In 1991, the endlessly enjoyable doc Truth or Dare showed Madonna getting burned by the straightest partner ever: Warren Beatty. Their pairing couldn’t last, since she only existed when there were cameras in her face (or other body parts), and he positively withered under the glare, alarmed by the attention. The movie now comes off as one of the original reality shows, complete with staged moments; but still, Madonna centers it with her wicked wit and prayer circles. Rarely has self-adoration seemed so charming. (For more on Madonna: Truth or Dare, which begins a one-week revival run at Metrograph on Friday, see Melissa Anderson’s column, below.)
And then she went and dated cheesy rapper Vanilla Ice! I was simultaneously horrified and jealous. But she regained hormonal cred with her Sex book, which used gay models, locales, and themes — as well as some occasional straight ones — for a calculatedly racy romp that sold out instantly. It was basically the adult-entertainment version of Truth or Dare. At the book party, I wore a pope outfit with a pendant consisting of a ripped-up photo of fiery singer Sinéad O’Connor. (On SNL, Sinéad had ripped up a photo of the pope; Madonna would later go on the same show to satirically rip a picture of scandalous adulterer Joey Buttafuoco.) “Look, Madonna, Michael Musto’s dressed like the pope,” said the superstar’s bemused publicist, Liz Rosenberg, at the Industria Superstudio bash. Madonna flashed an appreciative smile, and that awful double-bill experience instantly melted for me. I even forgot the delicious irony surrounding the fact that the woman who didn’t want to change in front of an audience had by now made the world her gynecologist, as they liked to say on Absolutely Fabulous. But I still didn’t seize the chance to start a conversation; keeping some mystery about Madonna seemed like a novel idea.
In the Voice, I posed for a parody of Madonna’s naked-hitchhiking shot from the book. As I stood, tucked, in heels and wig, on a chilly New Jersey street, cops pulled up and threatened action. We showed them the Sex book, they flipped through the pages with eyes aglow, and then they left, smiling. I guess I was starting to develop my own steely determination — just as Madonna was flashing more humanity. I wrote a cover story for the angry gay magazine OutWeek, praising her for shining a spotlight on the LGBT community and upping our value in the world’s eye. Her devotion was not the full-throttle activism of Lady Gaga years later; this was a different time, when a mere image or remark could send shock waves. But Madonna could be glamorously silly, too: At her 1995 “Bedtime Story” party at Webster Hall, Madonna slinked out in silky sleepwear to read from the children’s book Miss Spider’s Tea Party. The event was shot for MTV, and I was interviewed on camera — in jammies — established as an awestruck follower of the woman who’d once dissed me.
As the years passed, Madonna strove to stay relevant while refusing to budge from dance/pop. In 2001, she defended Eminem’s homophobic raps by saying he was merely “stirring things up.” In 2003, she kissed Britney Spears at the VMAs, and, unlike her Sandra shtick, this clearly was a stunt, and not one done with any artistry or appeal. But Madonna was making a fortune on tour — even as, the whole time, she never stopped trying to become an Oscar winner. At a 2009 dinner for Pedro Almodóvar, I saw her snuggle up to the Spanish director and try to get him to use her in a movie. Pedro didn’t bite, but I know enough about Madonna by now to realize that she should probably start rehearsing some kind of acceptance speech. Shut up, so she can talk.
© The Village Voice