begin with.”
I first saw the film in a small preview theatre full of critics who tittered at her more wooden moments. The men also shifted bags and coats on to their laps during the sex scenes, but they didn’t write about that. What they wrote was that Madonna was awful. She isn’t particularly good in it. But what’s more noticeable watching it again now is that her more experienced co-stars aren’t any good either, that the director is making an inept try at a mainstream erotic thriller, and failing his cast badly. “I’m disappointed in it,” admits Madonna, “but I’m not sorry I did it. I think I did a good job. But I got the blame for everything. It was like I wrote it, produced it, directed it, and I was the only one acting in it, you know?”
Her next film, Dangerous Game, was produced by her own company Maverick, and again had a strong team: Abel Ferrara and Harvey Rebel, fresh from their success with The Bad Lieutenant. Again though, Madonna plays the victim: a bimbo TV actress who sleeps with the director (Keitel) and the lead actor (James Russo) during the film she is making, which in turn is about a wife battered and finally murdered as her relationship with her husband breaks down. Making a film about the making of a film gives Ferrara lots of space for textual jokes: as the director, Keitel gets to shout at Madonna, telling her that she can’t act, that she’s a commercial piece of shit, that she’s only in the movie because they need her money. I wonder why she subjected herself to this, and she insists that she didn’t.
“In the original film, I turn it around,” she says, explaining that in the script her actress character manipulates both director and actor, destroying their De Niro Scorcese type friendship, and emerges a new star. “I know a lot of people have that point of view about me in real life, so I thought I could take that and do a great performance. It was going to be this great thing for me. And even though it’s a shit movie and I hate it, I am good in it.” For once, many of those who’ve seen it agree: the film is a mess, but Madonna is convincing.
She has two projects in development right now, both being written specially for her. Avoiding specifics until they’re nearer completion, all she’ll say is that she’s being very, very careful, and will make sure this time that the director agrees with her ideas. “I don’t have the power in the film industry that I have in the music industry,” she says, explaining that even though Maverick produced Dangerous Game, Ferrara had the final cut. “The director is the one in control, and everyone else is a pawn for them. You have control over your performance when the camera is going, but you can take that performance in the editing room and completely change the character. That’s what happened to me with Abel. Because it was an entirely different movie when I made it — it was such a great feminist statement and she was so victorious at the end. I loved this character.
“But the way he edited it, he completely changed the ending. He had me killed, which was never supposed to be, and lie edited out all the brilliant things that I said telling Harvey and James’s characters to fuck off. He took my words off me and turned me into a deaf mute, basically. When I saw the cut film, I was weeping. It was like someone punched me in the stomach. He turned it into The Bad Director. He’s so far up Harvey Keitel’s ass, it had become a different movie. If I’d have known that was the movie I was making, I would never have done it, and I was very honest with him about that. He really fucked me over. So c’est la vie. This is all happening for a reason. From Dick Tracy to A League Of Their Own, Body Of Evidence and this movie, I keep coming to the same conclusion: that I have to be a director. I feel like I’m constantly being double-crossed.”
Control is the key to Madonna’s appeal, and the reason why girls especially loved her. At a time when feminism seemed to be asking women to choose between pleasure or progress, Madonna came along and said you could have it all: power, sex, glamour, money. Guilt was not neccessary. Still, she says, women have also been her most vocal critics. “There’s a whole generation of women — Courtney Love, Liz Phair, even Sandra Bernhard to a certain extent — who cannot bring themselves to say anything positive about me even though I’ve opened the door for them, paved the road for them to be more outspoken. Some of Liz Phair’s lyrics are blatantly sexual, and if I said those things, they would be viewed in quite a different way. But she’s just started her career, so she’s not as intimidating. She doesn’t have the power I have, so people are amused by it. But none of these women would want to recognise that. In fact, they slag me off any time anybody asks what they think of me or compare them to me. It’s kind of like what a child does to their parent, they denounce you. They want to kill you off because they want their independence from you.”
