A Certain Sacrifice, Christopher Flynn, Dan Gilroy, Docudrama, Documentaries, Ed Gilroy, Emmy, Freddy Castone, Gary Burke, Guy Guido, Jamie Auld, Lorelei Prince, Madonna, Madonna and the Breakfast Club, Martin Schreiber, Norris Burroughs, Peter Kentes, Stephen Bray, Stephen Lewicki, The Breakfast Club
“I have been a fan of Madonna from the first time I saw her perform at a small suburban night club called Images on Long Island back in 1983. She was something otherworldly to me … I was mesmerised by her beauty, her bravado and her unique street vibe.”
Talking to fellow Madonna devotee Matthew Rettenmund on his Boyculture blog, make-up artist turned indie filmmaker Guy Guido revealed the encounter behind his first short, Physical Attraction (2015.) Named after a track from her first album—as performed by tribute artist Lorelei Prince—this 19-minute piece stars Jake Robbins as Jared, whose growing obsession with Madonna leads him to drag long-suffering girlfriend Stacey (Raquel Castro) along to a New York nightspot where his idol is throwing an after-party during her Virgin Tour of 1985. Although he fails to make an impression on Madonna, Jared will have a life-changing encounter that evening. An affectionate homage to the teen films of the 1980s, awash in day-glo and pastels, Physical Attraction has a fairy-tale quality inspired by the magic of Madonna.
For his first feature-length movie, Emmy and the Breakfast Club—the erstwhile Emmy would later be renamed for brand recognition—Guido interviewed key players from Madonna’s early years, including her first band. Their memories are interspliced with reconstructed scenes from the same era, featuring a cast of new faces led by 20-year-old Jamie Auld. “He discovered me behind the counter at Doughnut Plant,” Jamie told Windy City Times. “I know it sounds phony, because Madonna apparently also worked at a doughnut shop when she first came to NYC, but it’s the truth. When Guy first noticed me and inquired if anyone had ever asked me if I looked like Madonna, I just laughed it off.”
“What struck me first was the structure of her face, the jawline, the profile, the cheekbones and especially her nose,” Guido explained. “She was busy working and looking down, but I remember thinking, ‘Please have blue eyes, please have blue eyes.’ Then she looked up, and—lo and behold—I knew I had found my girl.” Madonna’s rise to fame has previously been dramatized in a made-for-TV movie, Innocence Lost, not to mention countless documentaries, but these have mostly been sensationalised, and often misogynistic—resting on what Guido described to Digital Journal as the “misconception that Madonna was a talentless girl who used her sexuality to get herself a record deal.”
As production began in 2016, Strike A Pose, a documentary exploring a different era—the ground-breaking Blond Ambition tour, from the dancers’ perspective—opened to acclaim, showing that the time was ripe for a more nuanced consideration of Madonna’s career. Images from the set surfaced on social media, where a buzz grew among even the most sceptical fans about Jamie’s striking resemblance to the young Madonna, and the attention to detail evident in her costumes, hair and make-up.
The New York Post picked up the story, declaring that Guido would reveal ‘BEDROOM TAPES MADONNA MADE WITH LOVER.’ As he told Matthew Rettenmund, “I explained a lot more to the Post about the project, but they seemed to hone in on the words ‘bedroom’ and ‘tape’ …When I said to them that this is an ‘intimate’ film, I meant that in the context that it is a smaller group of people with more detailed information about this specific time … It seems like something gossipy and headline-worthy; not my film and not my intention.”
The opening frames take us back to Corona, Queens in 1979, and we hear a 20-year-old Madonna imitate the sound of an exploding bomb. “Hey, I’m awake now,” she whispers in a baby voice. “Let’s go running.” Her sleepy boyfriend, Dan Gilroy (Calvin Knie), pleads: “Coffee first.” We then cut to a reconstruction, with Jamie in bed wearing his pyjama shirt. “Yeah,” she drawls. “Let’s stretch.” She gives a tiny screech, and says sweetly, “We’ll breathe deep, ‘cause you have to breathe deep before you do anything.” After this ‘bedroom tape,’ more playfully flirtatious than overtly sexual, the credits roll over close-ups of a more familiar, blonde starlet posing for her debut album cover.
