Today in Madonna History: September 30, 1995

On September 30 1995, Billboard magazine featured an exclusive interview with Madonna in a piece by Timothy White to promote her upcoming ballads collection, Something To Remember.  Focusing primarily on the connection between Madonna’s introspective ballads and the loss of her mother, the article (which appears in an abridged version below) was titled “‘Something’ In the Way She Grieves.”

“Listening to this record took me on my own journey,” says Madonna with a sad smile, shifting on the couch in her apartment overlooking Central Park. “Each song is like a map of my life. I don’t really listen to my records once I’ve done them, I’m onto the next thing. And I think most of the time when my records come out, people are so distracted by so much fanfare and controversy that nobody pays attention to the music. But this is, for the most part, a retrospective, and I just wanted to put it out in a very simple way. The songs, they choke me up, and I wrote them. Isn’t that weird? I can’t tell you how painful the idea of singing Like A Virgin or Material Girl is to me now. I didn’t write either of those songs and wasn’t digging deep then. I also feel more connected emotionally to the music I’m writing now, so it’s more of a pleasure to do it.”

Madonna has included three new songs on Something To Remember: a moody cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 hit I Want You, which was suggested and subsequently produced by Nellee Hooper and features Massive Attack, and two bittersweet serenades (You’ll See and One More Chance), co-created with David Foster during the third weekend of September in a whirlwind writing/recording session. Shortly after this talk, she was to leave for London to start recording the music for the film version of Evita, the musical that was the toast of Broadway in 1979–the year Madonna wrote her first song in the basement of a dormant Queens, NY synagogue.

“I remember calling up my father back in Detroit and making him hear it on the tape recorder over the phone,” she confides, blushing. “He said, ‘Oh, that’s very nice.’ I felt proud. The song was called Tell The Truth.”

A self-assessed “roller-coaster Catholic,” Madonna grew up sharing the middle bunk in a three-tier bed with two of her sisters. “I didn’t have any free time as a child,” she says. “My mother died of breast cancer when I was 7, and then my father remarried when I was 10. I had a lot of responsibility, taking care of my younger brothers and sisters.”

Like her siblings, Madonna was obliged to study music, specifically piano. “But I couldn’t sit still, and I begged my father to let me take dance lessons,” which served as a means of escape. Madonna was in the church choir and acted in school musicals, while sharing her mother’s mantra-like habit of idly intoning her favorite tunes. “As a teenager, I loved Aretha Franklin’s A Natural Woman, and in high school I worshiped Joni Mitchell and sang everything from Court And Spark, my coming-of-age record.”

But her pivotal developmental trial was the death of her mother, and as Madonna passes this fall afternoon discussing the themes behind her often acutely wistful ballads, she ultimately says, “My mother is part of a lot of my music.”

Although love songs, such as Live To Tell, One More Chance and I’ll Remember, also invoke the early fever of a failed marriage to Sean Penn, tensions with a stepmother who could not replace her lost parent, or later relationships that fell short, a larger phantom overshadows each mourning of life’s missed linkages.

“I think about my mother and a certain emptiness–a longing–in my songs. There are tragic, traumatic moments where I think ‘I wish that I could call my mother.’ It’s this primal thing that has been a springboard for the work I do.”

How did she learn her mother was gone?

“I was at my grandmother’s house. The phone rang, and it was my father, and he told my grandmother that my mother had died. I’d just seen her in the hospital. The rest of the day I blocked out–I probably went outside and played. I was majorly into denial and didn’t really understand. And it unfortunately wasn’t something that my father ever really prepared us for or discussed afterward. I suddenly developed a strange throwing-up disease, where every time I would leave the house, I would throw up. If I was away from my father, I threw up. It was a nervous condition.”

In recent years, when Madonna was under attack for her frank Erotica album and Sex book, the artist says she drew strength from her late parent’s nonjudgmental “fervor” for fulfilling one’s personal vision: “She had an unbelievable level of tolerance and forgiveness. She was tremendously religious in a really passionate–almost sexual–way, like she was in love with God. If you read the letters she wrote, even when she was sick and dying, she was completely happy about everything. It was frightening, there was just that faith of hers. My mother loved to take care of people. My older brothers and I were sometimes brutal to her, and she never complained.”

