This article first appeared in Attitude issue 139, November 2005.
Words: Matthew Todd
Photography: Steven Kelin
I hear the door opening and a muffled American accent, a familiar voice and for one moment I think someone has slipped on a movie or a concert DVD… and then, at the top of the stairs, she is there. Looking every inch the icon, in wrap-around glasses and jacket, like every pap picture you’ve ever seen of her over the last few years, she is dressed, in black pants and a frilled black top, you could say, subtley to the nines. From passed down gaylore I was expecting some kind of bejeweled elfin pygmy, but no such creature is before me. She is petite, yes, but not tiny, strikingly pretty, long blond hair parted in the centre, framing her face. She looks like a million teenage posters. She offers her hand, says hi, that she’s looking forward to the interview and then I follow outwards and upwards via a slim metal ladder to Stuart’s converted loft studio.
Upstairs, perched on a sofa under a window, in her surprisingly small work environment, she sits and gazes expectantly. She wears a pendant round her neck with the diamond encrusted letters GLR. I wonder for a moment if since she moved to London she’s developed a passion for talk radio, then ponder that maybe Guy’s middle name is Lee, or Laurence perhaps? Then, of course, Guy, Lola, Rocco. I give her the gifts I’ve brought, an album and a play text I thought she’d like, and she genuinely seems chuffed. “No one ever brings me interesting presents” she says warmly in her strong American accent (so much for all the rumours that she’s turned into Penelope Keith). It’s reassuring to know that, in the flesh, she is- fuck you, Daily Mail– gracious and sweet.
So, why did you decide to do an all dance record now?
It really happened by default to tell you the truth. I was working on my documentary and the record was a reaction to the torment that I went through editing that. I’d been working non-stop for two years: I’d written music for two separate musicals; one for a stage play called Hello Suckers!, the other a film with Luc Besson, but I didn’t really like the way they were going. I’d gone through so much music with various songwriters and I felt really disappointed that all of my creativity didn’t have an outlet. Then I decided to go on tour and decided to film that. There was so much pressure that I decided to come here and just film around. Up until then everything was very intense and coming here was just fun with no pressure to produce anything. We just started experimenting with different things and it just began to happen effortlessly. Even then I didn’t know I wanted to make a record, I just thought this is what I want to do with my free time at the moment. I was working with other people as well. I worked with Mirwais, but not eventually in the same capacity I had before because I wanted to do this quickly. He’s great, but there’s always the angst of collaborating with somebody. He’s very intellectual, cerebral and I just wanted an easy time. That’s not to belittle Stuart, but he’s so relaxed and easy to work with and I really needed that. It came out of not trying too hard.
People would be surprised to see you tucked away in the loft of a small flat in north London.
Oh, I love it here, it’s very magical. I’ll be very sad when Stuart leaves here. I’ve told him that he has to keep this place ‘cos so many great things have happened here. It feels historical to me. We’ve been to a thousand recording studios in New York, London, LA, everywhere, and you cannot get the same sound anywhere as you get here.
How did you come to work with him?
Well first he was my musical director on the Drowned World tour, but he became that by default. He was just the keyboard player but he stepped up after I fired the first one. I’m very fond of him. I love his sensibility, I love his sense of humour, he has impeccable taste in music. He’s sort of all over the place musically and I like that about him. He’s capable of doing loads of things. We wrote X-Static Process together on my last album and that was kind of testing out the water. We tried other things but that was the only thing I thought had substance. Then on this last tour (2004’s Re-Invention tour) I think he really grew musically; as an arranger, a songwriter and a musician; so we started writing again in our free time. I never planned to make my whole record with him, honestly, it was just going to be a few tracks.
At what point did you decide it was going to be all dance? Actually, I’d say it was more dance-pop, incidentally…
Right, I guess maybe one or two aren’t exactly what you’d call dance songs but they’re all uptempo-esque. It was after we’d written three tracks – Hung Up, Sorry and Future Lovers. I did some other songs that were slower but I thought eurgh, I’m not in the mood for a ballad, I can’t be bothered (Laughs) I wanna dance.
It’s very different from American Life.
Yeah, that was a very angst-ridden writing process. I was very angry and upset about America going to war with Iraq. I felt very frustrated and I felt I didn’t have a voice and so I got it all out of my record.
