Book Excerpt: 'Madonna' by Andrew Morton

It's hard to imagine that Madonna ever failed at anything. But a new book about the controversial entertainer, renowned for re-inventing her image, recounts her rocky journey to fame. In Andrew Morton's new book, Madonna, the biographer reveals new details about the girl who came to New York City with a dream and a fist-full of dollars.

Chapter One: All-American Girl

Arriving at JFK airport, a glance at the snaking line for taxis longer than for the average Disney ride but without the thrill at the end — banishes any lingering hesitation about accepting an offer that would normally be refused. After a seven-hour flight from London, 40 dollars seems like a very good deal for a ride into Manhattan in the back of a white stretch limo, albeit unlicensed. The motley group of fellow travelers, from Canada, France and New York, think so too. "Help yourself to drinks," offers the moonlighting chauffeur magnanimously.

Soon there's a party going on — the roof open, the sparkling, flashing neon interior lights twinkling brighter than the early-evening stars. In the setting sun the striking skyline glitters, alight with promise, dripping with possibilities. A couple of decades before, on such a journey, on such an evening, in such a limo, an aspiring young singer called Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone had reclined, like a punk mistress of the universe. She had told her friend Erika Belle: `One day I'm going to own this town: The former cheerleader from the American Midwest had not always been so certain.

Our limo glides past Lincoln Center, where the lonely teenager once sat by the fountain and wept, despairing that she would ever make it in the Big Apple. We drive by the imposing West 64th Street apartment building where she now lives, testament to her success, past the restaurant that makes a special Caesar salad just for her, and by Central Park where she met the father of her first child. After this impromptu whistle-stop tour of Madonna's life, the limousine driver kicks us out at Columbus Circle. From the top of a brown brick apartment building a red neon sign, advertising a TV show, blazes one word into the night sky: `BIOGRAPHY.'

A biographer is a personality detective, a literary gumshoe searching for clues, testing alibis and gathering evidence that will help illuminate a character who has made an impression on our world. Initial house-to-house — or rather bar-to-bar — inquiries in New York reveal a perplexing picture of Madonna. In preliminary questioning, few witnesses mention her singing or acting career. Under duress, artist Brent Wolf confesses he dreamed of her every night for five years. Then he blurts out, "But my friend Rob was worse than me." A mature student from Arizona, who really should know better, testifies that when she has to make a tough decision, she asks herself, "What would Madonna do?" Even though it's a common occurrence — in India Knight's novel, My Life on a Plate, a girl who accidentally gets pregnant asks the same question — it merely serves to accentuate the riddle of Madonna. Typically, cultural forensics are no help; all those college lecturers endlessly debating her impact on racial and gender relations in post-modern society, are still, after twenty years, desperately seeking Madonna.

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