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Monday, August 18, 2008

Brotherly shove

What disintegrated Madonna and Christopher Ciccone’s relationship — cocaine, Ingrid Casares? A gay brother takes his famous sister down a few pegs and pens the definitive Madonna bio. Unfortunately, he’s not sure they’ll be able to patch things up in the near future

Can we possibly be hungry for more ink about the world’s most famous woman?

Of course. In fact, we’re starving.

If you immediately dismissed Christopher Ciccone’s “Life with My Sister Madonna” (Simon Spotlight, $26) because you suspected it was a publicity vehicle for the lame “Hard Candy” album, think again. The biography is surprisingly candid and depicts a not-so-flattering image of a complex, tenacious and driven woman. But it’s also an intimate portrait that only Madonna’s gay brother could capture.

Some biographers can chronicle all of Madonna’s career moves, collaborations and friendships, but no one — not even Madonna’s other siblings — had Christopher’s access.

For 20 years, 47-year-old Christopher worked for Madonna, first as a backup dancer. But when she started touring and needed help changing costumes, Madonna begged Christopher to take the job. He was someone she could trust seeing her naked. From dresser, Christopher graduated to set designer, interior decorator, photographer and tour director.

For a long time, being a superstar‘s brother was a cool gig — almost as addictive as actual superstardom. But like many of Madonna’s relationships, she and Christopher eventually drifted apart. Overcoming his addiction to superstardom is partly why Christopher wrote “Life with My Sister.” The other part is that Christopher hopes to establish his own identity.

That process is already in development. On Aug. 26, Christopher appears on the debut episode of the new season of “Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency.” Janice moves into a house in Miami where all her models will live, and Christopher has only 24 hours to re-design Janice’s master bedroom, which includes a secret video-surveillance chamber where she can spy on everyone. Christopher also hopes to launch his own reality show.

If you remotely enjoyed “Truth or Dare,” you’ll savor every page of Christopher’s book. It’s so good, Madonna should write her brother a fan letter. “Life with My Sister” is a juicy warts-and-all tapestry: Some stories are embarrassing, but Christopher doesn’t assassinate his sister.

The book could be viewed as a betrayal, but in the pages of The Advocate, Madonna once discussed Christopher’s personal life without permission. And when Christopher confronted her about it, Madonna just said, “What’s the big deal?”

Like the other bios, Christopher chronicles Madonna’s relationships with Sean Penn, Sandra Bernhard, Vanilla Ice, Dennis Rodman, Guy Ritchie and countless others. But the most interesting figure in “Life with My Sister” is Ingrid Casares — the lesbian nightclub impresario, who ditched Sandra Bernhard for Madonna, became Madonna’s best friend and a good friend to Christopher as well. Casares often informed Madonna of Christopher’s growing cocaine use. And if newbie mommy Madonna needed a reason to banish Christopher from the superstar mountaintop, cocaine was the perfect excuse.

Your design career doesn’t have much to do with your sister. If Dallasites wanted to see your furniture, where could we look? Check Bernhardt furniture. Look for the Prague line. There are about seven or eight pieces that I’ve done.

Do you still design for Bernhardt? I do. But they moved into the mid-century modern thing, which I’m not really interested in because it’s already been done a thousand times.

Can you pinpoint a signature quality that’s inherent in both your interior design and your book? I like to do things that are very clear and classic. Things that will hold up in time — that are beyond the moment. And I think the book will do that as well.

Can you jostle your “Madonna on Tour” memory banks — anything interesting ever happen in Dallas? You want to make this interview pertinent to Dallas, huh? The Mansion in Turtle Creek, is that in Dallas?

Yes, it is. That’s where we stayed. I remember it being quite pleasant, actually. But that was years ago. I think we even went out one night in Dallas.

With your sister? I think we all went out — me, her and the dancers. We all went out to some big gay dance club.

The Village Station? It’s possible. That sounds familiar. But that was years ago.

Is Ingrid Casares the true villain in this story? There’s no villain in this story. There are plenty of people who are meddling — what you might call “shape shifters.” A couple of people get more dissected than others — Ingrid is one of them; Guy Ritchie is the other.
Did you read Ingrid as a villain?

She had both your ear and Madonna’s. And like a “Dangerous Liaisons” character, Ingrid new how to get close to Madonna, which meant separating her from the only family member Madonna really trusted. In many ways, there’s that aspect of it. And Ingrid was incredibly good at it.

