“Do you see a black Jaguar?” The voice, small and insistent, issues from the passenger seat, where the world’s most famous woman burrows deep into the upholstery. She slumps and scrunches, lying decidedly low. Her rump is poised perilously above the floor mat. Her boots are propped against the dashboard. Her tresses are piled beneath a leather cap, and tiny dark specs pinch at her nose. Occasionally her head bobs up, and she peers through the windshield to give navigational tips. Then, just as quickly, she ducks back into hiding. Madonna is on the lam. She is incognito. She is in my car. I am driving her home. It was her idea.
“The paparazzi won’t recognize your car,” she says, hatching her intrepid scheme after our first interview session. For her part, Madonna recognizes her most dogged pursuers. She knows what they drive. Every TV in her house is wired to the security system and transmits a continuous picture of the front gate and the street beyond. She sees those who park and lurk and obsess. She watches and remembers their movements. All of which might explain why she is cowering in my rented Chevy Corsica, fretting about a particular black Jaguar that is nowhere to be seen. “At this point,” she says, sighing wearily, “I know them all.”
Madonna has a new home — a sanctuary, really — nestled high in the Hollywood Hills. As it happens, an aerial photograph of the spread, snapped from a helicopter, was published in this morning’s paper. The accompanying text: “The soon-to-be-divorced Mrs. Sean Penn took title to the house Jan. 18. She paid $2,950,000.” She had not yet seen the item when I showed it to her a few hours earlier. “They say how much I paid for it?” she asked, sounding surprised and violated. ” ‘The house has seven bedrooms and six bathrooms’? They are so misinformed!” (Indeed, the next morning the same column reads, “A friend of Madonna’s called to say we were incorrect to report . . . seven bedrooms. ‘It has three bedrooms plus a maid’s room,’ said the caller.”)
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The point being, she is best. Her woes dangle like shredded pulp from the jaws of gossip carnivores. Among supermarket-literature queens, she is the ultimate checkout girl. Her reign currently rages, due to the noisy unraveling of her three-and-a-half-year marriage to actor-pugilist Sean Penn. Divorce papers were filed by her attorneys on January 5th — 13 months since the last time it happened (when she just as hastily rescinded the action). Like before, “irreconcilable differences” were cited. But this recent connubial rupture was reportedly prompted by a mysterious post-holiday altercation about which nothing is known for sure. Speculation abounds, however, and gallons of tabloid ink have been expended to document it. Why conserve now?
Rumors surrounding Madonna’s “night of terror” (December 28th, 1988): A drunken Sean explodes at Madonna in their Malibu estate because (a) having a baby in the near future does not jibe with her plans; (b) he is annoyed at her friendships with Warren Beatty and/or Sandra Bernhard. Sean demonstrates his displeasure by (a) roughing her up; (b) threatening to thrust her head into an oven; (c) hogtying her with leather straps (and/or twine) to a chair and leaving her “trussed up like a turkey” (tabloid description) for nine hours. She persuades him to release her and/or escapes to the Malibu sheriff’s office, where she swears out an assault complaint against her husband. (The complaint, which was actually filed, is withdrawn by her days later.) She then seeks refuge in the home of (a) photographer friend Herb Ritts; (b) her manager, Freddy DeMann.
Meanwhile, Malibu police descend upon the Penn house and order Sean to come outside with his hands up. He does so but later denies abusing Madonna, claiming she trumped up the charges because she is jealous that he has been dating a stripper.
The veracity of any of the above is questionable. Maybe even superfluous. Throughout the ordeal, Madonna remained mum; by dropping charges, she implied that her marriage has been more than adequately scrutinized, that an ensuing trial would be a macabre circus. What is curious, however, is that she has chosen instead to bare her soul musically on the matter. On her forthcoming album, Like a Prayer, there is a jarringly urgent song titled “Till Death Do Us Part” that chronicles a violent and harrowing marriage: “He takes a drink, she goes inside/He starts to scream, the vases fly. . . . I wish that it would change, but it won’t if you don’t,” she sings, her voice soulful and plaintive. The performance is arguably her finest artistic moment, and that in itself is a sadly ironic notion.
