SPANKING NEW MADONNA
A MEGA-STAR FIGHTS HER WAY TO THE TOP
The Toronto SkyDome had never seen anything like it. She danced in metallic lingerie with a pointy brassiere that looked like it had been salvaged from the Tin Man. Lying face down on a red-velvet bed, she thrust to the beat of Like a Virgin. She straddled an altar in a priest’s robes. But the big production number came near the end of the show, as Madonna teased and taunted half a dozen dancers dressed in yellow trench coats and fedoras—clones of the dapper detective played by Warren Beatty, her costar in the new movie Dick Tracy. “Dick, that’s an interesting name,” she cooed, dancing to a record of herself singing a duet with Beatty, her sometime boyfriend. “It’s all right,” she said by way of encouragement, “lots of people make records who can’t sing.” Then, as the song ended, she cruelly knocked over the Dick Tracy dancers like bowling pins. In the movie, which opens this week, Madonna plays a thwarted seductress vying for the attention of Beatty’s detective hero. But onstage at the SkyDome last month, the attention was all hers. The boy-toy was playing the boss.
After less than a decade in show business, Madonna seems to be getting her way, in every conceivable way. As Dick Tracy's smouldering torch singer, Breathless Mahoney, she leaves the sort of bold sexual signature that has not been seen since the days of Marlene Dietrich.
It is a calculated pose, and whether she can really act remains a mystery. But that hardly seems to matter. Madonna has always behaved like a movie star; finally, she is in a movie that makes her look like one.
Ruthless: Meanwhile, in her Blond Ambition world tour—which included just three Canadian shows, all in Toronto—she plays the pop star. With a maraschino mouth and blond hair tugged back into a false ponytail, Madonna performs with the ruthless, aerobic efficiency of a circus girl. As a singer, she has limited range. But she knows how to seduce a pop song. Her current number 2 hit,
Vogue, celebrates the art of striking a glamorous pose. She calls it “giving good face.” And, in that, Madonna is an expert.
She is flirting with overexposure—and winning. Onstagé, onscreen and in the media, she has shown a knack for getting attention: baring a breast in a magazine, confessing to talk-show host Arsenio Hall that she enjoys being spanked or making giggling confessions about lesbian adventures with her friend comedian Sandra Bernhard—and then denying them.
But her well-controlled bad-girl behavior is tempered with an equally controlled sense of humor and responsibility. At the SkyDome concert, she chanted, “Don’t be silly, put a rubber on your willy.”
She is a naughty girl for the safe-sex decade. The product of a large Roman Catholic family from Pontiac, Mich., the 31-year-old star has made sin her personal fashion statement. “Her audience is the what-it-is generation,” Jack Nicholson, a friend of Beatty and Madonna, told
Maclean’s in a recent interview. “It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong—it’s what it is.” Added Nicholson: “She hits one fashion bull’s-eye after another and has great instincts about it. You can look at it two ways: wanting to wear your underwear outside your clothes or wanting to have your tits be inside tinfoil. They’re both just the externalized passion of the moment.”
Behind the provocateur image is a well-organized business machine. Shrewdly managing her own affairs, she heads three companies: Boy-Toy deals with her music publishing, Slutco handles her videos and Siren specializes in film deals. Sire Records president Seymour
Stein, who first signed her to his label in 1982, told Maclean’s-. “She really is many people’s image of her, a very direct, no-bullshit person.
She knows exactly what she wants. She forges ahead.” In the past four years, Madonna has earned about $100 million. “It’s a great feeling to be powerful,” she has said. “I’ve been striving for it all my life. I think that’s just the quest of every human being: power."
Power is also an essential part of her act.
Toying with roles of domination and submission, she has recently taken to promoting the pleasures of a little consensual sadomasochism and mild bondage. Her new album, I’m Breathless—described on the sleeve as “music from and inspired by the film Dick Tracy ”—features a jaunty big-band number titled Hanky Panky : “Treat me like I’m a bad girl/ Even when I’m being good to you/1 don’t want you to thank me/ You can just spank me.”
Crass: The music on Madonna’s new album consists of old-fashioned torch songs and swing tunes—with the notable exception of Vogue, which seems specifically designed for the Top 10. Most of the songs, including three by Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, are clever and sophisticated parodies of a vintage era. Madonna has even darkened and deepened her Day-Glo voice to better evoke the style.
