We begin with Morton taking a ride
from JFK airport into Manhattan, just as his subject did so many
years ago. "The striking skyline glitters, alight with
promises, dripping with possibilities," Morton growls
dreamily, like a pulp fiction writer with a heavy deadline. New
York sorted, it is time to hear all about ... Morton!: "A
biographer is a personality detective," he muses. "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."
arrive at Madonna, but far from the subject being
"illuminated", it is as if lights that have always
been on are being clicked off one by one.
It is not that
it is not all here ó it, droningly, exhaustingly, is. Thee
Catholic childhood, the mother who died young from breast
cancer, the dance training, the switch to music, the struggle,
the success, the sex book, the sex talk, the backlash, the
tears. The men, the women, the marriages, the abortions. The
ambition, the audacity, the bad decisions, the worst movies. The
children, the comeback, the abduction by aliens. I made that
last one up, because I thought you might be getting bored.
That is the
point really. With Madonna, Morton achieves the implausible. He
takes an interesting woman and an astonishing life and manages
to make both seem incredibly boring.
Once you get
used to Mortonís pace (dull plod, with occasional snooze), it
becomes quite amusing joining him on the journey, a bit like
watching someone dragging a dead body around, trying to find
some place to hide it. Even luminaries such as Madonna, Sean
Penn and Warren Beatty are reduced to flailing around like
disenfranchised phantoms in the shallows of Mortonís blandly
automatic insights. Elsewhere, in this "unauthorised"
expose, the "revelations" wash over the reader like a
vast dirty condom-strewn tide, all the more ugly for their
banality. Madonna has had lots of sex. She has had abortions.
She has been known to be insecure, pestering her menfolk with
telephone calls. Morton might as well have told us that
"Madonna has been known to menstruate", so routine, so
feminine, so human, are all of these experiences.
Madonna herself is smothered in gamey autograph-hunting flattery
("An artistic alchemist who was able to blend creativity
and controversy in equal measure, and so create commercial
gold") which does little more than reveal that Morton would
rather deal in abstract tosh-prose than get up close to his
subject. Similarly, Mortonís take on her music hints that he
might be the only human being alive never to have heard any of
it. Rather painfully, he doggedly describes her songs like
someone listening through a cup pressed up against an outside
you learn from this book is that Madonna has a lot of
"friends" with big nasty mouths. Only once did I catch
my breath and really feel what was being written, and that was
when Morton describes Madonna looking into her motherís open
casket. To the five-year-old Madonna, her motherís mouth
"looked funny", and she only realised later that that
was because it had been sewn up. We could have done with more of
this, more Madonna the real, hurting person, less Madonna the
strutting famous monster thing.
For, whatever she is or is not,
for all the monsterfication of her that has gone on over the
years if nothing else, Madonna remains one of the sanest
mega-celebrities the world has ever seen, and a biographer has a
duty to "illuminate" that. With Mortonís Madonna,
the problem is not that he has never met his subject, but that
he clearly has no special feel for her legend or her life. Maybe
Morton did not need to have the same nightmare as my friend, but
it might have helped if he had dreamt of her at all.