Livre: "Not About Madonna: My Little Pre-Icon Roommate" par Whit Hill.
The book features a never-before-published seven-page handwritten letter Madonna wrote Whit Hill during Christmas break in 1977.
NOT ABOUT MADONNA: My Little Pre-Icon Roommate — and Other Memoirs.
By Whit Hill
Paper 978-0-9832940-0-9 $17.95
eBook 978-0-9832940-1-6 $9.99
Forthcoming SEPTEMBER 2011 from HELIOTROPE BOOKS
Big Sister Productions
READ EXCERPTS BELOW
- FROM THE AUTHOR’S NOTE:
In the fall of 1977, when I came to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to enter the dance program at the University of Michigan, I thought I knew a thing or two. I had acted professionally in New York City, my hometown. I had posed nude for art classes. … I was a very modern girl.
When I met Madonna Ciccone, my initial assessment, even as I watched her leg soaring into an effortless front extension, was that I had little to learn from any young whippersnapper from Michigan, safety-pinned earlobes or no. I felt no instant flush of warmth and trust the day we met, no recognition of a kindred spirit — in fact all I recall feeling was an almost seismic wariness. But somehow, a few days later, she was my roommate. ... I never knew what hit me.
[On writing the book] The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the story of my knowing her has a lot to do with some themes I actually am interested in: women artists in America, fame vs. non-fame, life vs. life onscreen, and all the ways you can lose your mom.
So here’s my dissertation. But first, I have a request:
Close this book and look at the title again. Read it out loud. Did you? Good. I just want to be really clear about what this is. If you are looking for the dirt on a pre-fame Madonna, there are quite a few volumes of literature out there that will meet your needs better than this one, that will tell you what you expect to be told. I am happy to share with you most of what I remember from that time — and quite a bit more — but it may not be what you are after. Madonna is a spoke in my wheel, a cog in my whirring factory. This book is a lot of things. And even though she’s in it, this book is not about Madonna.
Whit Hill / Nashville, Tennessee
- SCENE: 1977 — UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, NEW ROOMMATES WHIT AND MADONNA, AT A PARTY
I get baptized in the holy waters of Madonna’s Attention Thing one day late in the fall when Liz, the head of the department, invites all the dancers over to her house for a swimming party. Liz and her husband have a pool.
Madonna and I are very excited about this – a true mingling of the faculty and the students. We will eat good food, dance to funky music, swim in improvised bathing suits, talk about art with our teachers, and perhaps improve our chances for excellent grades.
… We have gotten to the point where we can pretty much talk about anything. And I am quite aware – and happily so – that Madonna has revealed herself to be perhaps the smartest person I know. That she is a good listener is part of her smartness. She seems genuinely curious about things, me included. …
Parties like this can be iffy for me – too much forced conversation, exhaustive smiling and hair-tossing. I’m really making an effort to change and having Madonna for a cohort helps. Whenever I try to weasel out of stuff like this, she nags me mercilessly. She should win some sort of fishwife prize.
And for the first half-hour of so, it’s pretty fun. I have to say, it’s nice to arrive together, for us to be seen as a unit – roommates. Friends.
And then… click.
It’s hard to say if it’s something she actually does, my roomie, or if it’s just that I suddenly notice it: the way she becomes the focus of the room. I can’t fault her for it – what happens is utterly organic, like the way cats watch canaries, the way stars move across the sky, the way people are interested in sex. And the attention spurs it on. At once, she is in her element, laughing, flirting, cussing, dancing at the center of a small crowd in the middle of an ordinary living room.
… it’s her cute little destiny, stretching its wings.
- SCENE: 1980 — NEW YORK CITY, ABANDONED SYNOGOGUE IN QUEENS, WHIT ATTENDS A GIG REHEARSAL FOR HER COLLEGE-ROOMMATE-DANCER-TURNED-POP-SINGER AND BAND
What is it? Why do I feel like running, flying from the room?
Oh, looking back, there’s no doubt about what I was feeling: pure, 100-proof, moonshine-quality jealousy. In the face of her power, her willingness to fail in the service of the larger goal, of her stark beauty and fuck-you drive, I feel like a pigeon, a gray, ordinary pigeon, scared to flapping by the sound of a distant backfire. But I sit there and sit there, song after song. We applaud politely after each one, sending flat claps ringing throughout the once-holy room, place of marriages, funerals, and sermons in ancient Hebrew, now home to my skinny ex-roomie, gyrating with a microphone in front of the band singing, “Whipping … Whipping, the wind is whipping me…”
That was the last time I saw Madonna.