The album—along with the Dick Tracy role—seems an obvious bid for a touch of class.
But in her stage show, Madonna still puts a lot of faith in crass. “I know people say I’m ruthless, violent and manipulative,” she yelled to the crowd in Toronto. “But you love that, right? When people get in your face, when they stab you in the back, you got to show them who’s boss, right?” Then, as she pretended to kick a pair of female dancers, she said, “In America, people really dig a little senseless violence. What about you, Toronto?” Then, over a scream of approval from the crowd, she g added, “Everybody feels like a little bit of z pain.” >
Madonna likes to stir up scandal. And Toronto police seemed to respond on cue by visiting
the SkyDome for her final Toronto show. According to record company officials, before the concert the police tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade pop’s Material Girl to tone down her material. Still, no matter how much Madonna tries to promote her image as a wanton sensualist, her stage act is remarkably passionless. The show unfolds as a tightly disciplined spectacle featuring precision choreography.
Classically trained, Madonna is an excellent dancer— arguably, a better dancer than singer. As she sweats her way through a carnival of outlandish costumes by French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, the concert unfolds more like a ballet than a rock concert. The band plays in the shadows off to the side. And the music is plastic pop, generations removed from the blood and guts of rock ’n’ roll.
The concept at its core is Madonna’s inverted Catholicism, which seesaws between images of pleasure and penance. “I admit I have this feeling I’m a bad girl and need to be punished,” she has said. Her music also reveals an obsession with her father, automobile engineer Tony Ciccone. And on his birthday earlier this month, he joined her onstage in Detroit. As the crowd sang Happy Birthday, she bowed to her father and declared, “I worship the ground he walks on.”
Born in 1958, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was named after her mother, who died of cancer when Madonna
was 5. The third of six children, she was then raised by her father and her stepmother, Joan, who married him after working as his housekeeper—and had two children. The family lived in a cramped brick bungalow in Pontiac, where Madonna shared a bedroom with two younger sisters.
The death of Madonna’s mother left an emotional scar that is still apparent in her music. The video for her song Oh Father shows the singer dancing on her mother’s grave, a scene that she has described as “an attempt to embrace and accept my mother’s death.” Madonna told Vanity Fair in a recent interview, “I had to deal with the loss of my mother and then I had to deal with the guilt of her being gone and then I had to deal with the loss of my father when he married my stepmother. So I was just one angry, abandoned little girl. I’m still angry.”
Notoriety: Madonna’s close friend when she was a child in Pontiac was Moira McPharlin, who lived two doors away. Now Moira Messana, she is a 34-year-old housewife living in Pinehurst, N.C., and she talked to Maclean ’s last week about growing up with the future pop star. “I remember feeling really bad when her mother died,” she recalled, “but it probably made her stronger because she hurt so bad. She probably wouldn’t be where she is if her mom hadn’t died.”
As children, the two girls used to put on plays in Moira’s
backyard and charge the neighbors 10 cents admission. They would take turns wearing a wedding dress that they dug out of Moira’s mother’s closet. “I remember us fighting over who was going to be the star,” said Messana. “She was the prettiest girl I ever knew when we were little. She had this long, dark, curly hair and just a beautiful face.”
Madonna’s talent for getting attention was evident from an early age. Messana recalls going to a dance with her: “When she started to dance, everybody cleared off the dance floor and started watching. And I remember always being real self-conscious of dancing until that day.” Messana added that she was also inspired by the closeness of Madonna’s family. “It just seemed like a really neat family to be in— they got along so well.” Messana has stayed in touch with her childhood friend, visiting her backstage after concerts. She said: “I told her a while back, ‘I feel like you’re unreachable now.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘Why?’ I don’t think she’s forgotten her friends. I just think she’s real busy.”
Messana’s mother and father, Wanda and Patrick McPharlin, still visit Madonna’s father and his second wife, who now live in Rochester, Mich. At first, said Patrick McPharlin, Madonna’s family was “embarrassed by the notoriety” that she attracted. “Tony’s a very stoic guy, but I think he’s delighted with her success,” he added. McPharlin recalled that, even when she was dying, Madonna’s mother “always had a smile on her face. If you wanted to send a few more kids over to her house, that was always okay.” Madonna’s stepmother, Joan, “was probably more of a disciplinarian,” he said, “but she had to do a lot of work to take care of those kids. We always kidded Tony that he had two saints for wives.”