And as Madonna gets older, it also becomes apparent that, for the moment at least, she hasn’t got it all. The picture painted is of a lonely, sad figure (not true, says Madonna — the love songs on the new album are to specific people, although she won’t say who in case their egos get out of control). Her relationships are subjected to the intense scrutiny her celebrity invites, and when they end, the media find it hard to conceal their pleasure. “When Sean and I got divorced and he had a relationship with Robin Wright and immediately started having children, I was forever reading stuff about how she was such a nice, sweet person and he seemed so much more happy. You know, how he’s finally found a virtuous woman to be with. They do love to pump that up. Then I broke up with Warren, he started dating Annette and they started a family, and once again, it’s the same thing. When he was once completely lambasted for what I’m lambasted for. But what can you do?”
Do you think you idealise romance?
Madonna laughs. “Absolutely. Yeah.”
While you do, will you ever find the romance you’re looking for?
There’s a long pause. “I’ll probably never find someone who has everything, who’s like a combination of every incredible novel I ever read, and every great movie I ever saw. You read a book like Catcher In The Rye or something Hemingway wrote, you see The Way We Were and you go, ‘Oh my God, that’s the kind of man I want, that’s everything.’ Well I won’t find someone that’s everything, but I want to get pretty damn close. Then I figure my friends can fill in the rest.”
What you need — what many of us need — is a traditional wife, I say. Someone who’ll be at home and waiting when you finish a tour, record or film. “Or who’s just always there when I call,” adds Madonna.
But someone who also understands if you’re busy and don’t call for weeks. “Yeah,” she agrees. “It’s a tough bill to fill. It’s like, ‘Be there when I want you, but get the fuck out my face when I need my space,’ and there aren’t a lot of people who can deal with that. And therein lies the rub. You want someone that has power, success, talent, but the more success they have, the less you’re going to see them. I have a crazy schedule, I’m always all over the place, so I need someone who’s more stable, but then I get pissed off and angry because they’re not out being ambitious like I am. It’s hard to find that middle ground. I’m having a really hard time, you know. Finding that perfect person. Plus there’s that whole thing that a lot of my girlfriends have, and that’s that you always want something that’s harder to get. You want somebody to be there for you, but as soon as they say they will, you think they’re a wimp. The romantic idea of chasing someone, getting someone, conquering someone unattainable is much more attractive and alluring than a really nice, kind person saying, ‘I’m going to love you for the rest of your life.’ And I’m like, ‘What’s wrong with you?'”
Imagine, just for a second, that you are Madonna. Imagine the houses, the money, the famous friends, the parties. Then imagine the rest. Imagine that people dream about you. You know this because these dreams were collected and analysed in a book. Imagine there are books of theory about you, that you’re the subject of academic theses and papers. Imagine that feminists argue whether you are a heroine or a devil. (Madonna doesn’t follow these arguments — she has never read Camille Paglia’s homages “because she’s a horrible writer. I don’t really know what she’s saying. She seems to contradict herself, to just like to hear herself talk.”)
Imagine that they’re making a TV mini-series about your early life. A script has been written, actresses have been auditioned, and the only control you have over how they’ll portray you is to refuse to let them use your music. Imagine going to see Reservoir Dogs, and seeing the characters argue about exactly what you meant in your song “Like A Virgin”. Imagine going to see Pulp Fiction, and hearing Bruce Willis’s character and his girlfriend discuss whether you had a pot belly in the video for “Lucky Star”. Imagine people raking over your life, interviewing the people you went to school with, the people you went clubbing with, the people you slept with. “Imagine what you were like when you were 20,” says Madonna when we’re talking about this tired idea that she slept her way to the top, using whoever she could on the way. “And imagine how it could be twisted.”
Madonna lives in a world where every casual anecdote develops a life of its own, where every quote or flip comment in every interview has been recycled again and again in other magazines, in papers and trashy, badly-written biographies. I wonder if it is hard, in these circumstances, to know who your friends are. “It’s something that happens over time. I meet lots of people and we have a lot in common and I have fun with them and stuff, and then I realise that they’re not really my friends. It’s like a lover, it’s just something that takes time. I can’t even describe anything specific, although a certain amount of honesty and respect are probably the basis of it.”