I don’t think it was a coincidence, but it seemed almost like Me Against the Music was a turning point where you rediscovered the joy of pure pop.
Honestly, after I did that record I didn’t think I should make this or make that. I just didn’t think too much about it. I don’t think about things as much as people think I do.
There definitely seems to have been a sea change though. For years you always said I’d never sing those songs again, like Material Girl for instance…
That’s why I called it Re-Invention because the only way I could do them was by re-inventing them, approach them from another angle, capturing the irony of them. I always love the rehearsal process way more than the being on tour part. I love putting the show together, it’s the best. Then the first couple of weeks and the last few weeks are great and then everything in between is hell (laughs)
It’s just brutally, physically exhausting to do five shows a week; to be on planes all the time, you’re always worried about your voice and now I have family, you know. I never had any freetime. It’s a challenge. It’s great fun at the same time and I knew I didn’t want to be angry while I was making this record and hopefully that comes across. Though I do have one song Sorry which is the ultimate scorned lover song.
I don’t want to pigeonhole it, but Hung Up comes across as being a bit like a thank you to your gay fans.
Really? Oh good. Do you think people are going to like it?
I think they’ll be back flipping through Soho to it.
Well good! (She grins). I hope the whole record is received that enthusiastically by the gay community!
How did you come to use the Abba Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! sample?
When we were writing we were like OK, we wanna to make the ultimate pop dance record so let’s listen to stuff for inspiration. We listened to lots of Abba records and lots of Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. We kept going through stuff and soaking it all up and ultimately Abba found its way into our psyches. Stuart played me the music for Hung Up and I write the lyrics in about ten minutes driving around in my car, basically.
It’s very audacious. Did you have any doubts about sampling such an iconic record?
Not at all. I think they may have had doubts about letting us sample their record. I had to send my emissary to Stockholm with a letter and the record begging them and imploring them and telling them how much I worship their music; telling them it was an homage to them, which is all true. And they had to think about it, Bennny and Björn, they didn’t say yes right away. They never let anyone sample their music. They could have said no. Thank God they didn’t.
It begins with a chunk of lyrics from Love Song (her duet with Prince from Like a Prayer) and there are lots of references to your past record. It seems like this album’s almost like a retrospective of your whole career/ Is that what you were aiming for?
No, I just feel like I can plagiarize myself whenever I feel like it. (Laughs) It’s all part of my past and I’m dragging my past into the present and hopefully into the future.
I Love New York is very funny, even though you diss London and Paris in the lyrics.
Yeah, but come one, I don’t really mean that! I love London and Paris and, hello? I live in London! It just sounded cool. I wrote the song when I was in New York on tour. I have a history with New York that I don’t have anywhere else in the world. Even though I grew up in Michigan, I really grew up in New York. Aside from when my mother died, the toughest time of my life was living in New York; being broke, having no friends and struggling, trying to find my place in the world. I’ll never forget those moments, you know. Just coming up in the world I was surrounded with, just how real life felt and how tough New York is and how in your face everybody is. And it’s true – if you can make it there you can make it anywhere. New Yorkers have this thing with people that they know have survived New York too. It’s a kind of respect. I don’t know if you’ve spent any time there but it’s kind of brutal. People walk down the street and they check you out and if they like or they don’t like the way you look then you’re gonna hear about it. I was just loving the insanity and the noise of it. But the people who really inspired the song are the police there- because they are fantastic! They give you police escorts everywhere and if you tell them ‘make the sirens really loud!’ they’ll do it and really turn it up. They surround your car with the motorcycles, riding them like they’re riding a horse, moving people out of the way in their cars and it’s just so over the top and dramatic. I went to the sound check at Madison Square Gardens that day after having several police escorts and I’d been like ‘Oh my God, this is so much fun!’ I just started playing, riffing, making up stuff as I went along and that’s how it came about.
The mention of Texas is really funny. You’re not a big fan of George Bush, I presume.
(She pauses, thinks and breaks into a big grin). Well, no. Not really. I’m sure he’s a really nice guy… (laughs) in certain circles.
You seem much more relaxed about things at the moment. The song Let It Will Be expresses a sort of contentment with your fame that we haven’t heard before. You don’t seem angry at it anymore.
