In hindsight, exactly why it took me a year and a half to read Christopher Ciccone's Life With My Sister Madonna is something that I really can't explain. I think it was because I heard all the juiciest bits when he was doing the talk show circuit right around the time of the book's release. And really, I didn't find those juicy bits all that juicy - certainly not juicy enough to plunk down 26 bucks for the hardcover. But it arrived rather unexpectedly in a package from a friend this Christmas and I knew right then and there that I simply could ignore it no longer. And wouldn't you know it, my initial reaction was right. For something that's billed as a scandalous tell-all about the world's most famous woman, there's precious little scandal and not a whole lot of tell-all, at least not of anything that we didn't either already know or strongly suspect.
The book starts out on opening night of The Girlie Show, when Christopher and Madonna are at their closest. He hints at the trouble to come by describing the five stages that "everyone who works for [Madonna] inevitably goes through." Describing her as a sun, they start in disillusionment, then travel into being in her "warmth and attention." Stage 3 is closer yet, while stage 4 is the "coldest place of all, the place right up close to her." And from there it's not long till they reach stage 5 - "no more sunlight, no more closeness, no more Madonna." From there, he heads back to their youth in Michigan, recounting his formative years, including the loss of their mother (which affected Christopher to a much smaller degree than it did Madonna.) Madonna leaves for New York and he eventually follows her, where she becomes a pop superstar and he becomes, well, her brother. This makes for a pretty fascinating tale of a man caught up in his own insecurities, all the while basking in the white hot fame of Madonna.
As a long-time, dyed-in-the-wool Madonna fan, this book was an interesting combination of "yeah, I kinda already knew that" and titillating voyeurism into Madonna's inner circle. So much of Madonna's life has been laid bare, both literally and figuratively, that it seems like there's nothing that could possibly shock me. And mostly, that was true. Madonna smoked pot? GASP! You mean to tell me that Madonna is kind of a bitch and she discards people when they cease to be of use to her? I NEVER would have thought that! And seriously, despite the fact that she has been world-famous for 25 years, she still deals with massive insecurity and significant control issues? Who'd have thought it?
The book is hardly an exhaustive look at Madonna's career - it is, after all, Christopher's story as it relates to his relationship with Madonna. Still, that was one of the book's disappointments. It glossed over so many important Madonna moments - the making of Evita, for example, is barely more than a footnote - that it seems like there's no way we're getting the whole story. I did, however, enjoy his account of Blond Ambition and the filming of Truth or Dare. By his account, the movie is hardly a documentary. Rather, each scene was meticulously crafted by Madonna. Again, interesting to hear, but nothing that most fans didn't already assume was at least partially true anyway. But he saves his harshest words for the scene at their mother's grave, accusing Madonna of "relegating [their] mother to the role of mere extra in her movie."
The deterioration of their relationship plays out like a bad car wreck - painful to watch, but you can hardly look away. Madonna is portrayed in an extremely unflattering light, refusing to pay for his services as a designer, accusing him of drug and alcohol abuse and virtually shutting him out of her life and the lives of her children. Her disregard for her own brother stands in stark contrast to the teachings of the Kabbalah which she claims to support so completely. On the other hand though, Christopher does himself no favors. He frequently comes across as whiny and entitled, dropping names of celebrities he's met or worked with throughout the book like we're supposed to be impressed. And the question of his drug addiction was never really answered to my satisfaction either. Perhaps he is not an addict (he admits to recreational drug use), but I would argue that many addicts take years to fess up to their addictions.
In the end, what surprised me most about the book is how Christopher and Madonna have a relationship much like most siblings, only filtered through the prism of her mega-fame. They fight, they compete, they know each other's weak spots by virtue of knowing each other from the very beginning. They might go years without speaking. They disagree on one thing and but agree on others. But through it all, they love each other pretty much unconditionally, even when they can't stand each other, because that's what family does.
Despite the fact that the cover of the book features one of the worst photos of Madonna I've ever seen, I still heartily recommend it - especially to fans. They won't be shocked by accounts of her bitchiness and really, if we're really honest about it, we like the bitchiness.
The book also features some great candid shots of Madonna - this one of Madonna, pregnant with Lola, is my favorite:
Dig that harvest gold dishwasher! And is that Jell-O mold in the background?