Geriatrics Do It Better
Ignore the prudish old feminists who slam Madonna for still wearing a leotard and dry-humping Justin Timberlake in her fifties. The woman is wily, committed and scarily muscular: the Ayn Rand of pop.
In her fiftieth year, it seems like it’s not just Guy who wants a divorce from Madonna. To judge by the stream of newspaper-basted hate directed her way, everyone wants a reprieve from cuddling up to Madge’s gristle. But it’s not going to happen. Her Madgesty is here to stay.
To approach, with equanimity, the prospect of battling through the next 20 years of Madge-based headlines, it might be best to experience a Madge-style ‘reinvention’ of your attitude towards the hyper-veiny quinquagenarian sexpot. Is this possible? You tell me, you’re the one who wanted to read a review of Life With My Sister Madonna. Honestly, the things I read so you don’t have to.
Perhaps, before picking up this book, you would rather have steampressed your face than sit through ‘4 Minutes’ of Madonna and Justin Timberlake dry humping. It’s tuneless, it’s awful, it’s downright unmatronly. But at some point, whilst blunder-bussing your way through Christopher Ciccone’s relentlessly unimaginative bitching biography, it will strike home that it’s actually great that the Material Girl is now made entirely out of porcelain and plastic, ripped rawer than Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, and continues to wear crotch-skimming all-in-ones. Not everyone can spend four hours a day working out. Most females give up on leotards at the age of six; they’re not even fashionable. And you have to admire the woman’s resolve. Allegedly she is frightened to death of air conditioning and radiators lest they ferment a wrinkle. I have it on good authority (the Daily Mail – natch) that Mads is pioneering a Miss Havisham regimen of pop preservation: ‘Madonna is so obsessed about lines of age showing on her face, she refuses to allow sunlight – even through windows – to touch her skin and drapes herself in linen sheets and towels in order to escape the sun’s damaging rays.’ This is commitment. Madonna isn’t going anywhere – so cut the carping.
She continues to hawk a relentless stream of godawful music, and sell out oversized arenas full of overpriced tickets – but so does Elton John and he doesn’t get any stick for it. Will Madonna ever write a great pop song again? Probably not. But has Mick Jagger written any recently? Yet he still gets to strut his old stuff with impunity. ‘Lowdown and tacky’ she may be, but – newsflash, folks – she always has been. Her genius is for marketing, starting out in 1979 when she registered ‘Madonna’ as a trademark. At the age when most women hit the menopause, Madonna’s still giving the men-a-cause-for-pause (well, at least bumpfed-up Americans named A-Rod), still looking hot to trot (or as Camille Paglia put it: ‘Brassy… with that ostentatiously exposed crotch and hard-bitten face lolling its tongue like a dissolute old streetwalker.’)
This year there was a great deal of guff written about Madonna having lost her ability to shock. She’d been there, done that, had her t-shirt burnt by the Vatican. But on her current tour, at 50, she is continuing to sell herself, sell her sex and sell her merchandise just as effectively as she ever did. And for those who believe that where a woman is allowed to misbehave in her younger years as she never was in the good old days, at least we can still keep middle-aged women in their closets, that is just downright offensive.
When belting out the only pro-life pop anthem yet written (‘Papa Don’t Preach’) Madonna wore a slogan t-shirt claiming ‘Italians Do It Better’. In concert she’s been pictured proclaiming that now ‘Kabbalists Do It Better’. In 30 years it’ll be ‘Geriatrics Do It Better’. And they probably will. How dare you question Madonna?
Upsetting people is what she has been doing for 25 years. Starting off with kissing black Christ figures and pissing off the Pope with her crucifixes, she then went on to be extremely naked a lot, with bondage gear, dogs and lesbians, for a coffee table manual. Later she had the police called in Canada for simulating masturbation on stage. Awful! Then she ditched all the feminist-pleasing-Catholic-pummelling and went Jewish, indulging in a cult of red wristbands known as Kabbalah. She capped off this slap in the face by marrying a mockney Cockney posh film director, whose mother was well in with the Conservative Party, and started calling herself Mrs Ritchie.
Christopher Ciccone’s misery memoir of life as Madonna’s manservant first, brother second, has only one revelatory passage – and by his own admission it is one already done to death by Madonna hagiographers. It charts Madonna Ciccone, aged 14, making her performance debut in a talent show at West Junior High School. One kid plays a harmonica, another reads a poem, but Madonna, ‘in a scene straight out of the movie Little Miss Sunshine, suddenly twirls onstage, covered from head to foot in green and fluorescent pink paint, which creates the illusion that she is stark naked’:
‘She’s wearing shorts and a top that are also covered in paint, but as far as my father is concerned, she might as well be naked. According to his strict moral code, her appearance is utterly X-rated, and he puts down his camera in horror. Madonna starts dancing – or perhaps writhing is a better word. Her performance is the most scandalous one that anyone has ever seen. [The act] takes about three minutes. When the lights go up, there is little applause. Everyone in the audience is dumbstruck. People exit with a great deal of barely suppressed muttering.’