Yeah. Well it is what it is. It’s kind of expressing the same theme of the opening of my film; there’s more to life than fame and fortune. After all the years I’ve been famous… 22 years or something, I don’t remember. I know that sounds like a really stupid thing to say like I can’t remember but it’s just been this immensely long ride and I just feel like I’ve earnt the right to be able to step back and look at it and say it is what it is. I don’t feel cynical about it, I don’t feel overjoyed by it, I don’t feel let down by it, it just is what it is. That’s the road I took- and hopefully I’ve made the best of it. (Laughs)
I Love Jump. Lyrically it’s Express Yourself meets Keep it Together. It’s going to inspire a whole generation of gay kids to pack their bags and head to the big city.
(Squeals and claps her hands in delight) Yeayyyyyyyyyyyy! Good, good, good!
You are the biggest gay icon of all time.
I hope so! (Laughs).
Why do you think that happened?
I don’t know. I like to think we’ve been mutually inspired by one another. Maybe it’s because the first person that ever believed in me was gay. My ballet teacher (Christopher Flynn). He was the first person that made me feel like I was special. He encouraged me to go to New York, to believe in myself, to believe in my dreams, and I dunno. I think that was the beginning of some kind of unconscious connection.
How did he come out to you?
He didn’t really. I didn’t really know he was gay. He was the first gay person that I met; well maybe I met other people but didn’t know about it. When I was going to ballet class he was very witty and I’d never met anyone so clever. I knew he was different but I didn’t know why. When you’re 12 and you grew up in the Midwest no one’s talking about gay or anything like that. It didn’t dawn on me til he took me to a gay disco. I used to tell my dad I was sleeping over at a girlfriend’s house – which essentially I was. He’d say ‘I wanna take you dancing to a club’. I had no idea where we were gonna go and he took me to this gay disco in Detroit called Menjos. And Oh my God, it was just amazing – to see all these men dancing with one another. I’d spent my whole life feeling like a freak and an outsider and that nobody understood me and suddenly I felt like it’s OK to feel different, it’s OK to be different. He didn’t really have to say anything, I just took it in.
When did you become aware that your brother Christopher was gay?
When I brought him to my ballet class. (Belly laughs and claps her hands together). It wasn’t something that I knew consciously, it was subtle. I just went ‘hmmm’. I saw a connection between my teacher and my brother. A few years later it all came rushing back to me that that was what it was. And once again, my brother never sat down with me and said, ‘Oh by the way, I’m gay’, it just didn’t happen like that. But I suppose because he was and because I loved the other Christopher in my life so much. I had such a deep and close connection with him. And then he came to New York and he started dancing with me and choreographing all my shows and videos.
You’ve been quoted as saying that after you moved to New York in 1978 you saw six gay men, your friends, die in front of you from AIDS. You must have been about 19 or 20. How did that affect you?
(She pauses) Well the first time it happened it really freaked me out, obviously. I remember one thing that struck me – the first boy that I ever knew who had AIDS, and died of AIDS, he was one of the most gorgeous creatures I’d ever seen. I went to see him and he told me he was sick and I was like ‘Oh, Ok’. He said, ‘I think it’s because I’ve been taking too much drugs or something.’ It was in the early days when it was all, like, mysterious. Then he started wasting away and I kept going to visit him and I kept thinking, ‘Oh God, it’s such a shame, he’s so beautiful.’ And then one day he was dead. It seemed, for a while there, I kept saying to my friends ‘It’s getting all the beautiful ones, all the beautiful ones are going.’ It was horrible – we just didn’t know what was going on. Then my best friends and my roommate Martin Murgoyne, I remember when he got sick. He called me up, and I have total recollection of that devastating moment because by then I knew it was something you didn’t recover from. In those days they didn’t have the cocktail of medicines that we have now that can keep you going forever- well, hopefully forever. And he said ‘I have something.’ It was something you get before full blown AIDS, and I remember the told me and I was like, ‘Ok, so that’s it, that’s it’. I just felt incredibly enraged and of course did everything I could to save him – I sent people to Mexico to get drugs that were illegal in America and bring them back, going through that and then just… a whole series of friends started to drop like flies. Then Keith Haring and then… I dunno… (pauses)… it left a huge vacuum in my life… I didn’t realize it until they were all gone. I have a picture of me sitting in a restaurant with Andy Warhol – and I know he didn’t die of AIDS, I don’t know what he died of, it’s a big mystery, isn’t it? So, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Martin Burgoyne, Jean-Michel Basquiat who died of a drug overdose and me. It’s one of my most cherished, favorite photographs. For me, it symbolizes the early ’80s. And now all those people are dead. It was such an important part of my life and all those people, they were all so creative. It was such a great time to be coming up. Then suddenly it was if a plague came through and wiped everybody out. Even recently Herb Ritts dies, maybe two years ago now, and he was obviously a big part oif my life too. (Pauses, looks down). So I don’t know… It just makes me sad.
