In May of 1983, before most of you were born, I was dragged to the increasingly tacky textures of Studio 54 to witness one in a series of debuts by a new artist who went by the singular name of Madonna. (At the time Madonna was working the introductory single “Everybody” and it would be months before her navel would become, how you say, a fetal attraction.) And as the wait grew interminable — by 2:00 a.m. those that had mistimed their drugs were dropping like flies — my patience dissipated. What I did not wish to see was yet another disco bimbo. Who knew?
Now we’re checking the gossip columns to find out where Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone gets her bikini waxing done. As it turns out those early track dates might be all we’ll ever see of Madonna, who much prefers to perform on the New York party circuit — entrances are a lot of work — and who was judged by People magazine as one of the great shirkers in showbiz.
“I have to admit I’m not really thrilled about touring,” said Madonna to FACES on the set of Desperately Seeking Susan, one of two upcoming features which feature the pint-sized powerhouse. “If I go on tour it means I have to start auditioning all the musicians, sit for hours and hours and listen to a bunch of awful musicians and then I have to get them to play all my songs right. And I don’t like travelling when I’m working. I love to travel but not in a van with a bunch of people.”
Much easier to grab boyfriend John “Jellybean” Benitez for a week in St. Marten’s or grab a Concorde for Tokyo to get the royal treatment from Japanese label lackeys. But why bother when Like A Virgin is selling in the millions, dragging her self-titled debut with it to the platinum galaxies?
This is not to say that Madonna is lazy and without ambition. From her beginnings in Pontiac, Michigan, some 26 years ago — “If you don’t leave you’re finished” Madonna’s story, laced with the blind ambition of John Dean, is Alger re-written for the ’80s. Fame for no particular reason other than escape from working class America.
“When you grow up in some hick town in Michigan, there’s nothing that you can do that will make you feel like a movie star,” adds Ms. Ciccone. “I wanted to be a movie star.” For if the global village taught us anything it was that what America didn’t know in the pre-TV era didn’t hurt it. One look at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and from then on it was tough to keep ’em down on the farm. Madonna too.
It is a cynicism that is not lost on Madonna, who describes herself as the person “you hate to love.” That bitch. Indeed, a tough cookie in the flesh who, unlike most of the floozies coming out of great A&R minds of the day, does not have to have her hand held during an interview.
About four or five years ago (or was it six?), a sketchy chronology plus Madonna’s affection for Gary Puckett, Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Box Tops suggest she might be fibbing about her age. She was kicking around New York following a year as a dance major at the University of Michigan. A scholarship student no less. She answered an ad in the newspaper calling for girls who could sing and dance, which turned out to be an audition for Patrick “Born To Be Alive” Hernandez’ road show. Madonna didn’t make it but Hernandez’ label asked her to come to Paris so they could make her a star.
“They promised me anything,” says Madonna in a break between shots. ” ‘You’ll live like a queen,’ they said. `We’ll give you a vocal coach, you’ll decide what direction you want to go in.’ It was the only time I lived comfortably in my entire life but I missed struggling and my friends. I was used to working really hard and they wanted to spoil me. They dragged me to restaurants and no one would speak English to me, so once again I was playing the part of rebel (reprising a role she originated during her Wonder Years in Pontiac), giving my money away to people, hanging around with lowlifes.”