The elephant in the room Whit Hill's insightful, witty memoir

. May 22, 2012.

Don’t think of an elephant!

I bet you were not pondering a ponderous pachyderm until you read that line. Correct? But now you can’t help but think of massive, grey tonnage, giant flapping ears and swinging trunks. Right? The title of Whit Hill’s new memoir, Not About Madonna, works like that. Unless you’re a serious Madonna fan, or a frequent, careful reader of People Magazine, you undoubtedly don’t spend much time contemplating the mega star. But once you read that title, you might think, is Hill just teasing us with that cute cover line, and inside we’ll get some heretofore-untold salacious gossip? Well, wonder not. Sure, Hill, who, more than thirty years ago, was Madonna’s college roommate at the Uof M for nine months, tells some stories that maybe all but the most rabid Madonna fans have not heard, but as she says, “If you are looking for the dirt on a prefame Madonna, there are quite a few volumes of literature out there that will meet your needs better than this one…” She also adds, “And even though she’s in it, this book is not about Madonna.”

Methinks the lady (I’m referring to Hill) doth protest too much. Nobody reading the first page of this book is going to think that Hill is cashing in on her brief friendship with the pop icon. As is evident from the beginning, and increasingly obvious with every page turn, Hill is a writer of great honesty, insight and wit. This is a coming of age story —Hill’s, not Madonna’s — told by someone who experienced, and continues to live a life with relevance and interest for many of us, even those not ga ga over Madonna. (Besides, putting out a book about Madonna in 2011 — especially about who Madonna was in the late 1970’s — is not exactly striking while the iron (I mean, superstar) is hot. Madonna, though still very much a force to be reckoned with today, is nowhere near as central to the pop world as when she first burst on the music scene in the early Eighties.)

Hill’s subtitle, “My Little Pre-Icon Roommate and Other Memoirs,” is accurate. While half the book is about the friendship between the two women, (Hill never heard Madonna sing when they were roommates! She taught her a nightly ritual that…well, you’ll just have to read the book) there is much else to hold our interest here. Hill’s portrayal of the lives of young women growing up in the late Seventies — post Sixties, post Women’s Lib, post sexual revolution, post Vietnam and Watergate — is a valuable addition to the literature on the period. Her description of giving birth to her first child had me laughing out loud, her depiction of the life, and economic rewards of a modern dance choreographer, (which Hill has long been, in addition to her other work as a successful musician and writer) is instructive and sobering, while her loving description of her courtship and continuing romance with her husband, Al, manages to be both Hollywood-happily-ever-after, and very real.

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