Guido then revisits some key locations in Michigan, including the Mercy Hospital maternity ward where Madonna Louise Ciccone was born in 1958. (Fifty years later, Madonna would adopt three-year-old Mercy James in Malawi, where a children’s hospital wing is named for her.) Drawing upon photographs of her Italian-born father Sylvio and French-Canadian mother Madonna—after whom she was named, as is customary with the first-born daughter in traditional Catholic families—he evokes a nostalgic vision of the American immigrant dream.
We then see her first family home, a simple ranch-house in Pontiac, around thirty miles from the state capital of Detroit. Madonna had two older brothers, and another boy and two more baby girls would follow before her mother died of cancer at thirty. Guido recreates this early tragedy in a picnic scene with the five-year-old Madonna (Ilaria Bergamini) looking on as Sylvio (Oscar Pavlo) carries away her mother (Denisa Juhos.)
The child and her father are seen visiting Calvary Cemetery, just as Madonna would with brother Christopher in her 1990 documentary, Truth or Dare. Her mother’s grave is also the focal point of ‘Mer Girl,’ the closing track from her Grammy-winning 1998 album, Ray of Light. While Sylvio worked at the Chrysler plant to support his six children, they often spent time at the Bay City home of maternal grandmother Elsie Fortin, and in the park across the street (a possible inspiration for Madonna’s poignant ballad, ‘This Used to Be My Playground.’)
When Madonna was an adolescent, the family moved to an upscale residence in Rochester, and she began studying ballet with Christopher Flynn at a studio on Main Street. “He mentored her and taught her about art and culture outside of suburban Michigan,” the female narrator tells us. “He also convinced her that she was special, and that she was beautiful—words she wasn’t used to, and words that she needed to hear.” She then won a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan, where Flynn also taught.
Impressed by her dedication, graduate student Peter Kentes invited her to participate in his thesis project, playing a customer in a late-night liquor store. “She added spice to the dance,” he recalls. Peter also took a series of photographs to use as a backdrop, showing Madonna in a romper suit. She was unhappy with one shot “where she’s bending over looking between her legs … because during her solo I accidentally let it stay up on the wall for too long.” Nonetheless, she would often recreate the same pose in later years, including the Who’s That Girl, Girlie Show and Sticky & Sweet tours.
A keen astrologer, Peter drew up a birth chart for Madonna. “Here I was looking at a skinny 18-year-old with bruised-up legs and plastic shoes,” he says. “There couldn’t have been a more unlikely candidate to be rich and famous … Except in her mind, I think that was her plan all along because she didn’t seem that surprised.” A few months later, after failing to enrol for her second academic year, she called Peter and asked for a ride to the airport. “She had her little doll under her arm, a little backpack, and a suitcase,” he remembers. “And Christopher, her ballet teacher, was there as well.” With her arrival in New York, the story of Madonna and the Breakfast Club is ready to be told.
Graffiti artist Norris Burroughs first met Madonna at a party thrown by a mutual friend, Michael, who was studying dance with Pearl Lang. She was “dancing, spinning in the middle of the floor,” he noticed, “and it looked as though she was dancing in a ring of fire, and everyone was moving around her.” Madonna called him the next day, saying, “Get your gorgeous Brando bod over here!” Norris remembers that she was always busy, “working obsessively hard” at dancing and performance, while supporting herself through life modelling and waitressing. “I got the feeling that she didn’t have a lot of money,” he says.
One of the places where Madonna modelled nude for art students was at the New School. Martin Schreiber began photographing her in February 1979. “My photographs were very sculptural, there was nothing about sex in them,” he says. “I didn’t get the impression she enjoyed it, necessarily. It was something to do to make some money.” In 1985, Schreiber would sell the photos to Playboy, and she has accused him of “exploiting” her fame.
This ambivalence surfaces in another taped conversation with Dan Gilroy. “Did you ever wish that you were inside another person’s body?” she asked him. “Do you ever not like your body? Do you ever look in the mirror and go … God, I don’t wanna be this.” Dan told her that “I know part of it’s in your head, but … other people wouldn’t think of doing the stuff you or I do.” She seemed unconvinced: “People always look at you before they look at what you do.”
