Friday, October 3, 2014

Encyclopedia Madonnica 20th Anniversary Update: An Interview w/ Author Matthew Rettenmund

In 1995, Matthew Rettenmund's Encyclopedia Madonnica made its debut thanks to publishing house St. Martin’s Press. For those unaware, Encyclopedia Madonnica is a humorous, irreverently reverent, exhaustive, unofficial A-to-Z on the life and career of Madonna.  Well, up until that point in time. Twenty years has passed, so Matthew Rettenmund has decided to update the book to include the happenings, both good and bad, of the last two decades.

To help raise funds, and keep creative control over the project, Matthew launched a Kickstarter campaign full of all sorts of amazing perks. Donors can walk away with tons of awesome incentives such as signed and numbered copies of EM20 when it comes out in 2015 or perhaps some exceedingly rare Madonna memorabilia from Rettenmund's personal collection. You can read more about it HERE!

Matthew was the founder of Popstar! Magazine back in 1998 and was Editor in Chief of the publication until 2012. Popstar! was the very first teen entertainment title to be published in full color on glossy paper. It is credited as being the blueprint for the teen celebrity magazine market as we currently know it. All the other magazines started imitating Popstar's look and feel. And as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Matthew was the first to cover future teen idols Zac Efron, Hilary Duff, Jessica Simpson, the Jonas Brothers and more.

But, we are just getting started. Rettenmund is also an acclaimed novelist and pop-culture historian. His books include the novel Blind Items: A (Love) Story (1998) and pop-culture non-fiction books Totally Awesome '80s (1996) and Hilary Duff: All Access (2005). And let's not forget the hilarious, politically incorrect spoof Queer Baby Names: A Completely Irreverent Guide to Naming Your Lesbian/Gay Tot, which he co-wrote with Jaye Zimet.

But, perhaps most popular of all is Matthew Rettnemund's 1995 clever, insightful debut novel Boy Culture, which was made into a highly entertaining movie in 2006 by Q. Allan Brocka. The film played at Tribeca, Outfest, NewFest and tons of other film festivals around the world. Author Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) praised Boy Culture, "...Mr. Rettenmund's little throw-away deconstructions of Madonna...and his run-through of current gay 'types' are genuinely new. We need an observer like this, someone capable of analysis and interpretation, simply because what he is observing is constantly reinventing itself... Matthew Rettenmund, with his sharp eye and his careful, knowing prose, sounds like one of the freshest voices on the block." The Boy Culture movie is on Netflix right now. Go watch it!

Matthew was kind enough to sit down with us for an interview about the update to Encyclopedia Madonnica and what the future holds for his already amazing career. Be sure to visit Matthew's incredible BoyCulture Blog! Follow him on Twitter, too!

Q: For me, one of the most impressive things about Madonna in the last 20 years is that she actually took guitar lessons and began playing live. How shocking was it to hear her bust out Pantera riffs on the song “Hung Up” during the 2008 Sticky and Sweet Tour?
Matt: I think that while some purists rolled their eyes at Madonna's guitar-playing exploits, I always thought it was a great example of the fact that Madonna is not creatively stagnant, she is not a nostalgia act. After (at that point) 20 years in the business, she was still (and is still) bored and looking for new ways to express herself and just to mix it up. It was also a good reminder of why Madonna would later be inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame the first year she was eligible—she's dabbled in many types of music, but she rocks.

Q: In your interview on Good Day NY (1995) you confidently stated, “She (Madonna) is not over and she’s not going to be over anytime soon.” You were clearly 100% on the money. What is the secret behind her staying power?
Matt: Madonna is, inarguably, the "It" girl of her generation; she's the one everyone who was a teenager in the '80s would recognize as the female in charge of pop culture. (Later followed by Britney Spears and, I would argue, Beyoncé.) By virtue of the fact that she is imprinted in our pop cultural DNA, anything and everything she does going forward is relevant and interesting, whether charming or infuriating. On top of that, Madonna has aggressively continued to push boundaries and release music on a regular basis. She is seen as highly manipulative, as if any time she is in the news it's due to her own machinations, but on top of being cunning in that way, Madonna often seems to luck into notoriety. Anyone who dislikes Madonna/her work enough to pretend she is irrelevant has Madonna Derangement Syndrome, because this chick could Instagram a dump and it would be on every blog ever. Even discontinued blogs.

