J. Randy Taraborrelli: Madonna biographer
J. Randy Taraborrelli's new book, "Madonna: An Intimate Biography," is the first biography written about the star in over a decade. Taraborrelli is the author of eight books, including biographies of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, and the Kennedy women, Jackie, Ethel and Joan.
CNN: Good morning Randy Taraborrelli. Welcome to CNN.com.
J. RANDY TARABORRELLI: Hello, everybody. It's wonderful to be here.
CNN: Madonna has embarked on her first world-wide tour in eight years. Why now?
TARABORRELLI: Well, the time is right. She has spent the last few years of her life getting her priorities in place. She's had two children, she's married, and while a lot of people feel that she's settled down, she wants to prove with this tour that that's not the case. People that have seen the show have said that she once again walks the line between entertainment and performance art. So, it should be a terrific experience.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Where is Madonna planning to perform?
TARABORRELLI: One of the best Web sites to get that kind of information is http://www.madonnarama.com She's got a full tour schedule in America that begins Saturday night in Philadelphia. She'll go straight across the country, ending in Los Angeles in September, I believe.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Who are her major musical influences this year?
TARABORRELLI: One of the things that's important to know about Madonna is that she tries to stay current, and she's always taken, and has admitted to taking, bits and pieces from popular trends, and utilizes those trends in her work, but always with her own imprint. I think this is what makes her so unique. While she's been accused of stealing, from Marilyn Monroe, or this icon or that icon, what she's really doing is first of all paying tribute, and also creating her own art in her own way. It's been extremely successful for her, obviously.
CNN: Madonna is known as a hard working entertainer. What drives her so?
TARABORRELLI: What drives a lot of people, drives Madonna, is this burning ambition she's always had to be as completely entertaining as possible, and also to express herself artistically. She takes that seriously. I think it's fascinating that this is a woman in her early 40's who is now sharing chart space in the top ten with ladies young enough to be her daughters. Britney Spears is only 19 years old. Madonna won four Grammy awards last year, and she's still as contemporary and current as she's always been. Maintaining that position in the show business landscape is what drives her.
CNN: Yours is an unauthorized biography. What was the hardest information for you to obtain for your book?
TARABORRELLI: One of the biggest misconceptions I found about Madonna that I really worked on setting straight is the notion that she has sort of flitted from relationship to relationship without any emotional consequence, that she's cold and unemotional. What I learned was that in her personal life, and I make that distinction here, she's more emotionally vulnerable than most. As an example, fans might remember back in the '80s, when she was dating Warren Beatty, many people thought that that relationship was strictly to promote the Dick Tracy movie that they made together, and that she was being opportunistic. No doubt, at the beginning, there was a lot of that going on. However, as time went on, Madonna began to have strong feelings for Warren, as I outline in my book. Yet, he didn't have nearly the investment in that relationship that she had, and so it ended with her heart being broken. So, what I think will surprise people with this story are the many times that Madonna has ended up feeling alone and rejected. She has built her entire career on an image of indestructibility. But at least in her personal life, and again, I make that distinction, because this isn't necessarily true in her business life, she is one of the most fragile subjects I've ever written about.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is there any part of the experience that really shocked you?
TARABORRELLI: I don't know that it would be possible for me to shock the public any more than Madonna has already shocked us. That wasn't my goal with this book. My goal was to find out what kind of woman she really is. We all know she's brash, she's hard-working, she's irrepressible. But 10 years ago, when I started this book, I thought to myself that there has to be an intriguing woman beneath all that. During the course of researching this project, I found a lot of surprises. I didn't know, for instance, how involved she was romantically with John F. Kennedy Jr., until I began work on this book. I didn't know that the Sean Penn marriage had been such a complete nightmare for her until I started working on this book. This book is really about placing her life into the proper historical context, and once again answering the why questions about her.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What are Madonna's interests when she's not in the recording/performing mood?
TARABORRELLI: I think it's amazing the way this woman juggles her life. I've talked to her business associates over the last ten years of researching this book, who have explained to me how she's managed to prioritize. When she's not in the public eye, her focus at this time is on her children and her marriage. She has found a lot of gratification with the knowledge that she is a good mother. She's even surprised herself with the depth of love she feels for her children. Even though she has had a rocky romantic history which I outlined in the book in great detail, including men such as John Kennedy, Jr., Warren Beatty, and even Prince, with Guy Richie, she's found not just a relationship, but a marriage that seems to be working for her.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What has influenced her life spiritually?
TARABORRELLI: In the last five years, Madonna began to embrace the Kabbalah, which is a New Age sort of spiritual pursuit that has helped her tremendously. But I think the biggest influence for her spiritually has just been living her life in a way that has always been a work in progress. She's not the same person as you'll read in my book that she was 10 years ago, when I first started this research. Hopefully, those of us who are actually working on our lives are not the same people that we were a decade ago. It's a natural evolution of personality. In that respect, Madonna is as human as the rest of us.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is she still relevant? She pushed the envelope in the 80's, but isn't she passe now?
TARABORRELLI: Not according to her record sales. And certainly not according to her concert ticket sales, which sold out within minutes of going on sale, all around the world. Her latest album, "Music," has been very successful. She has a legion of die-hard fans who have sort of seen to it that she stays current just by their interest in her, their complete fascination with her.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Was Madonna serious about having her wedding at Princess Diana's ancestral home??
TARABORRELLI: Well, it was worth a shot. She did take it, and hoped for the best. But those who know her well told me that she never really thought that was going to occur.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Has Madonna succumbed to the knife yet like other pop stars?
TARABORRELLI: To my knowledge, no. She appears to me to be the kind of performer who would be the first to tell you if she did, and also, perhaps, find a way to make that newsworthy. :) So, I doubt that she has.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why the name "Madonna?" Is it a slam against Christianity?
TARABORRELLI: Well, amazingly enough -- I was amazed when I first met her in 1983 -- that's her real name. Her mother's name was also Madonna. She was named after her mother. But Madonna once told me that "with a name like Madonna, what else could I have been but a superstar or a nun?"
CHAT PARTICIPANT: The enduring rock personalities keep attracting their original fans and we see lots of baby boomers at comeback concerts. Who are Madonna's fans?
TARABORRELLI: One thing that she's managed to do over the course of her career has been to form what actually feels like a relationship with her public. By making moves that would be considered completely offensive to even her most die-hard fans, such as her "Sex" book, then coming back with wonderful moments of redemption, such as "Evita," she's formed something that feels similar to what we all have with friends and family -- moments of faith and forgiveness. Each well-defined, each as real as the other, so that even those who aren't big fans of hers have a strong opinion about her. There's an odd co-existence between her die-hard fans and those who claim to not be her fans, in the sense that everybody is talking about her. I think that if you check the CD collection of a person who claims to loathe Madonna, you'll be surprised at what you might find there.
CNN: Do you have any final thoughts for us today?
TARABORRELLI: When I started this book a decade ago, I found that there wasn't a lot of reverence in the publishing community for Madonna. This sort of lack of understanding mirrored, I felt, what was going on with much of the population, because so many people feel that she is just a calculating entertainer who got lucky. However, I think to ignore the hard work that she's done to solidify her career would be a real shame. So, whether or not we appreciate her music, or even her talent, at the very least, it would seem to me that she deserves our admiration.
CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Randy Taraborrelli.
TARABORRELLI: Thank you so much.
J. Randy Taraborrelli joined the CNN.com chat room from New York and CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the chat which took place on Thursday, July 19, 2001.
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