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.