Mrs Thatcher brought in a law here, kind of as a reaction to AIDS that stopped teachers from even addressing the issues around homophobic bullying. The press was incredibly homophobic, everyone was, it just meant you couldn’t talk to anyone about it.
Oh God, that’s horrible! It’s so terrible to grow up feeling ashamed of who you are and what you are. I hate it and I don’t want to have anything to do with it.
You said in the interview you did with The Advocate in 1991 from Truth or Dare that you wished they’d make more films with gay characters that weren’t just art-house movies like Longtime Companion, that showed gay people having real lives and fun and living. What did you make of Queer As Folk?
I loved it. Years ago, the English version. I ended up hanging out with that kid Charlie (Hunnam) for a while. What happened to him?
He’s done really well. It made his career, which is ironic. He’s been working in the States, just done a film with Elijah Wood.
Oh good, yeah, he’s cute. I haven’t seen the US now, is it as good? I guess a certain kind of British humour can’t translate outside of the British Isles. (Laughs)
Well you had a part in moving things on as well. I remember there being a huge fuss that you had two men kissing in Truth or Dare.
Really, was there? Here?
It was the dancers, wasn’t it? Slam and Gabriel? Yeah. Well, I enjoyed it (Giggles). Why not? Have you seen Brokeback Mountain?
Yes have you?
Did you like it?
I love it. Shocking. Surprising. The guy who financed my movie did that too. He’s a very mild mannered chap from Minnesota and we’d just screened the latest cut of my film and he asked if I had wanted to see it. I was thinking ‘Ok, this really straight, square guy’ and he showed me this movie. It’s amazing. They’re really good those boys (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) and they did a great job. It’s very brave of them.
How would you feel if either of your kids were gay? What would you teach them?
Well, let’s take sexuality aside, it’s the same whatever. I hope that I’m teaching my children, and that by the time they reach puberty that they understand that they have a responsibility to other people beside themselves. They’re responsible for their words and actions and whatever path they take, whatever job they take, whoever they decide they’re going to sleep with, whatever, they have to treat people with human dignity and compassion. There’s a big part of the world that doesn’t think that way and there are people who won’t treat you well. You have to not take it personally and hopefully understand that that’s why it’s all of our jobs to change the world and make it a better place. Unfortunately that sounds terribly clichéd, but if we don’t then we’re going to have to continue to be confronted by a lot of bigoted people who are full of fear and whose behavior manifests itself as hatred. I didn’t grow up gay but I certainly grew up with lots of people throwing knives at me and taking shots at me and being horrible and because I have a strong sense of who I am I survived it. Hopefully my children will be the same. You can’t be a victim, that’s really important too. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Your daughter already seems incredibly bright. I can’t speak French.
I can’t speak French either! I’m so jealous of her.
Boy George says Kabbalah is homophobic. What do you say?
He’s just got a bee in his bonnet. I don’t know why he said that. It’s not true. I would say at least 50% of the men at the Kabbalah centre are gay, at all the centres I go to. Nobody even talks about who they sleep with. It’s about what you’re doing to make the world a better place not who you’re having sex with. Sharing. Let’s face it, lots of us have had sex not for the sake of sharing and it’s great for those 11 seconds and then you feel like shit afterwards for the most part.
That’s a hard thing for people to accept, reading this. I mean, I like having sex!
Well so do I! But you know, it’s not like you can’t be thinking about yourself and your needs and what turns you on, but there’s lots of careless people who didn’t want anything but to satisfy themselves and that’s it. Who wants to be like that? You create a lot of emptiness fort yourself.
Do you think the gay marriage issue swung the vote for Bush?
I have to tell you, I know the media picked up on that but I don’t actually. I think it’s a money thing. I just think it’s a lot of people that knew that the whole Iraq thing was a big mistake and they weren’t sure of about a lot of Bush’s policies, but ultimately they felt safer with him because of the tax situation. You know, a lot of middle income people and corporations and small businesses. I think it was economics in the end. I think there are a few people in America that are maybe, possibly regretting their decisions right now. Michael Moore wrote a great open letter to George Bush on his website. It was very good. He’s amazing.
