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Madonna Interview : Vanity Fair

Madonna - Vanity Fair / March 1998

Apparently, not friends, nor enemies, nor bumps along the way have the power to get Madonna to abandon her daily work and exercise rituals. As mentioned, her new thing is yoga. Ingri Casares, who met Madonna around Sex time and who remains an all-around cohort, sometimes attends yoga classes with her pal. It’s not always a Zen paradise. “There we are, about 15 people in the calls, and everything seem fine, when suddenly I hear M whispering, ‘Ingrid, switch places! Look behind you.’ I turn around, and sure enough, there’s a huge crowd of people gathered around the window, staring. But she doesn’t want this to interrupt the class, so she takes my spot behind a column, where she can’t be spied, and we keep going.” No distractions allowed.

What is it that Madonna has — or doesn’t have — that makes her so dogged? I ask Liz Rosenberg about times when her client couldn’t keep up her daily regimen, or occasions when she was too overwhelmed to stay on track. Rosenberg says that if Madonna has had these moments she’s never seen them. “Sometimes Madonna would say to me, ‘Don’t you think I get depressed? I’m on the treadmill dying.’ But the fact is that she’s on the treadmill.”

Keshishian says, “With Madonna, there’s nothing that’s going to cancel her day. She has the same discipline where she’s well or unwell. Whether she’s had a disastrous phone call or the worst night, she is at yoga every morning. There is almost no self-destructiveness in this woman.”
I point out that it seems to be in the natures of creative people to self-destruct or develop problems with food, drugs, alcohol. “What she’s got is structure,” Keshishian answers. “It’s her way of making sure she doesn’t go into a place that’s dark and negative.” Ingrid Casares adds, “She acts out by being constructive.” She’s addicted to her discipline.

One thing demolishes Madonna’s willpower: candy. (Her father must have tried to limit her consumption.) “She loves Hot Tamales, Chuckles, all kinds of Starburts, any kind of bubble gum, Twizzlers, white chocolate,” says Casares. “I see the way she looks while she’s eating it, and she loves it.”

She doesn’t like to see her friends self-destruct — and she won’t watch it. “When I was going through a drug phase,” says Casares, “Madonna was not going to tolerate my being self-destructive, and didn’t speak to me until I was ready to get help — and then she was the person I called.” After Casares got sober, the friendship grew.

This Puritan strictness doesn’t exactly jibe with the image Madonna projects about breaking rules. But she can take the leaps because she doesn’t have to worry about going over the cliff: she’s got the structure to keep her from free fall. And the discipline comes from the places which also sparked her rebellion.

Echoing Madonna, who points out her father’s emphasis on discipline and doing things well, Christopher Ciccone says, “I think our father, who is the son of immigrants, spend most of his time preparing us for the rest of our lives. I don’t think he taught us things that we couldn’t use. The things I learned from him were honor, loyalty, and the value of the truth: all the things that surround the ideas of love and affection, but not love and affection themselves. Our father’s concern was our survival. He taught us discipline.”

Chris doesn’t give spin, which is probably one of the reasons his sister has wanted him around. They’ve fought the same battles. “Most of our aesthetic is rebellion against what we grew up with, American, or Colonial — I mean the 70s version of Colonial, the spindle-back chairs, the fake spinning wheel in the corner, the wooden icebox that held records. We went to church all the time. We went to Sunday school, we went to catechism, and during Lent we went to church every day. Our sense of art, drama, and decadence all came from this. So did our sense of the power of secrets that lie in all the dark corners. All of that came from church.”

Dark corners have always drawn Madonna. Maybe because she has carried some of their secrets for a long time. She has often spoken about the impact of her mother’s death when she was five years old, and has told of always keeping a picture of her mother by her bed. She has written songs about always feeling the loss of her mother inside her.

It’s not hard to picture the young Madonna and her family trying to deal with a situation that represents many of our worst fears. When her mother died of breast cancer, the disease was still treated by almost everyone as an unspeakable horror. Madonna understood little about what was happening except that her mother was gone. There was no good-bye, and perhaps she was left with feelings so big that they had to be buried, run away from.

There was guilt, as we know from things Madonna has said in the past. For instance, she has described giving her sick mother a pounding on her back when she wanted to play and did not understand why her mother couldn’t join in. Madonna, who says on Ray of Light that her mother still “haunts” her, has named the poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton as her favorite writers during her teenage years, and when I read the story of the incident described above, I thought of these lines from Sexton’s poem, “The Double Image”:

On the first of September she looked at me
and said I gave her cancer.
They carved her sweet hills out
and still I couldn’t answer.

When her mother died, Madonna had an extra sort of burden to carry which made her feel especially hurt and especially selected: she had been christened with her mother’s name, which they shared with the Virgin Mary.

I ask Madonna what she knew about her mother. “I was told that my mother was very musical,” she says, “and that she loved to dance, and that was that. She was into being a mother, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an artistic soul. I’m sure she did, but not in any ambitious way.”

Madonna, incredibly, remembers no music as being significant to her during her childhood. And there aren’t that many movies which she recalls. But there is one which she says was important: To Kill a Mockingbird. “I just completely related to Scout,” she says. “Basically she was this little girl who was surrounded by all this insanity, from Boo Radley hiding behind the door to the sadness and violence all around. She was always asking her father questions. I wanted my father to be Gregory Peck.”

Needless to say, her father wasn’t Gregory Peck. And, unlike Peck’s character, Atticus Finch, Madonna’s father remarried. In Truth or Dare, when he and Madonna’s stepmother come backstage, one senses the years of tension. And in watching that film, one can also become exhausted by the way Madonna runs and runs, driving herself forward. Clearly that started a long time ago. Early on, one might have spotted many of the traits that have been present in her personality as a star. For example, her artistic determination was evident when she began dance classes. She’d hated the music lessons that her father pushed on all the kids. “I couldn’t sit still during piano lessons,” she tells me. “I wanted to flail my limbs and I had to beg and cajole to go to dance class, and eventually I got to go. Ballet classes, jazz, tap, modern, and all that. But wherever these classes were in the area, I found a way to get there.”