It must be scary never knowing if they’re going to run to a newspaper.
“There’s that in every relationship I have, whether it’s a friendship, a lover, someone that works for me. Any time someone comes into my circle, I immediately go, ‘OK, what are their motives? What could they gain from this?’ I have whole filing system, and I watch for it. But I’m fooled sometimes, believe me — I think people have the best interests and they don’t. That’s human nature. It doesn’t keep me from having friends or allowing people to get close to me, but it does add a whole other layer of anxiety to the normal ones when you’re getting to know someone.”
We’re talking about Madonna’s other life, the tabloid life. I ask if her sex life is as active and imaginative as the press seems to think. “You know the answer to that question,” she says. I say that I’ve seen she can walk straight, which would be unlikely if she really had slept her way through the roster of DJs, actors, and now sportsmen the tabloids report. I also know from past interviews that she has never been spanked in bed and doesn’t particularly enjoy giving head. “I don’t think that I could get any work done if I was spending all that time in bed or horizontal. The idea is ludicrous. Because I talk about sex, it’s assumed that I’m having sex and they’re quite different,” she says, pouring scorn on the anonymous “spokesperson” or “close personal friend” often quoted in such stories.
I suggest a game: I’ll tell her a “fact” that appeared in the press or on the rumour mill, she’ll answer in one word, with no need to comment further.
“You mean you’re going to ask me if they’re true or not?” she laughs, settling back into the sofa. “OK.”
You’re having a torrid affair with your neighbour Sylvester Stallone.
You’re having a torrid affair with model Jenny Shimizu.
You pestered Hugh Grant for a date, but he turned you down.
You’re HIV positive.
You haven’t had sex with a man for three years.
She laughs. “False.”
You’re about to buy a basketball team.
You were dating John Kennedy Jr until Jackie Onassis put a stop to it.
You slept with Mick Jagger as a groupie before you were famous.
You often pick up young Puerto Rican boys for the night.
A sigh. “False.”
You’ve placed ads to find a baby to adopt.
You’ve had several abortions.
You’ve had a boob job.
Warners is in serious trouble because of Maverick.
“What? Because of funding Maverick?” Another laugh. “False!”
I set the rules to this game, so it seemed unfair and intrusive to ask more about the one true story here. But there is this to consider: in some parts of America, they shoot doctors who perform abortions. In America, then, it takes considerable courage to give an honest answer to a prying journalist.
Madonna says she still wants a child. Soon. She says she feels the clock ticking now. “Oh yes, Definitely. There’s anxiety.” She also agrees that it comes as a shock to find out that, after all, the biology is this strong. That it’s not just conditioning, this feeling. It’s physical. I didn’t expect that to happen to me, I say. “Uh, I know! Me neither. I’m right there with you, totally.” I ask if she would bring the child up a Catholic, and there’s a long pause. “I don’t know. I reek of Catholicism, and I’m sure that even if I didn’t make it go to church, it would be influenced in a Catholic way. But I don’t think it would be devoutly about being a Catholic.”
How can you bring up a kid in anything like normality?
“In theory, I could probably bring up a child as normal as I can live my life. I think that I surround myself with people who don’t treat me like a celebrity or a freak or whatever, and I would do the same with my child.”
I’m curious as to how the affairs with women fit into all this, and Madonna says that they don’t. “What it boils down to is very good friends who happen to be lesbians and the public automatically assuming that I’m sleeping with them because I have this sexual image. I never bothered to say I’m not, because my attitude is, ‘What if I am? Do you have a problem with it?’ It’s irrelevant. I’m not a lesbian, but I thought it was undignified to say so. I’m not going to say that I’ve never slept with a woman, but” — and here she interrupts herself with her own laughter — “I love men.”
