by ELLEN COPPERFIELD
Madonna’s mother was also named Madonna. She thought her mother looked kinda like Anne Sexton, sort of like Mary Magdalene. Her mother thought jeans were the sign of the devil; she was a devout French Catholic who married a second generation Italian.
Her mother died of breast cancer because she worked as an x-ray technician and they didn’t know how to protect her from radiation.
She never shaved her armpits, not even after she became a cheerleader. She encouraged a poor schlub named Russell to remove her virginity. She said, “Are we going to do it or not? Do it!” The expression on her face was halfway between a grimace and a frown.
Her dance teacher said, “Madonna was a blank page, believe me, and she wanted desperately to be filled in.” He took her to the gay clubs he frequented, one of which used to be Al Capone’s hideaway for cheating on his wife. He would tell her she was beautiful. She went on a diet of all popcorn because he sadistically weighed his students before class and would scream if they were over 115 lbs. For christ’s sake, she was only a child.
At the University of Michigan, she was poor, barely able to make her rent. She shoplifted what she could not buy: cosmetics, food. She rationalized this by saying she would pay it back one day, balance the ledgers when she became rich.
After she divorced Sean Penn, she dated JFK Jr. for three months. Jackie Onassis refused to meet her. She told her friends that the son fucked “like a nine year old.”
Finished with college, she moved from Ann Arbor to Hell’s Kitchen. She essentially looked something like this:
She worked at Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King. She posed nude. She was raped by a heavyset man on the roof of a tenement. She dropped dance, she could not concentrate on it. She started dating a guitarist. She played a dominatrix in a movie; getting raped onscreen was part of the role. She was seeing many men. She was twenty-three years old.
Her dance teacher died of AIDS in 1990.
Sean Penn saw “Like a Virgin” on television. At the time, he was dating Elizabeth McGovern. He quickly forgot about her and with his buddy James Foley, went down to the “Material Girl” set a few blocks from Foley’s apartment.
She knew she wanted to be famous, everything was directed towards that. Her boyfriends bought her lingerie, tried to get her to cook. She was not interested. After sex, she would turn over and ask, “What do you like best about me?”
When she hit the club with her backup dancers, they’d hone in on the best looking guys, and crumple their numbers as they walked away. After True Blue came out, Andy Warhol called her. She told him she didn’t just want to talk and have her ideas taken. He said, “That’s very smart.”
A three pack-a-day smoker, Jacqueline Onassis died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1994.
Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She last wrote in these pages about the western canon. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.