It’s a hazy midsummer night on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, before Sean Penn reported to jail, before hordes of fans mobbed the Who’s That Girl premiere in Times Square, but already Madonna’s life seems pretty complicated. The twenty-nine-year-old woman sitting across the table in a deep alcove of this trendy restaurant looks perturbed. Typically, Madonna’s eschewing a drink, but atypically, she looks like she could use one. Her gaze is direct as always, but she keeps turning it toward the entranceway twenty yards to her left, and the almost childlike cadences of her speech seem slowed. At some unspecified point tonight, her husband, Sean Penn, is to arrive. When their romance was just rumor, this writer had asked about him, and she’d replied,, “Sean, to me, is the perfect American male… .I’m inspired and shocked by him at the same time.”
by Fred Schruers
Just now, Madonna’s talking about the determination that got her through the bad old days in New York nine years ago, fetching meals out of the trash and bouncing between borrowed lodgings and spare couches. “I would take whatever I could take in a taxicab to wherever I went to next. I took a big breath, gritted my teeth, blinked back my tears and said, ‘I’m gonna do it — I have to do it, because there’s nowhere else for me to go.’ ”
That innocence seems to be ages old now. And the two-year marriage? “Let’s just say I’m feeling hopeful,” she’ll say later, “I love Sean and I’m feeling hopeful.”
The couple has had a hair-raising month, with one of the increasingly frequent blowups now just hours away. Its residue will be another in a long line of reports that divorce is imminent, except that this one just about comes true, with the couple actually living apart briefly — Sean remaining in their beach house out in Malibu, Madonna staying closer to the set of Who’s That Girl. Soon afterward, he’ll be arrested for drunken driving, which will greatly complicate his rap sheet with the local police. (He’s been on probation since April 1986 for slugging a musician he accused of trying to kiss Madonna, and he was recently charged with assaulting a movie extra who tried to photograph him.) By that time Sean and Madonna are so thoroughly out of touch that she learns of his arrest from a newspaper item.
Before her AIDS-benefit concert at Madison Square Garden, they’ve had a bit of a reconciliation in the placid environs of Turnberry Isle, Florida. She hits the stage at the Garden skipping and looking every inch the care-free gamine in a boy-styled suit, but when the video cameras splash her face across screens twice her height, she looks troubled, quivery. Penn has been spotted heading backstage before the show, and insiders suggest the couple has just had a contretemps. Whatever’s bothering her seems almost to fuel her performance, in which she delivers fifteen songs with a vengeance. At a postconcert party at the Gotham Bar and Grill, she and Penn are seen having words seen but not heard — as a song from Madonna’s hunky young Brit protégé, Nick Kamen, roars out of the sound system.
Tonight, Madonna seems selfabsorbed, pensive, with occasional flashes of the more familiar persona — a wisecracking, familiar, big sister. Asked if she’s in decent spirits despite all her marital struggles, she’s quick to snap: “I am, as a matter of fact.” Then, after the barest pause: “I’m really excited about my tour.”
She’s perfectly aware that this response is straight off the most-thumbed page in the popstar phrase book, and she’s used it to shut off the marriage topic for now. But the seventy-hour work weeks — spent preparing for what would be only her second concert tour — show she means it.
She’s been working steadily with a vocal coach as well as training like a marathoner to meet the demands of her eighteen-city itinerary. Earlier in the week, a visit to hear a set runthrough in a rehearsal hall in North Hollywood found her dressed in a man’s dinner jacket and black tights, belting “Open Your Heart.”