In 1985, Madonna, on the precipice of stardom, chose to be interviewed by her friend, character actor Harry Dean Stanton, about her angsty childhood and her biggest influences.
Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone entered a new phase of life this
summer when she married – the deafening whirr of six news
mongering helicopters – elusive actor Sean Penn in Los Angeles. The
marriage, a first for Penn and Madonna, came after a courtship of
less than a year and pushed the singer into the age of material
womanhood: the house in Hollywood, the Mercedes, the family plans.
Contrary to her playgirl image, the real-life Mrs. Penn is sensible,
decisive and business-minded. Her middle class, Italian-Catholic
background has anchored her in a widening sea of exposure, while
her lean years as an unknown – artist’s model, dancer, and club
singer around Paris and New York – have given her a hard edge on
younger, softer contemporaries. Surrounding Madonna like a halo is
an unspoken message hinted at by her friends and supported by
outward shows of defiance: DON’T MESS WITH ME. YOU’LL LOSE.
Her fans can’t get enough of it. With more than 20 million records
sold worldwide, she is among a select group of musical artists
(including Prince and Michael Jackson) frequently forced to knock
themselves off the charts in order to score with new songs. After a
convincing screen debut this year in Desperately Seeking Susan,
Madonna’s creative affectations seem to be shifting toward acting,
and she is currently in the market for a project to co-star in with her
husband. Insiders cite a script called “Blind Date,” but no contracts
have been signed. Always full of surprises, Madonna chose veteran
actor and close friend Harry Dean Stanton to be her confidant.
MADONNA: I’m not as true to myself as I always proclaimed that I
had been. I realize now, after eating this Fig Newton and reading this
package, I realize there’s animal fat in this and I’m no longer a
vegetarian. I want everybody to know how fallible I am.
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HARRY DEAN STANTON: You’re not perfect.
M: No, I’m not Jamie Lee Curtis.
HDS: Madonna, to start at the very beginning, what’s your earliest
M: I think my earliest memories go back to about four or five years
old, and they’re memories of my beautiful mother. They’re really
great memories. When I was four years old or younger, I remember
not being able to go to sleep at night, so I would walk into my parents’
bedroom and push the door open. They were both asleep in bed and I
think I must have done this a lot, gone in there, because they sort of
sat up in bed and said, “Oh, no, not again,” and I said, “Can I get in
bed between you?” I always went to sleep right away when I slept
with them. I felt really lonely and forlorn, even though my brothers
and sisters were in my room with me. I wanted to sleep with my
HD: The bosses.
M: Yeah, I wanted to sleep with the A Team. I remember, because my
mother had a really beautiful red nightgown, silky red. My father was
against me getting into bed with them, and my mother was for it. I
remember that. So I got in bed between them, and I remember
getting into bed and rubbing against her nightgown and going to
sleep – just like that. To me that’s heaven, to sleep in between your
HD: And your next memory?
M: My second wasn’t so pleasant. It was me sitting in the driveway of
my house and another little girl, who must have been about two years
old – I was about four – had just learned to walk, and she walked into
the yard and picked a dandelion up out of the ground. I hate
dandelions more than anything, and I had been told I couldn’t leave
the front yard so I was kind of mad. I was sitting on the cement of the
driveway and this little girl came waddling up to me with her diapers
on, and with little innocent eyes, she looked up at me and handed me
the dandelion and I pushed her down. I was so mad because I was
being punished and my first instinct was to lash out at someone who
was more hopeless than I. I saw in her innocent eyes the chance to
get back at some authority.
HD: Why do you hate dandelions?
M: Because they’re weeds that run rampant. I like things that are
cultivated. So that was my first memory of being mean to someone.
HD: Do you remember when this hatred of dandelions started?
M: I think it was from when my father made us go out in the yard and
pick all the dandelions, like they were varmints. So those are my
earliest memories – nice and naughty.
HD: Talk about your view of the world as a child.
M: When I was a child I always thought that the world was mine, that
it was a stomping ground for me, full of opportunities. I always had
the attitude that I was going to go out into the world and do all the
things I wanted to do, whatever that was.
HD: I read that you liked the song, “These boots are made for walking
– I’m gonna walk all over you.”
M: That attitude wasn’t it – not like I’m going to go in and terrorize
anybody or walk all over anyone or conquer – but just that I was
going to get out there and take a bite of the big forest. And I think I
did that. And now that I’m a woman, I’m still doing that. But as big as
I am and as much as I know, I still have that same wide-eyed feeling
that there’s still a forest for me to go out in-
HD: You’re still a virgin.
M [laughs]: Yeah.
HD: What’s the angriest that you’ve ever been?