Despite those things, I have to give Ingrid her props. She got me my first music video, which got me into thinking about film and music videos and into a world that I had never even considered before and one that I really enjoy. And despite whatever her motives might have been, she still did good for me. And I’d give her that credit — and I think I do in the book.
Although, I know she’s not happy about it. [Laughs].

How do you know Ingrid is unhappy? She’s been sending me messages — on other people’s phones. Which is alarming because these people are good friends of mine, and they didn’t realize that she had gotten a hold of their phone numbers. It was a bit disturbing but pretty funny, too.

Do you think readers will assume that your drug use is what ruined your relationship with your sister? I don’t think it had anything to do with it to be honest.

Hearing you say that reminds me of when Courtney Love was shit-faced on that Pamela Anderson roast for Comedy Central. Over and over, Courtney kept slurring that she was sober. Throughout the book you acknowledge your drugs use and that Madonna keeps calling you on it. And you explain that you have a little — just a tiny — cocaine problem. Oh, come on.

For the most part, it was social for me. And it was certainly the crowd I was hanging around with. You either did it, or you didn’t hang around those people. I was fully aware of what I was doing. But I was also aware that had I not hung around late at night after Versace’s memorial …

At some point, I knew that there would be a story here. My thing was really about collecting stories — not necessarily to write. But to just to tell other people because they’re fascinating stories. And all put together, they make a portion of the book.

It’s funny, there’s a small incident with Courtney that I really didn’t remember until after I finished writing the book. And that was a moment where her and I somehow ended up in the office of a restaurant in New York after the MTV Awards. It was a party for Maverick. And I don’t know how we ended up alone, but we did. And we ended up making out. It was kind of disgusting. But I didn’t recall that until much later.

But you don’t have adventures unless get out there and have them. At that point, part of the adventure was doing drugs. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.

And getting back to your question about our relationship: In my own way, I was subconsciously pulling away from her. It was difficult to envision any other life — one without Madonna. Because for 20 years, that was the only life I had. I knew I had to get out of it. I didn’t try that hard to dissuade her or prove anything to her. I could see where things were heading, and it was time for us to stop. I think she was much more of an addiction to me than the drugs were. That life was more of an addiction than any alcohol or drug I could have taken.

I just watched “Truth or Dare,” and there’s a moment when your dad visits Madonna backstage — you’re in the room too. Madonna immediately makes your dad compliment your stage sets. That’s exactly what a big sister is supposed to do. It was thoughtful, loving and unselfish … Or was that contrived for the cameras? Yeah, it was.

No way. You’re kidding. I’m sorry to tell you…

Look, it just wasn’t her way. You’re expected to do your job properly, and you get paid to do it — even though I didn’t know what I should be making because I had only worked for her. So there was nothing for me to judge it by. But in all the years I worked for her that was the only time — ever in public — that she ever complimented my work. Except for maybe once or twice in a magazine.

I guess I plucked the exact scene to reference. That’s why I was so taken aback when, on the last tour, she dedicated a song to me in Miami — even though it was a backhanded way of doing it.

Rather than saying, “I’d like to dedicate this song to my brother Christopher who is in the audience,” she said, “I’d like to dedicate this song to my brother who is in the audience.”
It was like a dedication — but not really.

Did you send her a copy of the book? No, not personally. I figured she’d find her way through it on her own, or her friends would read it, or [Madonna’s longtime publicist] Liz Rosenberg would read it and tell her what was in it. I’m assuming she’ll read it. I can’t believe she wouldn’t.

If Madonna does read it, do you think she’ll be able to see that it’s a good literary endeavor? Or would her ego only get in the way? The hardest thing for her is going to be is the human stuff. Because of her lack of control over it, number one, and she’s been crafting an image for a long time. And anything that alter that image or take a second look would be considered detrimental.

I hope she can see it for what it is — and not what she expected.

What did she expect? Through my father, I heard what she thought the book was going to be. She thought I was going to tear her apart and destroy her family and talk about her kids. Frankly, that was one of the hardest things for me to understand.

I spent 47 years with this woman, and 20 of them working for her. And she really didn’t know me. She didn’t know me at all. She assumed the very worst possible thing, which was rather disappointing, honestly.

It didn’t set out to destroy her. This book really is my story. And my story includes her a great deal. She was a major part of my life — not just as a sister. I think for someone who’s a fan of hers, they’re getting to see that little bit behind that curtain. And it only brings them closer.

