This month we welcome Madonna back to the cover of Q. The feature inside the magazine is a special edition of Cash For Questions, wherein a fleet of noted folk posit a range of enquiries in the direction of the self-styled Queen Of Pop. Truth be told, not a one of them actually sat in the same room, eye to eye, with the women we dare not call Madge to do so. Equally, few – if any – will have been anticipating the frosty response coming back at them. Ian Brown, look away now, for you have apparently asked a “stupid question”.
We, of course, are used to such things, since this is by no means the first time Madonna has graced Q’s page one. Mostly, such occasions have required an emboldened Q journalist to sit before La Ciccone’s oft-withering gaze and take it like a man (for, if memory serves, it has always been a male journalist who was thrown to the lion(ess). It’s been a while, though. Madonna was last on our cover in 2006, as one of 20 of music’s great and good that were on the occasion of our 20th anniversary. Obviously. Before that, 2003 was the year, and I was the writer.
I hadn’t intended to be. But Madonna, as is her way, had rejected our original choice of writer at the very last minute for reasons unspecified. We were advised that she was unlikely to do the same to the Editor, and with time at a premium I hopped on a plane to Los Angeles.
I went accompanied by a tale told by another Q staffer regarding Madonna’s technique when it came to interviews. Allegedly, she would have her personal assistant wander into the room precisely 45 minutes into any encounter with the fourth estate and enquire as to the Royal Highness Of Popular Music’s well being. If Madonna deemed the interview and/or interviewer to be proceeding less than satisfactorily, she would simply ask for a drink of water – code, it was said, to the PA to return in 15 minutes and insist things were wrapped up. Should Madonna nod in response, it meant she was, if not having a rare old time, at least didn’t violently object to sharing air space with her inquisitor, and as a result they were granted a whopping 30 minutes more in her company,
One hapless writer of our acquaintance, I was told, suffered the indignity of having Madonna say, “No, we’re done” as soon as the PA entered. Meaning he had managed to offend her by 15 minutes more than anyone else, since no one could recall this happening before or since. And naturally, I spent much of the flight to LA wondering about the validity of this story, and contemplating the prospect of suffering greater humiliations than 15 Minute Man,
I actually remember little of our meeting (I strongly suspect she would say the same if ever asked). It was an odd time: Tony Blair had ordered tanks to surround Heathrow Airport on the day I left, for fear that terrorists were about to launch surface-to-air missiles from the airports perimeter at incoming flights (none materialised to no one’s surprise); whilst in LA hardware shops were doing a roaring trade in gaffa tape, as folk rushed to seal their homes as best they could against attack by dirty bomb, since President Bush had just put the country on a Code Red security alert. That it was pouring with rain in California only leant to the apocalyptic mood.
This didn’t translate to the restaurant of the Beverley Hills Hotel, one of those old school Hollywood establishments with the very whiff of celebrity seeping through it. I recall arriving early, and not having any choice in the matter since a member of Madonna’s then management team had dropped me off. And of sitting for a good half hour twiddling my thumbs and feeling increasingly uncomfortable, which may well have been the point.
I vividly recall Madonna arriving. She breezed in, introduced herself (“Hello, I’m Madonna” – of course you are) in that strange amalgam of an accent (one part upper crust Brit to one part streetwise American) she had recently adopted, and sat down all in one movement, She was wearing a flat cap and had a cold, Indeed, she blew her nose on a tatty looking tissue at one point, and I noted with hysterical glee that she did briefly inspect what had issued forth from her perfectly formed nose (she informed Radio 1 I was an “asshole” for doing so a matter of weeks later). As most who have met her will say, she is smaller than you expect (even when you’re expecting her to be small), and prettier too. There is something doll-like about her, wholly at odds with the much harder looking woman of all photographs post-Like A Prayer.
As for our conversation, I remember her being bright, brutal with the ill-formed question, and prone to wandering off into a quasi-mystical fog that I singularly failed to return her from. And that’s it. Because, of course, all I could think about was the imminent arrival of the PA and my fate therein. To the point that it made my lips dry and my hands sweat. In the event, the PA appeared right on her 45 minute Q and Madonna duly nodded once, almost imperceptibly. I had my additional 30 minutes. Take that, 15 Minute Man, I thought with what I now accept was a thoroughly twattish air of triumph.
Twattish because it dawned on me not too many days later that the sole reason I had made Madonna so comparatively at ease in my presence had nought to do with personal charm and magnetism, but rather, I had not asked her a single challenging or probing question in our brief time together. See for yourself – the feature is reproduced alongside lots of other better Madonna fare elsewhere on this very site.
Paul Rees – Editor, Q
11:37 AM | 02/04/2008
Q330 Caption Competition - Win! an amazing Fender Special Edition Jaguar Thinline guitar, worth £1500!
Just tell us what Morrissey is doing with this turkey in this month's contest...
Here's an exclusive peek at the band's 4AD session
Listen to Monday Morning mix of Hot Night Cold Spaceship, plus here's an interview with the poet
Q&a Metallica's Lars Ulrich - "We wanted to get away from the standard here we are getting massaged stuff"
The drummer on the band's recent 3D concert film Through The Never
The singer discusses the forces behind her new album One Breath, why everyone should sing and much more
Q&a Cass McCombs - "There's no logic!" Singing for your supper, honesty, becoming a jellyfish & more
We speak to the singer-songwriter following the release of his acclaimed album Big Wheel And Others, plus get Q329 - out now - for more.