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Authors: Christopher Ciccone

Life with My Sister Madonna

BOOK: Life with My Sister Madonna
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Life with My Sister Madonna

Simon Spotlight Entertainment
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

Copyright © 2008 by Christopher Ciccone and Cabochon Diamond Productions, LLC

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

SIMON SPOTLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT and colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-0926-7
ISBN-10: 1-4391-0926-5

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

For my father, Silvio, and to Joan,
who has always been a mother to me.

INTRODUCTION

For anyone who came into contact with
Madonna, to know her at all you had to know
[Christopher].
The one was incomprehensible
without the other. He was her dark side and
she was his.

Rupert Everett,
Red Carpets and
Other Banana Skins

S
OME READERS MAY
say that my dark side caused me to write this book, others that my sister's did. Some may say that seeing Madonna through my eyes is a way of fully comprehending her; others who believe she walks on water won't.

There are many ways of looking at this story—as a memoir of a shared childhood, as the celebration of an icon who turns fifty this year, as my autobiography…and as my answer to the eternal question “What is it really like being Madonna's brother?”

I had originally hoped that this book would also be a way for me to define myself and separate from my sister at last. Instead, it has been a catharsis. After getting some perspective on our story, I finally understand and accept that one aspect of my life will never change: I was born my mother's son, but I will die my sister's brother.

I no longer balk at the truth, because when all is said and done and written, I am truly proud that Madonna is my sister and always will be.

PROLOGUE

His dream must have seemed so close he could
hardly fail to grasp it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald,
The Great Gatsby

T
HE
L
ANESBOROUGH
H
OTEL
, L
ONDON
, E
NGLAND
, 8:30
A.M.
, S
EPTEMBER
25, 1993

T
HE ALARM CLOCK
rings in a low-key British way. I get up, peer through a gap in the thick, purple silk drapes, and the sun glimmers back at me. Luckily, the weather's fine. After all, this is the UK, land of rain and fog.
The Girlie Show
tour, which I designed and directed, opens tonight, and we don't want the crowd getting drenched before the show even begins.

We.
The royal
we
. Madonna and me. My sister and I, she who is still fast asleep in a mahogany four-poster bed in her suite adjoining mine. The royal
we,
so fitting for a woman who is sometimes a royal pain in my ass. Although Buckingham Palace, the queen of England's residence, is just across the road, in my estimation and that of millions of fans, she is the real queen of the universe—Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, my elder sister by twenty-seven months, who, just eleven years after the release of her first record, is now one of the most famous women in the world.

I eat an orange. No big English breakfast for me, no matter how much I like it. Otherwise, I'll probably throw up when Madonna and I take our scheduled six-mile jog at eleven. Just as we did yesterday, just as we will do tomorrow—and on every other day during the tour.

Schedule, in fact, is my sister's middle name. Up at nine in the morning, in bed by eleven at night, with every hour in between planned by her as rigidly as any military campaign. With her mania for making lists, for running her life according to a timetable, in another incarnation Madonna could easily have run a prison, directed airport traffic, or been a five-star general.

Sadly for her, though, her nights can't be structured or played out according to a strict schedule, because she is an insomniac and rarely sleeps more than three hours each night.

Madonna's insomnia only became apparent to me when we were living together in downtown Manhattan at the start of her career. Whenever I woke up during the night, she would be in the living room, perched on a white futon, which—no matter how many times we washed the floors—was always dirty. She was usually dressed in a white oversize men's T-shirt, baggy, white cowboy-print sweats, sucking Hot Tamales, her favorite cinnamon-flavored candies, and reading poetry—often Anne Sexton, whose lines sometimes inspired her lyrics. Or the diaries of Anaïs Nin, who, along with Joan of Arc, is one of her heroines. Anything to get her through those long, hot, airless Manhattan nights, nights when her mind didn't switch off, when fantastical candy-colored visions of her future sparkled in her brain. Unbridled desire for fame and fortune, you see, is incompatible with sleep.

This morning, though, I am confident that my sister is sleeping, a deep sleep. Her tightly wound high-octane energy has meant that when she is on the road, she sometimes needs a sleep aid. But who can blame her? She's now a superstar, a legend, one of the universe's most famous women, and in just eleven and a half hours seventy-five thousand fans will be screaming for her, throwing themselves at her feet, worshipping her. The pressure to perform, to entertain, to sustain, and to simply remain Madonna is immeasurable, and even I—who am now the closest person on earth to the Queen of the World—can't truly fathom how it feels to walk in her size-seven shoes, stalked by so much expectation, so much adoration, so many who love her, so many who hate her, so many who long for her to fall flat on her famous face.