Provocative: In fact, Madonna makes a telling reference to her stepmother in the current issue of Interview magazine. Describing her religious upbringing as extremely strict, she said, “I was not allowed to wear tampons until I was married. My stepmother said it was like intercourse.” Madonna—who divorced actor Sean Penn in 1989, after a 3V2-year marriage—says that she lost her virginity at 15. An interviewer once asked her if it was a difficult decision. “Oh no,” she deadpanned, “I thought of it as a career move.”
Her fifteenth year was a turning point in more ways than one. She began taking ballet classes with a dance teacher who, she recalled, “gave me a sense of culture and style—he was the first homosexual I’d ever known.” Madonna, who was an A student, won a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan. After two years, at 20, she left to work with the Alvin Ailey dance company in New York City. But she rebelled against the discipline. She dyed her hair bright colors. She ripped her leotard up to her chest and put it back together with safety pins. And then she abandoned ballet to live as a thrift-shop bohemian, learning to play guitar and modelling for art classes—samples of nude photo sessions from that period surfaced in Playboy and Penthouse after she was famous.
In New York, Madonna got her first break by dancing in front of the deejay’s booth at a Manhattan nightclub, where Mark Kamins, the deejay, noticed her. She gave him a demonstration tape that she had recorded with herboyfriend, guitarist Steve Bray. Kamins, who also
became a boyfriend, began playing it for the patrons. He later directed her to Sire Records. Her first album, 1983’s Madonna, sold three million copies. Her second, 1984’s Like a Virgin, sold six million. Her sassy, accessible songs—which Mick Jagger described as having “a central dumbness”—were just dumb enough to work.
But it was Madonna’s provocative poses on video and onstage that fuelled her stardom—from the bare-midriff wedding dress that she wore for Like a Virgin to the combustible mix of sex and religion in last year’s Like a Prayer video, which prompted Pepsi to pull the plug on her $ 11-million TV commercial for the company. In the satirical opening of her Material Girl video in 1985, Madonna had made her ambitions clear. It showed a cigar-smoking movie mogul watching her on film. “She’s fantastic,” he says, “I knew she could be a star.” The mogul’s lackey agrees. “She could be a major star,” he says. “She is a star,” says the mogul. “The biggest star in the universe, right now as we speak,” says the lackey.
Vogue: Trying to make the prophecy materialize, Madonna starred in 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan as a free spirit who trades places with a housewife portrayed by Rosanna Arquette. It was a hit, and since then, she has been desperately seeking a second. Her subsequent mov-
ies—Shanghai Surprise, Who’s That Girl? and Bloodhounds of Broadway— were all flops. In 1988, Madonna made her Broadway stage debut in playwright
David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow. Stepping out of character to portray a Hollywood producer’s pristine secretary, she received mixed reviews. But its director, Gregory Mosher, told Maclean ’s that she was a joy to work with. “She’s very straightforward and gutsy and funny,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t know if she’s having you on. There’s this wonderful ambiguity between a real person named Madonna Ciccone and a persona.”
Over the past decade, that self-invented persona has evolved from junk-jewelled gypsy to diamond moll. With the Dick Tracy role, she has acquired a new, skin-tight image of elegance. Madonna was so eager for the part that she agreed to do it for union scale, a relatively small $1,650 a week. And, whether or not the movie succeeds, the Breathless role has already served her purpose. She has se^ duced Hollywood. Said Barry Diller, chair“ man of Twentieth Century Fox: “She’s I such a movie star, in fact, that I’d say u she’s got a good 10 years to find the right movie to prove it.”
Meanwhile, she can continue as a pop star, the vogue princess of hanky-panky. On the concert stage, as she whips through her circus repertoire of poses, the show unfolds like a kaleidoscope of sexual decadence. The references range from Berlin cabarets to New York leather bars. It is hard to say what Madonna’s shrieking legions of prepubescent fans make of it all. But after the Toronto concert, a 41-year-old federal civil servant who had been sitting in the 12th row shook his head and muttered, “It’s the end of life as we know it.” For Madonna, it may be just the beginning.
BRIAN D. JOHNSON