M: The angriest time in my life – I’d have to say that was in my teen
years. Like from when I was in junior high till I graduated from high
school. Actually I sort of mellowed out toward my last year because I
finally figured out what I was going to do with my weird old self. It
was a combination of feelings. When you’re growing up, whether it’s
the neighborhood you live in, or school, or church or whatever, your
family – and I had a really big one – there’s a lot of pressure to fit
into the group.
HD: Peer pressure.
M: Your peers aren’t pressuring you, you just want to identify with
somebody as you’re growing away from being a child. You’re starting
to think differently, and you want to be independent, but before you
reach that independence you really need to attach yourself to
someone. In my school there were the hippies – the more free group,
the guys who had long hair and took a lot of jewelry and shop classes
and smoked a lot of pot during lunch hour. I didn’t identify with them
because I thought they were extremely lazy. Then there was the jock
group, and they were drunk on beer every day. I was a cheerleader for
a little while, but I couldn’t get into it anymore. It wasn’t that I wasn’t
interested in sports, it’s that I couldn’t agree with the sensibilities of
the cheerleaders and the athletes. They were only interested in one
thing – sports and drinking girls. Oops, Freudian slip. Well, that’s
basically what they did – drank girls and went out with beers
[laughs]. See, I had this idea that everybody went to school with
blinders on their eyes in junior high and high school and it really
pissed me off. For some reason, don’t ask me how, because my
parents weren’t worldly and I didn’t know many people who were, I
was just sure everybody was missing something. I couldn’t identify
with anyone, so I just wandered around aimlessly. As far as other
friendships go, I sort of hung around on the outside of things and
befriended who other people thought were the class nerds. Those
were my best friends, I think, the guys who were really studious, like
HD: Did you have a best friend?
M: Yeah, there was one girl. We were pretty good friends and I think
we laughed at the world together for awhile, but we grew apart. We
did a really funny thing once. We thought we were better than
anybody else, and our main point of interest was boys, obviously, and
we decided that we were going to dress up as ten-cent floozies.
HD: And there’s where it all started.
M: I remember one summer I went away and hunt out with my
uncles. They were very young, and a couple years older than my
brother, and I thought they were the coolest people in the world.
They had a rock band. I’d visit my grandmother, up north in Bay City,
Michigan. She wasn’t an extreme disciplinarian like my parents, so I
loved going there. We could have twelve desserts at grandma’s and
stay out past 10:00 and go out with beers and drink boys. But I
remember that summer I was watching my uncles’ rock ‘n’ roll band
– wearing tight jeans for the first time in my life. I smoked a
cigarette, not too successfully, I started plucking my eyebrows and I
started feeling like, “Yeah, this is it, I’m cool.” I remember I got back
and my stepmother told me I looked like a floozy and I was really
HD: This was before you had taken any dance or music or anything?
M: I was studying dance in high school, but this was before I was
really committing myself to it every day. At that time, I was going to
dance classes but they were fun. IT was really a release for me, just so
I wouldn’t beat up my brothers and sisters. I knew that I was really
good at it. They were jazz classes, so they weren’t as strict as, say, a
ballet class. I’m talking light eighth grade; the summer between
eighth and ninth grade I went to my grandmother’s house and did all
this. So then I came back and after that summer I felt like I had really
grown up – only to find out that I was a floozy [laughs]. Then it was a
private joke between my girlfriend and me, that we were floozies,
because she used to get it from her mother all the time, too. If we did
one little thing, like wear a little lip gloss or try to wear opaque
pantyhose, not nylon stockings that you could see through, not sheer,
HD: So somewhere you did like the floozy look.
M: Only because we knew our parents didn’t like it. We thought it
was fun. We got dressed to the nines. We got bras and stuffed them
so our breasts were over-large and wore really tight sweaters – we
were sweater-girl floozies. We wore tons of lipstick and really badly
applied makeup and huge beauty marks and did our hair up like
Tammy Wynette. She’s got the pictures actually, I don’t, of us laying
in the bed. We both took turns, lounging on the bed with our hands
behind our heads. We took pictures of each other and we developed
them and these were our ten-cent floozy pictures. We were going to
keep them so we could look back at them and laugh, because we knew
how ridiculous it was.
HD: Do you still have them?
M: I don’t, but when I went home last spring I saw that girl and she
showed them to me and it made me laugh hysterically.
HD: Maybe you could get them back and we could use them.
M: No way. I’ve had enough blasphemous photographs. Everybody
knows I’m a bad girl.