It’s interesting to see him being booed when you mention him on stage in the movie. You wouldn’t expect it at one of your concerts.
Oh well, please, I was shocked after Fahrenheit 9/11 came out anyone voted for George Bush. It was a huge box office hit. Anyway, go figure.
How did it come about?
Actually Michael Moore was very instrumental in helping me even before I began filming. He actually offered to direct it but he was editing Fahrenheit 9/11. He said ‘Can’t you delay your tour and do it later?’ and I said no (laughs). He said ‘ I’ll be there for you if you want to show me stuff or want me to help out, but just remember one thing: you write the script in the editing room, don’t freak out and just shoot as much as you can’ and we did. I mean, I think Truth or Dare was half as much, probably about 150 hours of footage. For this we had about 350 hours. So just trying to figure out what I wanted to say with the film and whose stories I wanted to follow and letting things go was tough. When you write stuff, the hardest thing to do is to edit. Jonas (Akerlund, the director) talked me into setting an edit up in Stockholm which is where he’s from, so getting on planes going back and forth was complicated.
The thing that seemed to make you cry was the part was the part where you acknowledge that you didn’t have time to party with the dancers…
I think saying that made me think about how my time is very limited. I always become very attached to everyone – not just the dancers and the band but the tech guys who help me up on the stage, you look into their eyes ever y night. At the prayer I had the realization I wasn’t going to be seeing them for a while and I wanted to put my life in reverse. Anyways, I’m a big cry baby.
The film’s very political. You show more of the original ‘American Life’ video than we’ve seen before.
Finally. In a way it was good in the end I didn’t get to show it when I made it because not many people got to see the full director’s cut and now it’s new. At the time that I made it and my single came out no one was allowed to speak out against the war or what was going on. If you spoke out against the war that meant you weren’t supporting the troops that were going over there, it was just ridiculous. I was really happy I could use it as a backdrop in my show.
In hindsight do you think you made the right decision in pulling it?
I do. I did it because I didn’t want people throwing rocks at my children on the way to school. I did it for them, not for me. There’s a lynch mob mentality that goes on. If you’re one person on your own and you have no responsibility for people around you then that’s one thing, but I had to think about the bigger picture, my kids basically.
It’s quite odd to see you looking so casual and warm – we’re used to seeing these kind of cold pictures of you coming out of places with your head down.
Yeah, but all those pictures are me coming out of my pilates class and it’s not fans there taking my picture, it’s paparazzi. What am I gonna do, stop and chat a chat with them? They irritate me. I don’t know what it looks like but it’s important for people to try to imagine what it would be like- all the time. There are fun bits about it too. I love it, when I choose to do it, when I know that’s what I’m up for and get dressed up and all that. But to come out everyday when you’re just wearing your tracksuit and you’ve just worked out and you’re sweaty and your hair’s a mess, you think ‘Oh God’, you don’t have to be photographed.
The film features Kabbalah quite heavily which, ironically, is probably the most controversial thing you’ve ever done.
Yeah, yeah… strange. People get very upset about the fact that I decided to study a spiritual belief system or whatever. It’s very strange. I may as well have announced that I’ve joined the Nazi party.
But isn’t it hard for people to understand you studying something which is all about brushing aside superficiality when you’re dealing in the most superficial medium there is – pop music, pop culture.
But it’s only superficial because the people who make the music don’t want to think deeper or have opinions, for the most part. You can use pop culture as a medium to make political statements as far as I’m concerned, but no one usually does. It seems like a paradox because pop means popular and if you want to stay popular you can’t ruffle any feathers and you can’t go against the grain and threaten the system. And what I’ve tried to do is walk that thin line between making something entertaining and also making something that’s political and provocative that makes people question things.
It’s definitely entertaining.