I bring up the vexed question of Sandra Bernhard, once Madonna’s official best friend, now so bitter that the comedienne included a version of “Erotica” in her last stage show, reworking its chorus as “Neurotic”. There’s a long sigh, and what follows is punctuated with long pauses, more sighs, and then reluctant spillages of words. “Ever since our friendship fell apart, I’ve never really spoken about it. She’s spoken so much about it that I felt it would be more dignified if I said nothing. Um… and every year that goes by, I think she’s finally going to be sick of talking about it. But then I just read something today. Obviously I’m still very important in her life — which is quite the opposite of what she’s saying — or she wouldn’t talk about me. It’s like, she doth protest too much.”
There’s another pause. “Sandra is a brilliant woman who has a lot of talent and I had some great times with her. And in the end the reason that most friendships fall apart is envy, jealousy, those kinds of things. But I’m not going to fall into the same trap that she has and slag her off. There are a lot of instincts in me that want to, because she’s said some really nasty things, but I can only tell you that there was a huge misunderstanding.”
I ask if it involved Ingrid Casares, the woman most often named as Madonna’s lover, and there’s another pause. “Absolutely. But only as a friend. When I met her she was Sandra’s girlfriend and I thought she was the sweetest girl. Sandra was on the verge of breaking up with her, and I felt sorry for Ingrid. She likes to work out the way I do, so I started to ring her up and we’d go for a run or whatever. But Sandra assumed that I was trying to — whether she thought it was true or not, the way it came out in the press made it sound like I was trying to steal her girlfriend. I’ve never had a sexual relationship with Ingrid, that’s the irony. But she is a very good friend, and I’ve grown to love her. So it’s a tragedy what happened with me and Sandra, but I got a good friend out of it. You win some, you lose some.”
If you’ve real all the books and articles, it’s easy to think you know Madonna. You know, for instance, that a girl called Moira MacFarland taught her to insert her first tampon, and that she lost her virginity with a boy called Russell Long – facts you may not know about your closest friends. It’s easy to make assumptions. I ask if she regrets revealing so much of herself, whether she’d have been better retreating from public view as Prince and Michael Jackson did in the Eighties. “Prince’s demure behaviour and Michael Jackson’s running away from the truth is much more revealing about them than any of the things that I’ve told. I could talk to you for hours and you could read all my interviews, but you’d never feel you completely knew me. That’s just another thing that people do to punish me for being honest. ‘How much further can she go, what more can be revealed?’ Because I’ve taken my clothes off in public doesn’t mean that I’ve revealed every inch of my soul.”
Madonna was 25 before she released a record. She says this is important to understand. Prince signed to Warners in his teens. Michael Jackson could see himself as a cartoon on TV as a child. Madonna had 25 years to live without scrutiny, to become an adult in a normal way, and this is why she is different. “They isolate themselves too much,” she says. “If they would just come outside and mingle with humanity, everything would benefit – their art, and whatever relationships they may have. They’ve made such a big deal about being secretive that now it’s going to be even harder for them, because the more you say, ‘I’m not going to show you, you can’t see’, the more everybody wants to see. It’s just the way it is.
“I could never say that either of them were friends. I’ve spent a good deal of time with both of them. They’re very different people, but I felt the same with both. I felt like a peasant next to them, like this big clumsy farm girl. Like, when I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m thirsty, I drink. When I feel like saying something, I say it. And they have these manners and they’re just so careful about what they eat and what they say. I had dinner with Prince once, and he was just sipping tea, very daintily. I was stuffing food down my face and I was like, ‘Aren’t you going to eat?'” She mimics a delicate, whispered no. “And I thought, ‘Oh my God!’ I have this theory about people who don’t eat. They annoy the fuck out of me. It’s something about being in control.”
But people say you don’t eat.