HD: In one of your interviews you said you’re basically a very sweet
person, a very good person – a very healthy person and you like your
M: I am. I know that I’ve incited a lot of bad feeling with the Moral
Majority or Parents and Children. There’s this big scandal about
banning music with sexually explicit lyrics, but I think ultimately
children, more than anybody, sense the realness of somebody and the
goodness of somebody. I don’t think they would have attached
themselves to a person or believed in them or looked up to them if
there wasn’t some innate goodness or sweetness to them. You let go
of that trust and innocence and that intuitive psychic ability to see
that in people as you grow older. I think it’s these kids’ parents who
don’t understand it and they’re fearful of it.
HD: Do you think it will have a positive effect on all these little girls,
the “want to be’s?”
M: I do, because I have a positive attitude about life, and I think they
see that. What they see more than anything is that I was a little girl
from Michigan and I had a dream and I worked really hard and my
dream came true. I believed in myself and now especially, more than
ever, children really need to have those kind of people to look up to,
people with positive life-messages. People who believe in dreams and
magic and things that are happy. Everything is so real and grim.
Children in school today and thinking about their life being over soon
because of nuclear holocaust or… All I’m trying to say is that it just
seems that more and more negative things are happening around the
world, whether it’s incurable diseases or famine or the threat of the
atomic bomb. What kind of thing is it for children to grow up with
that fear? I think it’s really important for them to have an image or
something to inspire them and take them out of that. Not so they
don’t even think about it, but to realize that there are also some
positive things going on. It’s not just “What’s there to look forward to
HD: And you want that to come through in your singing, your music,
that feeling that you have integrity and you’re not a fake and you’re
good and you tell the truth.
M: Harry Dean, those are your words. I don’t claim to be an
intellectual or esoteric songwriter and I think my message is very
simple, positive and full of life.
HD: You have a great attitude.
M: I laugh at myself, I don’t take myself completely seriously. I think
that’s another quality that people have to hold onto, you have to
laugh, especially at yourself. I do in most of the things I do, and most
of the videos that I make and my performances. Even in my concerts
there were so many moments when I just stood still and laughed at
myself. It was like I start mocking the image that the public has of
me. For instance, I ended a show with “Material Girl” and throughout
the song I went up to all the guys in my band; they’re giving me
pearls and diamonds and fake money and I’m stuffing it down my
shirt, and I’m going crazy with it. At the end I say to the audience,
“Do you think I’m a material girl?” and they all say “Yeah!” Then I
say, “I’m not” and start taking all of it off and throwing it into the
audience. It’s like a joke, that’s the point. It was fun, and the audience
HD: That’s the truly moral thing too…
M: If you can’t make jokes about yourself, you’re not going to be
happy. You’ll be the saddest person that ever lived – you are!
HD: I also think the dancing you did gave you tremendous discipline.
M: Exactly. That was the first thing – the devotion to that, and
realizing that I could go from being unmolded clay, and over time and
with a lot of work and with people helping me, I could turn myself
into something else. Before I started feeling devoted to dancing, I
didn’t really like myself very much. I didn’t think I was beautiful or
talented. I spent a lot of time loathing myself, and not feeling like I fit
in my school and hating the authority of my parents, like every
adolescent does. I really had a lot of self-hatred. When I started
having a dream, and working toward that goal, having a sense of
discipline, I started to really like myself for the first time. Then that
just carried over into everything. That isn’t to say that even now, as I
approach acting a lot more seriously in my life, that I feel like, “Wow,
I could work really hard and just get there.” I’m full of the same fears
now, and awkwardness about not knowing that much about it, as I
was when I first started dancing.
HD: About acting.
M: Definitely. Once I felt really confident about my dancing I went
into music. I started writing lots of songs. But to get out in front of
lots of people and actually do the songs and sing in front of a
microphone and project, I encountered all those same fears all over
again. I feel like my life is cycles, one cycle after the next, and I keep
learning more and more. Every time I get to another place and I’m
learning more about something, I’m exactly the same as I was way
back when I was just starting to dance. My knees are trembling and I
want to learn, I’m afraid, but I’m also excited. I’m just like an open
book. I want to get everything into my head that I can, then get it out.
I’m completely uninhibited on a stage with 30,000 people in the
audience, and say things, and dance and sing, because I feel confident
about it because I know what I’m doing.
HD: Then once you know a script and know a role and know your
lines, then –
M: Then I feel very confident. Being a dancer certainly helped me
learn how to play instruments, and understand musicality and
rhythm and coordination, things like that. When you’re playing the
drums, it’s all about being coordinated, you know?
HD: This friend of mine told me that men see women from the
outside in – in other words they’ve got to look great and have a great
body, and then after you pass all those tests they’ll talk to you. A
woman looks at the inside of a man first. They look in his eyes or at
his attitude – from the inside out, is that true?
M: I’m sure there are exceptions on both sides, but generally I would
agree with that.
HD: You know who said that?