Similarly, Like a Prayer as a whole represents the maturation of Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. The record largely scoots away from her previous gum-snapping oeuvre — although some pleasant, chirpy confection is left over — and she emerges as a thoughtful, introspective songwriter. Also, she sings with more womanly import; on “Love Song,” a sultry duet with Prince, she transcends girlish flirting and musters palpable eroticism. On “Promise to Try” and “Oh Father,” individual odes for her parents, her voice shimmers with beseeching emotion.
The ethereal title song itself, which opens with Madonna quietly reciting the Rosary, seems to portend a personal spiritual purge. It is the debut of the philosophical Madonna, who, at 30, seems to be making a public-policy changeover: Getting It On has been stoically supplanted by Getting On With It.
Lately, she is consoling herself with capitalism. On the day I meet with her to begin the first of two wide-ranging discussions, Pepsi announces that it has enlisted the singer to blitz the cola-war zone. (She will reportedly earn $5 million for one year’s allegiance, which would include commercials and tour sponsorship.) In addition, she has been busily overseeing the editing of the “Like a Prayer” video and preparing for her role as a cheeky vixen in Warren Beatty’s film Dick Tracy.
Nevertheless, she arrives at the designated Hamburger Hamlet, alone and serene, and at once disposes herself with playful confidence. Scruffily dressed in tattered chic, she slides into a back booth and pertly flags down a waitress. (“Yoo-hoo! Could we get some coffee?”). She is discovered only once, by an archetypal young Hollywood hustler who presses into her hand a film script he hopes to direct. She endures his protracted schmoozy pitch with bemused graces. “Being rude doesn’t get you anywhere,” she tells me after the interloper says “Ciao” and disappears. “You end it quicker by being nice.”
For the second session, I am summoned to the new hilltop hacienda — a white, stark, airy affair, replete with marble floors and important art. Among her collected objets is a painting by her idol Frida Kahlo, whose own marriage, to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, was notoriously stormy. Also on display are a few framed photographs of Rivera’s mistresses. Accordingly, when Madonna steps out of her bedroom, she has traded guises. Hair down, heels spiked, she radiates retro-glamour — a gossamer goddess in billowy black loungewear with matching brassiere showing through the gauzy décolleté. Even her bearing this time seems a tad regal as she flounces onto an overstuffed ocher-satin divan and accepts inquiries. “Please,” she wryly instructs a few chattering associates in the next room, “don’t anyone bother me. I am being interviewed!” Throughout both conversations, however, she good-naturedly plumbs her feelings and, even in the matter of Sean, manages to comport herself with jaunty charm. Still, as an icebreaker, I brandish an early copy of the Playboy issue containing La Toya Jackson’s nude pictures, thinking Madonna might enjoy the momentary reprieve of basking in another woman’s scandal. And, of course, she does.
Have you seen La Toya? Perhaps you could share any spontaneous observations.
[She lunges for the magazine] Give me that! No shit! [She pores over the pages, amused.] She had a tit job, for sure! This isn’t bad. They’re funny. But you see only tits? Major tit job! Well, La Toya, this is a shocker. Oooh! The Jackson family must be outraged. This is desperation. Well, maybe she’ll get a job out of it.
Jumping from one kind of exposure to another, I suppose there’s no tactful way to ask you about the dissolution of your marriage.
[She smiles coyly] Inquiring minds want to know? Now you’re gonna get all nosy, huh? Well, this is something incredibly close to me right now, and very painful. I have a difficult time talking about it. You can ask, but I can refuse to answer you.
Fair enough. You’ve said in the past, “I’d rather walk through a fire than walk away from one.” Are you attracted to flame?
Am I attracted to pain? Is that what you’re trying to say? I’m attracted to obstacles I need to overcome. I’m interested in facing challenges, things that are going to be harder rather than easier.
The song on your album “Till Death Do Us Part” portrays a tormented, volatile and dangerous marriage. The implication is autobiographical. How honest are the lyrics?
Like most of the songs on my album, it’s very much drawn from my life, factually speaking, but it’s fictionalized, too. “Till Death Do Us Part” is about a destructive relationship that is powerful and painful. In this song, however, it’s a cycle that you can’t get out of until you die. It’s futile. I wanted the song to be very shocking, and I think it was. It’s about a dysfunctional relationship, a sadomasochistic relationship that can’t end. Now that’s where the truth stops, because I would never want to continue a terrible relationship forever and ever and ever until I die.
Has Sean heard the song?