I hope it is. (Laughs)
But I still think people are going to be cynical because you’re the queen of pop culture and you’re biting the hand that feeds you…
Yeah, but life is a paradox, isn’t it? To tell people that. You know, the material world isn’t important is upsetting because we’ve all bought into this idea and it seems like I’m criticizing people. But I love a fantastic pair of shoes, I can appreciate a beautiful painting or person, whatever. It’s just about keeping perspective. I think you can find your niche. It’s a tightrope but you can do it and the question is how long can you stay up on it before someone knocks you off. (Laughs). All I’m saying is that it took me a very long time to grow up and realize how myopic my world was and I’m just sharing my story. If you’re gonna make a documentary about yourself you’ve got to tell the truth. I’m sharing my journey and people get something out of it, great, and if they don’t then that’s fine too.
People always have a problem with celebrities doing things for charity and so on. Someone was saying to me the other day that they didn’t believe Angelina Jolie’s going to Cambodia and adopting a child was sincere.
There’s a perception that celebrities do everything for publicity.
They can’t believe that you could care about the human race if you’re a celebrity?
Well, I think some people can’t believe you’d care about the human race full stop….
… if you’re a human (Laughs).
Most people are wrapped up in their daily lives trying to pay their bills…
Yeah, so if you’re in a position like Angelina Jolie or me where you can help people then why don’t you? We’re all in a position to help people. You don’t have to adopt children or donate large amounts of money to charities, there’s a million ways. Go help someone walk against the street, go visit someone ill. There’s no end to the things that people can do to one another. The fact is that people do get caught up in their daily lives, I do it too, and we’re all guilty of it. Then something happens and you wake up and you’re so grateful for what you do have and your health and family and think ‘I’m so selfish’. We’re wired that way, to be suspicious of people but hopefully that will change. (Mocking) ‘Oh God, she’s so horrible she’s thinking about her fellow man! Damn her!!’ (Laughs) I don’t understand that. Listen. You know some people think I fell off my horse as a publicity stunt. If you’re a celebrity, everything you do is suddenly perceived as a way to get attention.
The press has reported that if any of your friends don’t study Kabbalah then you freeze them out (she rolls her eyes) but that doesn’t seem to be the case in the film with Stuart taking the piss at your prayer meetings before the show.
He’s always taking the piss. Fucker. I love Stuart because he always has the opposite point of view. He just p[pretends he doesn’t care. I love his responses when we were in the prayer circle and everyone’s being really earnest and he’s smiling at the camera and hamming it up. I considered writing ‘Typical Brit’ on the screen, when he says he doesn’t believe in God.
We don’t tend to, really.
In a way it’s kind of good that you don’t. In America it seems everyone’s a born again Christian and in Britain it seems like no one believes in God. I think people here think in a lot more analytical way and they often think religion or God or whatever, is just nonsense which I think is a healthier attitude than just accepting things without asking questions. You’re not just going ’oh right’ and believing in everything that everyone tells you. I think somewhere in the middle is the best place to be.
Religion is very uncool.
Oh, it’s very uncool. But that’s why it’s cool. It’s so cool to be uncool. You’ve got to go one step one. It’s subversive to be spiritual! Yes! (Laughs)
It’s really nice to see that stuff with your dad…
That he’s forgiven me…
Yeah. Some of that stuff like Oh Father must have been hurtful for him.
Yeah, but he also didn’t accept a lot of the things I did and for a while we did have a strained relationship. I don’t wanna have bad blood with anybody. I love my dad even though he did vote for George Bush.
Yeah. But here’s the irony of all ironies: he’s now really good friends with Michael Moore. They live near each other in northern Michigan where my father has his vineyards and several things happened. It was Michael’s birthday and I wanted to send him a gift. I said ‘Dad, would you drive over a case of your wine, can you do that for me?’ He put a whole basket together with pasta and sausage and he and my stepmother went baring gifts. He called me later and casually said ‘Oh, yeah we stayed and had a cup of tea, he’s so nice, we really liked him.’ I’m like, ‘You are kidding me dad!’ Michael’s just started a film festival this year in Michigan and my dad’s involved with the community and they ended up having the opening function in my father’s barn. Then, finally, every time I got a new cut of the film I would send someone on a plane to show Michael. They’d stay at my Dad’s house and he went over to Michael’s house and they all watched it together! Now they’re all friends. I think there’s something beautiful about that. (Laughs). My dad knows he made 9/11 and he was very opposed to it and I love the fact that they’re friends now. It just goes to show you, if we can find something in common we can let go of all of our differences.
I love the part where you mention being photographed naked in a gay porn cinema as something a father can be proud of…
As something a father can be really proud of! (Laughs) Yes I think he had a little bit of trouble with that- as can be expected.
