She’s the whore in our living room and tiger in the bedroom. But in her bedroom, she’s little Ms. Understood. Chris Heath Discovers That When A Tough Cookie Crumbles, Things Get Messy And Sweet.
Madonna is in the shower. I wait upstairs in her New York apartment, and soon enough she arrives, her hair slicked back, a cocktail of three perfumes – Black Narcissus (her lucky perfume), gardenia, tuberose – waiting my way. She picks up my tape recorder. "I’m seeing if it’s turning," she says, "that’s all." A slight smile. "You know I’m a control freak. I have to see what’s going on." I tell her it’s my job to fret about the audio devices.
"Well," she says, "once you enter this house, throw the rules out the window." There is a pause. It is almost, but not quite, dramatic. "Just kidding," she says unconvincingly. "Just kidding. So fire away?"
So I fire. Sometimes it will be messy, but it begins calmly enough. I ask Madonna to tell me some things – any things – about herself. She considers this a little strange, but she complies.
"Um – I don’t suffer fools gladly. I am intolerant of ignorance. I love children. I eat too much candy. I have a dog. I love basketball. I have really good hearing. So don’t try to whisper about me in the other room because I’ll probably hear you. I have terrible insomnia. I like to smell good. I do smell good. I believe in magic." She smiles. "That’s all I’m going to tell you for now."
Of course I want more. Obligingly, the phone rings. "I hate it when people call me and hang up on me," she says.
Me: Who does that? Fans, I suppose.
Madonna: (snapping somewhat) No it’s not. No, it’s not. I know exactly who it is. People who know I don’t want to speak to them, and they call me anyway to see if I’m home. They like to keep tabs on me.
Me: What kind of people?
Madonna: Nuisances. Annoying people.
Me: But in regards to your life?
Madonna: Okay. (whispers) Ex-lovers.
Me: Do you know which ones?
Madonna: (breezily) Oh, there’s The Handful.
Me: And they call to hear the sound of your voice?
Madonna: To see where I am. Some people have too much time on their hands. Do you know what I mean?
Me: (without conviction) I guess.
Madonna: No one’s ever done that to you?
Me: Well, I’d be ashamed to say no. But I certainly don’t have a lingering chain of obsessed ex-lovers.
Madonna: Mmm. Oh well. (laughs) You can’t have everything.
Early on I realize it: This is not quite the Madonna I expected. This Madonna is more nervous, more edgy; less certain. This is not a woman grinning down from the throne of her celebrity, enjoying her fame and acclaim. This Madonna talks defiantly about people who dismiss her because, she says, they envy her courage and despise their own lack of it. This Madonna talks about the admiration she should have earned for "surviving in spite of the beating the media give me for everything that I do." She roars on this theme with a passion that is quite unexpected. On this earth, Madonna does not feel beloved. She feels as though an apology or a set of excuses are expected of her. "So many celebrities make some kind of public confession." "Oh, I was abused as a child" or "I have a drinking problem." I have no excuses and I have no apology. And that’s bewildering to people."
These days, many people seem eager to see Madonna brought down a peg. The latest calls for Madonna to apologize followed her "f*ck"-festooned appearance on Letterman. Their feud was laid to rest when the two appeared together at the MTV video awards. Madonna says she actually really likes him. "He’s madly in love with me. You know how schoolboys are? How they always tease the girl they love the most?" There’s more. "I think he’s attractive," she reflects. "The space in his teeth – I love that. I always think that a space in the middle of someone’s teeth – my father has it – is a sign of intelligence."
How depressing, I say. Mine couldn’t be closer together. Does that mean I’m dumb?
"No. Whether you’re dumb or not remains to be seen."
We talk about her father. Apart from herself, her father appears most often in her dreams. Sometimes he is the man he is now, and sometimes he is the man he was when she was a child. Sometimes – in the dreams – she fears his judgment. Sometimes he is loving and affectionate. Sometimes he is sad and she feels guilty. And sometimes he is there as a kind of warning, telling her not to do something. Inside these dreams, it is Madonna’s instinct to rebel. But when she wakes up, she thinks again. Maybe she should heed his advice.
I ask her if she knows what her father really thinks of her.
"Mmmm," she says, which seems to be what she always says when an answer does not appear immediately. "I don’t really know. I think there is a little bit of fear and a little bit of intimidation, but I think there is also admiration and respect, because he raised me to believe in hard work, and he recognizes that I work hard. I mean, I would prefer it if he could profoundly intellectually understand the things I do, but maybe so he can treat me the same as all my other brothers and sisters when I come home, he has to keep certain things at a distance."