 

N
INE AND TIME
to wake my sister. I unlock the door between our suites. Too late. Loud snorting—not a pretty sound—is coming from her opulent marble bathroom. She's in the midst of her morning routine: swallowing a great gulp of warm salt water, gargling, snorting it up her nose, and then spitting it out. Abrasive in the extreme. But essential, she believes, for maintaining her voice.

I flick through CNN for five minutes. Then I open the adjoining door to Madonna's suite again. My sister, dressed in a white sweatshirt and black Adidas sweatpants, is sprawled on her powder-blue satin-covered bed, drinking black coffee with sugar, nibbling sourdough toast.

I grab a bite and then give her a brief kiss. “You okay, Madonna?”

She nods. “But I still didn't sleep much.”

Like our father, a man of few words, neither of us have any use for small talk, as we know each other's glances and gestures by heart and can decode them with unerring accuracy. So that when my sister places her hands on her hips, fishwife style, I know there's trouble. When she starts picking on her nail varnish, usually red, I know she's nervous. And when she tucks her thumb into the palm of her hand and wraps her fingers around it—a childhood habit of mine, but which she may have appropriated because she believes her fingers are too stubby and always tries to hide them—I know she needs reassurance. And for the past ten years, day and night, I've been happy to give it to her.

My job description may not be conventional—although I might sometimes be termed Jeeves to Madonna's Bertie Wooster—my ability to reassure my sister in times of trouble or self-doubt is one of the primary reasons that—unlike a myriad of less fortunate others to whom she has granted admittance to Madonnaland, then summarily exiled—I have survived. I have endured both as her “humble servant”—as I sometimes sign my letters to her when I want to give her a hard time—and as the one person in our family ever to work for her long-term as her assistant/dresser/shoulderto-cry-on, and as the only family member with whom she still maintains a close relationship at this point.

At eleven sharp, we jog through Hyde Park, dogged by a group of seedy-looking paparazzi, all desperate for a shot of the Material Girl sans makeup. Madonna pulls her baseball cap down to obscure her face. We just keep on jogging.

At one, Madonna in her black, stretch Mercedes limo and I in my chauffeur-driven sedan are ferried to Wembley Stadium, in northwest London, just an hour away. We never ride to and from shows together, as we both want the freedom to arrive and leave whenever we like.

Clusters of fans are already milling around by the stadium gate, some hoping to score a last-minute ticket, others to catch a glimpse of Madonna as we drive in. No chance of that, though. Our windows are blacked out, and when the cars stop at the back entrance, we head straight for her dressing room.

As always, the promoter has lived up to every single one of Madonna's requirements, all listed in a rider to her contract. Her dressing room has been painted all white, because she believes a white background frames her to the best advantage. Consequently, she insists that all her towels and bed linens also be white. Sigmund Freud would probably have a field day analyzing her predilection for the color symbolizing virginity. All her friends, family, and admirers know about her preference for white, and large vases of gardenias, white tuberoses, and white lilies—all her favorite flowers—fill the room. The scent is overwhelming. There are also four boxes of Hot Tamales, and packets of mint and lemon tea. Bottles of Evian—always at room temperature, never cold—are on hand, here and onstage, where I place them strategically, according to where I know she will always need them. Meat products are banned from the dressing room, as is alcohol, so that even if some obsequious promoter sends a few bottles of Cristal to the dressing room, at the end of the night they will be given away, unopened, and so will all the flowers.

Fortunately, the outside temperature is chilly, so for once the dressing room isn't sweltering. Even in hot climates, no matter how steamy the weather, Madonna flatly refuses to use air-conditioning. She claims she is never warm enough, is always too cold, and that air-conditioning is unhealthy for her voice. Even in high summer, in the suffocating heat of Miami, New York, or L.A., her windows remain wide open and the air-conditioning off.

Here and in every other dressing room she ever occupies, she has hung our late mother's crucifix over the vanity mirror. Our mother's photograph, taken a few years before her death, is also always on display. She was only thirty when she died. Yet none of us—not our father, not our brothers and sisters, not me, and certainly not Madonna—ever mention her name to one another, except on rare occasions. That just isn't the Ciccone way. Although we are Italian on our father's side, and French Canadian on our mother's, we were born in Michigan and, when all is said and done, are Midwesterners to the bone.

