Friday, August 7, 2015

Book Review: Life with My Sister Madonna

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Life with My Sister Madonna

Author: Christopher Ciccone and Wendy Leigh

Illustrations: color photo inserts

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Date: 2008

Length: 342 pages

Quote: “Even though our contact is minimal these days, any bitterness I had once felt for my sister has long since evaporated. I look back on our life together with affection.”

That's what Christopher Ciccone does in this book. In the modern music industry, it's not enough for singers just to sing; they have to arrange music, choreograph dances, direct mini-movies, and market the whole thing. Madonna Ciccone succeeded at doing all that; behind her lovely voice and slutty-sexy stage presence, Christopher tells us, she's really a strictly disciplined, time-conscious C.E.O., and he was “one of her minions.”

Their mother died when Christopher was three years old. Madonna, who inherited her mother's first name, was twenty-seven months older. They grew up with a stepmother, whom Christopher says he now calls “Mom” but whom all six children hated having for a stepmother at first. The family were Catholic but belonged to a “Christian Family Movement, which fosters tolerance between Christians and Jews” and encouraged inter-faith Passover celebrations; Christopher claims to “wonder whether Madonna's early familiarity with...Judaism in general...helped her bond with the powerful Jewish music moguls.”

Quite a lot of bonding, of every kind, with rich and famous people is part of the story. On page 91 Christopher drops a string of two dozen names in a row; there's a fair amount of celebrity gossip, and scenes like the one on page 106 in which Madonna “isn't interested in Don [Johnson], but is set on arousing John [Kennedy]'s jealousy,” throughout the book. On page 129 Madonna gets “[t]he experience of being lectured by a Beatle.”

Christopher claims that Madonna's Playboy centerfold pose was “the first time I have seen my sister completely close quarters, she has always been relatively modest.” Then again, he also claims that she was the one who first guessed that he'd enjoy the company at a “gay bar,” and that the “modesty” between brother and sister didn't keep Madonna from ordering her brother to be the one who wiped the sweat off her chenille-marked skin while she changed costumes...but she always, he claims, “kept her thong on.”

Is Madonna really bisexual? Christopher claims not to be convinced. “[S]he is clearly working to give the impression that she and Sandra [Bernhard] are having a gay affair. I believe that isn't true. I feel Madonna is just working the PR factor,” he narrates in the present tense during the years between her marriages to Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie. In a video “documentary,” he quotes Madonna telling Sandra Bernhard that she had sex with her father and then immediately retracting the claim: “No, I'm just kidding.” Christopher interpreted this as illustrating how “in her head—she is so above everything and everyone that she thinks she can say whatever she wants.” Although, toward the end of the book, Madonna is still maintaining discipline and demanding that Christopher go into rehab, apparently both siblings have used a lot of drugs; Christopher claims that Madonna gave him XTC. When he reveals the (shocking!) news that several other parts of Madonna's performance in the “documentary” were staged and conflict with what he remembers about her real life at the time, I'm thinking that it might be interesting to know what sort of drug-related mood swings were going on.

A fair amount of tawdry, nouveau riche sibling rivalry goes on in the book. Christopher claims that Madonna “outed him” (disclosed his homosexuality to the public) without his permission, so this gives him a right to share some things about her that might likewise cost her a few fans: “[F]ew people have tried to rip Madonna off. Her concept of being ripped off is...seeing that one of her employees is receiving a high salary.” She ordered him, he claims, to spend $65,000 on paintings, then decided she didn't want the paintings any more, refused to reimburse him, and forced him “to borrow from struggle to survive” during the six months it took him to resell the paintings.

There's no indication that either the impressive artistic discipline or the cheeseball sibling rivalry is anywhere near ending when this book ends. Madonna is married to Guy Ritchie, living in a country she and Christopher used to love to hate. Christopher is denying that he has a serious drug or alcohol problem, suggesting that the allegations that he has come from mutual friends who may be trying to distract Madonna's disciplinarian attention from each one's cocaine or alcohol use by directing it to the others'. There's a poignant last look at Farrah Fawcett, shortly before the news that she had cancer was published, and a look at Madonna's oddly touching efforts to become a serious adult—charity, a documentary film, motherhood, Kabbalah—and this is where both Ciccones are as the publisher's deadline draws near.

Anybody who likes celebrity biographies and has not already read this one will want to read Life with My Sister Madonna. Parents may think the book contains too much sex, drugs, and profanity for young readers; compared with some of Madonna's well-known performances I think the book is relatively clean. But if you're looking for an inspirational celebrity story, read Kirk Douglas' Climbing the Mountain, Dorothy Hamill's On and Off the Ice, or Tim Tebow's Through My Eyes...and keep watching this site: we'll add more.

Christopher Ciccone is still alive, and active in cyberspace, so Life with My Sister Madonna is a Fair Trade Book. $5 per copy, $5 per package for shipping, $1 goes to Ciccone or a charity of his choice. For two copies, you'd send us $15 and we'd send Ciccone or his charity $2. Payment can be sent to either of the addresses in the "Contact" box at the bottom of the screen.