The latest in a succession of Madonna
biographies written without the artist's direct cooperation is no
cheapo rush job assembled from press clippings. Author Lucy O'Brien is
a well-respected British music journalist whose Dusty Springfield is the definitive take on the life of a fabled, troubled diva.
The life of this book's fabled diva is
meticulously chronicled, the history buttressed and illuminated by
quotes from friends, family and associates.
But it all seems too familiar: the Michigan
cheerleader and dance student who through sheer blonde ambition becomes
the biggest female star of the '80s and then constantly reinvents
herself to maintain her star status well beyond the average career life
Maybe that's because, at least since she hit the mass-culture spotlight in 1983 with Holiday and hijacked it wholesale the next year with Like a Virgin and Material Girl,
Madonna, now 49, has lived her life in public like few other artists.
The records, tours and videos have been thoroughly documented, as have
the liaisons and the controversies (from the Sex book all the way up to the Malawi orphan adoption).
O'Brien's retelling of Madonna Louise Ciccone's
childhood is absorbing, particularly in dealing with the death of her
mother (also named Madonna) when the future star was just 5. That
forced her to take on adult duties early and set the pattern for the
legendary self-centered drive that, after considerable struggles in New
York's music and art community and a frequent use-'em-then-lose-'em
approach to lovers and professional contacts alike, helped her hit the
top. At which point we pretty much know the story.
O'Brien does a solid job of dissecting the
albums and tours. She is most interesting when offering her perspective
on what it feels like for a girl (or woman) who admires Madonna.
"Underlying her seamless pop tunes, driving her
music … is a sense of white-hot anger," O'Brien writes. "She
encountered her own worst possible scenario, becoming a victim of male
violence (a rape in New York in the '70s), and thereafter turned that
full-tilt into her work, reversing the equation at every opportunity.
This is why women respond to her on such a gut level, why so many
heterosexual men feel ambivalent."
A provocative proposition? Definitely. A bit
extreme? Maybe. There's no way to tell for sure until Madonna finally
decides to tell her own story, and that, as detailed and well reasoned
as this biography may be, is what we're still lacking.
DISCUSS: Which Madonna era was your favorite, musically or aesthetically?
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