Like A Chameleon -- Madonna Delves Into Her Sexual Psyche And Invites US To Watch.
Few papers get to interview Madonna. Hardly anyone gets to see her home. But Gavin Martin of London's New Musical Express managed to charm his way into the world's biggest star's bedroom for an interview. First of two parts.
Madonna's bed is big enough for two, at least. Barely an hour after her assistant opens the door of her Upper West Side Manhattan apartment, Madonna has suggested we retire to her boudoir.
That is where she wants to play some cuts from her new, as yet incomplete, LP release. Titled "Erotica," it is her first proper album since "Like A Prayer" in 1989 and her first album recorded entirely in New York since "Like A Virgin" in 1985. The reason we're in her bedroom is because, she says, "I prefer the speakers in there." Madonna, arch manipulator of fetishes and fantasies, is also probably well aware of the mythical value her bedroom has. Either way, it seems churlish to protest.
She scrambles across the bed, which of course takes up most of the room's floor space. Her small but firm frame lounges on top of the soft white duvet. Her feet dangle off the edge, her head barely reaches midway point. The bed faces the wall and a large Mitsubishi TV. On top of the TV are video cassettes from the still-in-production promo shoot for the title track and first single from "Erotica."
Being a multimedia '90s kind of babe, Madonna also has a book of photos and shorts stories called "Sex" to tie in with the record's release. But for the moment she has elected not to show these to anyone who hasn't signed a formidable secrecy document.
In a control room down the hall, a walk-in cupboard of red lights and hi-tech-fi, Madonna had lined up the first song to come through on her bedroom speakers. They are built into the wall high above the telly and look like small air vents until she hikes up the system to ear-splitting volume. The sound fills the room, the opening beat is overlaid with distortion and crackle. It's a shock because at first you think Madonna's favorite speakers may be on the blink. Then you realize it is no accident, this is what she intended.
The shock continues when the "Erotica" vocal begins. It's a deep wounded growl fired by brute desire, and it sounds as though it's coming from somewhere dark and menacing: as far as you can tell it sounds like a man. You wonder who is doing the vocal and then Madonna says that all the voices are hers - a sexual chameleon delving into previously unfathomed parts of her psyche.
Before Madonna decided to go into the bedroom we had talked for an hour in her living room. This was no quick and easy seduction. Our conversation has been fractured. Alternately coquettish, guarded, momentarily revealing, then withdrawing - I found it difficult to establish a natural rhythm with Madonna. Her strength has always been that she's not a simple person to categorize or pin down. Perhaps she keeps her deepest feelings and fullest confessions for the recording studio.
In the bedroom, the volume of the music makes it impossible to continue the interview. But the words from the recording studio are coming through loud and clear. Madonna sings of being "in a secret garden looking for a secret flower" of "planting a seed and watching it grow," then, just as she begins to sound like Percy Thrower, she asks, "Do you really know what pain feels like?" All the time her voice is moving across the smorgasbord of sexual expression - fear, emotional torment and physical delight. Suddenly Madonna pipes up.
"Sit down," she says. At least I think that's what she says, but it's such a shock to hear her slightly squeaky, slightly bossy speaking voice contrasted with the recorded vocals that I'm not sure. Perched on the end of the bed, I can get close enough to ask her a few more questions, wrap up the interview.
I move closer. Our eyes meet. I look at Madonna, Madonna looks at me. She says it again. Yup, that's what she said. "Sit down." I'm about to sit on it. She fixes me with a look of mild horror. "Over there," she shrieks, "on the floor."
I decide I'd rather stand. I move away, embarrassed, mumbling something about it being a dance track so I'd rather stand anyway.
I can't let it end like this. In a few minutes I'll be back out on the street with the nobodies, the sadoes and the Madonna watchers. I say the first thing that comes to mind, something to wind her up, something to get a reaction. "Where Life Begins," that's the one the British tabloids are saying is your lesbian sex song. I let the question/remark/accusation hang in the air. Madonna, who is back in the hi-tech cupboard down the hall, doesn't hear it, so I repeat. She comes out and flexes me with a confidently defiant look.
"Well, they're wrong again," she says. "None of my songs are about lesbian sex. They're about sex, but not any specific kind of sex. They're not any specific kind of sex. They're not limited to any gender, they are just about sex. I refuse to be restricted in that way."
Well, cheers to you, Ms. Ciccone, heavens we love you more than you could know . . .
What's your book about, could we call it pornography?
"No, it's erotica."
What's the difference?