In her free time, Madonna accompanied Norris (or ‘NB’) to “places like Grant’s Tomb,” but after dating for three months, they drifted apart. Sometime later they met on 34th Street, and he was shocked to hear she had quit dancing. “I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere,” she explained. “Also, I felt like my body was hurting.” She had a vague idea of trying acting or music. Norris invited her to a party at his apartment. His friend, musician Dan Gilroy, saw her for the first time there.
“She looked like she felt out of place,” he remembers. Later that evening, he found her in the bathroom, “trying to fix a broken clasp or a button or something.” And then, with her unique flair for drama, she asked him, “Aren’t you going to kiss me?” It “felt like a scene from a movie,” but he did. They left the party and walked around Manhattan. “She was very assertive,” he says, “and it made me want to see her again.”
Their first date was a bus ride to The Cloisters, a former convent turned museum and art gallery. The bus was empty at first, and Dan photographs Madonna in her Betty Boop sweatshirt and cargo pants. As the bus filled up, “some kids were gawking,” and Madonna let them pose for a picture. “This was my first time with her,” he recalls, “and she was doing all kinds of antics … lying on the back of the seat with her head down … I had a camera and she was right there, posing.”
“They always have saints being cute,” Madonna told Dan later. “You know, everyone in the Bible was foxy. They always make Jesus looking like he could be in a jean advertisement. Everyone had long hair in Jerusalem when Jesus was young. They all must have looked sort of androgynous, right?” Madonna awakened to the power of Catholic iconography as a child, and still explores religious themes in her work today.
She began spending more time with Dan and his brother, Ed Gilroy, at the abandoned synagogue where they lived and made music. The drumkit on which she first learned to play is still there, with traces of her chewing gum. As a dancer, she had a keen sense of rhythm and was a quick study. The brothers had formed a musical act, Bill and Gil, and Dan took photos of Madonna in a pink and black striped leotard, applying make-up in the dressing room of Voidville, a theatre on Second Avenue in New City where they performed. He also photographed her upstairs at the synagogue. “She had red shoes on, with high heels,” he recalls. “The pictures looked great, with that shocking pink right in the middle of this grey brown synagogue.” (One is reminded of the pink leotard she would wear in a dance studio scene for her ‘Hung Up’ video in 2005.)
Patrick Hernandez, the French singer who had a worldwide hit with ‘Born to Be Alive’ in 1979, offered Madonna the chance to dance in his show in Paris. His management hoped to turn her into another star. “She looked like a perfect punk,” Dan says. But when they presented her with a cheesy song, ‘She’s a Real Disco Queen,’ she refused to record it. While in Paris, she wrote constantly to Dan. “After all, you are very lovable,” she said, “and I’m not such a heartless fiend, although I’m sure I appear that way to many people.” With too much time on her hands, she became lonely. “I can’t stand the thought of doing absolutely nothing,” she added. “It’s a nightmare to think about it. I’m so full of anxiousness and ambition, and I long for some responsibility, some hard work, and certainly some sweat. Those are the things that make me feel real, besides you of course.” As Ed says of this time, “She wanted to create stuff but I’m not sure she knew exactly what vehicle to use.”
After a summer in Paris, Madonna returned to New York. In a reconstructed scene, she reads from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise while Dan paints her portrait: “I thought that I and my sort would struggle against tradition; try, at least, to displace old cants with new ones. I’ve thought I was right about life at various times, but faith is difficult.” Jamie Auld reads these words over a photo of Madonna in a blue turtle-neck sweater, with a skull atop her head.
She was now living at the synagogue. “Madonna made a lot of popcorn here,” Ed says. “This was a tough town, New York, back in the ‘70s.” She spotted an ad in Backstage magazine, placed by student filmmaker Stephen Lewicki, who was “looking for a dominatrix with dark hair who can dance and act.” Instead of the usual resumé, Madonna sent him a three-page letter—“a history of her life,” signed off with ‘Is that all?’—and one of Dan’s snapshots, showing her putting on lipstick on a bus.
