I interviewed Madonna at the Disney Studios, of all places, where she was rehearsing her Blond Ambition tour. It’s not really so odd that she should work at Disney, since that studio produces her latest film, Dick Tracy, which also stars its director, Warren Beatty, but I half-expected Goofy and Donald to appear onstage with her dancers at any minute. I watched some of the rehearsal.
Madonna looked like a billion bucks in a Gaultier sheath with dangerous-looking silver nipples. The music and dancing were great, but there was a lot of trouble with the trap doors that day, and things were run through over and over. She and her choreographer, Vince Paterson, ran the rehearsal with a lot of good humor tempering their perfectionist frustration.
That evening, Burbank was being aerially sprayed for killer fruit flies, and Madonna said we should get out of town or our cars’ finishes would be ruined. I was driving a crummy rental, but Madonna was driving her Benzo, so I followed her car into Hollywood, which wasn’t easy. She’s as exciting a driver as she is an entertainer. On the way to the restaurant she got into a screaming match with a huge guy driving a “big foot” — type truck who almost backed over her.
When we got to the restaurant she said, “He called me a dick. That’s the first time anybody ever called me a dick.” I wondered if he had known it was Madonna he had called a dick. I wondered if it had anything to do with Dick Tracy. We’ll never know. But I did have fun with Madonna, who is lovely, charming, and witty, even when she’s making fun of you or giving you the third degree.
GLENN O’BRIEN: The first time we met, I thought you were black. You had black hair and dreadlocks and a tan.
MADONNA: I had a tan! How unusual. Oh, I think I had been to the Bahamas with Jellybean [Benitez]. That was the second tan in my whole life. Yeah, I came to your house for Thanksgiving dinner with Jean-Michel [Basquiat]…
To my dumpy apartment.
I can assure you that my apartment was dumpier. Anyway, I remember being hungry, but you guys just wanted to roll joints. I met your wife at Thanksgiving dinner. We’re always eating together. So let’s talk about your marriage.
No, let’s talk about your show.
Let’s not. Today was a horrible day. That was the worst rehearsal.
Well, I liked it, but I haven’t seen it when you thought it was good. I loved the number where you’re lying on the piano singing a torch song.
You saw only one segment of the show. I’ve created five different worlds, and the set is all based on hydraulics. One is going down and another is coming up. The world changes completely. I think of it more as a musical than as a rock concert. There is a straightforward Metropolis section, like my “Express Yourself” video – that set with all the gears and machinery; it’s very hard and metallic. That’s the heavy-duty dance music. Then the set changes and it’s like a church. We call it the temple ruins. It’s all these columns, trays of votive candles, a cross. I do ‘Like a Virgin’ on a bed, but we changed the arrangement, so it sounds Indian. Then I’m being punished for masturbation on this bed, which is, as you know, what happens. Then we do the more serious, religious-type material – ‘Like a Prayer’, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’… Then it changes to what you saw, this Art Deco ’50s-musical set. That’s when we do three songs from Dick Tracy, and then after that we do what I call the camp section. Then it gets really serious again and we go into our Clockwork Orange cabaret set.
It’s a very sparse set with a backdrop of an orgy naked people. The paintings are like Tamara de Lempicka – Cubist-like nudes – no pornography, no genitals. You just see people having fun.
How long have you been working on this? Its’ so elaborate.
Since September. Designing the stage, hiring people, firing people, hiring more people, designing the costumes with Gaultier, going over the music, changing the arrangements, picking the talent.
It’s a big operation.
There are seven dancers, two singers, eight musicians, me, about a zillion tech guys just to take care of the musicians, and then all the crew guys underneath the stage working everything. There are a lot of people. Probably seventy-five to a hundred. And a lot of trucks.
I heard you fired yourself today.
Yeah. It’s a running joke. I fire some one every day, every time something goes wrong. I fire Lenny everyday. He’s the guy who opens the trap doors, and he’s always doing it at the wrong time and almost killing me.
I was sitting near your dancers; they were really funny. They were talking to your piano player, who had on a new suit. The pants were short, and one of the dancers said, “Your shoes should give a party so your pants can drop on down.”
The dancers are really funny. They keep me going. They’re real pranksters.
I love it when they become mermen. You seem to have a thing for merpersons.
Mermen, yeah. I like to switch everything around. People like mermaids; I like mermen. I like the idea of men with tails on. I like the idea of men being the objects of desire, the sirens that entrap women, instead of the other way around. Some people would say that I hate men and that I like to do things to take power away from them, but you don’t have to get that analytical.
I don’t think putting men in flimsy, marabour-trimmed negligees is taking power away from them.
I think it’s funny. Anyway, it’s just a takeoff. Do you think it’s offensive?
Not at all.
Well, a lot of people would. You’re a really evolved guy. I can assure you that people in Michigan are going to throw tomatoes at me or something because I have guys in fish tails and negligés. But I like wearing men’s suits, and I grab my crotch a lot.
But can you even tell if the audience is offended?
No. I just know from feedback afterward. But when I did the MTV awards and I was smoking, I could hear people booing. I’m sure I offend people when I grab my crotch, but I really don’t care. That’s bound to happen. And I know I offend people with my videos. But I don’t hear it. I just get feedback later.
Do you ever get critical mail?
No. People that don’t like me aren’t going to take the time to write to me.