HD: Sean, your husband.
M: Isn’t he the smartest!
HD: Madonna, what kind of classical music do you like?
M: My favorite-favorite-favorite music to listen to is baroque, that
would be Vivaldi and Bach and Pachelbel and… Handel’s Water
M: He’s heavier than the people I mentioned. I don’t listen to
Beethoven enough to make a judgement whether I like him or not.
When I was studying ballet I listened to classical music all the time,
because that’s what you listen to when you take class. And I got really
interested in it, but just lately I started listening to it all again and I
really miss it. That has a lot to do with living in an apartment that
doesn’t have a stereo system, believe it or not, but I’m going to be
moving soon and I’ll have that. The other day my husband was
playing Brahms and I never really listened to him that much and I
loved it – it was a concerto. I love Mozart and Chopin only in that
they had some real sweet feminine quality about a lot of their music.
HD: What about reading – what authors do you like?
M: Books are my next favorite thing, after kissing my husband. I love
to gobble up books. You want to know who I gobble up?
HD: Like boys and beer?
M: I don’t drink books, I gobble books. I gobble books and I read my
husband, okay? So, my favorite poet is Rainer Maria Rilke, he’s a
German poet and he’s great. I love James Agee. One of my all-time,
all-time favorite poets is Charles Bukowski, I think he’s the coolest
guy in the world. He lives in San Pedro and someday I’m going to go
up there and knock on his door and say, “Charles, get out of that
house and let’s have a talk… Charles, can we talk?” He’s totally
HD: What’s so awesome about him?
M: He’s really funny and raunchy. I love him because he’s always
cutting himself down, but he’s totally for real. I have a lot of favorite
poets but I can’t think of them right now. Aside from biographies
about people I’ve admired in my life, I love the classics. I love James
Joyce and Henry James and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway and
J.D. Salinger and D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Mann and, what’s that
guy’s name – shit – oh! Balzac and Guy de Maupassant. I love
Françoise Sagan and Marguerite Duras. I love a lot of French writers.
As far as new people who I read, I love V.S. Naipaul, Milan Kundera.
And Lawrence Durrell, I love his books. But more recently, I went
through my Jack Kerouac phase, and Kurt Vonnegut. I’m reading
three books now, one is Françoise Sagan, the other is Milan Kundera,
and oh – I love Alice Walker. I love to read, and I can’t wait to move
into my house so I can have a room full of books on the walls.
HD: And you never went to college – otherwise you never would have
had time to read all those books.
M: Actually, I went to the University of Michigan for a year, but I was
in the performing arts school and I studied dance, music theory and
art history. I took a Shakespearean course, so I read a lot of
Shakespeare, but that was it. But man, I love to read.
HD: What about paintings?
M: I wish I knew a lot more about paintings than I do, but I have a
few favorite old guys and new guys. I loved this French painter called
Corot. He was right before the Impressionists got big, before Monet’s
time. And I like Picasso, certain periods, but I’m not really into
Modernism or Cubism or Postmodernism. Of the young artists now, I
think Jean-Michel Basquiat is a great painter, I love this guy named
James Brown. I think those two are really funny in their work. I really
like Francesco Clemente, his paintings are very romantic and rich –
oh, and I love Keith Haring. I think a lot of painters look down on
him because he sort of capitalized on his paintings in a way that
people might promote their pop records, but I think he’s very
talented. I like humor in paintings, I really do…
HD: What singers and instrumentalists do you like in contemporary
M: Let’s talk about singers. I love Ella Fitzgerald more than anything.
She has the coolest voice in the world. The way Ella sings scat is
unbelievable. As far as old singers go, I love Sarah Vaughan and old
Sinatra and old Sam Cooke. Most of my leanings toward favorite
singers, from when I was really young, are soul singers, you know,
R&B, black, then up till now, gee whiz.
HD: Do you remember Big Joe Williams?
M: Yeah, he’s great, and B.B. King. He’s got a great voice and he
writes great songs. He’s a great guitar player. It’s funny, I don’t have a
lot of favorite modern people. Tom Waits, he’s a great singer and
songwriter and he’s got lots of humor, I like him a lot. I want to meet
HD: Do you know his wife Kathleen?
M: Well, she must be cool. He would only marry cool people. Now, I
love Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin. Think Prince has a really good
voice and I think he’s a really good songwriter too, and a great
musician, but he definitely needs to get a sense of humor. When I was
growing up I used to really like Joni Mitchell a lot. The Court and
Spark album was my bible for a whole year. I knew every word of
every song on that album.
HD: So her style has influenced you a lot?