“Honey! I have flesh. You could grab any part of my body and come up with a handful, so that’s absurd. It goes with the thing that I’m lonely, I can’t get a man and I’m suffering. But going back to Prince and Michael Jackson, it’s never too late to start being a human being. If they could just try being some-thing close to that, then that would be the way to… I mean, fuck salvation in the public eye, I’m just talking about being happy in your private life. Just being able to go to a basketball game or for a bike ride. I can’t imagine either of those guys putting on sweat pants and sneakers and going for a run, playing outside with a dog or just being silly and hanging out with your friends without your make-up on. You know what I mean? I don’t think they do that.”
The deal struck by Madonna and Michael Jackson at the start of the Nineties are the deals most pop stars now use as a benchmark, the reason why someone like George Michael can feel that his own deal is “professional slavery”. It is unclear how much either deal is worth even to those involved, as so much of it is dependent on the performance of the companies that were set up as a result. Ever since Madonna opened Maverick’s plush offices in West Hollywood, there have been whispers of impending bankruptcy. Madonna herself is claiming no great successes, but says it’s early days yet, she shrugs.
The film company has so far produced one film – Dangerous Game – and was three-quarters of the way through another with John Candy when the star died. They are stil struggling to finish it. Other films are in development and one, The Year of Frank Sinatra, has just got Susan Sarandon to commit: “I love her, she’s the best. It’s about a mother and a child and it’s a great story, and we’re just trying to find the perfect director.”
The TV company has yet to get anything off the ground, although it is working on several projects, one of them involving Madonna’s friend, actress Rosie O’Donnell. But the music publishing company is taking off nicely, she says, and the record label is enjoying its first top ten album in the US with the band Candlebox – the record has already sold two million. They recently supported Metallica on tour, and Madonna went to see them in Miami: “I felt like a proud mother.”
The label’s other success is Me’shell NdegeOcello, the singer-songwriter who contributes a rap to Madonna’s new LP, and whose own “Plantation Lullabies” LP was one of last year’s overlooked gems. She is not an easy act to market, says Madonna, because there is still resistance to black artists performing anything that doesn’t fit into straight R&B dance categories, but Maverick intends to stick by her. “I want a real record label with real artists. I don’t want to be Prince and have everybody be a clone of me. That’s not having a label, that’s having a harem. They only function for as long as he’s interested in them. I want artists who are going to have a life of their own and who have point of view. People set different standards by what I do. They look at Maverick and say It’s failing miserably. But it’ll happen – that’s the best revenge, to just keep doing it.”
Celebrity has taken a different shape towards the end of the century. As our royal family is finding out on its own, it’s hard to have secrets now. The Garbo option is no longer available. Whether it’s a telescopic lens, a scanner picking up a phone call, or the — of the chequebook, the media has the way – and more importantly the will – to intrude almost anywhere. I ask Madonna if she thinks she could choose not be famous now, whether she thinks anonimity will ever be possible. “No, I don’t. Uh uh. It’s already done,” she laughs. If she tried to emulate Princess of Wales and retire, the premium on a paparazzi shot would be so high that, like Diana, she’d be followed everywhere. “She can’t say goodbye to it either,” agrees Madonna. “Poor thing, I wish everyone would just leave her alone.”
We talk about the Oliver Hoare phone story. “But is it the truth or is it just a story?” asks Madonna. “I can tell you now that 99 per cent of the things you read about me are not true, so that must be true for everyone else. She should just leave the country.”
But she has kids
“She could take them with her.”
“She can’t take the kids?”
They’re the heirs.
“Oh f***! I forgot. She’s in the blind. I don’t envy her at all. You’ve got to sympathize with her, they’re torturing the f*** out of her. And you know she just don’t have the wherewithal to cope. I mean I can fight people, but she’s had a completely different life. My God! What a horrible situation. I just hope that she does have friends that are really strong and intelligent and that she can deal with it, find a way to survive. I really do.”
Madonna stops, and laughs again. “I don’t even know this woman, and I’m sitting here having conversation about her. But of course I feel for her, because she’s tortured the way I am in the press. I can go out, I can go anywhere I want, but she can’t, she’s got these children, that man… oh my God!”
