Today in Madonna History: October 14, 2005

On October 14 2005, Stuart Price was interviewed on BBC Radio 1 to promote the releases of Madonna’s Hung Up single and the Confessions On A Dance Floor album.

Today in Madonna History: October 11, 1992

On October 11 1992, Madonna was interviewed at The Ritz Hotel in Paris for Swedish TV (7 Till 9). The interview was part of the European Erotica promotional tour. During the interview she calls Abba “boring” and Elvis “sexy”.

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: August 21, 1993

On August 21 1993, Billboard magazine interviewed director Mark Romanek for a feature article about Madonna’s music video for Rain:

One rarely finds the use for such adjectives as “Zen-like,” spare, and sentimental in describing an outrageous, outspoken, and extreme performer like Madonna. Yet the artist’s new Maverick -Sire-Warner Bros. video “Rain,” directed by Mark Romanek for Satellite Films, conjures those very images against the understated elegance of a tenderly soothing ballad. The result is a Madonna who is chic yet vulnerable, glamorous yet sweet.

“The contradiction you face in shooting a Madonna video is that people expect something rather grand from her, and yet the feeling of the times is that things need to be simplified and stripped away,” says Romanek. The director admits he was a bit intimidated by the prospect of shooting a video that would mark a departure from Madonna’s ostentatious antics of the past. “The song is a bit sentimental, and you just can’t do something psychosexual and subversive with it,” he notes. “My challenge was to come up with something that seems glamorous and expensive, yet is spare and Zen-like at the same time.” Romanek chose to interpret “Rain” as an exercise in media manipulation and image-making. The clip is reeled as a video-within-a-video, as Madonna, the doe-eyed ingenue, performs for a Japanese film crew.

Music buffs may recognize the “director” in the clip as the photogenic composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. “By making it a Japanese thing, we made Madonna more vulnerable; she’s away from home, more out-of-place,” says Romanek. “It creates a nice subtext and makes her more sympathetic.” And by shooting a “crew” shooting a clip, Romanek created the kind of prefab, artificial scenario that would underscore the true emotion of “Rain.”

“We knew we needed some rain, but we didn’t want the clip to be too clichéd or too literal,” he notes. “So we figured if we have to have rain, let’s have fake rain.” That fake rain was contained in two tall “walls” that stand on either side of a simply clad Madonna. One shot looks deceptively plain, but as Romanek explains, “the amount of equipment, pipes, and lights that are hidden in that image, so that the walls appear to stand as simply as possible and look aesthetically correct, was huge.”

To further capture the crystalline essence of the song, Romanek and cinematographer Harris Savides chose to lens a number of rare, color closeups of Madonna’s face and features. But they were faced with the technical challenge of updating the traditional “Garbo lighting” used since film’s earliest days to flatter a star’s most arresting features. Madonna agreed to undergo a half day of camera tests, after which a new German lighting fixture was chosen to achieve a thoroughly modern, yet classic, effect. Icy blue eyes stare directly into the camera as full, lush lips sing the lyrics into an old-fashioned microphone. Of all the sequences in the “Rain” video, Romanek says he is proudest of these close-ups. It’s one of the hardest things to make something as simple as that possible,” the director says. “You need that kind of icon, like Madonna, to make a shot like that work.”

The Satellite crew spent four days making sure such aesthetically correct shots would work, including a windswept storm sequence on a stage, and an overhead shot of Madonna surrounded by a bed of open, black umbrellas. In nearly every shot, the graphic image is so compelling that the camera need never move.

Romanek, a founding director of Satellite, shares credit for “Rain” with producer Krista Montagna, stylist David Bradshaw, and editors John Murray and Jim Haygood. The clip’s cinematographer Savides and art director Jan Peter Flack have been nominated for an MTV Video Music Award.

Today in Madonna History: April 18, 2012

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On April 18 2012, Madonna was interviewed by Harry Smith as part of NBC’s Rock Center.

Madonna talked about her Super Bowl performance, rehearsing for her upcoming MDNA World Tour, parenting and her thoughts on the paparazzi photos of Lourdes smoking.

Today in Madonna History: March 17, 1999

On March 17 1999, CBS-TV’s news magazine, 60 Minutes II, aired a Madonna interview conducted by Charlie Rose. The segment was titled “Madonna at 40”.

“I refused to wear makeup – and that’s when girls are, sort of, going out of their way to be attractive and please boys at school. I said, ‘Well I’ll be damned! They’re going to have to like me with hairy armpits or they’re not worthy of me!'”

Today in Madonna History: January 13, 2012

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On January 12 2012, Cynthia McFadden asked Madonna, during a Good Morning America interview, for her opinion of the Lady Gaga song, Born This Way.

McFadden started by asking if Madonna felt that Lady Gaga was “copying” her. Madonna’s first reply was complimentary.  She called Gaga “a very talented artist” and said she admired her songwriting abilities.

Madonna went on to say, “I certainly think she references me a lot in her work. And sometimes I think it’s amusing and flattering and well done.”

Madonna said that Gaga’s work also appeared to be a “statement about taking something that was in the Zeitgeist, you know, 20 years ago and turning it inside out and reinterpreting it.”

Madonna continued, “There’s a lot of ways to look at it. I can’t really be annoyed by it …because, obviously, I’ve influenced her.”

But Madonna became coy when the conversation turned to Born This Way.

“When I heard it on the radio …I said ….that sounds very familiar.  It felt reductive.”

Pressed as to whether that was a good or bad thing, Madonna told Cynthia to “look it up”  – before smiling slyly and taking a sip from her tea cup.

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