Yes. And he loves it, strangely enough [laughs]. But Sean is very, very keen on being brutally frank in his work. He’s attracted to writers and artists who don’t mince words.
Do you ever think you married too young?
Do you think the odds were stacked against this marriage from the start? It seemed people defied it to succeed.
Oh, yes. I felt that no one wanted us to be together. They celebrated our union, and then they wanted us to be apart. There were rumors about us getting a divorce a week after the wedding. We fought that. And, yes, that is difficult. I don’t know if anyone can do it [under those circumstances]. You have to be really, really strong and immune. Very sure of yourself.
In terms of your chemistry, you are two strong-willed individuals, volatile in your own ways.
Both passionate people. Way over the top [laughs].
Did your marriage thrive on fiction?
Yes. I have an incredible fascination and attraction to it. Like I said about walking into the fire. Well, he’s fire, that’s for sure.
Do you regret you ever got married?
No. Ultimately, I have twinges of regret, but I feel more sadness than anything. Feeling regret is really destructive. I have learned a great deal from my marriage, so much. About everything — mostly about myself. Please don’t ask me what. I just couldn’t say.
You almost seemed an old-fashioned girl in your enthusiasm for marriage.
I’m a very old-fashioned girl. Marriage is a great thing when it’s right. And I did celebrate it and embrace it, and I wanted the whole world to know that this is the man I loved more than anything. But there’s a price to pay for that, which is something I now realize. Ever since I was in high school, when I was madly in love with someone, I was so proud of this person, I wanted the world to know that I loved him. But once you reveal it to the world — and you’re in the public eye — you give it up, and it’s not your own anymore. I began to realize how important it is to hold on to privacy and keeping things to yourself as much as possible. It’s like a runaway train afterward. So if you ask, Did I complicate things by being very public about [my feelings]? Yes. I did.
And he is as famous for his shyness as you are for your forthrightness.
Yes, he is shy. But I have my shyness, and he also has his moments of exhibitionism. But I really don’t want to analyze Sean in this interview. The point I was trying to make before was just about saving something for yourself. The romantic side of me wanting to announce my love, given my position in life, would ultimately work against me in the future. It’s an incredible strain on the relationship. Because if you want everyone to know about the great things, then you’re saying too that you want them to know about the bad things. So you never get left alone.
Are you a woman who loves too much?
No. I don’t think you can ever love enough.
Your public persona is characterized by flirtatiousness, and Sean appeared to be a traditional guy, jealous of his woman’s sharing herself so openly.
But I’m not immune to jealousy? We’re both jealous.
Do you think you’re the right woman for him?
I don’t know. Life is long. Who knows? I couldn’t say for sure. Was I the right woman, or am I the right woman? I was the right woman at the time. I mean, there are no accidents. What happened happened. I’m sure we learned a great deal from each other.
Are you a challenge to live with?
Definitely! Do you think it could be any other way? Yes, I’m pretty headstrong. And stubbornness comes with that, a certain amount of inflexibility. In going after what I wanted, other things tend to fall by the wayside, things you should maybe pay more attention to. Most passionate people are headstrong. [We were] two fires rubbing up against each other. It’s exciting and difficult.
How accurate are the tabloid tales of your night of terror — the nine hours in bondage?
Extremely inaccurate, as they usually are. They made it all up. But I expect it. They’re always making shit up. I’ve completely reconciled myself to that fact.
So there wasn’t one single breaking point?
It’s been a slow breaking point all the way. I can’t say there’s anything specific that happened.
But you did file and later drop charges with the Malibu police, right?
[Pauses] I understand your position. People want to hear the dirt. But this is not really anything I want to talk about here. It’s totally unfair to Sean, too. I have great respect for him. It’s like most relationships that fail. It’s not one thing, it’s many things that go on over a period of time.
You’ve spoken before of your fascination with the painter Frida Kahlo, whose marriage to the muralist Diego Rivera was famously tempestuous. Are you drawn to the parallels in your lives?
I see some parallels. I mean, she was crippled physically and emotionally in ways that I’m not. But she was also married to a very powerful and passionate man and was tormented by him. Although he loved her and was supportive of her as an artist, there was a lot of competition between them. There weren’t that many female artists at the time, and the Latin community is a very macho environment. It was very hard for her to survive that and have her own identity. And I can identify to a certain extent with having that awarenes of the male point of view of what a woman’s role is in a relationship. It’s tough to fight it. She was very courageous, and I admire and can relate to that.
