The Influences on Our Taste : MADONNA : What’s Material to the Goddess of Pop

This is Calendar’s third annual listing of Taste Makers, individuals who have brought a distinct focus to 1987 and who we feel will continue to influence the world of arts and entertainment long after this year passes. They were selected not so much for specific contributions in their respective fields but because they are clearly creative forces who move and shape taste. They were interviewed to find out what kinds of influences have moved and shaped them.

We’ve selected these eight individuals to reflect a broad range of creative work, though each year we try to vary the disciplines. For instance, in 1985 we interviewed architect Arata Isozaki, composer Philip Glass and restaurateur Alice Waters, among others. Last December, the group included choreographer Mark Morris, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown.

What follows, we hope, is a look at the thinking behind some of this year’s brightest creators and commentators . . . 1987’s Taste Makers.


This project was edited by David Fox, assistant Calendar editor.

Fashion trend setter of considerable influence on young women, she’s credited with several Top 10 songs, one hit film out of three and lots of magazine covers. Recently filed for divorce from actor Sean Penn.

Madonna made a name for herself as a goddess of mass communications, but when it comes to developing new ideas she does it the old-fashioned way--she reads.

“I’m constantly reading,” she says, “and always have piles of books around the house, all of which I eventually get through. At the the moment I’m reading ‘White Palace’ by Glenn Savan, which is excellent. I like Ann Tyler, Irwin Shaw, Louise Erdrich and Raymond Carver, and I read lots of short stories, most of them in the New Yorker.”

Madonna had a major impact on the fashion world and spawned countless Madonna-Wanna-bes with what she laughingly refers to as “my hodgepodge, tongue-in-cheek tart outfits,” but corsets and crucifixes are a thing of the past for her now. “I still love clothes, but the way I dress now is nowhere near as extreme as it used to be.”

Get ready. She may be about to start the next look. “At the moment I’m dressed all in black. I often dress in black and I like it when I see other people in black because there’s something stark and dramatic about it. At the same time, clothes should be fun and I love designers with humor--people like Gaultier, Lacroix, Gigli and Masciano.” All of the designers she mentions as influences on her are notoriously irreverent fashion heretics who put a Post-Modern spin on haute couture. Combining elements from disparate periods and styles, they espouse an ironic, somewhat kitsch approach to dress that thumbs its nose at traditional ideas governing fashion.

The material girl whose flashy image has often upstaged her musical achievements describes the future as being pretty much up for grabs when asked to predict what sorts of things audiences will want to see 10 years from now. “That’s not remotely predictable,” she says. “The future isn’t random--people do generally follow patterns--but I’m not the sort of person who studies those patterns. I will say, however, that when MTV had its initial impact on the culture, things happened very fast for a while. Suddenly every band had a video and, like Andy Warhol said, everybody got to be famous for 15 minutes.” She’s been no stranger to videos, herself.

“But the power of video seems to be decreasing. They used to be interesting to me but now I find them boring--probably because they’re no longer new. It makes me wonder what can possibly come next? Video is an incredibly efficient form, so where do you go after the ultimate in technological entertainment? Will everybody go back to playing acoustic guitars and watching plays?”

When bicoastal Madonna is in Los Angeles her radio dial is usually tuned to FM 106, which is an urban contemporary station big on dance music. What about rap music, one of the major trends currently dominating the airwaves? “I’m really sick of it,” she says. “Rap music was all the rage in New York 10 years ago so I’ve been hearing it for a long time. At this point when I hear it my basic response is, ‘All right already!’ ”

Though critics were less than kind in assessing Madonna’s last two movies (she was a hit in her first, “Desperately Seeking Susan”), she’s determined to prove herself as an actress and is a serious student of film who sees just about everything that comes out. The last film that impressed her was David Mamet’s “House of Games.”

“I’d never seen Joseph Mantegna in anything before and he’s my new movie star idol--he’s such a beauty! And David Mamet is just brilliant. When I was preparing my tour and while I was touring I had to cut myself off, so when I got home I became an information junkie and went to movies everyday. I loved ‘My Life as a Dog’ and ‘Wish You Were Here,’ but I was so disappointed in the American films I saw--except for ‘House of Games,’ which I really flipped for. I wrote David Mamet a fan letter--it was my first fan letter--and he wrote me back.”

Her favorite period from the past is the ‘20s--"because it was an age of abandonment, release and rebellion"--and she collects Art Deco and Art Noveau from that period. Her affection for that era of high-style vamping can be seen in the glamorous, bee-stung look she affects in many of her photo sessions. “I also have pieces by Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and some other artists of my age group, but those pieces were given to me. I don’t really buy my contemporaries.”

Most of Madonna’s heroes, in fact, are artists--women artists to be specific. “I really admire Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and Tamara de Lempicka. All those women were married to successful, ambitious men, yet they managed to retain a strong sense of themselves and do their own work. They suffered a lot to do it too because there’s no way you can put people like O’Keeffe and (Alfred) Stieglitz together--people with so much ego--and not have conflict. To be that kind of person and be with that kind of person is the ultimate challenge.”

Madonna posed a similar challenge for herself in marrying the mercurial actor Sean Penn; in November she apparently felt she’d had enough of that particular challenge and decided to call it quits on life as Mrs. Penn.

A central element in Madonna’s life is exercise. Maintaining the fitness regime of a professional athlete, she burns through a grueling two-hour workout every day. “I have a 10-speed bike and on alternate days I ride 25 miles up and down the hills along Pacific Coast Highway. I also run the stairs at Pepperdine University and have a huge dance studio/gym at home with weights, Lifecycles, a trampoline and a pool. I alternate my workout, which keeps it from getting boring.”

Not surprisingly, Madonna monitors what she eats with care and is a vegetarian. “The meat in this country is pumped full of steroids and pollutants and I don’t want weird growths appearing on my body. And if I ever have a child I don’t want my son to grow breasts because I ate the wrong things.

“When I first quit eating meat I found I had more energy, so that was another plus. And if you don’t have to kill animals to live then why do it? Instead of meat I eat things like tofu, Japanese food and Thai food. I also love popcorn. Sometimes I make salads, pasta and things like that, but I’m not the greatest cook in the world.”

Quintessential ‘80s woman though she is, Madonna says that she’s “not really big on gadgets.” Having reportedly been paid $500,000 per performance for her “Who’s That Girl” tour last summer, Madonna can obviously afford the state-of-the-art version of anything she desires, but energy and time seem to be the only luxuries she craves. “I have two CD players but I don’t really like them,” she says. “The newest gadget I’ve acquired is a trash compactor, which was installed in my New York apartment when it was recently renovated. It’s really bizarre and I’m not sure I like that either. It’s like a microwave oven--a little bit too New Wave for me.”