Today in Madonna History: May 17, 1991

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On May 17 1991, Roger Ebert gave Madonna’s Truth or Dare documentary a 3 1/2 star rating and a thumbs up review.

Here’s what Ebert had to say:

Although the movie seems happiest when it is retailing potential scandal, its heart is not in sex but in business, and the central value in the film is the work ethic. Madonna schedules herself for a punishing international tour of mostly one-night stands and then delivers with a clockwork determination, explaining to a family member in Detroit that she can’t go out to party because she has to conserve her strength.

Night after night the exhausting show goes on, taking on aspects of a crusade for the cast members. Ironically – given Madonna’s onstage use of sacrilege as a prop – every show is preceded by a prayer session, everyone holding hands while Madonna asks God’s help and recites a daily list of problems. And when her dancers have personal problems, they come to her as a counselor and mother figure.

She seems to like it that way, and halfway through the film I was even wondering if she deliberately chose insecure dancers with dependent personalities because she enjoyed playing mother to them.

Madonna has kept her act fresh by adopting a long series of public star personas, yet, backstage, people don’t relate to her as a star, but as the boss. Her charisma comes not through glitter but through power, and there is never any doubt about exactly who is in charge.

We get the feeling that if show biz ever loses its appeal for her, she could be successful in business or even politics: She’s a hard-headed organizer, a taskmaster, disciplined and clear-headed.

The movie follows the Blond Ambition tour from its soggy beginnings in Japan’s rainy season through a series of appearances across the world. There’s the Los Angeles concerts with all of the celebrities backstage (Kevin Costner tells her the concert was “neat,” and once he leaves she sticks a finger down her throat).

Detroit, her hometown, where she assures her father that she can indeed get him tickets. Toronto, where the police threaten to arrest her for public masturbation (“What do they mean, masturbation?” “When you grab your crotch”). Then she tours Italy and Spain, inviting guys she has crushes on to parties, only to discover they’re married or gay.

At one point in the film, talking about how lonely it is at the top, she’s asked if she ever knew true love, and she answers sadly, “Sean. Sean.” But she never says another word about her former husband, Sean Penn. In the opening scenes she is glimpsed briefly with boyfriend Warren Beatty, but then he disappears, unmentioned, after making what sounded to me like fairly sensible observations (he complains that, for Madonna, if it doesn’t happen on camera it hardly happens at all).

The organizing subject of the whole film is work. We learn a lot about how hard Madonna works, about her methods for working with her dancers and her backstage support team, about how brutally hard it is to do a world concert tour. Unlike most rock documentaries, the real heart of this film is backstage, and the onstage musical segments, while effectively produced, seem obligatory – they’re not the reason she wanted to make this film.

Why is work so important to her? Maybe there’s a hint in the many scenes where she takes a motherly interest in the personal lives of her dancers, and even joins them between the sheets for innocent, bored, adolescent sex games. Madonna, who has had such success portraying a series of sexual roles and personalities, seems asexual on a personal level. A voyeur rather than a participant. Control and power are more interesting to her than intimacy. When she manipulates the minds of a stadium full of fans, that’s exciting. It’s not the same, working with one person at a time.

Today in Madonna History: January 24, 1989

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On January 24, 1989, Madonna and Sean Penn were featured on the cover of National Enquirer.  “Madonna tells cops: Sean beat me and tied me up – Divorce Drama.”

Today in Madonna History: December 28, 1988

On December 28 1988, Madonna filed assault charges against Sean Penn at the sheriff’s office in Malibu, California.

Versions of what happened on that date include:

  • Sean scaled the wall surrounding their Malibu home and started a quarrel with Madonna in their bedroom
  • Madonna threatened to leave the house
  • Sean attempted to tie Madonna to a chair with the cord from a lamp, but she fled the bedroom
  • Sean chased Madonna into living room and then tied her to a chair using twine
  • Sean threatened to cut off her hair
  • The police report indicates that Sean was “drinking liquor straight from the bottle” and that the abuse went on for several hours, according to Madonna
  • Madonna was smacked several times while bound to the chair
  • Sean eventually untied Madonna and she fled the house in her car and drove to the sheriff’s office

When she arrived at the sheriff’s office, Lieutenant Bill McSweeny is quoted as saying, “I hardly recognized her as Madonna. She was weeping, her lip was bleeding and she had obviously been struck.”

Sean was charged with inflicting “corporal injury and traumatic conditions” on Madonna as well as committing “battery”.

Madonna filed for divorce a few days later and withdrew the assault charges against Sean.

On December 17 2015, Madonna made this statement about the above mentioned rumours/speculation:

“I am aware of the allegations that have surfaced over the years accusing Sean of incidents of physical assault and abuse against me, which purportedly resulted in Sean’s arrest for domestic assault and battery against me. Sean has never struck me, ‘tied me up,’ or physically assaulted me, and any report to the contrary is completely outrageous, malicious, reckless and false.”

So .. according to Madonna in 2015, these stories are false. But, if you listen to Till Death Do Us Part and piece the story together bit-by-bit — you might think she’s re-writing history to save a long-time friend and life-long love. Either way, it’s her decision ..