The first scene was shot by a fountain, with Lewicki dancing around Madonna and her partner. A Certain Sacrifice would resurface on home video in 1985, despite her efforts to suppress it. Norris Burroughs considers it “bizarre,” but while Lewicki admits his film was amateurish, he now views it as a slice of “street life in New York in the 70s,” and a window to a lost world.
Meanwhile, Madonna was learning to play guitar with Dan’s help (“Nobody actually teaches you,” he says, humbly.) She introduced him to a dancer friend, Angie Smit, who he remembers as “tall, stately,” with “beautiful lips.” Like Madonna, Dan and Ed were “quite taken” with Angie, and she joined them as a bass player. They named themselves the Breakfast Club, not for the movie (which came years later) but for their early-morning feasts at the International House of Pancakes after all-night jam sessions. Norris Burroughs compares the band’s dynamic to Fleetwood Mac, where the four players would frequently swap roles. While she was still their drummer, Madonna sang lead vocals on ‘Trouble,’ a song she had written with the Gilroys (“I’ve got this trouble in my body, with no love in my heart …”)
However, Angie’s Breakfast Club days were short-lived. She was something of an outsider, and a rivalry soon developed between her and Madonna. “Man, they’re worse than marriages, bands,” Dan says. “The break-ups—there’s so many people involved.” They called an old friend, Gary Burke, who also played bass. He had played with the Gilroys, and drummer Mike Monahan, in a previous outfit, The Acme Band. We see the new, five-strong line-up recreated, with Jamie/Madonna up front, singing ‘Cold Wind,’ while Mike briefly took her place on drums. (As with all the songs recorded for this documentary, the vocals are by Lorelei Prince. Costume designer Jess McNear has replicated the dress Madonna wore onstage, with Peter Pan collar, butterfly print and blue waistband, over black leggings and white sneakers.)
I don’t have far to go now
But it certainly seems so
With you at the end of the line, dear
I really do wanna go
But this wind, it keeps whippin’ on me, yeah
This cold wind, it keeps whippin’ in on me, oh yeah
Sometimes my spirit’s empty
And I need to fill it up
I know that there is plenty
But I never get enough
And this wind, it keeps whippin’ on me, yeah
This cold wind, it keeps whippin’ in on me, oh yeah
Sometimes I try to attract it
Sometimes I try to attract it
Sometimes I try to attract it
It just blows me down …
“I don’t like all that band stuff that goes on when people get replaced … hurt feelings and all that,” Gary admits. “I’m not comfortable with it. So I had mixed feelings, but I kinda had a crush on Madonna at this point, even though she was Dan’s girlfriend. It was just the Acme Band, the same four members, plus this intriguing new chick.”
“It was a good, punky band,” Gary reflects. “Madonna would come out and do her two songs—had star quality. I could see that right away, on night one.” With Mike drumming again, Madonna began playing on a Farfisa keyboard. They took a promotional photo in the alley next to the synagogue, posing on a stairway which led to the side-door. “I was up the back in some silly pose I’m not thrilled about,” Ed recalls. Madonna’s hair was now long and wavy, and the flared, rose-print dress she wore (with white ankle socks and red pumps) would resurface in a 1988 photo shoot for Harper’s Bazaar. In an amusing scene, a lovestruck Gary (James David Larson) asks a nonplussed Madonna, “Were you ever afraid to say what you want?” This exchange foreshadows a memorable line from her 1992 book, Sex: “A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want.”
“Madonna wanted to be famous,” Gary remembers. “That was her thing, man. And she didn’t care if she got it through dance, through rock ‘n’ roll, whatever … She wanted to be famous now, man.” Dan wasn’t fazed by Gary’s desire for her: “Everyone had a crush on Madonna.” One day, Gary took time off from his job at a bookstore to visit the synagogue, where he knew she would be alone. After he confessed his feelings, she replied flatly: “Do you still wanna hear my song?” She was flattered, but unsure how to respond.