My dad would be with yours on that one. (She laughs). So you regret the Sex book now? Most of us still think it was this amazing revolutionary thing.
I struggle with it. I go back and forwards. There’s part of me that thinks if I hadn’t done that there would have been so much shit I wouldn’t have had to take. On the other hand I don’t know- it sort of turned me into a renegade, albeit unwittingly. It certainly made me stronger. It was part of my journey so I can’t regret it because it leads to where I am now.
You say in the film that you were ‘very careless with people’s feelings’ in those days. That’s a bold admission.
It’s true. I was really shitty to my boyfriends in the past. I feel horrible for that and I’m not proud of it. I was careless to friends, not everyone, but you know, sometimes, and people I worked with. I went through a period of my life where I was just going forwards. It’s not like I wasn’t capable of acts of generosity, but I was careless. But you grow up – usually when you suffer. It isn’t until you feel pain that you suddenly feel the pain that you caused other people. That’s why you need to feel pain so you can remember what you did to other people. Hopefully you then wake up and say ‘that’s what it felt like’.
There’s the line from 1998 ‘I had so many lovers who settled for the thrill of basking in my spotlight’ which seems to be you complaining about them, but really that must have been as much your fault…
Sure, I created it. It felt great to have some gorgeous man on my arm, idolizing me. I created that for myself. I resented it but asked for it at the same time.
Aren’t you naughty!
You’re a naughty Madonna.
I deserve a spanking!
Are you going to do Evita onstage?
No. What? I hadn’t even heard they’re doing it. No. Been there, done that.
Is there going to be a Like A Prayer re-mastered reissue?
Don’t know anything about that either.
Ok, that’s some crazy lie made up by some gay on the Isle of Wight.
There’s a few unreleased demos hovering around the internet such as Gone, Gone, Gone, Like A Flower and Revenge. There’s also rumoured to be a great William Orbit track called Liquid Love that has never been released. Will they ever be?
Did that come out on the net too? There was a track called Liquid Love. It was supposed to be on my Music album but it didn’t go on. Dunno what will happen with that. I haven’t heard it in a while but at the time it gave me the wrong-tingles. Not good enough. The others are demos I wrote with Rick Nowells during my Ray of Light period and I never finished them. I write tons of stuff that never gets finished and sometimes somehow it mysteriously appears on the internet.
There are rumors there is going to be a massive Madonna box set of DVDs and things like the Blonde Ambition concert which has never come out.
That we’re trying to do, eventually, somewhere down the line. And there’s the Re-Invention tour as well which was filmed separately to be released as a concert but contractually I’m not allowed to release it until the movie’s been out a certain period of time.
What happened to the song Queen’s English, wasn’t that meant to be on Erotica?
I did write it, but not for Erotica. I wrote it with Junior Vasquez and Jose and Louis, the two dancers I had on my Blond Ambition tour who were in Truth or Dare. I think it was released as a 12” inch wasn’t it? It didn’t get released as a single, just went to clubs, I think. It was never meant to be on my record. It’s fun.
Is it true the Re-Invention tour was going to be called the Whore of Babylon tour?
No. That’s a lie too. That would have been a bit of a one-trick pony title.
What’s going to happen with Hello Suckers? Fans will be excited you’re working with Patrick Leonard again.
I wrote the music with lots of different people- a lot of it with Patrick Leonard, some with Mirwais, a few things by myself. It’s just one of those things I can’t decide what I want to do. First it was gonna be a film then I considered doing it in the West End and it’s still hanging in the balance. It might happen, it’s just an awful lot of work and I’m not sure I’m ready to go there just yet. I like the idea of it.
Is there a song called The Devil Wouldn’t Recognise You?
That’s a song I wrote for it. It’s very good actually. It’s a torch song. Very bluesy.
Did you enjoy Up for Grabs?
Yeah. Ish. Because it’s the same problem I always have. I like the rehearsal process. I like doing the show for a while and then it becomes a grind. I don’t like doing the same thing over and over again as you may have guessed. It’s a bit of a challenge. That’s why I’m hesitating about doing the musical. It means I’ve got to do a show 8 times a week and it’s rough. You do it and after a month you’re like ‘Hey I want to do something different now’ (laughs) and unfortunately you have to sign on for a much longer period of time.
