“I don’t hate my sister,” Christopher Ciccone – commonly, as he says, introduced as Madonna’s brother – so candidly tells us, as if his tell-almost-all memoir would lead us to believe otherwise. And it probably has. Word was, prior to dropping in mid-July, that Ciccone’s book chronicling his move from Rochester Hills to help his big-dream-destined sister achieve superstardom was being published to stab her in the back for all – and we’re talking a lot, according to best-seller “Life with my Sister Madonna” – she put him through. Not true, says Ciccone, 47.
“That was never my goal,” he reveals from Los Angeles. “I could’ve written that book when I was angry, but I have my own self-respect. I would’ve had to face the world after writing that book. I would’ve been on the defense. Constantly. And I would’ve had to face myself every day, and I don’t feel that way about her.”
The question is: Should he? According to his diva-dishing memoir, Madonna made him her garbage can (spitting throat lozenges into his palms before she hit the stage), used him as a gay PR tool by outing him to the Advocate in 1991, and staged a scene at their mother’s grave – inviting an upset Ciccone along, too – for her documentary “Truth or Dare.”
He vowed, early on in his career as Madonna’s dancer, dresser and confidante, to never talk to the media about her, to lie to protect her, to be there whenever she needed him. But like the gay icon’s ever-evolving career, Ciccone’s in a different place. A place of peace with the past. A place where he can finally tell his story without feeling angry. A place where he can now be known as more than simply Madonna’s brother.
In early August, Ciccone made one of his frequent summer trips back to his father’s Traverse City vineyard. There, he was fed messages from Madonna, who hasn’t spoke with Ciccone, besides a commanding e-mail she sent prior to the memoir’s release that said, “Call me.”
Once awkward, his relationship with his strict-Catholic middle-man dad – who once outwardly asked him, “Are you a homosexual?” – has, over the years, reached a more comfortable state, and is the best it’s ever been. His sexuality isn’t discussed, but sex in general was never a Ciccone household topic: “He’s a very Catholic guy, and there are some things you don’t discuss – whether you’re gay or straight.”
Momentarily pausing, he begins to laugh, continuing, “When Madonna would bring a guy home that she wasn’t married to, they’d have to sleep in separate beds. So when I come home with somebody, which is fairly rare, but if I do invite a friend up, they put me in a room – but they make two beds. It’s very funny.”
Pressure mounted, especially since their relationship was on the mend, when his dad received an advance copy of the book. More than anyone, Ciccone wanted him to like it. And he did.
“He said he liked it and he understood why I had to write it, and that I had every right to tell my story,” Ciccone says.
Finally seeking therapy, something he wasn’t fond of before – “I was brought up in the Midwest; you just don’t go to therapists” – helped him reach a happier state of mind and eventually approach his story from a positive angle, and not the vindictive pissed-off-brother one.
“Once I got to the place where I was in a good spot, it made it easy to see how great it had been – even despite the bad things that had transpired between us – so that’s one part of it,” he says. “The other part was that I really needed to define myself separate from her, and I can’t tell my story without telling her story. It’s impossible. So I think the book does that as well, to sort of not necessarily separate us, but it defines me next to her – not me attached to her hip.”
Had he written this pre-therapy, things could’ve taken a drastically different turn; the book could’ve become an even more controversial tool to bring down one of the biggest gay icons in the world – something Ciccone thinks people secretly hoped to read. Those looking for dirt won’t be disappointed: It doesn’t paint Madonna in the most flattering light, leading us to believe she’s a selfish, money-hungry diva. And Ciccone knows people don’t like to see their icons being chipped away at – and her strongest fan base, us, might hate him for it.
“In the end, it’s really about a brother and a sister and a father and a son and the fame stuff aside – the celebrity things aside – those were the things that were important to me, and I think I might’ve pissed off a couple of gays,” he laughs. “But those are people who haven’t read the book. And once you read it, you get it.”
As much as Ciccone yearns for a certain civility between himself and Madonna, being himself, and slipping away from her shadow, has its pros. Especially now that the entertainer is currently on her “Sticky and Sweet Tour”: “One of the side benefits of the book is that no one’s asking me for tickets,” he laughs.
Even though they were on the outs during her last trek, 2006’s “The Confessions Tour” – where he sat front row, and received a song dedication from Madonna in, as he says, “her back-handed sorta way” – he won’t be checking out the latest show. And not for the most glaring reason.
“I wasn’t a fan of the record,” he says of her hip-hop-ish latest, “Hard Candy.” “Not that I listen to her stuff, anyway. I’ve seen clips of the show; she’s gotten very political and kind of harder, and I don’t think that’s Madonna at her best. I just would love to see her really happy to be out there performing, because that’s what she does best. That’s the best place for her to be, is on stage.”
She’ll make her first Michigan stop in seven years on Nov. 18 at Ford Field. And though she’s dogged her home-state in the past, Ciccone thinks her camp’s decision to skip us was due to ticket sales; common-stop Chicago’s a closer hub for everyone, he says. “Were it my hometown, I would stop there, it’s just – whatever.”
But he’s not Madonna. He’s done thinking about the past, and he’ll continue concentrating on what matters most to him now: his own re-invention.
“It’s a brave new world for me,” he says. “Look, I’ll always be her brother; at least I feel defined in some way much more than I ever was, and that was one of my goals – and I feel like myself again. And even though I still get the pre-introduction as Madonna’s brother, it’s fine. It’s not a big deal to me. I know that I’m more than that.”
Besides an in-the-works design-themed reality show, his follow-up to “Life with my Sister Madonna” will be 100 percent about him, exhibiting his knack for photography and art; it’ll be more gay-oriented and, odds are, X-rated.
He cracks a laugh: “It won’t be her version of the ‘Sex’ book.”