“I wanted to be Chris Stein to her Debbie Harry,” Gary says, with an embarrassed shrug. Dan and Madonna often walked around New York, dressed in white, playing songs “through a little Pignose portable amp that I was wearing … She was playing these ‘All Along the Watchtower’ chords,” Dan says. “They would go on the subway and sort of busk, but electric instead of acoustic,” Gary adds. “I never saw them though. They would go off, and they would come back … They’d gone into the city, into Manhattan … I kind of admired them both, ‘cause I was too shy.” The recreated scene is rather like the White Stripes’ iconic 2003 video for ‘Seven Nation Army’ (the Detroit rockers, like Dan and Madonna, started out as a couple.)
Ed introduces a song Madonna wrote, ‘Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home.’ On the demo tape, she sings and plays guitar. “It’s a very tender song,” Ed says. “She’s singing from this tiny little space in her heart probably, which is a very tender spot.” The song is overlaid with reconstructed footage of a young Madonna in her Communion dress, with her father. Her fragile, girlish vocal presages ‘Mother and Father,’ a track recorded for her American Life album more than twenty years later. In ‘Danny’s Song,’ Madonna pokes gentle fun at her boyfriend’s laidback attitude. “It’s a very heartfelt song,” Ed says, “but it’s funny.”
“I knew the exact moment when I thought she’d be famous,” Dan recalls. “She was playing guitar, strummin’ really big and strong, and she had really short hair then, combed back. She looked like Bowie and Elvis to me.” Dan also wrote a song for Madonna, ‘Moving Along.’ “I cannot be late tonight,” she sings. “But you believe in how my feet can fly …”
In ‘Simon Says,’ she sings over an instrumental played backwards, and she would do so again in ‘Act of Contrition’ (from Like a Prayer, 1989.) “It’s the first time Madonna heard herself on headphones,” Ed recalls, “and she had one of those moments … when everything just hits it, and there’s some kind of vibration coming out of you, and you don’t know where it’s coming from.” Or as Madonna put it then: “Your voice sounds better than in real life!”
Another of her early songs, ‘Again and Again,’ would be reworked as ‘Over and Over’ for her 1984 album, Like a Virgin. “It was a showstopper,” Dan says. During a ‘pop-up’ gig at Bo’s Space in Manhattan, Gary noticed that “the crowd really went wild” when Madonna sang her two numbers. “That night in bed,” Dan goes on, “I felt a distance that I hadn’t before. She was thinking about maybe she didn’t want to be in a band, or she wanted to front the band.”
Soon afterwards, Madonna and Mike approached Gary. “We think we should flip it,” they said, that Madonna “should do eight out of the ten, and the Gilroys should do two.” Gary agreed, and the trio confronted Dan and Ed. “This band has no lead singer,” Ed (Daniel Davison Leonard) says in a reconstructed scene, “and why would we make you the lead singer?” As Dan recalls, “I didn’t want to be a side person.” Madonna then decided to start her own band with Mike and Gary. For Dan and Madonna, this also meant their relationship was over.
“I was being brave, is what I was doing,” Dan explains. “It was obvious that Madonna wasn’t here permanently. You could see that from the word go. She was like (looks off-camera) … and you kind of grab her for a little while is what it was.”
She moved out of the synagogue, sleeping at a studio space that she, Mike and Gary shared with another band at the Music Building on 38th Street. Visiting for the first time since 1982, Gary notices the same pay-phone Madonna often used. “Always hustling,” he chuckles. Their first band-name, he reveals, was Madonna and the Sky. One of their earliest songs was called ‘Safe Neighbourhood.’
I live at the top of the hill
No one keeps me here against my will
I don’t need no safe neighbourhood
I got to feel good my own way, yeah …
“Madonna was pumping out songs,” Gary says. “I was doin’ songs too, but I didn’t feel they fit the band … Once in a while Madonna would overhear something, or I would leave a tape around.” She also took the band clothes shopping, and experimented with choreography. When she started crawling on her knees while playing a song, Gary joined in—but Mike was aghast, and retreated behind his drumkit. He was also working full-time at an insurance company, and struggled to meet Madonna’s expectations. When Mike left the band, Madonna persuaded her old college boyfriend, Steve Bray, to come to New York.