You’ve maintained in your music that dreams come true. What are your dreams like?
Most of my dreams are really violent. But then, obviously, my life is pretty crazy. I’m always in the public eye. People are always sort of chasing after me and imposing on my privacy, my area, my space. So I have those kinds of dreams, where people are chasing me or I’m naked — you know, exposed. Also, I dream of children a lot. Specifically, I see different people in my life as children. That may be because, in a way, I feel I take care of a lot of people. But, yes, dreams are an important part of my life.
You’re an insomniac on top of it, right? What’s your secret to falling asleep? Do you count sheep?
No. You know what I do? I remember the past when I can’t go to sleep. I think of a very specific moment in my life, like when I was nine years old and I was the fourth-grade hall monitor, and everyone in class was all lined up to go to the bathroom. I remeber every detail — what people were wearing, what I felt like, what I was wearing, the smell of the school. It works my mind and tires me out. Then I find myself drifting into sleep. Although I spend many a night not going to sleep at all.
How have you been sleeping lately?
I’m sleeping all right now, actually. When I’m really upset, I do actually sleep. The times I don’t sleep are when my mind just won’t shut off, and I’m either working on something or worried about something, or I’ve had too many cups of coffee.
Let’s discuss your new album. How do you think it reflects your musical development?
I don’t really know. I just do what I do. It’s not calculated. Although, in the past, my records tended to be a reflection of current influences. This album is more about past musical influences. The songs “Keep It Together” and “Express Yourself,” for instance, are sort of my tributes to Sly and the Family Stone, “Oh Father” is my tribute to Simon and Garfunkel, whom I loved. Also, the overall emotional context of the album is drawn from what I was going through when I was growing up — and I’m still growing up.
Does the preponderance of Madonna clones blaring from the radio bother you? Who comes closest to the real thing?
When it first started happening, I kind of got pissed off. You know, if you create a sound, then you want to have dibs on it. But then I felt flattered. But it is confusing sometimes, because I’ll hear a song on the radio and for a second I’ll think it’s me. It’s uncanny sometimes. There’s one girl in particular, a girl named Alisha, who’s had a couple of songs that ripped off the chord progressions of some of my songs. And her voice sounds so much like mine when I sing in a higher register. I was shocked! She’s definitely one who stunned me. I think a lot of the imitators are black.
Do you ever feel black?
Oh, yes, all the time. That’s a silly thing to say, though, isn’t it? When I was a little girl, I wished I was black. All my girlfriends were black. I was living in Pontiac, Michigan, and I was definitely the minority in the neighborhood. White people were scarce there. All of my friends were black, and all the music I listened to was black. I was incredibly jealous of all my black girlfriends because they could have braids in their hair that stuck up everywhere. So I would go through this incredible ordeal of putting wire in my hair and braiding it so that I could make my hair stick up. I used to make cornrows and everything. But if being black is synonymous with having soul, then, yes, I feel that I am.
Whose voice blows you away?
Ella Fitzgerald has an incredible voice. She’s the greatest. Joni Mitchell. Patsy Cline, Chaka Khan — I love her voice! I love all the old soul singers — Marvin Gaye, Frankie Lymon, Sam Cooke. I like really smooth voices, like Belafonte and Mathis. My father had all their records. Then there are the gravelly voices — Joe Cocker, Tom Waits. And Prince — Prince has an incredible voice.
You wrote and performed “Love Song” with Prince on your album. How did the collaboration come about?
Well, we’ve been friends for years and admirers of each other’s work. So we’d always talked about getting together to write. And, in fact, there was a moment last year when we were possibly going to write a musical together. I went to his studio in Minnesota and worked on some stuff, just to get the feel of what it would be like to collaborate. Because it’s a very intimate thing to write a song together. I can’t write with everybody. I’ve tried with a lot of people, and it doesn’t always work.
Prince and I didn’t really finish anything, though. We started a bunch of stuff, then we would go on to the next thing. We just tried to start as many things as we could. We worked for a few days; then I had to leave to do some other things. I decided that I didn’t want to do a musical with him at that time.
