Desperately Seeking a Start
In July 1977, shortly before her nineteenth birthday, Madonna Louise Ciccone arrived in New York City with $35 in her pocket. She had left Ann Arbor where she was majoring in dance at the University of Michigan. The third of eight children, she was raised in the suburbs of Detroit; her mother had died when she was six years old. Her prospects in the world of show business looked poor. Apart from her training in dance, she had little musical background and no contacts.
Life in New York was a struggle. “I worked at Dunkin' Donuts, I worked at Burger King, I worked at Amy's. I had a lot of jobs that lasted one day. I always talked back to people and they'd fire me. I was a coat-check girl at the Russian Tea Room. I worked at a health club once a week.”1 She spent a few months training with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and had a succession of modeling engagements for photographers and artists. During 1979, Madonna began to explore New York's music and acting scenes. With boyfriend Dan Gilroy, his brother Ed and bassist Angie Smit, “Breakfast Club” was formed—Madonna sharing vocals and drums with Dan. For six months she was dancer and backup singer to French singing star Patrick Hernandez, accompanying him in Europe and North Africa. In August 1979, Madonna was offered the lead role in underground movie director Stephen Lewicki's lowbudget film A Certain Sacrifice. She was paid $100. After breaking up with Dan Gilroy, Madonna invited her former Michigan boyfriend, Steve Bray, to New York. They moved into the Music Building—a converted 12-storey building crammed with studios, rehearsal rooms and striving, impoverished young bands. Together they worked on writing songs and developing their sound while Madonna maintained a continuous stream of calls to managers, agents, record companies and club owners. Camille Barbone offered a management contract—but only for Madonna. However, Barbone was unable to deliver success fast enough for Madonna and after 18 months Madonna fired her.
Finding a Sound, Finding a Style
During 1981, Madonna's music and image moved in a new direction. Influenced by the emerging dance scene in New York, Madonna moved increasingly from Pretenders/Pat Benatar rock to the dance music that was sweeping New York clubs. In addition to working with Steve Bray to develop songs and mix demo tapes, she worked on her image—a form of glam-grunge that featured multilayered, multicolored combinations of thrift-store clothing together with scarves and junk jewelry. She adopted “Boy Toy” as her “tag name” and prominently displayed it on her belt buckle. It was a look that she would continue to develop with the help of jewelry designer Maripole. Her trademark look of messy, badly dyed hair, neon rubber bracelets, black lace bras, white lace gloves, and chunky belt buckles would soon be seen on teenage girls throughout the world.
Madonna was quick to recognize the commercial implications of the new musical wave. The dance clubs were crucial and the DJs were the gatekeepers. Armed with her demo tapes, Madonna and her friends frequented the hottest dance clubs where they would make a splash with their flamboyant clothing and provocative dancing. At Danceteria, one of the staff referred to her as a “heat-seeking missile targeting the hottest DJs.” DJ Mark Kamins introduced her to Mike Rosenblatt and Seymour Stein of Sire Records, a division of Warner Records. A recording contract and $5000 were soon hers. The first release was a 12-inch single with different versions of Everybody on each side. The record was played extensively in dance clubs. Madonna began working on her first album. Although she had allegedly promised longtime friend and music collaborator Steve Bray and DJ Mark Kamins the job of producer, she dumped both in favor of Warner Records' house producer, Reggie Lucas. Together with Warner Records' national dance promoter, Bobby Shaw, Madonna began a...