What do your other brothers or sisters think of the book? I don’t know if they’ve read it. They all go about their own lives.

That was the other thing that I wanted to do was to at least give them a small voice because they have no voice at all. And I explain the nature of what it’s like — how you actually have to deal with the fact that your sister is the most famous woman in the world. It’s not something that you can just let go. It’s something you have to deal with.

What is next from this starting point? Probably another book of some kind — not about Madonna. Hopefully there are a couple of scripts that I’ve written. I’d love to direct movies — one about a female bullfighter. There’s a young singer I’ve been managing, Julian, who I think is incredibly talented. And I have some experience there, and why not use it and try to give back to somebody to help somebody out, if I can.

The Janice [Dickinson] thing — the TV stuff — I’ve been developing a design-based reality show with Freemantle, the production company that does Janice’s show. It’s not your basic design show, it’s pretty off the wall and raw. It’s not polished — you sort of get the nuts and bolts and nitty gritty of what it really takes to do those kinds of shows. There’s tons of ideas floating around my head. I’d love to do something on Broadway.

What if Madonna asked you to design a new set for her old “family ties” song, “Keep it Together” — what do you think that image would look like? That’s a difficult question. I couldn’t tell you right now. I don’t think there is a picture. I think her and I have some distance to go before we get back together so we can form another relationship together that’s honest and respectful as equals. We’ll see.

Does the book give the impression that you’re too bruised from the relationship? Or deep down, are you brothers and sisters who in 10 years will be able to high-five and laugh at each other — or is that just impossible? It’s not that it’s impossible.

You have to understand that Madonna by nature isn’t that kind of a person. She was never really a buddy. Her only real buddy was Ingrid. She wasn’t the kind of person you sat around and shot the shit with. She was pretty much all work and very little play. I don’t have that relationship with her.

I can hang and talk with my other brothers and sisters. Madonna is more difficult, and she’s always been that way. That’s not something that fame changed. She was always that way, even growing up.

You don’t lavish too much praise about your sister’s work. When it comes to her poisonous celluloid acting, your criticism is rather astute and not unnecessarily harsh. So what do you think of her latest album — especially compared to all her post “Ray of Light” work? It’s disappointing.

Thank you! Here’s my feeling about the music: You get to a certain point. You don’t need the money. You have the world of music and art at your fingertips. Be experimental. Go and do something off the wall — outside of the envelope. Go experiment and explore. What is this doing to Justin Timberlake’s music? I don’t get it. What is the point?

You have woken the sleeping giant. [Laughs]. I don’t understand it. I really don’t. And that video [“Four Minutes to Save the World”] gives me the creeps. If she were 20 years younger, it might be okay. But it’s just weird — for me. Other people seem to like it. But I find it difficult to watch.

Recent paparazzi photos of your sister haven’t been flattering. She looks tired. Does your brotherly instinct kick in? Are you worried? I do worry. But I also know she’s rehearsing her tour. And it’s a long day for a good four or five months. And it’s exhausting. On top of that, she works out. Plus, she has children, and the band, and she’s probably got about 10 to 15 dancers and a thousand other things to deal with. It’s exhausting. I get it. I’ve been where she is — we’ve both been there. She does look particularly more tired than normal. I’d say there’s a lot more pressure right now: She’s turning 50, her children have developed their personalities …

When you saw the pictures, did you think it might be because of your book? No. I don’t think so. I don’t believe that. I think there’s other stuff going on. I don’t know if I care to speculate on what they are. I think there’s more to it than that. I don’t think she’s incredibly happy right now. And it’s unfortunate. And I feel bad for her — I do feel for her. The press coverage she’s been getting lately hasn’t been pleasant.

Plus, they’re going to choose the nastiest photograph they could find. And it looks like she’s coming out of rehearsal, so I would expect her to be exhausted.

You should send her the book and inscribe a loving brotherly message. Maybe she’ll come down a few pegs and y’all could meet halfway. That would be nice. But again, like I said, it’s in her nature to be civil. And I think we can manage that at some point. Whether or not we can get to a place where we can call on the phone and just sort of chat with each other — but we never really did that anyway.

She better make a guest appearance on your reality show. Somehow I doubt that’s going to happen.

I’m just too optimistic, huh? You’re twisted. That’s what you are.


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