“This is our last night in the fascist state of Toronto”
Marking 26 years from Madonna’s third and final Blond Ambition Tour show at the SkyDome in Toronto on May 29, David Friend from The Canadian Press got in touch with Supt. Frank Bergen, who remembers it well as he was a Toronto constable at the time. Looking back, he says the controversy immortalized in the Truth or Dare 1991 documentary film didn’t exactly capture the full story.
As the story went, police told Madonna’s management they’d received complaints from audience members at the previous evening’s show over her simulated masturbation while singing Like a Virgin, with officers saying they’d be forced to arrest Madonna on obscenity chargessaid if she didn’t scrap her crotch-grabbing antics.
Now Bergen explains that the obscenity kerfuffle was led by a police detective and Crown attorney who took a strong position that Madonna’s show shouldn’t go on.
What I was struggling with was how do you go to the microphone and tell everyone the show is cancelled. My role and my position was we were not going to shut the show down. We were portrayed as being real knobs, if you will. I don’t think we were.
Dancer Kevin Stea also shared his memories of those moments:
Oh, we wanted to get arrested, we really did. That may have been the most powerful moment I ever felt with Madonna. As a team we were all together.
Cancelling the show was an option – but one that Madonna didn’t want to entertain.
The tour had already been generating controversy for its racy themes. Toronto concertgoers were handed a $1-off coupon for condoms as they entered the stadium. Madonna also took a scripted moment in the show to encourage her male dancers to practice safe sex, in a nod to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was near its peak.
Both moments placed extra scrutiny on the show and led some critics to accuse the singer of encouraging young fans to partake in casual sex.
A scene in “Truth or Dare” depicts Madonna gathered with her dancers and backup singers before the show for a prayer.
Dear Lord, this is our last night in Toronto — the fascist state of Toronto. Remember that in the United States of America there is freedom of speech.
She then marched past Bergen and his colleagues, as he and his fellow officers watched the documentary cameras capture it all. When the concert began and Madonna took advantage of the opportunity to tease Toronto police.
Do you think that I’m a bad girl? Do you think that I deserve to be arrested? I hope so.
As you all well know, when Like a Virgin began, Madonna started the performance as she always did, curled up on a red velvet bed.
Jose Gutierez, one of the dancers in the number, will never forget gazing into the abyss of the audience.
From the stage you could see their (police) badges at all the exit signs around the arena. All you saw was shimmers.
When the show wrapped, Madonna’s entourage approached police to ensure they weren’t going to cart the singer away. The officers assured them there were no problems. Jose comments:
I think they just wanted free tickets. I was into seeing what the jail system in Toronto looked liked with Madonna. I mean, how bad could it be?
Jose, Kevin and other Madonna’s dancers recall touring with the pop singer in the new documentary Strike a Pose, which recently screened at Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival.
Bergen says he respects concerns over obscenity but concedes it would’ve been difficult to satisfy a loose interpretation of the Criminal Code. A year after the show, he would hear about his cinematic debut in Truth or Dare. One afternoon, his teenage neighbour excitedly shouted across the backyard that he’d spotted him on the big screen.
Bergen admits his musical tastes didn’t sway towards Madonna, so the sheer magnitude of her celebrity was lost on him at the time. And while he never spoke to Madonna himself, he ponders how the situation would’ve played out had officers arrested her that night.
I don’t think we ever got to the (point), nor would we have, where we walked up onto the stage — and onto her bed — and handcuffed her. Then we would’ve been part of a different history.
Read the full story by David Friend on Canada.com.