Magazine article The Spectator

An Icon, but No Illumination

Magazine article The Spectator

An Icon, but No Illumination

Article excerpt

MADONNA by Andrew Morton Michael O'Mara, L18, pp. 256, ISBN 185479888X

One day, far in the future, someone in publishing will look across his desk at an aspiring writer and say the words that humanity has waited decades to hear: `No, I don't think we need any more books on Madonna.' According to schoolboy legend, over half a million books have so far been written about the French Revolution, but the diminutive songstress must surely now be in second place. The former presaged an era of political turmoil and changed European history forever; the latter reached number one in 1986 with `Papa, Don't Preach'. And yet, with lemming-like abandon, biographers keep leaping over the precipice, hoping that their 'definitive' Madonna book will be the one to make the millions they so deserve. Even Andrew Morton, who already has millions, cannot resist the temptation. Michael Holroyd's first volume (of a projected four) apparently follows in the new year.

What is it about her? Her voice? Her songs? Her remarkably resplendent pubic hair? (No, don't blanch. You and I and all adults currently alive have seen at least one photograph of Madonna flashing her pubes, and sure enough Morton has included one here.) Could it be her legendary acting ability, or her compulsive need to change hairstyle every three or four hours? In truth, none of this matters at all. Her more technically difficult songs reveal a voice perpetually pushed to the limits of its ability. Her songwriting has always relied on the input of collaborators. But Madonna has star quality, that most mythic and unmeasurable of attributes, and she tops it off with an ambition so intense it's amazing she relaxes enough to sleep at night. Neither of these characteristics is easy for normal people to understand, and the combination is almost unworldly. Certainly it's allowed her to get away with the worst ever version of `American Pie', which would have sunk anyone else's career. In the end, what she does is less important than who she is, which is where all these hopeful biographers come in.

Andrew Morton, of course, is an old hand, having written a string of shockingly bad books about some of the most important figures of the age. Princess Diana, Monica Lewinsky, Princess Diana again, Posh and Becks, Daniel Arap-Moi. This latter was the one he was most proud of, and still lies unread in at least 12 libraries. Madonna, though, marks a return to his home territory, celebrities, and particularly female celebrities with troubled childhoods and low self-esteem. …

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