Madonna’s Head Trip
As she unleashes a book of sure-to-be-contraversial erotic photographs and an equally provocative new album, Madonna is not only once again redefining her image, she’s gleefully flaunting her body. But beyond the bareness, David Handelman finds hard work and ground-breaking music. And, on these pages, she and photographer Steven Meisel respond to fashion’s hippie revival.
Madonna is reading aloud from her first foray into the literary realm – a spiral-bound picture book of erotic fantasies and musings with the typically blunt title Sex. With singsongy, gum-chewing nonchalance, she recites an apparently earnest piece called “The Art of Seduction.”
“The best way to seduce someone is by making yourself unavailable,” she advices. “Don’t f*ck them for the first five dates… at some point you have to make him see that you have garter belt on. No underpants is also a big turn-on… Telling jokes is good, and on every date, you have to say one really disarming thing. ”
Could she give an example of disarming thing?
Madonna looks me dead in the eye. “I could, if I wanted to f*ck you.”
Er – I guess that counts.
If you thought Madonna had drained her reservoir of disarming remarks and outrageous antics in the documentary Truth or Dare and its acompanying barrage of interviews, think again. Sure, we watched and heard and read about her childhood finger explorations, her desire to urinate standing up, the loss of her virginity at fourteen, her never-ending quest for her father’s approval, her visit to her mother’s grave, her distaste for certain sex acts and devices, and her opinion that “every straight guy should have a man’s tongoue in his mouth at least once.”
But like a vampire, Madonna continually renews herself by drawing strenght from others – not just her collaborators, but her audince. She has a powerful need to mess with people’s heads, as well as other body parts. Surprisingly, Sex wasn’t her original title. “We were gonna call it X,” says the five-feet-four thirty-four-year-old, “but then the whole Malcolm X thing started happening. At first I thought, Fuck it, it’s a really good symbol, and I thought of it first. But I realized it might be confusing or look like I was copying Spike. Besides, Sex is almost as powerful: it’s universal, it doesn’t need translation – and it’s only two more letters than X.”
Of course, copying and confusing have long been Madonna mainstays; she has been hailed (and scorned) as Great Appropriator and has served as a one-woman passion play for our cultural inhibitions. But with Sex, she is pushing her ambitious, sexually aggressive feminism even further. The book will reach stores at the same time as her new album, Erotica; a similarly salacious movie, Body of Evidence, costarring William Defoe, opens in January. She blames this multimedia pelvic thrust on the month she spent last year in cirtual confinment filming A League of Their Own. “After being in Midwest, wearing an ugly baseball uniform, and being incredibly unsexy,” she says, “I was just dying to get into my own thing!”
When we first meet in midsummer, her New York apartment, which is festooned with artwork depicting strong women (by everyone from Picasso to Tamara de Lempicka to Helmut Newton), is getting one of its frequent cleanings (even though it seems so pristine that she could move out tommorow without a trace). So we go up a flight to a former psychiatrists’ office that she’s gutting to to convert into a duplex. “It’s godsend that it opened up,” she says. “My downstairs neighbours always complain that the music’s too loud.” It’s completely empty except for a couple of rickety chairs that threaten to crumple, so the sits on the floor, curled up against the wall. Today’s Madonna (plucked eyebrows, shoulder-lenght strawberry blond hair) is weaing a hooded leather vest, jean cutoffs from which men’s boxer shorts protrude several inches, and combat boots.
She doesn’t claim to be an expert on sexuality; “It’s just what inspires me now, the way people deal with each other intimately, and I’m interested in a society that’s getting more and more repressive. I want to get in there and figure out why pople have all these phobias and hang-ups. And I know from first-hand experience that narrow-minded people who are exposed to my lifestyle do change.”
Despite her interest in promoting her work, she’s at first wary of actually showing me any of it. Her publicist, Liz Rosenberg, suggests this could be due to insecurity (!?); more likely it’s a matter of security. Paparazzi snaps of some of photographer Steven Meisel’s sessions for the book have already appeared in several resorceful publications, a rare instance of Madonna losing control of her image/product. “They stole them,” she insists. “They got them for free!”
Madonna’s ensuring that nobody else will. “The book’s going to come wrapped in that aluminium kind of stuff, like a potato chip bag or condom,” she says, “so you can’t look at it in the store. You have to rip it open.”
It seems that a similar principle, rather than any loftier goals, guided her decision to strike a deal with her own record label, Maverick, with movie, publishing, and merchandising offshoots that could earn her another $60 milliom. “Um, what is my motivation?” She echoes. “Because… I found myself giving advice and helping groups get deals in other places, and I figured, I’m putting so much of my time and effort into all this, I might as well profit in some way, instead of farming them out and letting others make money.”
After forty minutes, she abruptly stops the interview – “we have to go now” – and heads downstairs only to realize that she’s locked out of her apartment. She spends several awkward minutes waiting for her assistant to hear her scream – “Melllll!” – over the vacuum cleaner and stereo. Finally, after a quick call to her manager, Freddy DeMann, we leave her building in Batcave style: she takes the elevator down to the boiler room, dons sunglasses, and escapes through a small door to a waiting car. For the few seconds she is visible, the gaggle of fans camped on the sidewalk take pictures and scream her name. “Winter is the best time to be in New York, because it’s too cold for them,” she says. “I’m just glad that everyone else in my building is over eighty.”