“A lot of that CBGB’s thing back then was anyone can do this, let’s just get up and do this,” Dan says. “But Steve had serious chops.” While Madonna wanted to name the band after herself, Steve objected. “It’s like rock ‘n’ roll man,” he says in the reconstructed scene. “You wanna stir things up!” Gary suggested ‘No Name,’ or its reverse spelling, ‘Emanon,’ which reminded Madonna of her childhood nickname, Emmy. Gary still wanted Madonna as the band’s new name, but Steve liked Emmy.
Living in the Music Building was taking its toll on Madonna. “It was really the salad days,” Gary recalls. When the band they were sharing their studio space with took over the lease, she and the others were facing eviction. They invited guitarist Brian Syms, who was renting another room in the building, to join Emmy.
You’ll never break inside
But if you wanna try
You won’t make it out alive
She’ll slay you with a glance
Put you in a trance
Are you sure you wanna dance
With Emmy, Emmy
She’s gonna steal your heart
And she wants to know that you want hers …
“She was churnin’ out the songs, but Steve arranged them,” Gary says. “So she’d come up with the chords and the words. Steve would write a rhythm. I would come up with the bass part or Steve would suggest a bass part, same with Bryan.” On New Year’s Eve, they played a gig near Times Square. “Madonna was like having a tiger by the tail,” Gary says with admiration. “She was only like 21 or 22 at the time.” Another scene shows her badgering Adam Alter (John Paul Harkins) to listen to Emmy’s demo tape, which he reluctantly accepts as the elevator doors close.
In the next taped conversation with Dan, Madonna recalls touching a lit cigarette on a dare while driving with her older brothers. She asks Dan if he ever got burned. “Not yet,” he says. “but I bet it’ll feel familiar.” She doesn’t believe him. “Even Joan of Arc could tell you that,” she teases. “She knows a singed body when she sees one.” Joan of Arc has been an inspiring figure for Madonna, and a song is named after her on the Rebel Heart album from 2015.
One winter’s night, Gary found Madonna huddled “in a foetal position” in the chilly room she was renting. “What am I doing here?” she asked him, tearfully, and talked of going home to Michigan. Eventually she called Dan, and stayed with him at the synagogue for a few days. “We went running in the park, as we used to do,” Dan remembers. “She said, ‘I feel like I’m going backwards,’ meaning being here in Corona. It was like a little bird coming back to the nest, but then it was like a breakup again for me.”
In February 1981, Camille Barbone—Adam Alter’s business partner—was persuaded to see Emmy play at the legendary rock venue, Max’s Kansas City. Madonna was “great, crazy,” Gary recalls. “She was walkin’ out on the tables … she had a really good rapport with the band.” Jamie Auld recreates Madonna’s swaggering performance, wearing a pyjama shirt, khaki shorts and canvas boots.
She’s a little love taker
She’s a little body shaker
She’s a little heartbreaker
Troublemaker, troublemaker, troublemaker…
“She blew Camille away,” Gary recalls. “But Camille didn’t want the band. So next morning I’m in our rehearsal room. These two guys come in and say, ‘Did you hear? Your band is breaking up.’ So I never even got it from the horse’s mouth.” Madonna later told Norris Burroughs that Camille had offered to manage her that night. When Gary confronted her, “she just turned and walked away.” The film cuts to another memory, as Madonna tells Dan of walking out in disgust when asked to dissect a rat at school. “I don’t mean to be talkin’ about these things,” she says. “But it’s reality, y’know? Reality’s gotta be talked about.”
One of her first gigs as a solo artist, at the U.S. Blues club, was captured by photographer George DuBose. She had adopted the more stylised look of the New Romantics, and recorded a demo tape, with songs like ‘Love On the Run’, ‘High Society’, and ‘Get Up’. But her relationship with Camille turned sour. With no manager or band, Madonna turned to Steve Bray again. Together they recorded a demo for ‘Everybody,’ and Madonna began hawking the tape around New York’s nightclubs. Freddy Bastone, a DJ at Danceteria, turned down her requests to play the song. “She was there seven nights a week,” he says. While Freddy dismissed it as “just pop dance stuff,” Mark Kamins was more receptive. “He was one of the most ground-breaking DJs,” Freddy says, “and he had the ears and the foresight to know what was gonna happen with that artist.” Mark played the tape to Seymour Stein, head of Sire Records, who agreed to release ‘Everybody’ as a stand-alone single.
