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!'”
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.
On March 19 1989, Madonna was the featured artist in the Arts section of the New York Times in an article and interview by Stephen Holden.
Like a Prayer, said Madonna, “is the song of a passionate young girl so in love with God that it is almost as though He were the male figure in her life. From around 8 to 12 years old, I had the same feelings. I really wanted to be a nun.”
What follows is a description in Madonna’s own words of what happens in the video:
“A girl on the street witnesses an assault on a young woman. Afraid to get involved because she might get hurt, she is frozen in fear. A black man walking down the street also sees the incident and decides to help the woman. But just then, the police arrive and arrest him. As they take him away, she looks up and sees one of the gang members who assaulted the girl. He gives her a look that says she’ll be dead if she tells. The girl runs, not knowing where to go until she sees a church. She goes in and sees a saint in a cage who looks very much like the black man on the street, and says a prayer to help her make the right decision. He seems to be crying, but she is not sure. She lies down on a pew and falls into a dream in which she begins to tumble in space with no one to break her fall. Suddenly she is caught by a woman who represents earth and emotional strength and who tosses her back up and tells her to do the right thing. Still dreaming, she returns to the saint, and her religious and erotic feelings begin to stir. The saint becomes a man. She picks up a knife and cuts her hands. That’s the guilt in Catholicism that if you do something that feels good you will be punished. As the choir sings, she reaches an orgasmic crescendo of sexual fulfillment intertwined with her love of God. She knows that nothing’s going to happen to her if she does what she believes is right. She wakes up, goes to the jail, tells the police the man is innocent, and he is freed. Then everybody takes a bow as if to say we all play a part in this little scenario.”
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.”