On the hidden life of Madonna: Her views and her philosophy are in deeds, not words. Her words give but an indication of where the dark stuff is stored.
Well, we can try to get into one or two small corners of Madonna’s mind, although the secret may be not to try too hard. It is going to be no easy exploration. Her views and her philosophy are in deeds, not words. Her words give but an indication of where the dark stuff is stored.
Probably it is most comfortable to start our trip in company with David Letterman. He offers the most certitude. She was on his program, Late Show with David Letterman, on March 31, and the results produced a two-day Kristallnacht in the media. Madonna, once again, was being called sick, sordid, depraved, unbalanced, out of control, offensive, outrageous, and stupid. So wrote all the boozers, cokeheads, and solid suburbanites who do the TV columns, and their language frothed with enough effervescence to bring in the wire services and even the respectable daily press. Madonna, having said f### thirteen times on the show, also had, with the aid of CBS’s precise workmanship, been bleeped every time, and that was enough to light up the media machine guns. Outraged propriety! Defense of home and flag! The first requirement of a news story, after all, is to excise everything that gets in the way of a dramatic judgment. Madonna was a slut.
Actually, she and Letterman had been perfect foils for each other. If Madonna shows a predominant vice, it is that she always stands for something. It is usually rich enough, or by her detractors’ estimate, gamy enough, to be on the very edge of the public’s digestive powers. Letterman, on the other hand, stands for nothing at all. It is his number-one asset in our parlous time. During periods of lassitude and confusion, it is reassuring to listen to someone who is absolutely at home in the idle sounds of drift. At 11:30, when his audience is ready for a mild pleasure before bed, Letterman serves as their Ovaltine—a little flavor, a lot of pablum—and the implicit promise that nothing serious is going to take place. He will not even be too funny. That could stir the blood and inspire thoughts of going out for a drink. Johnny Carson, mean as his own minted embodiment of Waspitude, used, at least, to give audiences his sharp sense — whether you agreed with him or not — of what constituted proper social deportment. Letterman, on an average night, would not be caught dead offering one indication of how to conduct your life. Keep it meaningless and we’ll all get along. To be meaningless in a meaningless time is to be the Buddha of the befuddled.
Well, you don’t attack Buddha for too little — as Madonna discovered. It is worth excerpting a few moments from their evening.
Madonna came out dressed in black, her hair dark, her manner demure — but for her combat boots, she looked like a socialite stepping out for a charity dinner. Unfortunately, Letterman, at the conclusion of his introduction, did remark that Madonna had “slept with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry,” to which his bandleader exclaimed in real or simulated horror, “she’s your guest!”
“Just relax,” said David. “Everything’s fine. We’re just trying to have fun.”
All the same, no visitor in the history of late-night television had ever received a comparable greeting. Soon enough, Madonna said, “Why are you so obsessed with my sex life?”
“Well,” said David, “I have none of my own,” to which Madonna would shortly reply, “David, you are a sick f###.”
The audience laughter was long. They had heard it. The rest of America would be bleeped, but they had waited on line to get tickets and they had heard Madonna say f###. “You realize this is being broadcast?” David asked. “Well,” he added, “you can’t go on talking like that.”
Madonna reminded him of a pair of her panties that were, presumably, in his desk drawer. “Aren’t you going to smell them?” she asked. He said to the audience: “I’ll tell you what — we’re going to do a commercial and we’re going to wash her mouth out with soap.”
MADONNA: And he’s going to smell my underwear….
DAVID: And we’ll be right back.
They broke for the commercial. When they came on again, Madonna was smoking a huge cigar.
MADONNA: You know, you’ve really changed since the last time I was on the show. . . . Life’s made you soft.
DAVID: You think so? … In what sense?
MADONNA: Because you kiss up to everybody on your show… . I see you kissing up to, like, all these movie stars that come on here — you used to give people a hard time.
DAVID: I can suspend that behavior tonight, if you like.
Heavy clapping followed. It inspired Letterman.
DAVID: You can’t — you can’t be coming on here — this is American television; you can’t talk like that.
DAVID: Because people don’t want that in their own homes at 11:30 at night.
Now there was long applause in support of his sentiment: Away with filth at 11:30 P.M.
MADONNA: Wait a minute, wait a minute — people don’t want to hear the word f###?