However, Madonna then had to break the news to Steve Bray that as part of the deal, Kamins would produce it. “Stephen is a great writer,” Freddy says, “but Mark’s deejaying wizardry—it was about creating chaos, a whole vibe—that’s what he did with Madonna. It was like a funky house New York sound.” She and Steve would soon reconcile, co-writing songs on three subsequent albums. ‘Everybody’ was released in October 1982, eventually reaching No. 3 in the Billboard dance chart. Madonna put together a track-act and went on the road, performing her hit song at nightclubs across the U.S. Although she had yet to break into the pop mainstream, Sire had commissioned her first full album.
Norris Burroughs came to one of her track dates, and watched her perform with three dancers. “She had really gotten it together,” he said. “She saw me in the audience, and she smiled at me … To this day I regret that I didn’t go backstage and talk to her, cause that was the last time I was anywhere within 10 feet of her, within 100 feet, ya know?”
After her debut album, Madonna, was released in 1983, she began appearing on MTV, and her ‘Borderline’ video caused a stir. “The album was all over the radio, and she had her whole image together,” Gary reflects. “The East Village bohemian thing, but she made it her own. The bow in the hair and the rubber bracelets, and the BOY TOY buckle … She’d really branded herself, that’s how smart she is. It was a different route, and a fresher route that she took … and then the perfect storm of MTV and Madonna.”
To illustrate this evolving image, Jamie poses first in Madonna’s ‘Borderline’ double denim, and then the iconic ‘punk bride’ look from her infamous performance of ‘Like a Virgin’ at the first MTV Awards ceremony in 1984. It would be her first single to top the charts. “Second albums are supposed to be cursed,” Freddy Bastone observes, but hers was “mega … At the Palladium, I had to play ‘Like a Virgin’ three times a night.”
When she started out on her Virgin Tour in 1985, she was selling 75,000 albums a day. “I knew she was gonna make it,” Gary says, “but I didn’t know that she was going to make it that big that fast … And then, as time went on, she kept on rising to a higher level of fame.” Jamie recreates her silk sheets pose from the ‘Material Girl’ cover shoot, and then we see a brief clip of Madonna channelling Marilyn Monroe in the lavish music video. Hollywood beckoned, and a cameo role in Vision Quest was followed by her star turn in Desperately Seeking Susan, a film that evokes the street life of her early years in New York.
All the while, Dan and Ed Gilroy had continued making music and playing gigs. In 1986, they reformed the Breakfast Club with Steve and Gary. In rehearsal, Steve was “all business.” Released in 1987, their eponymous album included a hit single. ‘Right On Track,’ which reached No. 7 in Billboard’s Top 100. They were nominated for a Grammy as Best New Artist, and were guest ‘veejays’ on MTV.
“Madonna was very supportive,” Ed says. In 1987, she dropped by a studio in Silver Lake, L.A., while they were shooting a video for ‘Kiss and Tell.’ In the reconstructed scene, Jamie embodies the sleek bombshell of the True Blue era. “She came up to me and gave me a big kiss on the mouth,” Dan says. “Remember how all I wanted was for people to notice me?” she asked him. “Now, I find myself hiding most of the time.”
Over recreated footage of a young Madonna clutching her teddy bear, we hear another bedside confession. “I can only cry when I’m alone because my face gets ugly when I cry,” she had told Dan when they were still just two unknown lovers. She then sang him a kind of spooky nursery rhyme: “Worms crawl in, worms crawl out …” As his eyes tear up, she whispered, “Don’t cry, Dan … Do you cry when I cry? Do you taste your tears?”
During Madonna’s induction speech at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, she recalled her musical beginnings. “I have always been fortunate to have people around me who believed in me,” she said. “There was Dan Gilroy … I was sick of being an out-of-work dancer, so he taught me how to play guitar. I wrote my first song in that synagogue. It was called, ironically, ‘Tell the Truth.’ I remember that moment so, so vividly. I remember the hair standing up on the back of my arms, and I thought to myself, who just wrote that song? I felt like I had been possessed by some magic.”