Meanwhile, I went and did Speed-the-Plow on Broadway. He came to see the play and brought me a rough mix of one of the songs we’d worked on. I thought it was just fabulous. I’d sort of forgotten about it. So I called him up and said I loved it and that, after I was finished with the play, I wanted to get together with him and work on it for my album. As it turned out, we did it in a very funny way. We sent tapes to each other back and forth between L.A. and Minnesota. Then we would talk on the phone, and he would play stuff for me over the line. I loved working that way.
What surprises you about him? For instance, what does he smell like?
He does smell good! I’m really aware of people’s smells. I love fragrances and perfumes. Ever since I’ve known Prince, I’ve attached a smell to him, which is lavender, and I don’t know why. He reeks of it. And I’m sure he would probably disagree with me. He’s very private, you know, and very shy. He’s great when you get to know him. Charming and funny, in his own way. More than anything, he really comes alive when he’s working.
Since he is the pre-eminent pop spiritualist, did the two of you have any discussions about religion?
We never talk about religion or politics. But “Love Song” does have a spirituality about it, the kind that exists between two people. It’s really about that push and pull of a relationship. The back and forth: I love you, I hate you. I want you, get away from me. You build me up and tear me down. That constant rubbing.
You dedicated the album to your mother, who taught you to pray. When do you pray?
Constantly. I pray when I’m in trouble or when I’m happy. When I feel any sort of extreme. I pray when I feel so great that I’ll think I need to check in with myself and recognize how good life is. I know that sounds silly. But when it seems there’s so much bullshit around, it’s important to just remind myself of the things I have to be grateful for. On the other hand, when I’m feeling really bad or sad, I pray to try to reassure myself. It’s all kind of a rationalization. I can’t describe the way I pray. It has nothing to do with religion.
You’ve forsaken your Catholicism?
Once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic — in terms of your feelings of guilt and remorse and whether you’ve sinned or not. Sometimes I’m wracked with guilt when I needn’t be, and that, to me, is left over from my Catholic upbringing. Because in Catholicism you are born a sinner and you are a sinner all of your life. No matter how you try to get away from it, the sin is within you all the time.
Would you raise a child a Catholic?
No, I don’t think so. That’s a tough question. I don’t know what sort of information I would pass on to them in terms of God. Catholicism is not a soothing religion. It’s a painful religion. We’re all gluttons for punishment.
You’re using the song “Like a Prayer” in your Pepsi commercial. You’re not going to call it “Like a Pepsi,” are you?
Well, I wouldn’t put Pepsi in any of my songs. Pepsi is Pepsi, and I’m me.
But why do the commercial? You don’t need the dough, do you?
No, but I do consider it a challenge to make a commercial that has some sort of artistic value. I like the challenge of merging art and commerce. As far as I’m concerned, making a video is also a commercial. The Pepsi spot is a great and different way to expose the record. Record companies just don’t have the money to finance that kind of publicity. As it is, the music will be playing in the background, and the can of Pepsi is positioned very subliminally. The camera pans by it, so it’s not a hard-sell commercial.
Do you ever think you missed your era in this town? I can imagine you running Hollywood as the Bombshell Queen of the Forties and Fifties.
How do you know I’m not running it right now [laughs richly]? But, yes, I do in a way feel it would have been great in those days. Hollywood was so different then. The studio system really nurtured and cared for you in a way it doesn’t now. On the other hand, your life was not your own. Now you have more individual freedom, but you don’t have anyone looking out for your career the way they did then.
The studios used to arrange dates between its stars. Who would you have wanted on your arm?
Oh, Jimmy Stewart! I love him so much. I would die to meet him! I can think of two incredibly favorite moments in his films that just melt me. In It’s a Wonderful Life, there’s that scene where he’s standing with Donna Reed, who’s talking on the phone, and he’s telling her that he doesn’t love her as he’s kissing her, and he’s crying. Clearly, he loves her so much. [She swoons] Ohhh! And then the other moment is in Rear Window when he gives Grace Kelly this look. She’s spending the night with him, and he turns and rests his chin on the back of a chair and looks at her so lovingly. I can’t describe it, but that is the way I want someone to look at me when he loves me. It’s the most pure look of love and adoration. Like surrender. It’s devastating.
How do you think old-line Hollywood sees you?
I don’t really think they understand me well enough to think of me in any way. A lot of them see me as a singer.
Do you consider yourself a movie star?