It sounds like the materfamilias had an essential serenity. “Exactly,” says her daughter. “And I could probably use more of it in my life.”

A brisk September breeze catches the leafy scent rising from the freshly mowed lawns of Central Park, the tangy end-of-season smell betokening the coming solstice. Madonna shivers slightly as she sips the last of her tea.

“I think my mother made people angry, because they couldn’t shake her beliefs,” she concludes in a near whisper. “And she was just 32 when she died–just a baby, Madonna Louise. So basically, I’m here to take her place.”

Today in Madonna History: September 29, 2009

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On September 29 2009, Warner Bros. Records released Madonna’s Celebration: The Video Collection to accompany the greatest hits collection, Celebration.

The DVD Track Listing:

01) Burning Up
02) Lucky Star
03) Borderline
04) Like A Virgin
05) Material Girl
06) Crazy For You
07) Into The Groove
08) Live To Tell
09) Papa Don’t Preach
10) True Blue
11) Open Your Heart
12) La Isla Bonita
13) Who’s That Girl
14) Like A Prayer
15) Express Yourself
16) Cherish
17) Vogue
18) Justify My Love
19) Erotica
20) Deeper and Deeper
21) Rain
22) I’ll Remember
23) Secret
24) Take A Bow
25) Bedtime Story
26) Human Nature
27) I Want You
28) You’ll See
29) Frozen
30) Ray Of Light
31) The Power Of Good-Bye
32) Beautiful Stranger
33) American Pie
34) Music
35) Don’t Tell Me
36) What It Feels Like For A Girl
37) Die Another Day
38) Hollywood
39) Love Profusion
40) Hung Up
41) Sorry
42) Get Together
43) Jump
44) 4 Minutes
45) Give It 2 Me
46) Miles Away
47) Celebration

Today in Madonna History: September 28, 2005

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On September 28 2005, the double-A-sided 12″ promo for Madonna’s Hung Up was released. SDP’s Extended Dub (7:56) was included on both sides of the promo vinyl.

Rolling Stone magazine included Hung Up as one of the 100 Best Songs of the 2000s. Here’s what Rolling Stone had to say:

Going back to disco, as she always does and always should, the queen hustled up a chintzy-sounding Abba sample, a drag queen’s wet dream of a chorus, and Stuart Price’s electrobeats. The result? One of her most captivating hits ever — and thanks to those deceptively hard-hitting lyrics, one of her most personal.

Today in Madonna History: September 27, 2002

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On September 27 2002, the theme and title-track for the twentieth film in the James Bond franchise, Die Another Day, received its world premiere on New York radio station Z100. The song had been due to hit the airwaves on October 10th, but when Z100 got their hands on the track ahead of schedule they immediately added it to their heavy rotation playlist. Other stations quickly followed suit, prompting an early but very strong debut at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. and becoming the chart’s highest first-week entry of the year.

Die Another Day was written and produced by Madonna and Mirwais with string arrangement by the late, great Michel Colombier. After being introduced to Madonna through Mirwais, Colombier arranged strings for Madonna’s 2000 hit Don’t Tell Me, scored her film Swept Away and arranged the American Life tracks Nothing Fails and Easy Ride. Colombier sadly lost a brief battle with cancer in 2004, leaving behind a legacy of celebrated collaborations with the likes of Serge Gainsbourg, Prince and Joni Mitchell, to name only a few.

Madonna’s Bond theme was first performed during 2004’s Re-Invention Tour, where it became a visual showstopper with its ambitious and impressively executed tango-influenced choreography.

Today in Madonna History: September 26, 1988

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On September 26 1988, Madonna began recording the Like A Prayer album in Los Angeles, California with collaborators Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray.

Madonna had begun writing for the album during down time of her Broadway run in David Mamet’s Speed-The-Plow, for which she gave her final performance in late August. With her marriage to Sean Penn on the rocks, Madonna found herself at a personal and creative crossroads–with plenty to express.