“She’s the one who made it happen for herself,” Stephen Lewicki comments. “You can be as male or female as you wanna be, but you’re gonna be your own person. I think that’s what there is about Madonna to this day that makes her so powerful.” As Norris Burroughs points out, “She’s not some pop star who was moulded by Madison Avenue.” If she walked in the room right now, Dan says, “I’d give her a long, long hug.” After a parting shot of Jamie/Madonna driving away from Silver Lake, Dan sings another of their early songs, ‘Drifting.’
In March 2019, Matthew Rettenmund reported on the red-carpet premiere at Nitehawk in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. “As I later told Guy [Guido],” he wrote, “the entire opening-night festivities were on par with those I’ve attended for films with far bigger budgets.” Jamie Auld was stunning in a replica of the white satin dress worn by Madonna in Who’s That Girl (1987.) She also sported Madonna’s harlequin look from the Immaculate Collection cover shoot for an interview with Andy Cohen on his Bravo TV show, Watch What Happens Live.
Kimberley Van Pinxten raved about Madonna and the Breakfast Club on the Dutch fansite, Madonna Underground, while Digital Journal hailed it as “the best music documentary of 2019.” In a sniffy review for Decider, Benjamin H. Smith derided the dramatic scenes as “amateurish and unintentionally comic,” arguing that the film fails to adequately explain how Madonna developed her “singular identity.” But on her Culled Culture blog, Genna Rivieccio remarks that “Madonna and the Breakfast Club reminds us it was charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent that assured her success,” cooking up an acronym that the Material Girl herself would surely appreciate (‘C.U.N.T.’)
Prior to meeting Norris and the Gilroys, Madonna had known hard times. In later years, she would reveal that she had been raped at knifepoint not long after arriving in New York. Life at the synagogue provided a safe space as she took her first steps in music. “When I was living on the Lower East Side and I didn’t see many concerts, I knew about Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde and the Talking Heads and David Bowie, but there was no pressure for me to be anything specifically, to sound a certain way, to look a certain way,” she reminisced in a New York Times interview. “That’s an important thing, because it allowed me to develop as an artist and to be pure, without any influences. What I try to do now is to remember that girl.”
But in 2020, as she began writing the screenplay for her own biopic—which she will also direct—Madonna was thinking of other scenesters who redefined the city’s nightlife: artists Jean-Michel Basquiat (briefly her lover), Keith Haring, and her best friend Martin Burgoyne; dancer Erika Bell; actress Debi Mazar, a lifelong friend; and her stylist Maripol, to name just a few. In a livestream with screenwriter Diablo Cody, she dismissed the Breakfast Club as “turncoats,” although this may have been prompted by Steve Bray’s Pre-Madonna album of her early recordings, released without her approval in 1996 (and still a fan favourite.)
Those interested in taking a broader view of her rocky road to success should read Norris Burroughs’ memoir, My Madonna; or college roommate Whit Hill’s cheekily titled Not About Madonna. Photographers Martin Schreiber and George DuBose, both featured in the documentary, have also published retrospectives, alongside fellow portraitists of the young Madonna, including Richard Corman and Kenji Wakasugi.
She has made no public comment on Madonna and the Breakfast Club, in contrast to Blonde Ambition, an unproduced screenplay which surfaced in 2017, and was immediately slammed by its subject. Her continued silence suggests that she does recognise (even grudgingly) her former bandmates’ right to tell their stories. Guy Guido has supported actress Anne Winters, star of TV’s 13 Reasons Why, in her Instagram campaign to play Madonna, styling her in a remarkable series of lookalike photos, although Julia Garner (Ozark, The Assistant) and Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, Little Women) are said to be frontrunners.
While her own biopic—“a study in objectivity,” as one fan pitched it to me—will inevitably overshadow its predecessors, and be compared (favourably or otherwise) to the recent slew of music biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, the iconic auteur could do worse than look to the ultimate fan homage, Madonna and the Breakfast Club, for inspiration.
On January 15, 2022, Guy Guido announced that the beguiling star of Madonna and the Breakfast Club has died aged 26. “To our friends and fans,” he wrote, “we are so deeply heartbroken to let you know that our dearest, beautiful and beloved Jamie Auld has passed away. She will always be our angel and will live forever in our hearts.”