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Madonna Interview : Vanity Fair

“What do you think the proportion is of their coming together?”

“For me? A lot. I would say I probably very rarely in my life had sex with someone that I didn’t have real feelings of love for. Because ultimately I can only allow myself to be really intimate with someone if I really care for them.”

She is quick to respond, smart, and confident of her ability to answer. When aquestion bothers her, she inadvertently bites the knuckles of her hands, almost as if she were trying to jam her fist into her mouth. And if she is truly holding something back, the black elastic that’s meant to keep her hair in place gets twisted around and around her fingers. For example, the new album reportedly contains one song which some people think is Madonna’s ode to love with other women. Indirectly, she seems to acknowledge, while twisting the elastic, that she has tried sex both ways.

“Which do you prefer?”

“Which kind of sex do I prefer? Hetero sex.”

“But you also like the other kind as well?”

“It’s not, Do I like the other kind as well? I have a lot of sexual fantasies about women, and I enjoy being with women, but by and large I’m mostly fulfilled by being with a man.”

“But you can also be fulfilled by being with a woman sometimes?”

“It’s not the same.”

The one subject on which Madonna actually appears vulnerable is that of having children. She says the sight of beautiful children while she’s running in the park fills her with longing. It doesn’t help that both her ex-husband, Sean Penn, with whom she was seen holding hands on the set of Body of Evidence, and her most famous recent ex-lover, Warren Beatty, have both become fathers lately. “I think it’s amusing that every time I break up with somebody they get married and have a baby with somebody,” Madonna says as she begins curling the hair elastic again. She speculates, “Maybe they feel emasculated by me.” She grabs one hand with the other in an effort to stop the twisting. “Sean wanted to have a child. And we talked about it all the time — Warren and I. Um, it just wasn’t the right time. For them either. You know, everything is about timing.”

Madonna calms her hands. “I think about having children all the time. There is a part of me that says, Oh God, I wish that I was madly in love with someone and it was something viable, something I could really think about. But I don’t idealize childbirth, and I don’t want to just go get knocked up by somebody,” she adds. “I think it’s important to have a father around, so when you think about that, you have to think, Is this person the right person?”

Suddenly the tiny part of Madonna that clings to being the good little Catholic girl she was brought up to be comes forward and she sounds as if she’s siding with Dan Quayle. “I think that there is merit in praising family values, and I think that in this day and age there’s a lot of fatherless children, and I think that if children had fathers as role models — um, I don’t know — I think it’s important to have a father, O.K.? And a mother. On the other hand, to condemn someone [such as Murphy Brown] for making that choice is irresponsible.”

As the oldest daughter in a family of eight children, including two half-siblings who were born after her mother died and her father remarried, the rebellious little girl who was constantly called upon to help care for the younger kids is strictly pragmatic about maternity. “I don’t have any romantic notions about having a baby,” Madonna says, referring to her childhood. “You were very clear that it was about cleaning dirty diapers and baby-sitting and not having time to hang out with your friends and listening to babies scream all the time and cleaning up their vomit on your shirt. It’s a really tough joh.”

Madonna, who’s in therapy, can see that her obsessive drive and perfectionism are a need to control what she could not control in early childhood, and what subsequently caused such pain. She also admits that her need to dominate stems from “losing my mother and then being very attached to my father and then losing my father to my stepmother and going through my childhood thinking the things that I loved and was sure about were being pulled away.” The fact that, even today, her engineer father refuses to acknowledge her celebrity on her visits home must make her desire to shock and succeed all the more powerful.

“I didn’t have a mother, like maybe a female role model, and I was left on my own a lot, and I think that probably gave me courage to do things,” she explains. “I think when you go through something really traumatic in your childhood you choose one of two things — you either overcompensate and pull yourself up and make yourself stand tall, and become a real attention getter, or you become terribly introverted and you have real personality problems.
“The courage part comes from the same place the need for control comes from, which is, I will never be hurt again, I will be in charge of my life, in charge of my destiny. I will make things work. I will not feel this pain in my heart.”

Around men, Madonna is completely different, more relaxed and flirtatious, full of Goldie Hawn–ish giggles: terra firma. At the Hit Factory, the recording studio on the West Side of New York where she is finishing her album, she is wearing a dozen different trends at once: a distressed flannel shirt with the sleeves ripped out, to which she has pinned a NOT button but which she has unbuttoned to let her black bra show and then knotted under her midriff; extremely distressed cutoff jeans that hang low and allow her black Calvin Klein underpants with the white elastic waistband to peek through; heavy white athletic socks and clumpy black high-laced Doc Martens, of the sort favored by Israeli paratroopers and downtown bohemians. Her hair is uncombed, and she is chewing bubble gum. But there is no question at all who is the boss.

The New York Times has just been had with a story about Madonna. It swallowed whole a fabrication about her having her limousine pull up in front of an upscale ice-cream parlor and demanding take-out chili dogs for lunch. Liz Rosenberg has called the Times but isn’t bothering to demand a retraction — not with what she has to contend with around the world regarding Madonna. “Chili dogs — how gross,” says Madonna. “I’m a vegetarian.”

Since she is so adept at managing her celebrity, I ask her, during breaks while she mixes the backbeat of one of her new compositions, whether anyone else taught her about it — you know, like Warren Beatty maybe. She looks slightly incredulous. Warren? “I learned a lot from Warren, but it wasn’t about how to handle the press and deal with celebrity. I think he learned about that from me. And he even tells me that.” “Right — look how he had that baby right before the Academy Awards,” adds Liz Rosenberg. “He was staying away from the press at all costs, and now he has gone completely in the other direction.”

Madonna pops a big bubble before being asked to listen to a few bars of what they’re trying to mix. She nixes it. “Joey, I think you’re going to have to move the boom…. I think you’re not going to make it…. Shep, it’s not working,” she says to her producer, Shep Pettibone. “I believe Shep is a genius, but we’re not having it.” “I like it,” the engineer protests. “I don’t care.” Madonna answers. “Put it on your record.” She lowers the boom with a soft little laugh. “Shep, it’s cheesy. I don’t want it.” A final pop of the gum from Madonna closes the case. “I’m sorry, this is not a democracy.”

© Vanity Fair