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15 years online

Madonna Interview : Times

It is her view that although the early Nineties was an “extremely hostile” time for her, it’s always been a roller-coaster of “liking me, not liking me, loving me, hating me… and so after a while you figure out that your true value and worth has nothing to do with public approval”.
If anyone’s a “Je ne regrette rien” person. I say, it must be you… “C’est vrai,” Madonna responds perkily. “and I’m not apologizing in any shape or form (for those Sex years). That’s where my head was at the time, I was interested in pushing buttons and being rebellious and being mischievous and trying to bend the rules. You know, I can’t even begin to tell you the things I was trying to do, but I was trying to do a lot of things. There was a lot of irony in the Sex book and I am poking fun at a lot of things and I am being kind of silly and adolescent and I am being very ‘F*** you, if a man can do it, I can do it.”
“I was also kicking off my own issues of sexuality and sexual repression that I was raised with. (Madonna must be one of the most notorious lapsen Catholics, having personally angered the Pope with her conflation of religious and sexual imagery.) A lot of it came from a good place but I’m not sure how altruistic it was. I mean, what was the point of it? Was I really trying to help people? Was I really trying to liberate people? Or was I just being an exhibitionist and basking in the glory of being a diva and being able to do whatever I wanted, I think that probably was mostly what it was.”
Well, I begin… but she hasn’t finished soul-searching: “You know, my consciousness was not on a very high level then. I think it was, ‘What am I gonna get out of this? How much money will I make? How much attention will I get?’ It was very self-involved and that’s kind of where I was then. I didn’t have any other, I didn’t have… my influenced at the time were people who were pretty much encouraging me to behave that way.”
It’s a long time since I saw the text and the photographs Madonna and I are discussing (her publisher, Callaway, apparently wasn’t able to find a copy of it), but at the time my impression was that it was an entirely legitimate exercise for the singer push the boundaries of sexual exploration. Other artists in other mediums had long been making their own forays into these fields; it’s just that she was the first female pop icon to go so far.
“There was that,” she agrees. “You know, I’d grown up with female role models like Frida Kahlo and Martha Graham and Anne Sexton – because they dared to be different, because they took the road less traveled. They were my inspirations and I got energy from them. I felt like I came from a very bland and repressed background and, you know, I’ll be damned if I’m gonna be that.”
She admired Kahlo, she says, because “She dressed like a man and she had mustache and managed to be glamorous. She smoked cigars and she drank whiskey and she competed in the art world and there weren’t any other woman at the time who were at the same level.”
(Madonna reputedly owns 18 Kahlo paintings and one of her purchases was the highest price paid for a female artist. As a result of the patronage, Kahlo has now eclipsed her husband, Diego Rivera, as the costliest painter to come out of Mexico.)
“And Anne Sexton’s poetry inspired me because she was very confessional… when I was making Truth or Dare, she was my muse in many ways because people kept saying, ‘People don’t want to know about how you feel’, and yet the women I responded to most all made their own self-portraits in a way.
“And Martha Graham did something incredibly scandalous which is she took the corsets off dancers and the pointe shoes and the bras. She liberated them and she had black women dancing with white women and she crossed all kinds of boundaries and she pushed buttons,” Madonna says and, when she is excited like this her enthusiasm is infectious. What a shame she doesn’t get off her high horse and let herself go more often.
“And all her pieces were based on Greek mythology and she would turn them around and she would be playing the male role,” she continues, “and they were very sexually provocative and powerful and they were about women dominating men. So I’m inspired by all that… and I don’t really know how it came to me, but in my own world – pop music – I wanted to do those same kind of things.”
Her final word on the Sex years is that she was trying to keep a theme going by immersing herself in all the different mediums: “But it makes perfect sense to me now how everyone would feel completely inundated and hit over the head by it. I mean, I have an extremely different point of view about sex now than I did then. But I needed to go through it, even if it’s means that I’ve come full circle.”
This is an interesting comment since it implies that Madonna has returned to the strict values of her upbringing; something to which we return towards the end of the interview. I ask her how she feels – apropos of some of the more graphically intimate shots in the book – about Lola seeing her in that way. It is clear when she does one of her clipped “Hm-hmmms” that Madam doesn’t much care for the question. “Well, I know she will one day.” she offers.
When I ask her whether she goes out of her way to protect her daughter from seeing those sort of images – and, alas, she only “artistically” snogged Britney and Christina after we met – she says, again sounding like the voice of reason: “I protect her from sex full stop. She’s not aware of sexuality nor should she be. You know, we’ve sort of had little conversations about where babies come from but sex is not, and shouldn’t be, part of her repertoire right now.”
Nevertheless, I say, it will inevitably be strange for a daughter to see her mother in those poses, surely? “When she’s seven, yeah. But, maybe, when she’s 16 – not. I’d explain that’s me putting on a show. I’m playing a character, it’s not really me. I’m being an actress…”
We move on to the new book, which is just about as far removed from the old one as it is possible to be. The English Roses is the first of five children’s books written by Madonna, each loosely based on a different Kabbalah morality tale. The first one, certainly, is a delightful small object of desire, and one that every little girl I know would adore. It is gorgeously illustrated, in a sort of Madeleine meets David Hockney style, by Jeffrey Fulvimari. And it has a solid but unthumping message about why you shouldn’t be envious of others, make assumptions based on appearances, and ostracize people who seem different to you. Although I must say, to mention Madonna in the same breath as Roald Dahl and Raymond Briggs, as the Puffin MD does, brings new meaning to the word “puffery”.
I like the voice of the narrator which is appealingly bossy.