In 1992, Martin Amis was supposed to interview Madonna about her controversial coffee-table book, Sex, but it didn’t quite go as planned (‘Madonna exposed,’ 11 October).
Amis found himself ‘stacked like a package tourist above her fogbound airport’ and dealing ‘in best post-modern style, with her people’s people: her agent’s agent, her assistant’s secretary’s assistant’s secretary’. Madonna had changed her mind about the interview, said Amis, because he was too famous.
Rather than getting his review copy of Sex sent to him, Amis was ‘sent to the book, by aeroplane’. After signing ‘a menacing legal agreement’, he had to ‘sit with it for an hour on a sofa, monitored throughout’. He was not allowed to discuss it with anyone afterwards or take notes.
Nothing, wrote Amis, was ‘technically hard-core, but the milieu is in itself pornographic’, revealing that ‘she hasn’t done a damn thing for me physically since she went blonde and hardbody circa 1986.’ He wasn’t shocked so much as ‘mildly disquieted’ by its ‘palpable otherness’. ‘The atmosphere recalls the intent, aggressive, leathery, specialist sexuality of the 70s; the actors are a dedicated janitoriat in the venereal boiler-room.’
Steven Meisel, Sex’s photographer, was happy to join in with the wider hyperbole: ‘I don’t think anyone else needs to do a photo essay on erotica. Sex is it. We’ve covered it. We’ve gone as far as we can in public.’ This latter point may well have been true – Madonna had seemingly taken the Beatles’ Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? as inspiration for the picture of her semi-nude with a young man in the centre of a busy freeway.
Amis concluded that: ‘There is the feeling that Sex is no more than the desperate confection of an ageing scandal-addict who, with this book, merely confirms that she is exhausting her capacity to shock.’