A gracefully written memoir filled with fascinating portraits of college days and coming of age and love of family — and what it means to be a woman in this celebrity culture. The narrative is rich, generous, and very smart. It's refreshing to spend time with this wonderful book."
—Patricia Bosworth, Contributing Editor, Vanity Fair
"When I met Madonna Ciccone, my initial assessment ... was that I had little to learn from any young whippersnapper from Michigan, safety-pinned earlobes or no."
So begins Whit Hill's compelling, revealing, funny memoir of her life, as reflected through the lens of her junior year at the University of Michigan — with her roommate Madonna.
And it is also Whit's story of the years that followed, a life of dance, music, love, loss, and change.
This is a book about two very different women who lived alongside each other for nine months. About women artists in America, about mothers and daughters, about giving birth — to hot, squirming babies, and to huge, ionospheric pop careers. It is about loss and poverty and hope and happiness. And remembrance.
To be published SEPTEMBER 2011
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Whit Hill was born and raised in New York City, where she trained as an actor and dancer, and graduated from The University of Michigan with a B.F.A. For fourteen years she was artistic director of a Michigan-based dance company. A writer and songwriter, she now lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, musician Al Hill. She is the mother of two grown children. She is somewhat obsessed with dogs and watches too much television. (Author photo by Robin Dodd)
FROM THE AUTHOR'S NOTE:
In the fall of 1977, when I came to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to enter the dance program at the University of Michigan, I thought I knew a thing or two. I had acted professionally in New York City, my hometown. I had posed nude for art classes. … I was a very modern girl.
When I met Madonna Ciccone, my initial assessment, even as I watched her leg soaring into an effortless front extension, was that I had little to learn from any young whippersnapper from Michigan, safety-pinned earlobes or no. I felt no instant flush of warmth and trust the day we met, no recognition of a kindred spirit — in fact all I recall feeling was an almost seismic wariness. But somehow, a few days later, she was my roommate. ... I never knew what hit me.
. . .
[On writing the book] The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the story of my knowing her has a lot to do with some themes I actually am interested in: women artists in America, fame vs. non-fame, life vs. life onscreen, and all the ways you can lose your mom.
So here's my dissertation. But first, I have a request:
Close this book and look at the title again. Read it out loud. Did you? Good. I just want to be really clear about what this is. If you are looking for the dirt on a pre-fame Madonna, there are quite a few volumes of literature out there that will meet your needs better than this one, that will tell you what you expect to be told. I am happy to share with you most of what I remember from that time — and quite a bit more — but it may not be what you are after. Madonna is a spoke in my wheel, a cog in my whirring factory. This book is a lot of things. And even though she's in it, this book is not about Madonna.
Whit Hill / Nashville, Tennessee
SCENE: 1977 — UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, NEW ROOMMATES WHIT AND MADONNA, AT A PARTY
I get baptized in the holy waters of Madonna's Attention Thing one day late in the fall when Liz, the head of the department, invites all the dancers over to her house for a swimming party. Liz and her husband have a pool.
Madonna and I are very excited about this – a true mingling of the faculty and the students. We will eat good food, dance to funky music, swim in improvised bathing suits, talk about art with our teachers, and perhaps improve our chances for excellent grades.
… We have gotten to the point where we can pretty much talk about anything. And I am quite aware – and happily so – that Madonna has revealed herself to be perhaps the smartest person I know. That she is a good listener is part of her smartness. She seems genuinely curious about things, me included. …
Parties like this can be iffy for me – too much forced conversation, exhaustive smiling and hair-tossing. I'm really making an effort to change and having Madonna for a cohort helps. Whenever I try to weasel out of stuff like this, she nags me mercilessly. She should win some sort of fishwife prize.
And for the first half-hour of so, it's pretty fun. I have to say, it's nice to arrive together, for us to be seen as a unit – roommates. Friends.
And then… click.
It's hard to say if it's something she actually does, my roomie, or if it's just that I suddenly notice it: the way she becomes the focus of the room. I can't fault her for it – what happens is utterly organic, like the way cats watch canaries, the way stars move across the sky, the way people are interested in sex. And the attention spurs it on. At once, she is in her element, laughing, flirting, cussing, dancing at the center of a small crowd in the middle of an ordinary living room.
… it's her cute little destiny, stretching its wings.
SCENE: 1980 — NEW YORK CITY, ABANDONED SYNOGOGUE IN QUEENS, WHIT ATTENDS A GIG REHEARSAL FOR HER COLLEGE-ROOMMATE-DANCER-TURNED-POP-SINGER AND BAND
What is it? Why do I feel like running, flying from the room?
Oh, looking back, there's no doubt about what I was feeling: pure, 100-proof, moonshine-quality jealousy. In the face of her power, her willingness to fail in the service of the larger goal, of her stark beauty and fuck-you drive, I feel like a pigeon, a gray, ordinary pigeon, scared to flapping by the sound of a distant backfire. But I sit there and sit there, song after song. We applaud politely after each one, sending flat claps ringing throughout the once-holy room, place of marriages, funerals, and sermons in ancient Hebrew, now home to my skinny ex-roomie, gyrating with a microphone in front of the band singing, "Whipping … Whipping, the wind is whipping me…"
That was the last time I saw Madonna.