Yes, if I could be so immodest to say so.
Do you want to become a mogul someday?
[Laughs] I would rather own an art gallery than a movie studio. Or a museum. I would rather be Peggy Guggenheim than Harry Cohn.
But you do have a production company set up to find movies for yourself.
Yes, Siren Films. You know what a siren is, don’t you? A woman who draws men to their death.
Is that how you see yourself?
Oh, I suppose I’ve had my moments of sirendom [laughs].
You’re about to play your first movie villain, Breathless Mahoney, in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. Are you researching the role by doing evil things?
Oh, I don’t have to research that. [She laughs coquettishly.] She’s a siren, definitely. She’s a nightclub singer. Stephen Sondheim is writing the music I perform. And she falls in love with Dick Tracy in spite of herself. I don’t think she’s inherently evil, but she’s quite accomplished in her villainy. She’s basically a good person. She’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way. [She flutters her eyelashes.]
Last year you took nine months to do the David Mamet play Speed-the-Plow on Broadway. Yet if we’re to believe your crack on the David Letterman show last July, you hated the experience.
Oh, but I love it, too. I hated to love it, and I loved to hate it. It was just grueling, having to do the same thing every night, playing a character who is so unlike me. I didn’t have a glamorous or flamboyant part; I was the scapegoat. That’s one of the things that attracted me to it. Still, night after night, that character failed in the context of the play. [Madonna essayed the role of a manipulative, possibly altruistic and ultimately beaten Hollywood secretary on the make.] To continue to fail each night and to walk off that stage crying, with my heart wrenched . . . it just got to me after a while. I was becoming as miserable as the character I played. So when I did the David Letterman show, it was very much toward the end of the run, and I really was marking off days on the calendar!
Your character withstood epic verbal abuse from the Ron Silver and Joe Mantegna characters. Had you been playing yourself, wouldn’t you have just punched their lights out?
Absolutely, I would have. So many times I wanted to smack Ron Silver. I wouldn’t have taken their shit after two minutes in the office. I wouldn’t have had a job, if it was me up there.
What kind of material do you find yourself drawn to? Weren’t you interested in acquiring film rights to a novel called Velocity?
Oh, yeah! It’s a great story. The girl who wrote the book, Kristin McCloy, told me that when she wrote it, the two pictures she had on the wall by her desk were of the Dalai Lama and of me. She wrote it with me in mind. I couldn’t put the book down. It really moved me. The story is about a woman whose mother dies, and she goes back home to try to develop a relationship with her father that she’d never had. It’s very strained — and I can relate to that. And in the midst of this, she falls in love with someone who is all wrong for her — and I can relate to that. She doesn’t get the guy in the end. But she becomes very close with her father. It’s very touching.
How’re you getting along with your father these days? Do you understand each other?
Yes, we get along very well right now. I mean, it’s been up and down. You know, my father is not an incredibly verbal man, and that’s been my frustration. He doesn’t really express himself. And more than anything, I want my father’s approval, whether I want to admit it or not. But he’s always been very affectionate with me. I have a million different feelings about my father, but mostly I love him to death. What’s difficult for my father is the idea that I don’t need him. But I do need him.
Has he been able to comfort you lately?
Yes, absolutely. I can confide in my father. It wasn’t that I couldn’t before, but I didn’t want to. For years, I resented him. You see, when my mother died, I attached myself to my father. He was my only parent. So I felt in many ways that my stepmother stole him from me. I felt deserted. All my life I harbored that resentment. For five years after I left home, in fact, I barely spoke to him. But we’ve made our way back into each other’s lives. Whenever I need him, he’s there for me.
Do you think about death much?
Yes, but in spurts. Sometimes I just assume I’m going to live forever. I don’t want to die. It’s the ultimate unknown. I don’t want to go to the dark beyond. I want to stay where I know where everything is.
Had she not died, what kind of role do you think your mother would have in your life right now?
If she were alive, I would be someone else. I would be a completely different person. I have to be careful sometimes. When someone dies and the years go by, you tend to make them into something they’re not.
The song “Promise to Try” on the new album is about letting go of that. It’s about a yearning to have her in my life but also about trying to accept the fact she’s not. As in the lyric “Don’t let memory play games with your mind/She’s a faded smile frozen in time.” Yes, I wish, but it’s not going to be. I do talk to her often. I mean, I always have. I don’t know if she can hear me or not, but I tell her things that a girl can only say to her mother. Private things.
