Madonna On Madonna: `Am I Supposed Not To Tell Things?'
Last of two parts
Madonna's involvement in movies has been stepped up by the multi-million, multimedia deal for her own company, Maverick. The album "Erotica," to be released Wednesday, will be Madonna's first on Maverick, a conglomerate that will not only be a record label, but will also publish books, make movies, videos and TV series. Is this going to be her way of conquering the '90s the way she conquered the '80s?
"I haven't thought of it in that way, it's just an extension of something I've wanted to do for a long time, and I'm really excited about it. I think there's unbelievable potential in it and I'll probably spend the '90s being very involved in it. So if you want to put it that way. . ."
Maverick would seem to mean that you are going to spend less time in the public eye in future.
"No, what it means is I'll never sleep, because I don't intend to stop being an actress, a singer, a performer - whatever. I have a lot of really brilliant people working for me and nothing goes by me without me knowing about it. . . My manager Freddy De Mann is an incredible partner. That alleviates the load but it's juggled, it really is."
Maverick may give Madonna independence, but it is also beholden to big brother, the running-scared Time Warner Corporation, which has already come under attack for Ice-T's "Cop Killer" and will undoubtedly come under fire when Spike Lee's movie "Malcolm X" hits the screens. For whatever reasons - mad bigots, behind-closed-doors rationale, the risk of real violence - Ice-T was forced to remove "Cop Killer" from the Body Count album. I was surprised that Madonna, a free-speech champion, hadn't made some sort of public statement of support for him.
"I've already done that with stuff in the past. At first, I was really happy because Jerry Levine (Time Warner boss) was being really supportive. I don't know the real reason he took it off. Some said he took it off because there were all these people at Time Warner who were getting death threats and people really felt their lives were in danger. Other people say he took it off the record to prove he didn't have it on there to make money. I mean, whoever really knows these things?
"I'm sure there are people who are going to be upset and want to censor my book and certain songs on my album. But I'm used to it at this point. I know how to handle it. I believe in freedom of speech, obviously I don't always talk about it. I just feel it comes with the territory. Y'know, I'm not going to take anything off."
Do you still get the feeling that you're back in the fifth grade when male critics react to your stuff as being sluttish or whorish?
"Women have said that about me, too, please. It goes back to what we were talking about earlier, people being afraid of me. Fearing what I stand for, whatever feelings I arouse in them. It's easier for them to cast me off as being some no-talent nymphomaniac, then they can put me away in a file in their brain. . .
"When you don't want to recognize someone, you dismiss them. You know what I mean? A lot of journalists act out their fear of me in their pieces or whatever articles they write."
But it's not just journalists. Mick Jagger, rock 'n' roll's very own aging stud farm, has said there's a "central dumbness to everything Madonna does."
"I met him, I think. I shook hands with him in a restaurant once."
I'm surprised; you allegedly introduced yourself to future lover Tony Ward by stubbing a cigarette out on his back. Surely Mick must have deserved a slap round the head, at least?
"Well, when I met him it was before he said that. And if I went around slapping people that said idiotic things about me, I'd be spending all my time slapping. I mean, Mick Jagger doesn't know me well enough to say there's something dumb about me. He doesn't know me at all. So I'm not offended by his remarks."
Madonna breaks the unwritten codes of celebrity. When she was in the middle of planning a duet with Michael Jackson, she told the lesbian and gay magazine The Advocate how she wanted to change his image, get him to hang out with a gay dance troupe and write a song that "went all the way, not some stupid ballad or love duet." Jackson was reportedly horrified and the collaboration was called off.
"What, am I supposed not to tell things?"
No, but you seem to be breaking unwritten rules.
"Yeah, because I'm an outspoken person. I'm opinionated and people ask me things and I say them. If I don't want to say something I'll say I don't want to, but I don't understand why celebrities become celebrities and then spend the rest of their life hiding. I'm not ashamed of a lot of the things I do, so I don't feel like I have to hide it. Also a lot of interesting things happen to me and I like to tell interesting anecdotes."
Were you disappointed that the duet didn't happen?
"No, not at all."
You did sound very keen to make it special when you talked to The Advocate.
"No, I mean, I think Michael Jackson is a very talented man, but I think he's gone past a certain point. He operates in a world that I don't want any part of. I don't want to cut myself off from the world. I don't want to alienate myself from humanity. I could have pushed myself out into his world, but I've spent all my time trying to be in touch with people, and he spends all his time hiding, cloaking and padding things around himself. It's very evident when you see him work.