There’s a theory, I say, that female icons are only really loved if they have suffered. Diana, Jackie Onasis, Marilyn Monroe. And Madonna refuses to be a victim. “Absolutely. I’m not an orphan, I wasn’t sexually abused as a child, I don’t let people take advantage of me, I don’t drink myself into a stupor, and I’m not beholden to a man. Listen, I could cut my heart open and give people a million reasons to feel sorry for me, I haven’t had an easy life. But I’m a survivor.”
Madonna’s death is often discussed. It is assumed that she will die young, but she says that’s wishful thinking. She plans to get old, and she’s prepared for the fame to fade. “I think what’s important changes for you. For me. Your values change. I know what it’s like to be incredibly famous. I know what it’s like to be on top, and there are great things about it and there are horrible things about it and I know that I can never be in that place and at that time again in my life – my fame will take a different shape, a different form, and it will be what it will be. All I hope is that I will be happy in my personal life with my friends, my family and the person I’m in love with. That’s the most important thing. If people are buying my records that’s good, but if they’re not it’s not the end of the world.
“I want to be good to my body. I don’t want to stay in the sun too much and eat lots of crappy food and I want to exercise because I want to stay healthy and look good for as long as possible. But I don’t sit here wondering if I’ll still be making videos when I’m 50. I hope that I’ll have three children and that they’ll be the center of my life, not being on MTV.”
Will you have a face lift when the time comes?
“I’ve thought about it, and I can’t decide if I would because I hate being put to sleep, I’m really scared. And there’s that one in a million chance that they might f**** up. Then there’s this other thing, which is I am what I am, take it or leave it. Look at Jack Nicholson, look at all the movie stars. They’re allowed to have pot bellies and lines on their faces and that’s fine. But where’s Jessica Lange and Meryl Streep, who are beautiful women and great actresses and no one’s giving them parts? But even women don’t want to see women growing old – it’s just the way we’re programmed to think, and it’s awful. And an older man could be with a 16-year-old woman and no one thinks anything of it, whereas if an older woman is with a younger man, she is the trollop of the universe, just desperate and pathetic and disgusting. It’s all wrong but what are you going to do?”
There’s a telling moment in In Bed With Madonna – which in retrospect, is more than a movie about Madonna on tour; it’s about the nature of celebrity, and it’s probably one of the best insights into the nature of modern fame you’re likely to see – in which her father and step-mother walk into the dressing room after the show. We have already heard Madonna on the phone to her father, she asks him which nights he wants to come to the show, he asks which night she can get tickets, apparently to the fact that she can get any night she damn well pleases, since she’s running the show. When he meets her in the dressing room, there’s this sense that most of got from our parents, the sense they’ll think she’s still 12 years old, and need a telling off for showing her knickers in public. But watching the film again, away from the hype and mock outrage about Madonna sucking a bottle, there’s something else you see. Her parents look like they want to ask for her autograph. “Absolutely!” agrees Madonna. “You’re this other being that they’re in awe of.”
But it’s not something her dad even mentions. Months after “I’ll Remember” went to number one in America, her father rang her. He couldn’t remember the title of the song, but he’d seen the video on TV, and wanted to tell her she looked nice in it. “Dad, it’s been out for six months now,” said his daughter, “you just saw it for the first time?” “Oh well, we don’t watch much TV,” he replied. And Madonna decided not to fight him anymore, finally realizing that she wasn’t going to get the pat on the head she had wanted, and realizing too that perhaps she didn’t need it any more. “I just accept it now. But before, it used to send me into rages. I’m so envious of other people whose parents are like sophisticated enough to be right there with them and understand them, but you can’t have everything. It’s annoying, but then because my father refuses to acknowledge who I am and what I’ve accomplished, it makes it easier for me to go home and be around my brothers and sisters and not feel like a freak. I think he does it on purpose so that everyone gets treated the same.”
