On July 28 1997, Madonna offered a personal glimpse of the glamour, the luxury and the loss of her great friend Gianni Versace in an essay published in Time magazine.
I slept in Gianni Versace’s bed. Of course, he wasn’t in it at the time, but I couldn’t help feeling that I was soaking up some of his aura. I believe that when we sleep, our soul leaves our body to be rejuvenated. Powerful and profound things happen to us in our bed at night, and energy accumulates and hovers above it. There was a lot of nervous energy around Gianni’s bed, and I must say I never slept very well in it. I kept wanting to leap out of the bed and do things: write poetry, smell the gardenias and jasmine that surrounded the house, gaze out my window at the magnificent lake and press my face onto the cool marble of any number of naked-men statues that filled his bedrooms. I didn’t know who they were. They could have been important Greek gods or just your standard Roman hunks, but they were lovely to look at and very distracting. There were ancient books to comb through. Old-master paintings to study and local architecture to marvel at. I was in heaven, but more important, I was envious of a person who had the courage to live life so luxuriously. I’m too practical for that.
I had been invited to stay in Gianni’s villa in Lake Como after shooting my second Versace campaign in Milan. I was thrilled to spend the Fourth of July in such a beautiful setting. I arrived with boyfriend and entourage in tow. As a special favor, I had asked Gianni if I could bring my friend Marjorie Gross, who was dying of cancer. She came along, and we all had to keep pinching ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming. Every evening at sunset we were served fresh Bellinis, which we sipped under the giant magnolia tree at the edge of the lake. The cook prepared delicious meals, the Sri Lankan servants waited on us with white gloves, and my dog Chiquita was taken for long walks by gorgeous Italian bodyguards with walkie-talkies. The captain of a large speedboat was always on standby to take us for our daily swim in the crystal-clear waters of the lake. Dirty clothes never stayed on the floor for more than a few seconds, and beautiful Versace gowns kept arriving. A new batch every day. I even wore one to dinner. I had this fantasy that I was in an Antonioni film and the shoot was going to go on indefinitely. I felt like a spoiled princess. “The Versaces really know how to live!” We kept repeating this over and over like a mantra.
Gianni phoned regularly to make sure that everything was O.K. and that we were all taken care of. I thought about asking if my dog could have a manicure, but I decided against it. Even Gianni must draw the line somewhere. In retrospect I think he would have said yes, and a pet groomer would have been delivered in a matter of minutes. The only person as generous as Gianni is his little sister Donatella, who embraces the beautiful things in life with the same fervor.
But let me be very clear. The Versaces work as hard as they play. Obviously we were enjoying the fruits of Gianni’s labor. Evidence of his work ethic was all over the house. There were sketches lying around everywhere. Art books were marked or open to pages that were obviously going to show up somewhere in his new designs, and millions of magazines were piled on tables, full of articles or advertisements showing his glamorous and sexy clothes. Page after page bursting with color and eroticism. This was a man with a mission. A force to be reckoned with. I was on vacation in his house. He was working.
Eventually my fantasy came to an end, and we all headed back to our lives that seemed dull in comparison. Gianni was probably designing his next collection, editing one of his books or building a new villa. Probably all three.
The last time I saw him was in the spring in Miami. Donatella had invited me over for a pre-Easter dinner. I went to Casa Casuarina with a few friends and found Gianni in great spirits. He was mesmerized by the blue nail polish on my daughter’s toenails. After dinner his niece Allegra sat at our feet and played with Lourdes while he talked about la dolce vita. He had kicked cancer, he was proud of his latest collection, and life was good. That’s when I launched into my speech about yoga and how good it would be for his mind, body and soul. He seemed open, and I gave him my yoga teacher’s number. I could totally imagine this extravagant Calabrian with a twinkle in his eye in the lotus position. The great yogis believe there is no end to life. I’m inclined to agree. Even though Gianni’s life on this earth has ended, his spirit is everywhere, and his soul lives forever.
I’m going to miss you, Gianni. We’re all going to miss you. But I’ve got a pocketful of memories in my Versace jeans, and they’re not going anywhere.