M: I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I never could bridge the gap between
what records I loved to listen to when I was growing up and what
influenced me. I’m sure each record I heard influenced me in some
way, just like every person you ever meet influences you. I think Don
Henley is really great, he’s got a really good voice. Chrissie Hynde,
from the Pretenders, was a great inspiration to me because she was
very popular at the time and she’d just come out. I love Rickie Lee
Jones, too. Of contemporary women singers I’d say those two are my
favorites. They have great voices and they’re gutsy, and they’re great
musicians too. And Debbie Harry, who I really admired. I was just
starting to write music when she was very popular. She and Chrissie
Hynde were big inspirations to me because they were women and
they were in charge of what they were doing. They were obviously
writing their own lyrics and they had, to me, very strong images and
that gave me courage.
HD: Deborah Harry’s one of my favorites, too.
M: Debbie Harry, if you’re reading this, hello, I’ve always wanted to
meet you. And Harry Dean wants to go out with you.
HD: And I think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.
Madonna, what inspires you in your music?
M: Gee willikers – I think the things that inspire me to make music
are the things that arouse my curiosity and make me happy in life,
whether that be romantic love, the love I feel for my husband, for
instance, or the love I feel for my friends.
HD: Have you felt differently since you’ve been in love with Sean?
M: Totally. I feel calmer now than I ever have before. What that
means is that I can really concentrate on the important things. It’s
funny, now that I’m in love, all the songs I write I feel like I do it all
for him. I do it for myself, but I do it for him. I’m writing the lyrics or
doing the music, or something that’s creative, I think “Would he like
it?” I do. So, love inspires me, and Sean inspires me, and a great book
will inspire me, or a great movie, like A Place in the Sun, starring
Montgomery Clift. Everything inspires me – old men walking down
the street, a janitor who I meet. You know what I like to do? When I
go to parties I talk to the butlers and janitors and stuff. They inspire
me. I think they’re the funniest. An expression in someone’s eye,
walking down the street can inspire me. Children inspire me.
HD: What about children…
M: I would love to have a child. Then after I have a child I would
decide whether I’d love to have another child. When I see couples and
they’ve just had a baby and it’s newborn and fresh and smelling good,
and it’s completely pure and perfect and all that, I really want to have
that for my own. I want it. And I really want to watch somebody
grow, and have a personal effect on their life from the very beginning.
M: I’ll tell you, I want to have a kid before I’m 80.
HD: You’ve told me that before you were successful you would walk
down the street and look everybody in the eye, and since you’ve
gotten all this media attention, it’s different.
M: I used to be just a brazen, outgoing, crazy lass, and I went out of
my way to get attention from people. I would wear one orange sock
and one purple one. I went out of my way to make statements with
my clothing and obviously I got looks from people. I enjoyed, then,
getting looks from people, and people thought I was strange or
interesting looking. I brazenly looked people in the eye when I walked
down the streets in New York. I loved getting dressed up and going
out on the street and walking around. I didn’t have money to take
cabs then, so I took subway trains a lot and I loved seeing the visual
effect I had on people, and now I can’t really enjoy that privilege
anymore, because I already have all the attention. I feel like when I
walk down the street people don’t see me as an interesting person,
they see me as Madonna, a person they know and read about every
day. Looking into their eyes invites trouble, so now when I walk down
the street I look down at the ground, and that’s sad for me. I’ve sort of
gone from being an extrovert to being an introvert, publicly, which I
never thought I could be.
HD: What about the press?
M: Unwanted response – let’s just sort of catapult ourselves right into
the press. I can talk about the press and I’m probably not going to be
saying anything a lot of celebrities or people who are public figures
haven’t already said before. Look at Jackie Onassis, she had to go to
court to get this guy to stay away from her, but I have to say that since
my tour I haven’t had a moment’s peace from the press.
HD: They abuse their privilege.
M: The thing that annoys me more than anything about paparazzi is
that they really feel that they have put you where you are. They really
think that because you’re a celebrity, you owe them all the pictures
they can get. I think it’s completely unfair. I think it’s one thing to
want to be there at social functions, like premieres and parties and
gala events, to want to be there to chronicle those events. I know
people are interested in reading about that, but I don’t want to get my
picture taken every time I walk out of Jane Fonda, and I do. It’s not
even the taking of the pictures that bothers me, it’s the element of
surprise I always encounter every time they jump out of the bushes or
jump from behind a corner. It’s like a teeny heart attack every time it
happens. Every time I go running in Central Park around the
reservoir, and they’re waiting… I’m gliding along listening to music
and all of a sudden they jump from behind a tree. They’re always
scaring me, so I have to deal with that constant fear. And every time
they jump out to take a picture, the way they take them – it’s like
they’re raping me. I feel like they might as well have taken a gun out
and shot me, because it takes me at least an hour to come down from
that shock every time that happens. It’s a very traumatizing situation
HD: It also isn’t right to have six helicopters hovering over a marriage
M: No, but as we were saying before, America is a really life-negative
society. People want to know all the underneath stuff – all the inside
stuff, your dirty laundry. Which isn’t to say all the stuff the press has
been getting on me is negative or dirty or whatever, but there’s
always hope, for them, that they’ll uncover something really
scandalous. So paparazzi hover above you like helicopters; they’re
vultures. If they truly understood what they’re trying to capture in a
photograph, they wouldn’t want to do it. I want to be able to go
through the day – go to my exercise classes, get married – without
the whole world watching. I’ve given enough to the public through my
music and videos and one movie that I’ve done, and I plan to keep on
giving it. I don’t see why they have to keep on trying to take more
from me. That’s all I have to say about it.