One of the most beautiful songs on the new album is “Inside of Me”, a yearning ballad about coming tp terms with a love lost, and learning to cherish its memory. I had assumed it was about Sean Penn, instead, it turns out to be about Madonna’s mother. Her early death is still a subject close to Madonna’s heart, something she talks about a lot with her brothers and sisters, and with her father on the rare occasions she catches him alone.
To her, it explains a lot about the Ciccone’s clan’s problems. When her mother Madonna died, no one talked about it. At the time, her father was so devastated that he couldn’t, and they were all told to be strong and not to cry. “Which isn’t to say we didn’t cry, but we didn’t know what we were crying about. We were all confused, these grief-stricken children wondering when our mom is coming back. And then three years later, he just married our housekeeper and said, ‘This is your new mother. Call her mom.’ And we were all thrown into more confusion because it wasn’t clear where the first one went. Everyone has dealt with their grief in different ways, some by becoming over-achievers, some by becoming under-achievers. It was all manic behaviour to deal with what was inside us.”
When she moved to New York, she says she spent five years ignoring the fact that she even had a family, but then she started to understand, to call her father and talk about it all.” But even now he has a hard time accepting that this, my fame and celebrity, was a resault of that. A lot of it has to do with the fact that he can’t go to that place in his life wife without falling to pieces and that’s his way of surviving. So I talk with him as much as I can without feeling like I’m torturing him.”
But losing her mother cannot explain everything.
“No, but I think that was the most powerful influence on my life. Dealing with death and a sense of loss, and the fact that I didn’t have a mother raising me. I never even aknowledged my stepmother as a mother, I kept thinking of her as the housekeeper, so I was raised with only my father’s influences. I tend to have what is traditionally thought of as a male point of view about a lot of things. I never grew up with a mother telling me I’d got to get married, have children and cook certain dishes, so I’m probably not as domestic and nurturing as other women. And I’m sure it gave me the balls to do a lot of things that I did, to set out for New York without money or connections. So while it’s certainly not the only reason that I am what I am, I know it has a lot to do with it, absolutely.”
After the interview, we walk through the garden and down to the dock where she once hung naked from two rings for her Sex book, but where her boat Lola Lola (named after Marlene Dietrich’s character in Blue Angel) now hangs, similarly suspended over the ocean. “You know how I found this place?” volunteers Madonna. “We were scounting locations for Sex, and when we came here I knew I just had to have it.” It took considerable time and money to bribe the owners to leave, she laughs. She points out the route she takes running every morning, the cranes where her near-neighbour Sylvester Stallone is building a new dock, and the roof of Vizcaya, the estate of which her own home was once part. “He was like a zillionare or something,” she says of yje originalowner. “The house is beautiful – you should go there.”
Albert, her affable caretaker, drives me back to my hotel. I ask what it’s like working with Madonna, and he says that when he tells them where he works, most of his friends think he’s saying “McDonald’s”. He’s learned not to correct them – it’s easier, it saves having to explain why they can’t have an autograph or come to visit. “When I first met her, I expected her to look like the ‘Vogue’ video,” he says, but she’s generally more casual: cut-off jeans, T-shirts, no make-up. “She dressed up for you today,” he says accordingly. “She never did that for me.”
Killing time before one flight home the next day, I take Madonna’s advice and wander around Vizcaya. She was right – it’s beautiful. And I’m thinking about how impressively ordinary she seemed compared to many people I’ve interviewed, how many of the problems she faces are very similiar to those that me, my friends and probably any person with a busy life and sense of fun have. Then I walk through the gardens to the ocean, where the zillionair created his own mini-Venice, striped poles, Reneisance-styled statues and all. I join a small, curious srowd staring out at Stallone’s building work and the little dock beyond it, where Lola Lola hangs ready above the water. There’s a gondola tour of the area, and I pick up leaflet. See Madonna’s house! it cries. Miami is her refuge, the place where she apperently feels most relaxed and at ease, yet there are still people dragging past her gardens and electric gondolas, desperate for a glimpse. And I realise that for Madonna, being ordinary is an option long gone.© The Face