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10.20.08

The Lost Madonna Tapes

More than two decades ago in a Queens basement, Madonna recorded music that's never before been released.

Earlier this week, The Daily Beast published a previously unreleased tape of Madonna singing some of the first ever songs she wrote. The tape was made by Ed Gilroy and his brother Dan, Madonna’s ex-boyfriend, who lived with the singer in the basement of a Queens synagogue more than twenty years ago. The tape included pillow talk between Dan and Madonna, as well as several previously unheard songs such as “Tell the Truth,” which she says is the first song she ever wrote. Madonna biographer Andrew Morton described the sound of the music as "sweet and raw. It signifies to me how far she has come, a reminder of the explosion of talent."

The audio has since been removed from The Daily Beast, and is back in the hands of the Gilroy brothers. Below is the story that accompanied the tapes, including a description of their contents.

The lost tape begins with Madonna and Dan in bed. She’s encouraging him to go running.

Madonna Today: Where Things Stand

Seconds out, Round One. As lawyers for Madge and Guy prepare to duke it out Her Madgesty has retained Fiona Shackleton, natch, the legal eagle who represented Prince Andrew, Prince Charles and lately Sir Paul McCartney while he has plumped for Lady Helen Ward, who fought for Paloma Picasso, Andrew Lloyd Webber and notoriously won a $100 million settlement for an aggrieved upper crust wife the gloves are already off between the principle contestants.

She got the first jab in, at her last Boston gig she dedicating a song written for her soon to be ex to “the emotionally retarded.” He countered with a classic British defense: the stiff upper lip. The word from the Ritchie corner was that he didn’t want to slice Madonna’s estimated $600 million in two. All he wanted was a lump sum and to split the properties – they have a country mansion, several London town houses, Kaballah retreats, apartments in New York and of course, the now appropriately named public house, The Punch Bowl. She was quick to counter jab, with Camp Madonna claiming the British film maker was just a ‘Material Guy’ because of his outrageous financial demands. “I’ve worked my ass off for 30 years to get what I have and now this gold digger wants to take it from me,” The Sun quoted her as saying to a friend.

Ritchie may be a judo black belt but it will take much more than fancy footwork to throw Madonna. Even though she is only 5ft, 5ins and weighs in around 120 lbs soaking wet, she is a financial heavyweight with street smart ring-craft learned over her early years of struggle.

Making It

It is easy to forget that Madonna's fortune was entirely self-made. From scratch. No trust fund. No hand outs from the bank of mommy and daddy. She is so careful with her cash that she makes the Sage of Omaha look a positive spendthrift. As she invests in property and art – never stocks and shares – she is effectively recession proof. “So tight she squeaks,” was one former boyfriend’s acerbic comment about her. Her brother Christopher’s notorious memoir is essentially a bitch list of money she owes him or he thinks she owes him; Madonna as the queen of mean.

morton-madonna-throne

Who can blame her? Long before the world woke up to “make do and mend” and recession dressing, Madonna had known what it is like to pull herself up by her boot straps. While she has exaggerated her hard scrabble family roots, when she was a single girl in New York she was familiar with rooting around at the bottom of the heap. She could have accepted help from her family her father had a white-collar job in the arms industry but resolutely wanted to make it on her own, telling stories about fishing out food from garbage, living off popcorn and desperately seeking nickels and dimes in her Queens apartment to pay her subway fare so she could earn more nickels and dimes from busking in Wall Street. Now of course she could buy the whole Street with loose change to spare.

Understandably memories of those hard times have never left her. Hence her schizophrenic attitude to cash. So she employs a butler butcomplains that he spends too much on flowers for the couple’s $14 million London apartment, wears designer dresses on the red carpet yet haggles for a big discount. During her marriage to Sean Penn it drove her nuts that he threw his expensive Armani suits on the floor rather than look after them and hang them up.

I was reminded of how far and fast Madonna has come in a conversation with Ed Gilroy, one of the men Madonna credits with setting her on the yellow brick road to stardom. Back in the early 1980s he and his brother Dan had a modestly successful band, the Breakfast Club. Dan was dating Ms Ciccone as she was trying, and failing, to get work in her chosen profession as a dancer. She moved in with Dan and tried her hand at drumming with a little help from Ed practicing in the basement of the disused synagogue in Queens where they all lived. She soon graduated to singing, songwriting and after a couple of years she moved onwards and upwards. Seen by everyone but never seen by the boys again.

Ed still lives in the synagogue and recalled those days when Madonna was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March this year. He took his own walk down memory lane and ventured again into the dingy basement where Madonna spent hours practicing the four guitar chords Dan taught her. Amidst the detritus of old amplifiers, beaten up electric guitars and drum kits was a tatty white plastic bag. Inside were five of Ed’s old tape cassettes that were used to make some of her earliest recordings of her performing– as well as her thoughts on life, nose picking and scratching her ass.

During her long and heartfelt acceptance speech, Madonna paid generous tribute to her two, largely forgotten, musical mentors. She talked about she learned the drums in the basement as she listened to Elvis Costello and how she felt the hairs on her arms stand up with excitement as she wrote what she described as her first song, ironically entitled “Tell The Truth.” It was as though “I was possessed by some magic,” she told the audience who included fellow inductee, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen.

The Lost Tapes

Her first song as well as her early efforts on the drums or vocals have never been heard before. Until now.

As Ed listened he spliced together elements of her acceptance speech with relevant fragments of those unheard recordings. They make fascinating listening, a reminder that, to quote Julia Roberts in the movie Notting Hill, that the “fame thing wasn’t really real.”

Behind the bodyguards, the bright lights and the brilliantine sheen of celebrity and today the high priced lawyers Madonna was “just a girl” trying to get by, wanting the world to love her.

Once she had mastered Ed’s rudimentary tape recorder, she could not survive unless she was taping the experience. Gilroy’s edited extract gives a flavor of the haphazard, mundane and downright silly world she shared with the boys, an amusing astringent to her earnest references to the Talmud, a Jewish sacred text that the Kabbalah enthusiast singer referred to frequently in her long acceptance speech.

The lost tape begins with Madonna and Dan in bed, encouraging him to go running. It then cuts to her speech where Madonna says how she was fortunate to have people like Dan Gilroy who believed in her. Then flashback back 27 years…“I’m going to strangle him,” she joked before breaking out into one of the songs, “Born to be a Dancer.”

Madonna’s prowess on the drums is on display before moving on to another song, “Over and Over.” While the vocals were crude, there is a raw energy about her early work, culminating in her first song “Tell the Truth” a “magical moment” for her.

Ed remembers it differently. He believes that the first song she wrote was “Trouble,” which she played during their early gigs as Max’s Kansas City and the now sadly defunct CBGBs on the Lower East Side. While they may differ about which came first, “Tell the Truth” or “Trouble,” what is undeniable and what is as blatant on the tapes as her wavering Virgin Tour as a singer, is Madonna’s limitless and unquenchable ambition. She truly is a force of nature. No wander Guy is keeping his guard up.