Fame, Sex, Men, and Her Inner Nun:
Madonna on How She Made It
taken from The Daily Beast, July 13, 2015
In this 1985 Spin cover story, MADONNA opens up about her penniless years, struggle for success, the men she loved, used, and felt passionate about, and why she’d be a nun if she wasn’t a singer.
Trash I like to look the way Ronnie Spector sounded: sexy, hungry, totally trashy. I admire her tonal quality. I don’t have a deep, throaty voice or a womanish voice when I sing. I think my voice sounds innocent and sexual at the same time.
That’s what I try to tell people, anyway; but they always misconstrue what I mean when I say “sexual innocence.” They look at me and go, “innocent, huh?” They think I’m trash.
Sexcess I couldn’t be a success without also being a sex symbol. I’m sexy. How can I avoid it? That’s the essence of me. I would have to have a bag over my head and over my body; but then my voice would come across, and it’s sexy.
Idols My first pop idol was Nancy Sinatra. Go-go boots, miniskirt, blond hair, fake eyelashes — she was cool. My first movie idol was Marilyn Monroe. The movie character I identified most with, though, was Holly Golightly; because when I first came to New York, I was lonely, lived by myself, was going to parties and not fitting in.
I loved Brigitte Bardot, especially in Contempt. She kept saying, “Do you love me? Tell me what is beautiful about me.” I can relate to that totally because I really care abut the way I look. I wanted to look like Brigitte Bardot. I wanted to make my hair blonder and wear pointy bras and go out with Roger Vadim.
I also wanted to look like Jean Seberg in Joan of Arc. I was religious, in a passionate, adolescent way. Jesus Christ was like a movie star, my favorite idol of all.
Look-Alikes If I were a girl and knew me, I’d want to dress like me. If I were a guy, I’d dress either like Gregory Peck, when he was really young, or James Dean. I’d either wear ripped jeans and a T-shirt or a suit and tie.
Eating Out At one point I was living in New York and eating out of garbage cans. Actually, it was not a garbage can on the street; it was the garbage can in the Music Building on Eighth Avenue where I lived with Steve Bray, the guy I write songs with. (He’s Useful Male #2 or #3, depending upon which article you read.)
I had been squatting in a loft, living there illegally, but it burned down. There was no heat or hot water, so I had all these electric space heaters around this little piece of carpeting I slept on. I woke up in the middle of the night surrounded by a ring of fire. One of the heaters had set fire to the rug and it was spreading.
I jumped up and dumped water on the fire, which made it spread more. Then my nightgown caught fire. So I took it off, got dressed, grabbed a few things, like underpants and stuff — all my important things like tapes and instruments were already over at the Music Building three blocks away — and I went over to the Music Building and started sleeping there.
I had a band at the time and was playing places like Max’s and C.B.G.B.’s. All the money we made paid for the van that transported our equipment.
We shared our rehearsal loft with another band, so they practically paid the rent for us, and all our equipment was in that one room. Steve and I slept between amplifiers. We budgeted what little money we had to about $1 a day.
We had credit in all the Korean delis within a five-block radius of the Music Building and with our dollar we’d get some yogurt and peanuts. Then Steve and I would fight over whether we should mix the peanuts with the yogurt. He liked to eat them together and I liked to eat them separately.
When we’d run out of money, I’d pass by the garbage can in the lobby of the Music Building, and if it smelled really good — like if there was a Burger King bag sitting on top that someone had just deposited — I’d open it up, and if I was lucky, there would be french fries that hadn’t been eaten. I’m a vegetarian, which is why I didn’t eat the burger.
Money The first real money I ever got was $5,000 from Sire Records, and the first expensive thing I bought was a Roland synthesizer. The next big money I got was publishing money for writing songs.
I would get $1,000 for every song I wrote. I wrote most of the songs on my first album, so I got what seemed like a lot of money at the time, and I moved to the East Village and got my first apartment.
With the next money, I moved to a loft in Soho, which was triple the rent I was paying in the East Village. These were all necessary things.
The most extravagant thing I ever bought — that I felt really guilty about buying — was a color TV. I never had a TV before in the seven years that I had lived in New York. When I grew up I didn’t have a color TV. So I got a color TV, a VHS machine, and a push-button remote control.
Belly Buttons My favorite button is my belly button. I have the most perfect belly button: an inny, and there’s no lint in it. I never wore a jewel in my belly, but if I did it would be a ruby or an emerald, but not a diamond.
When I stick my finger in my belly button, I feel a nerve in the center of my body shoot up my spine. If 100 belly buttons were lined up against a wall, I could definitely pick out which one is mine.
Crucifixes Crucifixes are sexy because there’s a naked man on them. When I was a little girl, we had crucifixes all over the house, as a reminder that Jesus Christ died on the cross for us.
Crucifixes are something left over from my childhood, like a security blanket. I liked the way they look and what they symbolized, even before they were fashionable. I buy mine in Spanish bodegas, where they have rosaries in lots of colors.
