Sarah Paolantonio's Reviews > Madonnaland: And Other Detours into Fame and Fandom

Madonnaland by Alina Simone
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really liked it

I forgot where I first learned about 'Madonnaland.' It was either from Rob Sheffield's Twitter, or another music writer I follow on the Internet. What drew me in: the design, the title, the subtitle, and the idea that someone had written an entire book about Madonna *and* the fact that it was only 125 pages long.

So when I saw the florescent pink poking at me on my new favorite music shelf to creep on (Greenlight Books in Clinton Hill), I knew what I had to do. Now Madonna's music isn't really my cup of tea. I love the hits, I've danced around to them (alone) (safely, under the cover of foam headphones), and I know all the choruses, verses, and bridges of said hits. But I am not a Madonna super-fan. I didn't grow up in the 80s and my older sisters who did were not Madonnaland-bound. That all being said, I love learning about music. I love listening to people talk (or reading people write) about why they love what they love.

Some of the best books I've read have been niche stories about bands or artists I have never had a sonic interest in. But when there's a story, and a person, behind that music that's where, well, the story comes in. Someone somewhere took a personal journey that happened to be soundtracked by a famous (or infamous) artist. That's basically what 'Madonnaland' is, but with a lot more reporting.

Alina Simone writes well with a great vocabulary. Few words I had to look up, always signs of good writing (engage your reader!), it made me laugh, and want to listen to Madonna's "Borderline" and mouth along to the words on the 6 train. She grew up in Madonnaland and is a former failed (her words, that appear again and again throughout her story) singer who has done the whole music bizz thing. The journey starts in Bay City, MI (Madonna's place of birth) and the controversy that town has within itself for the fact that it is Madonna's place of birth.

Because this book is only 125 pages, not enough time is spent on Madonna. I know I say (write) this as someone who read over a thousand pages on Bob Dylan last year. I could (and have) read for hours about a singular artist and I will watch the VH1 RocDoc 'Lemmy' as many times as it is on a television. I was more disappointed by the lack-of-Madonna when Simone spent the last two (of six) chapters focusing on two different artists: Question Mark and the Mysterians and Flying Wedge. The first is a band *also* from Bay City, MI. They hold a number 1 hit, "96 Tears," and not much else. (You know the song.) Flying Wedge is a band that put out something ridiculous like 500 copies of a 7 inch single, and the majority of their work is on TEAC tapes. And the machine that can play them is only fixable by someone who can no longer fix it. Simone sounds eager to hear this genre and race bending music (they are a "black rock" band, a label everyone involved in this hates) but apparently no one can hear it. (If you Google-image "TEAC player" you will find a photo of a device you probably saw in your college radio station that no one knew how to use or what kind of tape it played.)

The brief Epilogue shifts the focus back onto Madonna, the fact that she isn't considered important in this day and age, despite the fact that she is the the best-selling female artist of all time, worth $530 million dollars, an enormous advocate for AIDS awareness and gay rights, and the actual cloth female singers have been cutting themselves from ever since (see: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Miley Cyrus). Simone discusses Madonna's mother, also named Madonna, what it meant that Madonna named her daughter after herself, the fact that Madonna uses the death of her mother (which happened when Madonna, the one you know, was five years old) to talk about herself, the fact that Bay City, MI won't add (after much community discussion) "Birthplace of Madonna" to their Welcome sign, and the fact that Madonna is wildly overlooked *now* despite her career, recording breaking, allure as "an artist of commerce; someone with the rare talent to know exactly what the public craves without knowing they crave it." Madonna is also, apparently, an amazing super terrific jaw dropping dancer who has been fudging it to appeal to the masses. Her genius is greater than all of us. Duh.

'Madonnaland' was anti-climactic, just like this review is. I bought this book and gladly read it because I want to write a book like this one day: one that focuses on investigating something in a musician's life, one that focuses on teaching writer and reader something new about themselves, said artist, and whatever it is writer *and* reader are looking for. I bought and read this book wanting to learn more about Madonna and I feel underwhelmed. But overall, I was learning the entire time I read this book, I supported a University Press, a local bookstore, and a female author. I also now permanently have Madonna's "Borderline" stuck in my head. Thanks, Madge.

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Reading Progress

June 5, 2016 – Shelved
June 5, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
January 19, 2017 – Started Reading
January 24, 2017 – Finished Reading

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