For the week ending July 12 1997, the EVITA soundtrack enjoyed its final week on the Official UK Albums Chart. After 36 weeks on the chart the hit film soundtrack sold 640,000 copies in the UK.
On June 30 1997, Madonna began recording sessions for what would become her Ray Of Light album at Larrabee North Recording Studios, Universal City, Los Angeles.
Madonna had already spent several months writing songs and producing demos with Patrick Leonard, Rick Nowels and Babyface (although none of the Babyface material would make the final cut) by the time she entered the studio with co-producers William Orbit and Marius De Vries. Leonard would return to the project to assist with arrangements, earning him a co-producer’s credit on four of the album’s tracks. Madonna would add lyrics and melody to at least a half-dozen previously composed Orbit demos during these sessions as well, with six of their songs making the final cut.
One song that came very close to being included on the album, Has To Be, was dropped due to Madonna’s desire to limit the number of songs on the album to lucky number thirteen. In a final toss-up between Has To Be and To Have And Not To Hold, the former was nixed in favor of the latter. Has To Be would fortunately make it to the ears of fans, however, due to its inclusion as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of the Ray Of Light album, and as the international b-side to the Ray Of Light single.
Has To Be was born as a collaboration between Madonna and Patrick Leonard. Recently surfaced demos from their writing session include two early versions of the song – the first is a piano-based arrangement in a similar style to the previous Madonna/Leonard collaboration, Something To Remember, while the second demo is an experimental synth-based reworking.
After entering the studio with William Orbit, Madonna adapted Has To Be to one of Orbit’s previously composed electronic soundscapes. Although the original Orbit instrumental piece with celestial voices has never been commercially released, it had previously aired on Orbit’s weekly radio series, Stereo Odyssey, on California’s KCRW prior to his involvement with Madonna. A sound file of the original instrumental that has circulated among fans is a recording from one of these broadcasts.
Although the released version of Has To Be is substantially different from the early Leonard demos, enough elements from its original melody lines (which were based on Leonard’s piano phrases) were carried over to warrant a three-way publishing split between Madonna/Orbit/Leonard for its official release.
Despite its relative obscurity, in fan circles Has To Be often ranks among her most beloved ballads.
On May 10 1997, Gary Barlow’s Love Won’t Wait hit #1 on the UK Singles chart. The track was the lead single from the former Take That singer’s debut solo album, Open Road.
The song was written by Madonna & Shep Pettibone during an early 1994 writing session for what would evolve into Madonna’s Bedtime Stories album.
After recording a handful of demos with Pettibone, Madonna decided to shift musical directions. While some of Madonna’s lyrics from the Pettibone sessions would be reworked into songs that would appear on Bedtime Stories, the excellent Love Won’t Wait remained shelved until it was submitted to Gary Barlow’s manager for consideration.
Strangely, Barlow’s single release credited only Shep Pettibone as the song’s writer, with no mention of Madonna or her publishing company, Webo Girl, Inc. This was subsequently corrected in the liner notes for Barlow’s album, Open Road, with both Madonna & Pettibone receiving credit.
Madonna’s soulfully delivered original demo version of Love Won’t Wait leaked online a few years after Barlow’s version was released.
On February 1 1997, Evita – The Complete Motion Picture Soundtrack peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 album chart in the U.S. Meanwhile across the pond, the soundtrack simultaneously shot to the #1 position on the UK album chart. It had initially peaked at #6 in the U.S. and at #7 in the U.K. upon release in November, 1996.
The surge in sales was largely attributed to the film’s wide release in January and the heavy promotional push that accompanied it, along with the interest generated by the soundtrack’s second single, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.
On September 20 1997, the single-disc version of the Evita soundtrack, Music From The Motion Picture Evita, re-entered the Billboard 200 albums chart in the U.S., spending its final charting week at #190.
In the same issue of Billboard, the promo-only remixes of Buenos Aires earned “Hot Shot Debut” status on the Hot Dance/Club Play chart, entering at #35.