“Writing about a figure that already has countless words dedicated to her, singer/writer Alina Simone gives us a fuller, weirder and more interesting overview of Madonna than we may have thought possible. By exploring Madonna’s hometown of Bay City, Michigan, Madonnaland looks at the world that created the performer, the town that she left behind and the people whose lives she has changed. It’s the way Simone presents her story that’s most riveting, whether it’s looking at idiosyncratic figures from the pop star’s home state (Question Mark and the Mysterians; forgotten and collector-beloved band Flying Wedge) or her own journey from pop music fandom to indie rock.” (Rolling Stone, December 21st issue)

Madonnaland book cover

“Madonnaland” is available at Amazon.com

The 138-page book was published March 1 by the University of Texas Press, which had commissioned Simone to pen a biography of Madonna. As part of her research, the New York-based Simone visited Bay City in February 2014 to attend a Madonna seminar hosted by local music historian Gary Johnson.

From its first sentence, the book is steeped in Bay City lore, with Johnson featured prominently throughout. The city’s history as a boomtown during its 19th Century logging heyday and the associated infamy with Hell’s Half Mile are recounted. Figures such as state Rep. Charles M. Brunner, local historian Ron Bloomfield, and then-Mayor Christopher Shannon pop up.

“My involvement in it was trying to dig up the history of Madonna and her hometown,” Johnson said. “Alina was hoping she could find some people in Bay City who were willing to comment on the record their opinion of Madonna, both pro and con. Nobody was willing to talk on the record about being anti-Madonna, which is kind of surprising. You bring up her name in Bay City and the first thing they bring up is the ‘insult,’ which we know didn’t really happen.”

Faced with the deluge of material already written about Madonna, Simone ended up opting not to write a standard biography and returned her publisher’s advance. Instead of abandoning the project altogether, she crafted a Gonzo-style work, having “set off on a quirky detour through the backroads of celebrity and fandom and the people who love or loathe Madonna,” according to the book’s back cover.

“Once she bagged the (original) idea, I thought that was pretty much the end of it,” Johnson said. “Then she came up with this other angle of writing a book about trying to write a book about Madonna. It’s an interesting take on the whole thing.”

Rolling Stone / Mlive