That kind of walkout is pretty much the old feminist’s response to Madonna’s fiftieth birthday shenanigans, as she continues to do the crab a decade after most people gave up doing the lotus, gyrates in fishnets while her stringbean thighs pulsate, and behaves in a highly, how shall we put it, unorthodox manner for (as Germaine Greer has it) an ‘elderly mother of three’. Anyone who goes on about Madonna not being attractive anymore doesn’t get the point. She doesn’t want to be attractive. She just wants to live forever. It’s not a beauty thing; her body is about power. She will, no doubt, be buried with a treadmill.
But back to the book in hand. The first thing you need to know about it is that Madonna’s brother is a coke fiend who needs your money (allegedly). Despite his claims that their relationship broke down because Guy Ritchie is a homophobe, it becomes clear that Christopher Ciccone is a money-grubbing leech and Madonna has, belatedly for a woman so cash-conscious, latched on to the fact. He sells out not just Madonna, but any famous person he comes into contact with. Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Courtney Love, Donatella Versace – all are exposed as drug-takers. They won’t sue, because we know that already. Someone who might is Trudie Styler for this conversation they allegedly had at Madonna’s wedding:
‘Christopher, do I have BO?’
‘Do I have BO? Do I smell?’
‘Not that I can tell’, I say, perplexed.
Then she asks: ‘Are you into that sort of thing?’ Before I can think of an answer, she chips in: ‘Mightn’t you be?’
This is pretty repulsive, but not so bad as all those rumours about Sting having his rib removed for reasons of tantric sex, so perhaps Trudie will just expunge Christopher from the Christmas card list. Still, it’s not very nice. He also sticks the boot into Demi Moore – or tries to. Apparently his publishers removed his reminiscences of his good friend Demi, who when dancing with Ciccone ‘was lactating at the time and she was squirting breast milk at my lesbian friends’. With friends like these, who needs a blood relative?
At times, one even wonders whether Christopher Ciccone has any insight into himself, let alone Madonna. His book is composed of the thoughts of a lackey, not an intimate. He can’t even get her name right. ‘Schedule, in fact, is my sister’s middle name’, he reveals at the start. ‘Media attention is her middle name’, he says towards the end. Elsewhere he completely contradicts himself by claiming that her full name is actually Madonna Louise Veronica.
Rather than making the reader think less of Madonna, he clears up some of the worries we might have had that Madonna is, in her private life at least, now a profound bore. It was widely reported at the time that she was peddling Kabbalist-inspired children’s books that she had banned her own offspring from watching MTV. It seemed a bit unfair that they shouldn’t get the opportunity to see mummy snogging Britney on the box. But the TV ban can’t have arisen from po-faced censorship because according to Ciccone, in her new home on Sunset Boulevard Madonna ‘insists on hanging a weird, larger-than-life, eight-by-twelve-foot photograph of her – in the style of Helmut Newton but taken by Steven Klein – in the hallway. I think it extraordinary to have this huge picture of Madonna dressed in a blatant S&M outfit, lying on a bed with dead animals all around her, prominently displayed for all to see.’
Camille Paglia tells the readers of Salon that Ciccone’s tome is ‘a tart memoir’. If it’s tart, I’m a bowl of semolina. It’s as unpleasant as a head full of nits. He constantly tells us that although he tells Madonna that he thinks she’s doing well on stage, in the studio, in a film, actually ‘she looks ridiculous’ and makes him ‘squirm’. It also emerges that Christopher is responsible for the gay-ification of her image. This led her from supreme pop-punk queen who ‘pulled herself up by the bra-straps’ and brashed out one brilliant trashy floorfiller after another, adorned with little more than fingerless gloves and her own hairy eyebrows, to the ‘hard-body blonde circa 1986’, with the waxed-down pencilled-on arches where her brows used to be and the rapidly paring-down attitude. Christopher gave plenty of constructive comments like: ‘Your legs look like fat sausages in that skirt. You’re grown-up now; you need a cooler image.’ Christopher needed to get a life. From reading this book it seems like Madonna’s problem hasn’t been believing too much of her own hype, but that she has credited too much of everyone else’s.
If sex is a weapon, Madonna had an arsenal, and she launched them all off at once for commercial purposes – and then got some more and set them off, too. By putting it about for the delectation of the masses long after it is dignified to do so, she may have gone from being regarded as a sex bomb to being the A-bomb, but Madonna has not so much sold out feminism as stretched it out to the next decade. She’s not doing it for men. She’s doing it for herself. She is an Ayn Rand paragon of selfishness in human form. Fuck it, she is Howard Roark. Her body is her temple. And she coins money with it. As ageing starlets fail to get decent roles in Hollywood, as TV presenters sue newscasters for wrinkle discrimination, no one’s going to put Madonna in the corner.
Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard. Visit her personal website here.
Life with My Sister Madonna, by Christopher Ciccone and Wendy Leigh, is published by Simon & Schuster Ltd. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)
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