What kind of mother do you think you’ll be?
Very affectionate, but probably domineering — maybe too domineering. And I’ll have to acquire patience, but I think when you go through the nine months of pregnancy, you learn to be patient. I would love to have a child. But you’ve got to have a family first. . . . Can’t do it by yourself. But it’s definitely up high on the list of things to do.
Maybe you noticed this already, but a number of songs on the new album have sort of anti-male themes.
[Surprised] Well, gee, I never thought of that. This album definitely does have a very strong feminine point of view. Hmm. I’ve had some painful experiences with men in my life, just as I’ve had some incredible experiences. Maybe I’m representing more of the former than the latter. I certainly don’t hate men. No, no, no! Couldn’t live without them!
Are you a good woman’s friend?
Yes. I used to think I had more men friends than women friends, but over the last few years, especially since I got married, I’ve nurtured a lot more female relationships. My mother’s death was the catalyst in this, because I didn’t have any strong female role models as I was growing up. I was the oldest girl and kind of took care of everyone. So I thought I really didn’t need women. I didn’t really look for it and had no
Your Letterman appearance with your friend Sandra Bernhard was history-making television. I understand it was your idea that you two dress identically that night.
To dress alike? Definitely. Whenever we would meet up for dinner or whatever, we were constantly showing up in the same or very similar clothes. So then, when we decided that I’d go on the show with her, I just thought we should follow through with that. In retrospect, it was all a little mysterious to me why that was so interesting to everyone. We were just having fun, which is what I always do with Sandra. She’s a gas. I felt totally comfortable out there.
You stirred some controversy that night by suggesting you two hung out at a New York lesbian club called the Cubby Hole.
Well, yes, we threw that out there to confuse people. It was definitely an inside joke for people in New York. I mean, I’ve never been to the Cubby Hole. I just think it’s hysterical.
At the moment, you’re a brunette. How different does brown feel from blond?
I can’t dwell on it too long because I have to dye my hair blond again for Dick Tracy. Being blond is definitely a different state of mind. I can’t really put my finger on it, but the artifice of being blond has some incredible sort of sexual connotation. Men really respond to it. I love blond hair, but it really does something different to you. I feel more grounded when I have dark hair, and I feel more ethereal when I have light hair. It’s unexplainable. I also feel more Italian when my hair is dark.
Speaking of your look, you were recently named to Mr. Blackwell’s annual worst-dressed list. Is there any list on which you’d like to name him?
I’d put him on the list of men I’m least affected by. [She grins mischievously.] I think I always make the worst-dressed list. It’s just silly. But it is kind of nice having something you can count on.
If you could change anything about the way you look, what would it be?
I always wanted to be taller. I have the little-person complex. People who are smaller are always trying to be bigger, I guess.
You seem mighty big.
Well, that’s good, because I’ve been working on being big for so long [laughs].
What of life can you see from behind tinted glass?
It looks even more inviting. If I’m in a hotel and I know there are paparazzi downstairs, I find myself looking out the window wistfully. Last summer, during the play, I would look out my window in the theater and see tons of people outside waiting for me every night. And I would find myself enviously watching some anonymous woman just carrying a shopping bag, walking down the street, just slowly window-shopping and taking her time, with nobody bothering her. I envied her.
What becomes a legend most?
[Puzzled] You mean, like the fur you’re wearing? Is that a question? I don’t know. I think that’s one of the great mysteries.
Do you make your own bed?
Yes, I do. The maid comes three days a week, so on the days she doesn’t come, I make my bed. I’ve even been known to wash my own clothes.
Well, that ought to be worthy of legendary behavior. Confess your worst fault.
Impatience. I just can’t stand waiting. I always want everything right away. Nothing came as fast as I wanted it.
Over the years, you’ve jokingly called yourself a bitch. Do you think you’re a bitch?
Oh, I can be. Deep down inside, I’m a really nice girl. But, certainly, I can be a bitch. I’m a perfectionist, and I’m under lots of pressure. Sometimes you have to be a bitch to get things done.
You mean in light of the Bush administration, you haven’t become a kinder and gentler Madonna?
No! [She laughs devilishly.] The world isn’t ready for that!