III. The Barbie Doll Dishwashing Theory
“Oh yeah, I played with my Barbie dolls all the time — I deiinitely lived out my fantasies with them.” Madonna lets loose a naughty chuckle. “I dressed them up in sarongs and mini-skirts and stuff. They were sexy, having sex all the time. I rubbed her and Ken together a lot. And they were bitchy, man, Barbie was mean.” She hoots. “Barbie would say to Ken, ‘I’m not gonna stay home and do the dishes. You stay home! I’m going out tonight, I’m going bowling, okay, so forget it!’ You know? She
was going to be sexy, but she was going to be tough”
A quote from a recent story is brought up in which Madonna had claimed sexual awakening at age five. “Made it sound like I masturbated all the time, didn’t it?” she says with a raised eyebrow. “I really do remember from when I was very, very young, being really attracted to men, and being real flirtatious. The power of my femininity and charm, I remember it was just something I had, that I’d been given, you know what I mean? From the age of five I remember being able to affect people that way. I felt something but I didn’t know what to do with it. I was just very aware of it.”
IV. The Boyfriend Theory
In the teenage years, two things were pure pleasure — dance and music. Madonna studied ballet as much as her father and her legs would allow. As for the music, it was on her radio, and the more radio-perfeect, the better. “My favorites when I was little were Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, the Motown sound. But then I really like ’60s pop songs too — “The Letter” by the Boxtops, “Sugar Sugar” by the Arehies, Gary Puckett, Bob by Sherman, “Happy Together” by the Turtles. I loved all those innocent little pop songs. No hard rock, no heavy metal, no jazz. Pop and soul were it.”
Dance won her a four-year free ride at the University of Michigan, but the prognosis for toe-shoe stardom was lousy. As would be the ease for years to come, Madonna saw no reason to follow rules, and that rubbed the rulemakers the wrong way. After one school year, she moved to New York City. Hometown friend Steve Bray had started her on drums and singing and a little songwriting. It didn’t take long in New York before dance stepped aside to make more room for music.
The next teacher/companion was Dan Gilroy of Queens, whose adoration of the Beatles and their melodies shaped Madonna’s sense of how to construct a song; Gilroy also had the instruments and the patience to start her with the C chords.
Madonna left for a frustrating European tour singing and dancing behind a disco singer, then came back to spend a valuable year in the Gilroy brother’s band and home. Eventually she wanted things in the band her own way, although that way wasn’t entirely clear yet. Manhattan and new compatriots beckorted. Bray came out to work with her through two rock ‘n’ roll bands. They didn’t turn out to be the way either. “I didn’t want to go in a rock vein, and that’s what created the schism between my manager of that time period and myself. I was really being influenced by the urban radio stuff that was starting to be everywhere, on the streets and in the clubs. I love to dance in clubs, and I love all the music they play. It made me really want to dance, it was so soulful. I thought, why can’t I do that? I wanted to make music that I would want to dance to when I was out at the clubs.”
Logically, New York nightclubs is where she went next. It came down to peddling R&B demo tapes done by her and Bray, at the places where the songs’ magic would get their roughest test. If the songs made people dance in New York’s hipness hothouses, that would be the sign that her way, finally, was the right way. DJ boyfriend Mark Kamins remixed one tape and then took it to Sire, where a deal was made.
But neither Bray nor Kamins got to produce the first album, a job they each felt had been promised, and earned. Instead, Madonna was done by veteran R&B producer Reggie Lucas (Stephanie Mills, Phyllis Hyman). Madonna knows it didn’t seem right. She also knows what else it seemed like. She looks the reporter straight in the eye: “If anybody wants to know, I
never fucked anyone to get anywhere. Never.”
V. The Trickle-Down Theory
Stories about Madonna’s method of career advancement started to circulate shortly after the debut LP came to life on the pop charts. How did this woman with no band or playing credits on her record and no known credibility connections score such a surprise hit? Awfully, uh, juicy looking, isn’t she’? “Some of the things people say are so ridiculous, it’s not even worth defending yourself. The guy who wrote one recent long story, – he got his facts right, all my boyfriends’ names right and how they helped my career, but he wrote the article from just one corner of the room. He just talked about what he saw from that one corner.” She speaks with a tiny shade of sadness, but no rancor. “Yes, all my boyfriends turned out to be very helpful to my career, but that’s not the only reason I stayed with them. I loved them very much.” A pause, then a smile and a shrug. “I’m not Alexis from Dynasty. And going around in corsets is not all I am either. People home in on what they want to home in on. They rarely go for the sum total of someone’s personality.”
Madonna is not the only one who got helped. Gilroy’s debut with his band, Breakfast Club, is due soon. Kamins is collecting royalties from Madonna and working on new projects. Bray is working with the Breakfast Club; he also had four cowriting credits on Like A Virgin. And Lucas, who lost his slot to Nile Rodgers on LP #2, is reportedly busier than ever.