"Don't get me wrong, he's very talented, but I think he's killing himself. I was interested in working with that part of him. But there's so many other things in the way right now. I'm an artist who likes to be honest and confront; he operates in a completely different way. We're like oil and vinegar, oil and water. We just don't mix."
Who do you look at and say, yeah, that's good. I connect with what they're doing?
"People always ask me this question and I'm stumped. I think about it a week later and go, `Oh, yeah, that's right, I love him, or her.' "
"Jennifer Jason Leigh is excellent, I'd like to work with her."
In her movie "Body of Evidence," Madonna plays a woman who uses her body to kill her lover. Her co-star is Willem Dafoe, and the director is Uli Edel, who captured Leigh's tortured psyche and sexuality in "Last Exit to Brooklyn."
The movie's release will display Madonna's inexhaustible talent for synergy - a sexual warrior battling it out for the top spot in movie, book and record charts, underlining her belief that sex makes the world go round.
Despite the fame and the fortune, everyone Madonna's ever loved seems to have been taken from her. Her husband, her mother, her dance teacher, numerous friends lost to the AIDS epidemic. Additionally it is said she will never fulfill a wish to have children and is doomed to forever find herself in destructive relationships. It would be quite easy to make out her life to be a tragedy.
"Believe me there plenty of people who do. All these people who write these unauthorized biographies are like `oh poor me'. I read them and I laugh, they're hysterical. I'm doing everything I want to do. There's a lot of bad things, there's a downside to being famous, but if I was really, truly miserable I would stop."
The constant is change
Look back over the decade of Madonna's ever-changing face and physique and you'll see many figures - Ann Sexton, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Frida Kahlo - reflected in her look. I ask her if she's just copying others and she throws the question right back.
"What do you think?"
I'd think yes.
"Well, who do I look like?"
I've no idea, it would be your interpretation.
"I think like most people I'm inspired by many things. I'm inspired by a young teenager walking down the street. I'm inspired by an old picture that Horst took, by an old movie, an old painting. Many things inspire me. People spend too much time exploring that side of me. The idea that I go through all of this planning and scheming to change myself and to become someone else and to look like someone else.
"The amount of time I think about that is probably this much compared to everything else I think about. It's just that I'm very good at doing that and people have fixated on that. I like change, I think change is good. I think changing your diet is good, I think changing your work-out routine is good, changing your clothes, your look and cutting your hair, changing everything is good."
A post-gig soiree
The following evening, Madonna holds a post-gig soiree for k.d. lang, who is in New York playing a three-night run at the Radio City Music Hall. First time she met lang - who just recently confirmed her lesbianism, until then one of the worst kept secrets in the business - Madonna declared "Elvis is alive and she's beautiful." But tonight she gets peeved waiting for her to turn up and leaves before k.d., held up by backstage well-wishers, appears. "We had a lovers' tiff," k.d. tells the press when she arrives, but, as far as the press is concerned, the night belongs to Madonna anyway.
Madonna arrives with her close friend Ingrid; the pair camp it up for the press, kissing and fondling. Madonna is wearing a black suit, her hair has a golden shine, offsetting the gold tooth which, unveiled for the first time in public, ensures tabloid publicity for weeks to come.
Celebrity photo-call opportunity is presented by two members of the old guard; crooner Tony Bennett and, in a wheelchair, legendary chanteuse Peggy Lee. Lee, wearing a silver blonde wig and nearing 76, has been on Madonna's mind a lot this week. She sent her a copy of her recently completed version of Lee's "Fever" and went to see her in performance. Perhaps aware of her presence, the frail Lee walked to the microphone, telling the crowd "I haven't done that in years."
Meeting her for the first time, Madonna takes the situation in hand, chats kindly, breaking off only to scream at her photographer to come and record the meeting. When he does, she urges her brother to come and join the picture. Christopher Ciccone, dressed in T-shirt and white shorts, is hesitant, so she grabs him by the arm and says, "Come on Chris, with legs like that, you shouldn't be shy."
Soon it's time to go, back to the recording studio, where she has a midnight assignation with Shep Pettibone to finish off her "Erotica" album. Before she does, she says good night to Ingrid and the pair give the man from the New York Post a little bit of risque banter.
Madonna slaps one thigh and says, "This leg is Christmas." Then she slaps the other one and says, "This leg is Thanksgiving." Then Ingrid giggles and says, "Why don't you come up and see me between the holidays."
And with that, Madonna was chaperoned out the back door, away from fans waiting at the front entrance. She smiled, her $10,000 tooth glinting under the light. And then she was gone.
(Copyright, 1992, New Musical Express. Distributed by L.A. Times Syndicate.)
Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.