HD: Madonna, the press has written that your rise has been like a
meteor and that you’re going to burn out, and they quote you as
saying in 20 years you’ll be a great actress.
M: Ultimately people want to see other people fail – another part of
the life-negative society we live in.
HD: It’s not all life-negative is it?
M: No, because if it were, people like you and I wouldn’t be here. If
there weren’t people who had a great attitude about it, great books
and great paintings and movies wouldn’t be made. There’s always
going to be the adversary, the antagonist, the good and the bad, the
yin and the yang, and so maybe the negative exists so we can see the
positive. In the very beginning I was hurt by it, the things people
wrote about me, saying that I was going to fall, go away as quickly as I
came. It’s like junior high magnified a thousand times, you just can’t
pay attention to it. Ultimately, anybody who sits around predicting
the failure of anyone else is fearing his own failure. Why waste your
time? Why not think about the good side of everything? Or – even if
someone isn’t famous after three years – the good things they
contributed to the world. It’s really funny. Twenty years ago, people
were movie stars, musicians and public figures – but there was a lot
more mystery about them. Now, not only do they tell all about
anyone’s life, anyone’s past, to find all the dirty laundry – including
the number of abortions someone’s had – but they also make sure
that everybody knows, twelve-year-old kids included, how much
money an actor makes, how much a movie grossed, how much a TV
show grossed, the ratings. It explains everything down to the
scientific thing – it takes all the magic out of Hollywood, and it’s
really upsetting to me.
HD: Making a business out of everything, cold hard cash –
M: Yeah, and as far as acting goes, I’m not sure it will take me 20
years to be a great actress. I think what I said was that I hope to be
acting 20 years from now, when I know I won’t be making pop videos
for MTV anymore. I ultimately think my career as an actress will
outlive all my other careers.
HD: A friend of mine told me in your backstage preparation for your
Live Aid performance that you looked like a warrior – making sure
everything was right – and then when you came on, you came on like
M: That’s a great compliment, that’s what I feel like when I go on.
HD: The emphasis has been on your visual image, your physicality,
your image as a sex symbol. Actually, you had two hits out before
anybody really knew what you looked like, right?
M: I was successful in the clubs and no one knew what I looked like. I
was considered a “disco artist,” and then when I had my first
nationwide hit, “Holiday,” people still didn’t know what I looked like
– because I still didn’t have a video. It wasn’t until I made a video to
“Borderline,” which was my third single release off my first album,
that people actually put a face to a song. I do think it’s kind of ironic…
HD: And frustrating too. There’s been more emphasis on your looks
and your image as a sex symbol than there has been on your
tremendous talent as a singer, a musician, as a record co-producer
and video producer. You also have a lot to do with directing your own
M: But I always collaborate with people. I don’t think my success
would be sustained as it is now if my career were only based on my
physical appearance. It just shows that looks mean a lot and image
means a lot. But you have to back it up. People didn’t really have any
preconceived notions of me until they started seeing my image – my
face, the way I moved, putting the voice with the face.
HD: The song “Holiday” was a big hit on black as well as white
M: My first two hits were hits only on black stations, and it wasn’t
until “Borderline,” which was my third release, and that’s also the
first video I had on MTV, that they crossed over to the white pop
stations. People didn’t know what I looked like before that and I was
only played on black stations, but I still considered that I was very
HD: How close are your demos to the finished song?
M: It depends. On my first album, the demos we made were not as
close simply because I didn’t have as much direct involvement with
the production of my album. I didn’t know if I knew enough to speak
out. It wasn’t until my first album was three-quarters of the way done
that I realized, hey! I know a lot more about this than I’m allowing
myself to speak out about. So I started going backward and stripping
the songs down and making them more sparse. Until then they’d
been layered with a lot of stuff. Then when we got into the second
album, I had a lot more confidence in myself and I had a lot more to
do with the way it came out sounding. I really worked side by side
with Nile Rodgers. When I brought the demo tapes in, all we needed
to do was transfer it into a bigger sound, so they were much closer to
the original demos. Nile was very open with me, he gave me the
feeling we were really collaborating and I felt free to say what I
wanted. He really liked the demos and wanted to preserve the quality
that was on them. That’s why the second album was closer to the
sound of the demos.
