Madonna: The Rolling Stone Interview
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.
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