Cheek to Cheat
From Chic to Street. Barney Hoskyns finds out how far Madonna and Oliver Cheatnam have motored since quitting Detroit via the dance studios of New York.
Oliver Cheatham’s a soul gent who for 18 years has been flogging his way from the ghetto to French cabaret and back again. In 1983, he looks set to break.
Madonna’s a sweet petite fatale who’s hustled her ass out of nowhere and within four years of touching down in Manhattan is on the books of the William Morris Agency and Michael Jackson’s ex-management Weisner-DeMann. As you’d probably guess from the picture, she’s white.
Otherwise, they’ve a few things in common. Both hail from Detroit, make nice dance music, are brilliant dancers who choreograph their own shows.
Madonna would agree. Dance has framed and entwined the entire course of her life. Growing up in what sounds like an Italian Catholic sitcom – “eight brothers and sisters, plus two parents” – she was the family showoff, always the one who was going to hike off to New York.
First her mama used to twist. “That was the earliest music I heard, Chubby Checker, but then all the girls in my neighborhood had all the 45s, every girl group from The Crystals to The Marvelettes, and all those poppy records like “The Letter,” “Incense and Peppermint,” and “Quinn The Eskimo,” those records which I just loved.
“All my brothers and sisters were artistic, too, but I was the most manipulative and scheming. My two older brothers were jazz musicians, and that sort of had a reverse influence on me, because they would tell me pop music was a pile of sh*t, they’d scratch (!) my records so that I couldn’t play them. It only made love pop more.”
Madonna’s esoterically snooty brudders are not musicians today. She is the only sibling in the music business. At 16, she attended the school of fine arts at the University of Michigan, performing with its famous dance company.
“For me, it was superstardom from the word go, and I thought what is this sh*t, it’s just a home away from home. So I left and came to New York, and it was… hell. New York’s good to me now, but it was really horrible in the beginning. Luckily, I got into a dance company (Pearl Lange).”
She also starred in a couple of underground movies: she describes A Certain Sacrifice as “very sick”.
“It was made by this guy in his final year at N.Y. University Film School. It was sick in childish kind of way, about this girl who’s like a dominatrix, me of course. There’s hardly any, like, sex scenes or anything like that, it’s just implied all the time. She’s got all these slaves, and she leads this really perverted, deranged life, but then this boy from the midwest comes and changes her life, and makes her get rid of the slaves.
“Anyway, I get sexually attacked, which you don’t see in the movie, and he goes crazy with revenge, kills the guy and performs this ritual sacrifice, gets all my ex-slaves involved. There’s a scene where we take a bath in fake blood.”