And you lose your evenings.
Yes that’s another drag. Why can’t people come to the theatre in the afternoons?
And there’s the insanity of getting in and out of the theatre. You held up my bus several times.
That was Crazy. Sometimes I’d walk in ‘cos it took too damn long to get there in a car. Completely unbeknownst to everybody I’d just put a hood over my head and walk in. They expected a black Mercedes up to the front door so I sent my driver one way and I’d go the other and walk right past everybody. I enjoyed that and I liked the play too. Very well written.
Yeah, he gets like that.
He’s really pushy, that guy! I said, ‘Ok let me think about it’ and the next thing, I read in the paper that I was doing it and I hadn’t even answered him yet. I don’t regret that I did it at all, it turned out to be an amazing thing. It’s just I don’t like to do half arsed shows and I didn’t have any time to rehearse. Everybody else in the show was on tour already and they had their bands and were just stopping in to do a song. I had to think- what am I going to do, get a choir and this and that. But it turned out good. That was fun. I got all the paparazzi to clap their hands. That was my favorite moment. They didn’t get that on film. They were all at the front and everyone in the park was clapping their hands except them. They were taking pictures and I looked down and said “You too!”… I know one of the paparazzi, Richard Young, and I said ‘Come on Richard, do it!’ and he dropped his camera and the rest of them did. Yeah!
Incidentally, you never did explain what the Britney, Kylie T-shirt thing was about?
I just wanted to embrace them. Everyone goes ‘oh they’re cheesy, they’re cheesy’. I don’t think they’re cheesy. There’s something about both of them that I like.
Have you been aware of Kylie for a long time?
Yes. Absolutely. She’s great.
She’s the princess and you’re the Queen. She said that.
That’s very good (Laughs). We like it that way. No seriously though, I think she’s great, lovely. Is she doing better, do you know? I hope so.
I hope so too. I’ve just noticed you haven’t got your sling. How are you?
Yeah, I took it off two days ago. My left arm is flapping around like a chicken wing and I don’t have any strength right now. I’m starting rehab tomorrow so I’m very excited. My collarbone’s not completely healed so I’m wearing my pain patch. Have you heard of pain patches? They’re really good.
Your accident was a bit of a shock. We kind of think of you as being invincible.
Well yeah. I think of myself that way too and I wasn’t even meant to be riding that horse. It wasn’t my horse. It was a gift for my birthday and someone said I should try it so I did and I was literally on it for a minute and got thrown off.
What’s happened to it? I read it had been smuggled out and re-housed in a foreign stable before the press chased it, on the witness protection scheme or something
No, that wasn’t true either. It just went back to its original stable where it came from. I want to get back on a horse but my manager has said not until I’ve done all the promo stuff for the album (laughs). I’m doing the video in the next couple of weeks, it’s very exciting.
Wasn’t Davis La Chappelle meant to be doing the Hung Up video? What happened?
We had creative differences.
You’re still friends though?
Yes of course! I’d love to work with him. He just wanted to make the video in a documentary style but I just did that and I want this to be all about dance.
How are you going to dance with your damaged collarbone?
Watch me. I’m going to invent some new dance move that doesn’t use the bad bits. I’m still a tough girl.
There’s a lyric in Take it or Leave it on the new album where you say ‘people always talk about me, they’re never very nice’ and I know you don’t read the papers so you don’t get all the good stuff either. You must know how much you’ve inspired people. People do say nice things.
They don’t get printed.
Some of them do.
Well maybe it’s naff to go on about people all the time.
Is it? Why?
Maybe it’s just easier to be nasty.
Yeah, well, hate sells. (Pauses). I mean I do see it when I go on stage and I see all the faces. That’s always nice. I connect to people and I’m aware of it moving from city to city. And I feel very loved. But because I don’t read stuff because there’s so much hate I don’t want to read it ‘cos I don’t want to be poisoned by it. So you end up, I suppose, not getting some of the good stuff and it’s not until you come into contact with people that you become aware of it.
In the song How High you ask ‘Will it matter when I’m gone, should I carry on?’ Do you seriously consider stopping?
(Firmly) No. It’s just a rhetorical question. I’m going to carry on doing my thing. Who knows what the future holds for me?
Lola’s going to become a superstar and will be doing PA’s at G.A.Y.
Oh, dear. Yes. (Laughs). Yes!