"I think pornography is a word that implies abuse in some way or some sort of objectifying. By the way, I don't think that Playboy magazine is pornography. Umm, I don't see anything pornographic about beautiful pictures of naked women. If someone is blowing a hole in someone's chest and they're naked, that's pornographic to me. It implies some sort of violence, intrusion, abuse, you know what I mean?"
The titles of the album and book suggest they are interlinked.
"Well, the only way they're interlinked is that there's a CD in the book which is a remixed version of the title track on my album, that's the only way that they have anything in common."
Given what's gone before and your public image, it does seem to be that you're making the exploration of sexuality the center of your life's work.
"That is a subject that I'm very interested in, yeah, it's not the only subject I'm interested in but it's a subject that I think is really important because I think that people's sexuality is at the core of everything that they do and create and how they relate to people."
But are there limits to how far you would go in your exploration? Sexuality goes into some areas that can be termed unacceptable: incest, pedophilia, bestiality. Where do you draw the line ?
"I don't even think about that. I don't think a painter goes, `How far am I going to go with this?' I think you have a feeling, an idea, an expression of something and you see where it takes you. I don't think about boundaries. I only think about my original inspiration and where I want to go. My boundary is that I'm honest, that it feels real. If it ceases to be what I believe in, then I know that I've overstepped the boundary."
Has your father seen the book?
In the movie "Truth Or Dare," he wants to make sure that you're not taking clothes off onstage. You assure him that you're not, but the next time you go to work, it's the full-frontal assault.
"I've no intentions of sending my father the book, if that's what you're asking."
But he will see it, it's going to be everywhere - on TV, in papers, in magazines.
"No, he won't see it. He may see certain pictures of it, he may turn the TV on and see pictures of me with black bands over my breasts. I'm sure he'll turn it off."
You haven't done it, at least partially, to wind him up?
"Am I doing the book to wind up my father? Not at all."
Well, you've often talked about looking for his approval.
"Wanting his approval is different to wanting to wind him up."
Do you see sexuality reflected in the make-up of society, in its power structures?
"I'm not really sure what your question is. Do I see sexuality in people walking down the street?"
No, in the things that disturb you about American society.
"There's sexuality everywhere. That's a ridiculous question. I see sexuality in people I know and people I don't know. Everyone exudes some sort of sexuality; either the fact that they're embarrassed about it and they're trying to hide it, or they're comfortable with it, or they flaunt it, you know what I mean. I mean, everybody deals with their sexuality in a different way. Umm, so I don't really know what you're asking. I see sexuality everywhere."
The lyrics that were eventually to end up on "Erotica" began to take shape during the making of the movie "A League Of Their Own," Madonna writing between breaks in the filming. The hit-and-miss nature of her movie career is well-documented, since playing a role very close to her own wily personality in her "Desperately Seeking Susan" debut. Madonna has been Queen of The Film Flops, headlining turkeys like "Who's That Girl," "Shanghai Surprise" and the unreleasable "Bloodhounds of Broadway."
But Madonna has not gone cap-in-hand to ingratiate herself to Hollywood's leading men. She had bemoaned Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner's reluctance to take a prominent role in Hollywood's AIDS Awareness Movement, freaked out her agent when she decided to keep the scene in "Truth Or Dare" where she gags after Kevin Costner, a backstage visitor, calls her show "neat," and had an angry bust-up with Oliver Stone. Not perhaps the best politics for someone keen to develop a movie career.
"I have developed a movie career," she says, obviously irritated. "Anyway, who's Kevin Costner?"
One of the most powerful men in Hollywood, by all accounts.
"Well, he doesn't bother me, he doesn't scare me."
You've been quoted as saying that "ultimately my acting career will outlast all my other careers."
"I never said that. I want to balance it with my other careers."
Coming from a world where you are very much in control into one where you're merely a component part must be difficult. Are movies frustrating for you?
"Yes, but they're becoming less and less so because I'm understanding them more and more. I'm getting more involved in developing films from a producer side of things, meeting writers, seeing projects going from an idea to a script and also from acting in movies more. Just knowing the basics, it's not a mystery to me anymore. So it's not as frustrating. The most frustrating thing about making a movie is the fact that so many people are involved in them and there's so much more money spent on them.
"It's not something you can just go, `OK, I've got an idea I'm going to go into the studio and record and put it out.' You know what' mean? It takes years to make a movie, there's a million people involved and everyone has to have an opinion, that's extremely frustrating. There is no instant gratification."
Tomorrow: Madonna's plan to conquer the '90s.
(Copyright, 1992, New Musical Express. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.)
Madonna's new album, "Erotica," and her already-controversial book, "Sex" (Warner Books, $49.95), are being released Wednesday.
Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.