In the spirit of Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love, Madonnaland takes us on a revelatory road trip through the quirky hinterlands of celebrity and fandom and the quest to make music that matters in the face of relentless commercialism.
"Simone . . . achieves a productive union between the obscure and the intriguing."
—New York Times Book Review
Series: American Music Series
When Alina Simone agreed to write a book about Madonna, she thought it might provide an interesting excuse to indulge her own eighties nostalgia. Wrong. What Simone discovered instead was a tidal wave of already published information about Madonna—and her own ambivalence about, maybe even jealousy of, the Material Girl’s overwhelming commercial success. With the straight-ahead course stymied, Simone set off on a quirky detour through the backroads of celebrity and fandom and the people who love or loathe Madonna.
In this witty, sometimes acerbic, always perceptive chronicle, Simone begins by trying to understand why Madonna’s birthplace, Bay City, Michigan, won’t even put up a sign to celebrate its most famous citizen, and ends by asking why local bands who make music that’s authentic and true can disappear with barely a trace. In between, she ranges from Madonna fans who cover themselves with tattoos of the singer’s face and try to make fortunes off selling her used bustiers and dresses, to Question Mark and the Mysterians—one-hit wonders best known for “96 Tears”—and Flying Wedge, a Detroit band that dropped off an amazing two-track record in the office of CREEM magazine in 1972 and vanished, until Simone tracked it down.
Filled with fresh insights about the music business, fandom, and what it takes to become a superstar, Madonnaland is as much a book for people who, like Simone, prefer “dark rooms, coffee, and state-subsidized European films filled with existential despair” as it is for people who can’t get enough of Madonna.
- 1. Conspiracy in Bay City, or, Why is Madonna's birthplace the last place in America where she is actively controversial?
- 2. Seeking Refuge from '80s Rock, or, Was Madonna actually an outsider artist?
- 3. Magical Contagion, or, What happens to Madonna's lonely mountain of stuff after she dies?
- 4. Madonna Misconstrued, or, Getting the hell into Michigan
- 5. Mystery of the Mondegreen, or, Who was the first band to smuggle the word "masturbate" onto the Billboard top 100?
- 6. Flying Wedge, or, Could a band with three fans be (another) missing link between hard rock and punk?
From the book
“Madonna came by on that Monday and played me that demo,” [Sire Records A&R rep Michael] Rosenblatt told Rolling Stone in 2013. “It wasn’t amazing. But this girl sitting in my office was just radiating star power. I asked her, “What are you looking for in this?” I always ask that, and the wrong answer is “I want to get my art out,” because this is a business. And Madonna’s answer was, “I want to rule the world.”
If she had only wanted to rule Bay City, or even certain neighborhoods of New York, she wouldn’t have had a career. But she wanted to rule the world, and went on to do just that. I suspect that more than any qualms we may have about Madonna’s music or nip-slips, or her treatment of religious icons or choice of men, her bombastic and self-prophetic confidence is what most accounts for the animus against her. In 1985, while hypothesizing as to the karmic source of her enormous popularity, Madonna told Time magazine, “Maybe my fearlessness and courage give people a good feeling.” But maybe her fearlessness and courage, in equal measure, give people a bad feeling, prompting an enraged and desperate little internal voice to sputter, What makes you think you are so much better than anyone else? That you have the right to claim all of these impossibly grand things you seek? You are just a middle-class girl from Michigan so you better start acting like it!
I wonder if perhaps we aren’t talking to ourselves when we ask these questions. And whether our criticism is really a veiled reproach in the face of what Madonna has so defiantly proven is possible. Why didn’t you think you were good enough? Why didn’t you dream bigger? What made you think you didn’t have the right to grander things? And why didn’t you try harder to get them?
Maybe these are the questions we are really asking ourselves when we confront our dislike of Madonna.
And maybe by “we,” I mean me.
“Simone . . . achieves a productive union between the obscure and the intriguing.”
New York Times Book Review
“Madonnaland is a wonderful collection of essays on subjects ranging from one man's quest to get Bay City to recognize its famous daughter, and other bands that hail from the Michigan city, like Question Mark and the Mysterians. Simone is a deeply funny writer, but also a perceptive, compassionate one. ”
NPR's Best Books of 2016
“Alina Simone gives us a fuller, weirder and more interesting overview of Madonna than we may have thought possible. . . . It's the way Simone presents her story that's most riveting, whether it's looking at idiosyncratic figures from the pop star's home state . . . or her own journey from pop music fandom to indie rock. ”
Rolling Stone's 10 Best Music Books of 2016
“Though Madonnaland seems to be about other musicians, at heart it's a meditation on the author's own career, which provides a convenient entry point…a meditation on success and failure and an attempt to come to some sort of peace with one's place in the world.”
“Simone’s book is more than a portrait of Madonna and the people who love her, it’s a reflection on the nature of pop music fandom.”
Men's Journal, "The Best Books of March"
“Alina Simone’s Madonnaland is a totally excellent book, and if you don’t bother to read it, you will be missing something significant in the development of modern cultural criticism.”
“The entire book is great fun for any lover of music history, and Simone always supplies contrary and complicating thinking about her own opinions...Madonnaland is another fine book on contemporary music from the University of Texas Press.”
“How do we start with sparkly cone bras and end with a well-considered philosophy of human fulfillment? No idea, but Simone manages to do it. Madonnaland is a profound and hilarious stream-of-consciousness funfair ride through the postmodern theme park of super fans, celebrity, taste, and capitalism, with Simone as the perfect conductor.”
“Alina Simone’s critical (and hilariously self-critical) look at pop culture, ambition, identity, and the strange things that can happen when art meets time is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a ray of light.”
Ben Greenman, New York Times best-selling author of Mo’ Meta Blues and The Slippage