I have a really long one that looks white in the light, but glows in the dark. Every new-wave designer has crucifixes in the their line. Calvin Klein doesn’t, but he’s Mr. Mainstream. Girls who buy Calvin Klein jeans don’t wear crucifixes.
Bras I have to wear a bra. I’m the only one in my family with breasts. Bras that open in the front are the best, and torpedo bras are the sexiest.
On my Like A Virgin record cover and in all my photographs, like when I did the MTV show, I’m in my bustier.
Bustiers are veryhave ribs that make you feel like you’re suffocating and zip up the back. They’re tight and squeeze you in. I wear them because they’re very 19th centuryish. They have that really svelte look. I like the way it makes my body look. It’s very sexual.
I have about five of them. I go to a regular lingerie store and get the basic nylon bustier, with no frills, and have it customized with lace or tulle. I wish I was flat-chested and didn’t have to wear a bra. It’s one extra piece of clothing to worry about.
Returning Calls I used to call different management companies, agencies, A&R people, club owners, you name it, and no one ever returned my calls. If someone did, ten-to-one it was some horny old man who was in charge of listening to tapes and when he’d hear my voice, he’d want me to come in and bring the tapes, and then he’d put the make on me.
Now when I call people they come right to the phone. Everyone except John Peters, the big Hollywood producer who did Flashdance, and my movie Visionquest. He’s a real schemer — wheeling and dealing all the time — and the only one who doesn’t call me back.
Sister Madonna If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing, I would be a nun. The reason I’m not a nun is because you can’t take your own name. How could I change my name?
I have the most holy name a woman can have. But if I had to change my name, I’d use my confirmation name, Veronica. I chose her because she wiped the face of Jesus, which I thought was really dramatic.
Physical Attractions I dig skin, lips and Latin men. I’m attracted to bums. When I went to Paris, I hung out with Algerians and Vietnamese guys who didn’t have jobs, who just drove around on motorcycles and terrorized people.
I’ve always been attracted to people like that, because they’re rebels and they’re irresponsible and challenge the norm. I try to rehabilitate them. I’m just trying to be the mother I never had.
Virginity I wouldn’t like to sleep with a guy who was a virgin. I’d have to teach him stuff and I don’t have the patience. I’d rather deal with experience.
When I say virgin, like in my song, I’m not thinking about sexual virgin. I mean newness. Even after I made love for the first time, I still felt like I was a virgin. I didn’t lose my virginity until I knew what I was doing.
Monogamy The longest monogamous relationship I’ve had was two-and-three-quarter years, right before Jellybean, with someone who never wants to see me again. He’s the guy trying to run me over in my “Burning Up” video.
It wasn’t just because I was seeing someone else. Our relationship was deteriorating anyway. But I’ve had heart broken, too. All my boyfriends hurt me in their way, by lots of thing, but I’m not telling you.
Stepped-on Men All those men I stepped all over to get to the top, every one of them would take me back because they still love me and I still love them.
I wish I was a million different people so I could stay with each boyfriend while moving on to another one. I learn more, want more, and suddenly — that person isn’t enough.
The problem is, after you start to love someone, you start to hurt them. I get interested in somebody else and I latch on to that interest to get me through the other one. It’s awfully painful, but then I have this new guy to look forward to.
Records The first song I remember hearing was “The Twist” by Chubby Checker. The first record I ever bought was either “Incense & Peppermint” or “Give Me a ticket for an Airplane.”
I don’t remember if there was music playing when I lost my virginity, but the best music to make love to nowadays is anything funky or soulful, like the Gap Band, Prince or the Isley Brothers.
The best music to wake up to is “Moments in Love” by Art of Noise and the best music at the moment to work out to is anything by Prince, Lime, Bronski Beat or Bruce Springsteen.
My first album was a total aerobics record. I make records with aerobics in mind. When I’m mad or have a fight with my boyfriend, I work out.
Bad Press I get so much bad press because people associate a girl who’s successful with a bimbo or an airhead. Sexy boys never get bad press. Do you think they’d bug Prince if he pulled out his dick on stage? If I ever did something like that, I’m the slut of the year.
Fights Most of the fight I have with boyfriends are how I’m not paying enough attention to them or I’m always off doing things for my career. Of course, I disagree.
I have a lot of shit to do right now. I’m always surrounded by people. I have a very visible career. I got to go out West and audition guys to be in my videos and I got to kiss guys in my movies.
But I always say it’s the quality of time and not the quantity of time. If you spend the time that you do have together not fighting, you might enjoy each other.
Little Madonna I was never a Girl Scout, but I was a Campfire Girl and a Brownie. Campfire Girls had the cooler uniform.
I was never good at being part of an organization. When I was a Brownie, I ate all the cookies. When I was a Campfire Girl, I’d camp out with the boys and get into trouble.
Fantasy Photo Of all the great photographs in history, I’d most like to have been in one of me having dinner with John Kennedy, with Marilyn Monroe sitting next to him, singing “Happy Birthday.”
Editor’s note: The Daily Beast is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Spin by republishing two memorable features from the magazine. This bulleted interview with Madonna was originally published in the May 1985 issue of SPIN, which hit newsstands on March 19, 1985.