Till Death Do Us Part:

Our luck is running out of time
You’re not in love with me anymore
I wish that it would change, but it won’t, if you don’t
Our luck is running out of time
You’re not in love with me anymore
I wish that it would change, but it won’t
‘Cause you don’t love me no more

You need so much but not from me
Turn your back in my hour of need
Something’s wrong but you pretend you don’t see
I think I interrupt your life
When you laugh it cuts me just like a knife
I’m not your friend, I’m just your little wife

They never laugh, not like before
She takes the keys, he breaks the door
She cannot stay here anymore
He’s not in love with her anymore

The bruises they will fade away
You hit so hard with the things you say
I will not stay to watch your hate as it grows
You’re not in love with someone else
You don’t even love yourself
Still I wish you’d ask me not to go

He takes a drink, she goes inside
He starts to scream, the vases fly
He wishes that she wouldn’t cry
He’s not in move with her anymore

He makes demands, she draws the line
He starts the fight, she starts the lie
But what is truth when something dies
He’s not in love with her anymore

You’re not in love with someone else
You don’t even love yourself
Still I wish you’d ask me not to go

She’s had enough, she says the end
But she’ll come back, she knows it then
A chance to start it all again
Till death do us part

Today in Madonna History: December 17, 2015

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On December 17 2015, Madonna submitted a declaration in court that Sean Penn never assaulted her during their relationship:

“I am aware of the allegations that have surfaced over the years accusing Sean of incidents of physical assault and abuse against me. Specifically, I am aware of the allegations concerning an alleged incident that occurred in June, 1987, whereby Sean allegedly struck me with ‘a baseball bat.’ I know the allegations in those and other reports to be completely outrageous, malicious, reckless, and false.”

“I am also aware of allegations concerning an incident that occurred in December, 1989, which purportedly resulted in Sean’s arrest for domestic assault and battery against me. I know those allegations to be false.”

“While we certainly had more than one heated argument during our marriage, Sean has never struck me, ‘tied me up,’ or physically assaulted me, and any report to the contrary is completely outrageous, malicious, reckless, and false.”

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Today in Madonna History: July 8, 1985

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On July 8 1985, Madonna was featured on the cover of People magazine with the caption: “Can Madonna get Sean to the alter?”

Today in Madonna History: June 27, 1988

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On June 27 1988, Madonna and Sean Penn attended the Mike Tyson vs. Mike Spinks fight at the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Today in Madonna History: May 31, 1986

On May 31 1986, Madonna’s Live To Tell hit #1 for 3 weeks on US Hot Adult Contemporary singles chart.

The haunting and dramatic ballad, written and produced by Madonna & Patrick Leonard, was the first commercially released collaboration between the pair – a songwriting partnership that is viewed by many fans as one of her most creatively successful.

Leonard had previously been involved with Madonna’s Virgin Tour as musical director, and when Madonna agreed to participate in Live Aid in the Summer of 1985, she asked him to collaborate on a new song for the performance, which evolved into Love Makes The World Go Round.

Although both songs would find their way on to Madonna’s next studio album, True Blue, at the time of Live To Tell’s release the album’s title had not yet been decided. Instead, the song was used to promote Sean Penn’s film At Close Range, in which it was featured alongside an original score composed by Leonard.

He had initially composed the music that evolved into Live To Tell for another film he had been invited to score for Paramount, titled Fire With Fire. The producers of the film passed on the theme. Leonard recalled the subsequent series of events that led to the song’s completion in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits by Random House:

“Madonna said ‘This song would be great for Sean’s new movie.’ She wrote the lyrics–she just wrote them on the spot, which is what we always do. I don’t think we’ve ever taken more than three hours to complete a song from start to finish. She sang it on the demo only once and left with the cassette. That day I went to work with Michael Jackson on some transcriptions for material he was writing for the Bad album. The phone rang at Michael’s and it was Sean. He said ‘I’m over at the director’s house and Madonna just brought the song over. We love it and we’d like to talk to you about it.’ … We recut the song, but we used the same vocal. She only sang it once for the demo and that was the vocal we used because it was so innocent and so shy. She had a legal pad in her hand and you can hear the paper. It’s as raw as raw can be and that’s part of what gave it all its charm.”

When the demo recording of Live To Tell eventually surfaced, it became evident that Madonna had in fact re-recorded the first verse, but all remaining vocals do indeed appear to have been carried over from the demo to the final mix (along with a generously added dose of reverb to smooth over the rough edges of the demo take).

Given the song’s dark undercurrents and unresolved narrative, it was a bold choice for a single release. It marked a dramatic shift from the yearning love song, Crazy For You – her only other ballad to have been issued as a single at the time. But any radio programmers who were hesitant to consider Madonna as a serious artist simply couldn’t deny the artistry of the song and nor could record buyers, with the combined support sending Live To Tell straight to the top of the pop charts.

Live To Tell was Madonna’s third #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, and her #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, where it would reign for three weeks.

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