Memories of Madonna: Following the Material Girl Through the Years
by Michael Musto
In the early 1980s, I found myself on a double bill with a rising singer I’d never heard of; her name was Madonna. My Motown cover band had equal billing, but that clearly eluded Madonna’s team, who saw the downtown club gig as a showcase for her and her alone. Madonna sound-checked with such elaborate precision that my band never got to do so; by the time she was obsessively through with the mic, the doors were opening to the public and we were fucked. What’s more, after our performance, Madonna’s manager didn’t want us greeting guests in the joint dressing room, because the apparently demure Madge was getting ready for her set and didn’t want to change in front of strangers. I demanded my rights, while thinking, “This creature isn’t going anywhere.” I should have realized then that it was just this kind of aggressive tunnel vision that would rocket her to the pantheon.
Madonna was suddenly everywhere on the club scene, but her first single, the 1982 ditty “Everybody,” was so insistently whiny, I still wasn’t convinced she had a snowball’s chance. But she made it, with artfully done videos, rampant sexuality, and an ability to charm people’s pants off with feisty frankness. She even tried Hollywood, bombing out with stuff like the screwball comedy Who’s That Girl? while never letting people see her sweat. By 1987, I was hooked, so I went to see Madonna promote the movie outside a theater in Times Square, where she told the assembled throngs, “Shut up, so I can talk.” The steely determination was impressive.
She struck up a sensational gal-pal relationship with lesbian comic Sandra Bernhard, indulging in all sorts of innuendo that got the media and public panting. The two stars were at the center of 1989’s “Don’t Bungle the Jungle” — a BAM benefit for the Brazilian rainforest — where their sardonic antics upstaged ecological issues. After Madonna rattled off some rainforest facts, Sandra moaned, “Who the fuck do you think you are, Tracy Chapman?” “No,” replied Madonna. “I’m not working at a convenience store. But I do like to sneak off to a 7-Eleven at night for some jawbreakers.” “The bitch is cold,” Sandra interjected. “Funky cold Medina.” They launched into a version of “I Got You Babe,” and the comic sang, “I know we don’t have a cock, but at least I’m sure of all the things we got.” “Don’t believe the stories,” urged Madonna as the show wound down. “Believe the stories,” implored Sandra.
When I interviewed Sandra for my Voice column, she claimed their lesbian shenanigans were just shtick and people should relax about it. “I mean, God, you know, Madonna is a raging lesbian!” she said, eyes rolling. “I mean why don’t they take it really literally!” But when Madonna was spotted wildly making out with Sandra’s ex-girlfriend Ingrid Casares, I took the denials with a grain of potpourri.
By this point, I started feeling that Madonna was omnisexual, devouring whoever looks appealing at the moment, like someone shopping with a full pack of credit cards. I also sensed that she could leave her partner behind at a moment’s notice if they no longer suited her vision. In 1990, Madonna dated smoldering, bisexual model/ex-hustler Tony Ward, who later told me how their six-month relationship had ignited. They were on a night out together when the singer bristled that he wasn’t paying enough attention to her, so she impulsively put her cigarette out on his back. He started to be more attentive.