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  • Writer's picturePaul Burston

Lockdown Bookclub – Confessions of a Pretty Lady

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

In 1989 I was entrusted with the role of ‘media liaison officer’ for ACT-UP London and enjoying a media liaison with a young Canadian TV reporter called Tyler Brûlé – the man who later launched Wallpaper magazine. During our brief romance, Tyler gave me a mixtape featuring excerpts from a show by a comedian called Sandra Bernhard – Without You I’m Nothing.

I confess I hadn’t heard of her until then, but pretty soon I was as obsessed with Sandra Bernhard as she purported to be “OBSESSED with Stevie Nicks!” While some friends got the joke, others failed to find her funny. This quickly became a test by which Id screen potential playmates.

A quasi-autobiography endorsed by the likes of Jackie Collins, Fran Lebowitz and Madonna, Confessions reads much like a Bernhard show, minus the musical numbers. There are true confessions here, mixed with elements of self-mythologising. Its no wonder Sandra and Madonna became friends. In 1988, they appeared together on the David Letterman show, dressed in matching outfits, recounting visits to lesbian nightclubs and dropping hints that they were, y’know, girlfriends. Bernhard also appears in Madonna’s Truth or Dare documentary, aka In Bed With Madonna – though by the time the film was released, she and Bernhard were no longer such close bedfellows.

I first interviewed Sandra for City Limits and later for Capital Gay, Attitude magazine, Time Out and The Times. She wasn’t always the easiest interviewee. “You guys are just the ciphers,” she told me once – meaning journalists in general, though I suspect she may have had one or two individuals firmly in mind. “A few of you get it and most of you don’t. Most of you sit on your high horses with great pomposity, offering your critiques of people who just open their veins and bleed. Something has to be done about it, cos it’s bullshit!”

So, not a great fan of journalists, then. But she was always great copy – witty, waspish, endlessly quotable. I have two other books by Bernhard – Love, Love and Love and May I Kiss Your Lips, Miss Sandra? But Confessions is still my favourite – a collection of vignettes, childhood reminiscences and observations about celebrity and popular culture. As someone who often dreams about Madonna, this page still resonates deeply with me.

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