HD: Why wasn’t “Into the Groove,” which is from Desperately
Seeking Susan, on your second album?
M: For a simple reason: My second album was already released when
the movie was being filmed. The director, Susan Seidelman, said to
me she was shooting a sequence in the movie where we needed a
song that had a really good dance beat. She asked if we could just
bring in the tape of the song that Steven Bray and I wrote. I said okay,
and I brought in this tape we had been working on. Actually I wanted
to test it out on all the extras who were dancing to it, to see if it was a
good song. I had no intention of using it in the movie. So I brought it
in and we played it, and we had to do take after take and pretty soon
everyone was starting to like the song and they were saying, “What’s
this song, and where’s it coming form?” I said, “It’s just a song,” and
as the film got nearer to the end and they were doing the final cuts,
Susan called me up and said, “Look…” Originally I think they were
going to use all old songs that were already recorded in the
soundtrack. I didn’t go into this film thinking I’m going to get a hit
song out of this, or an MTV video. No way! I think everybody wanted
to turn the other cheek to that song and not bring it in because
nobody wanted to make it that kind of movie. So it was getting closer
and closer and Susan Seidelman said to me, “We’re trying to find
another song for that scene and we just think yours really works – it’s
a great song, the producer loved it, Orion loved it, everybody loved
it.” I said, “Okay, fine.” They synched the song to that sequence in the
movie and showed it to me. I thought it was great and it didn’t
interfere with my character or what I was doing acting-wise, and we
ended up using the original 8-track demo Steven and I had made. We
never went into the recording studio and made a record out of it.
HD: You’re one of a handful of musicians – and I’m including
Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Elvis – who have had to compete with
themselves on the charts – to get another hit you would have to
knock yourself off.
M: Gee, I can’t complain, the more the merrier. I like the fact that all
my songs are doing well, who wouldn’t?
HD: I was personally impressed with your choice of music at the
reception, after your wedding, when everyone was having dinner and
dancing. The songs were a lot of older ones, from the ‘40s or ‘50s –
M: We went all the way back to the ‘30s – big-band era stuff.
Honestly, I didn’t do it on my own. I had the help of Michael Ochs,
who has an incredible archive of music, and I knew he could assist me
in finding all the possible tapes. I wanted it to be really romantic. We
had old Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Sarah
Vaughan. It was really like the roots of rock ‘n’ roll all the way back
up till now.
HD: I’m going to segue into censorship here. What’s the deal on
censorship in your music?
M: I’ll hip you to it, Harry Dean. Basically, a bunch of moralists have
gotten together and decided that the majority of the lyrics and the
images that a lot of pop artists are projecting are injurious to the
minds of their children and they’re having a bad effect on them. I
would say that what they’re doing is taking a lot of people and
lumping them together when they point the finger at them. For me,
whether my lyrics are worthy of censorship or not has nothing to do
with it, it has more to do with my image. The thing is, they’re going to
try to find a word in every song to hang on to. Most of the lyrics in my
songs have double entendres or lots of different meanings, so if
you’re thinking in a purely sexual way – I’m not using any offensive
words or profanity at all. I’m not naming anything. You can take the
meaning of the songs a lot of different ways. I think they’re really
referring back to my song “Like a Virgin,” but since it’s not on the
charts anymore they can’t complain about it. “Dress You Up in My
Love” means you’re just going to completely cover somebody up in
love – it’s a love song. It’s very innocent. I think all of my songs have
an element of desire or flirtation. It’s never, “Come on baby, let’s get
down to it – let’s get in the bed and go right through it.” It’s not like
HD: I think people always associate sexuality with something dirty.
M: What they’re complaining about is their eight-to-fourteen-yearold
children who are being exposed to all these things at a very young
age because they watch MTV all day and buy records. I’m definitely
against violence in videos, and I think a lot of groups rely on a few
thematic schemes in their videos to make it interesting. You see a girl
walking in a miniskirt or a guy driving fast in a car and crashing it or
things that are exploding, but I don’t think that the MTV videos have
any more violence than things people see all day long. So if you don’t
want your child exposed to violence, you shouldn’t let them watch TV
at all. I don’t think the moralists are even listening to the things I”m
saying in my songs, they’re just thinking about my image. I had a
scandal with Playboy. They just expect everything that comes out of
my mouth to be prurient and off-color. Prurience is in the eye of the
beholder, let’s face it. I’m going to quote a little bit out of the I Ching
regarding that subject: “So, too, music has power to ease tension
within the heart and to loosen the grip of obscure emotions. The
enthusiasm of the heart expresses itself involuntarily in a burst of
song, in dance and rhythmic movement of the body. From
immemorial times the inspiring effect of the invisible sound that
moves all hearts and draws them together has mystified mankind.