I go onstage, where I look for any imperfections on the floor so no one—not the dancers or, heaven forbid, Madonna herself—will trip, make sure all the hydraulic lifts are working, all the lights are in the right position for the first number, and all the props are correctly placed.

Madonna spends an hour in her dressing room doing vocal exercises—scales and breathing—and simultaneously stretching, limbering up for the show, rather like a cross between Anna Pavlova and Muhammad Ali in his prime.

 

N
EXT
I
SUBMIT
to a press interview in town with one of the less lurid London papers because my sister refuses to do them anymore and has sent me in her stead. I am polite, friendly, and hope that my interview will favorably impact on tomorrow's reviews, which we will read together over breakfast.

If Madonna does get a negative review, such as on
The Virgin Tour
when one or two critics lambasted her for being overweight, I know she will toss her head, pretend not to care, then rip up the review and fling it into the garbage. But ten minutes later, she will ask, “Christopher, do you really think they were right? Does my midriff really look fat?” I tell her that of course they were wrong, of course it didn't—even though it did—and she is happy.

I'm thankful that I don't have to do any more media during our London stay, as I always prefer to remain in the background. Madonna isn't doing any television either. In one of the most interesting dichotomies within her multidimensional psyche, while she is eminently comfortable simulating sex in front of a stadium audience of thousands during the
Blond Ambition
tour, and in a scene in the documentary
Truth or Dare
blithely demonstrating her oral sex technique on a bottle, anytime she has to appear on television, she becomes a basket case.

In fact, I felt awful for her when I watched her hands shaking in a trembling televised performance of Stephen Sondheim's “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)” from
Dick Tracy
at the 1991 Academy Awards. There were no screaming fans, and she—who always hated not moving while she performed—had to stand still while she sang.

Had she been singing to an audience of fans, she wouldn't have been at all nervous. But this time she was performing in an auditorium full of established actors and actresses, a group of people to which she didn't really belong, who didn't respect her as an actress but whose respect she desperately wanted to win. Hence her fit of nerves.

Her nerves about appearing on TV surfaced again in 1994 when she went on the
Late Show with David Letterman
and ended up saying “fuck” thirteen times because she was so terrified and couldn't think of anything else to say. Yet when I broached the subject, she refused to admit to TV fright and just said, “Because I felt like it,” defiant as a four-year-old caught with her hand in the cookie jar. That's her way: downplay any insecurities, cover them up. Take the offensive.

 

B
ACK AT
W
EMBLEY
Stadium at three, Madonna and I go onstage for sound check. She sings one and a half minutes of each song, then rehearses some of the show's more intricate dance moves for about an hour. When she finally comes offstage, I see that she's far from tired, the adrenaline already coursing through her veins. Her blue eyes are bright, her skin is luminous, her color high—partly because of the pink Puerto Rican Majal face powder she always sends me to buy for her from a drugstore on Sixth Avenue and Fifteenth Street in Manhattan—partly through sheer excitement.

Then at four we lunch together—carrot soup, veggie burgers, salad—all cooked by her vegetarian chef, who travels with us. During lunch, we dissect the previous day's dress rehearsal: the mood of the band members and the dancers, which one is pissed off, which one needs to be coaxed and cajoled into doing the job properly, and which one has to be stroked—all in the interest of making tonight's show spectacular.

On opening night, and for most of the tour, that's my job, but Madonna has already made it easier. On all the tours—through a combination of charm, flirtation, and some maternal concern—she does her utmost to gain the dancers' trust, loyalty, and friendship. To bring them as close to her as possible, but not too close.

Everyone who works for her inevitably goes through the same stages. Stage One: disillusionment with the cold world outside. Stage Two: luxuriating in the sunlight of Madonna's warmth and attention. Stage Three: moving through the sunlight, toward her. Stage Four: finding themselves in the coldest place of all, the place right up close to her. That, as far as she is concerned, is far too close for her comfort. Get to that stage, and she will feel that you know too much, you are a liability, and the result is a foregone conclusion. Stage Five: no more sunlight, no more closeness, no more Madonna.

BOOK: Life with My Sister Madonna
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