- SCENE: 1981 — MOTHER
In fact, the truth of my mother is not so simple. My mother is my own, personal Faulkner novel, one that I, as an Only Child, get to carry around, pressed against my chest, all by myself. She is a good book, my mother, in that you never know what’s coming. And you can’t put it down.
- SCENE: 1987 — MADONNA RECALLED IN TRANQUILITY
My daughter stirs and looks at me. Huge blue eyes, white-blond hair, one cheek marked by the folds of the sheet. She says this to me:
In the kitchen, she plays with some cardboard blocks while I cut up a banana and pour some juice. I feed the young one and sit myself down for some serious thinking.
OK, these are the facts: This woman came into my life; I lived with her for nine months. She fascinated me, irritated me, moved me, taught me, took from me. I don't think she ever bored me. Maybe once. Someone in the friendship plant programmed a planned obsolescence into the whole affair and when things broke down, I never bothered to repair them. But before that, she lived with me and made me love her a little.
I have always loved easily so this is no grand pronouncement. And I think she loved me. I think she did. She said she did in that letter, and so, so many other times. I believed her. Why would I not? But I truly don't miss her at all. It was something of a relief to have her gone, to have her replaced with safer friends, ones without that calculated look of innocence and planning. Maybe in the back of my mind, a tiny, confused part of me wanted her to get beaten back. Maybe I wanted her to be like me, like the rest of us. You know what it is? I wanted her to be nice, someday. Nice and real and kind. And now, she's chomping up the world — thousands of fascinated people sign on each day — and her way is working for her.
Hmm. Fair enough.
That acknowledged, I can get on with my day. My baby walks sagely to my chair and stands in front of me. She bends down, puts her head on my knees and sings me a song.
- SCENE: 1989 — DIVORCE
In 1989, after taking a year off from music to explore the theater, Madonna puts out “Like a Prayer.” I learn this many years later from some book.
In 1989, after taking nine years to explore futility, I leave my husband.
It’s really a no-brainer. We have both gotten to the point where our sanity has become endangered. And if one or both of us ends up in Mercywood, well, that wouldn’t be good for the kids. There is another child now, a little boy with big brown eyes.
One night, after a particularly acidic fight, something changes in me and I know, suddenly, amid the crashing of furniture and the fists slamming against walls, that it is time. …
About two days later, when Rex is out and the children are napping, I get the paper and gingerly open to the classifieds. Apartments for rent. Tears splat onto the newsprint as I circle a couple of two-bedroom possibilities. I need something to write on. Where’s a notepad? Anything.... The closet’s open and inside is an old box of junk I’ve been meaning to go through. School stuff. I grab a bunch of folded papers and copy landlord phone numbers onto a corner. Then, curious, I unfold the packet. It is Madonna’s long-ago letter to me. The Christmas letter. I read a few pages. I study the words, looking for some wisdom, some message, but there is nothing there for me. Just her interesting penmanship and a bit of lively writing, old memories of someone else’s winter. Hi Madonna, I say. I fold it back up and go look for another piece of paper. It occurs to me that maybe I should save it.
It doesn’t matter that I know this is the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter that when I leave my beloved home and shut the door behind me, I never look back. It doesn’t matter that I have the support of my family, friends and therapist. Divorce is way worse than labor. It’s like a long, slow flaying. One where you have to smile and make pretty for the children.
So begins Whit Hill's compelling, revealing, funny memoir of her life, as reflected through the lens of her junior year at the University of Michigan — with her roommate Madonna.
And it is also Whit's story of the years that followed, a life of dance, music, love, loss, and change.
This is a book about two very different women who lived alongside each other for nine months. About women artists in America, about mothers and daughters, about giving birth — to hot, squirming babies, and to huge, ionospheric pop careers. It is about loss and poverty and hope and happiness. And remembrance.
To be published SEPTEMBER 2011
- ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Whit Hill was born and raised in New York City, where she trained as an actor and dancer, and graduated from The University of Michigan with a B.F.A. For fourteen years she was artistic director of a Michigan-based dance company. A writer and songwriter, she now lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, musician Al Hill. She is the mother of two grown children. She is somewhat obsessed with dogs and watches too much television. (Author photo by Robin Dodd)
- Patricia Bosworth, Contributing Editor, Vanity Fair:
"A gracefully written memoir filled with fascinating portraits of college days and coming of age and love of family — and what it means to be a woman in this celebrity culture. The narrative is rich, generous, and very smart. It's refreshing to spend time with this wonderful book."
Source: Big Sister Productions.
Photo: Robin Dodd.