Rulers have made use of this natural taste for music. Music was
looked upon as something serious and holy, designed to purify the
feelings of men, it fell to music to glorify the virtue of heroes and thus
to construct a bridge to the world of the unseen.” So that sort of nips
those moralists in the bud, wouldn’t you say, Harry Dean?
HD: To a large degree, yeah. Let’s talk about the Playboy spread.
M: When they were taken seven or eight years ago they weren’t
meant for publication in any magazine. They were done by these guys
who took pictures of nudes for exhibits and showings and stuff. At the
time I wasn’t a known person and it didn’t really occur to me that I
was setting myself up for scandal for years to come. And the thing is,
for years, when I first moved to New York, I modeled for a lot of art
schools for the drawing and painting classes and the nude is an
essential part of study for a person in beginning study; they have to
draw the anatomy of the human body. I was a dancer at the time. I
was in really good shape and I was slightly underweight so you could
see my muscle definition and my skeleton. I was one of their favorite
models because I was easy to draw. So I sort of made the rounds. I
got paid very well for that, versus having to work eight hours in a
restaurant. I could work in a school for three hours, and take dance
classes all day, then do my show at night, if I was performing. I’d be
making money and not working that many hours. So, when I did this
a lot of people wanted me to start modeling privately for them. They
had little get-togethers on the weekends, say three people in the class,
and they’d ask me to model for them. The smaller the class the better.
I could hang out a lot more and work a lot less. So I got to know these
people in a friendly kind of way. They became like surrogate mothers
and fathers for me, they took care of me. Then, what would happen is,
they’d say they knew a great and he’s doing an exhibit of nudes and
he’d like to do some pictures. So I’d get involved with photographers
that way. Then we would turn me on to somebody else, and for the
photography sessions I’d be paid a lot more than drawing. I consider
the nude a work of art. I don’t see pornography in Michelangelo, and
I liked what I was doing to that. It was a good way to make money. As
it turns out, I became very successful and famous and America, the
media and the press, geared the way it is –
HD: Trying to make something smutty out of it.
M: Of course, a life-negative society. Besides, that’s sort of the course
of events when anyone gets successful, to go back and try to find all
the deep, dirty, dark hidden secrets and expose them. Well I don’t
have any, because I’m not ashamed of anything that I did. I would
have preferred that those photos weren’t printed, because obviously
the way they were promoted wasn’t very flattering to me, but when
people actually saw them they thought, “What’s the big deal here?”
HD: Tell me your goals. What do you want to do?
M: I think in the back of my mind, no matter what I was learning to
do, I’ve always had the deepest desire to pursue acting as a career. I
guess I’m sort of getting to it in a roundabout way.
HD: What actresses influenced you most?
M: Judy Holliday and Carole Lombard because of their innocence
and their sense of humor.
HD: What directors do you think you’d like to work with?
M: I’d love to work with Bob Fosse, Martin Scorsese, and Jamie
Foley. I guess people aren’t too happy with the stuff he’s been doing
lately, but I love Coppola, I think he’s great. Also, Roman Polanski,
Mike Nichols. I would have loved to have made a movie with
Fassbinder, he would have been great to work with – and George
Stevens. They’re both not available at this time.
HD: You mentioned earlier that a lot of your work now is for Sean.
He inspires you tremendously, you feel more together, connected,
being in love, so – let’s just cut the bullshit Madonna – did he ask you
to marry him or did you ask him? How did it happen?
M: Sean asked me to marry him but he didn’t say it out loud. I read
his mind. So I read his mind back to him.
HD: Where were you?
M: In Tennessee, at the “Something Inn.” We were out in the middle
of nowhere, and 7-Eleven was the high point of interest there. It was
a Sunday morning and I was jumping up and down on the bed,
performing one of my morning rituals, and all of a sudden he got this
look in his eye and I felt like I just knew what he was thinking. I said,
“Go ahead and say it, I know what you’re thinking.” No! What I said
was “Whatever you’re thinking, I’ll say yes to.” That was his chance.
So he popped it.
HD: Did you say yes immediately?
M: Of course I did. I’m a woman of my word. Then we went to the 7-
Eleven and bought a whole bunch of jawbreakers and celebrated.
Sean is my hero and my best friend.
The article appeared first ininterviewmagazine.com.