Q: While looking back at the news reports from your Kickstarter video, it made me cringe to hear people make lewd, judgmental sexual references about Madonna. Why was it so popular to hate her back then?
Matt: I don't think the gender-based hate and slut-shaming against Madonna has ever completely vanished.
Back then, "Rolling Stone" helped that along by publishing its first cover story on Madonna, in which the writer implied she was a user who'd slept her way to a record deal and, therefore, all her success. Women are either/or in pop culture—either a legit artist or a sexual plaything. Madonna got the brunt of the tension by presenting herself as an unapologetically sexual woman who was also interested in having something to say. In some ways, Madonna self-sabotages in this area, because just when she gets to a place where it's unfashionable to look down on her for being a slut, she exposes herself in some way that brings the condemnation back. I think she thinks she's doing something right if she's pissing off people who are misogynistic, sexually conservative and, as time goes by, ageist.

Q: What part of Madonna’s life are you most excited go into detail about in the 20th Anniversary update?
Matt: This is a hard one...keep in mind, when I wrote the first edition, she wasn't doing "Evita" and there was no "Ray of Light," let alone non-career stuff like motherhood, her marriage to Guy Ritchie and her recent social-media antics. I think I'll plunge into the "MDNA" era first, just because it's so reminiscent of early, sexual-terrorist Madonna.

Q: Is anything about Madonna’s life that is too personal or off limits?
Matt: My goal with the book, as last time, is not necessarily to ferret out new bits of highly personal info. Rather, the book catalogues what is known and in some ways is a commentary on how ridiculous it is that we know it! For example, in the last edition, "abortions" was one of the first entries, not because I was digging up rumors on how many she's had (quite a few, apparently), but because it was pretty amazing to me that while promoting "Bedtime Stories" she had been asked to confirm or deny whether she had had "several" abortions. She confirmed. That was radical then and isn't much less radical now—there are so many so-called "pro-life" people, especially in the U.S., that many women who are public figures would never admit to having had the perfectly legal procedure. That said, I do plan on making "EM20" different from its predecessor by conducting more original interviews and getting quotes and input from various players in the Madonna story. I believe most of them will be contributing factoids about Madonna's work and process more than what is going on up in her legendary uterus.

Q: Do you have a favorite Madonna era? Or is that one of those completely impossible questions to answer?
Matt: I love Madonna when she's very good and very bad, but I think my favorite periods are 1985 and especially 1989-1991. The earlier choice is because that's when she was new but had had a couple of years to perfect her act. But I think the perfect storm for Madonna was 1989-1991. Every artist has periods when they are on their game and off, and I can't think of many who were just as inspired when they were older as they were when they were younger. Unfortunately, people love the concept of "oh, I only like their EARLY stuff." For me, I like it all, and pointing to a time 20+ years ago when I think Madonna was fuh-law-less doesn't mean she isn't also fantastic today. Madonna has remained more vibrant creatively than any other artist of her era. Hell, just by still being alive she's outdone some of her most famous peers.

Rare prints available as a perk from the Kickstarter Campaign! 

Q: In your Kickstarter campaign, you are offering up some really rare Madonna memorabilia from your personal collection. What are some of the items you own that you would never part with?
Matt: That's a hard question because I did put up for sale some things I thought I wouldn't sell (some have sold, some might stay with me depending on pledges!). Things I would be reluctant to part with: "Island" Magazine 1983, the first magazine for which she specifically posed for the cover—it's hard, though not impossible, to find, plus I own the original test Polaroids and several of the rubber bracelets she wore; I'm wild about Polaroids in general and have some crazy-great ones it would really hurt to part with (vogueing into the camera during her "Glamour" Magazine cover shoot in 1990, sidled up to Rosanna Arquette during her Herb Ritts "Desperately Seeking Susan" session); an incredibly rare, die-cut, 6-month calendar made in Japan at the very beginning, featuring the photography of Curtis Knapp. Some of the things I cherish the most are magazine covers because back in the day, they were extremely challenging to find (pre-Internet, pre-eBay), so I still have that charge of MISSION: ACCOMPLISHED when I see them. I'm big on ephemera: Magazines, ads, promotional stand ups, photography. I'm less attached to things like items Madonna wore and CDs/vinyl (though the music on them is #1).

Q: Your life has changed dramatically in the last 20 years as well. You have helped break the careers of numerous young stars such as Zac Efron, Hilary Duff, Jessica Simpson, the Jonas Brothers and more. You’ve had hit books, a movie, etc…what is on the horizon for you?
Matt: Working at the teen magazine I created was very rewarding and fun, and was yet another example of how fame has touched me and molded my life. First up, I need to finish a "funny memoir" (let's hope!) that I'm doing called "Starf*cker" for Lethe Press (spring 2015). It's a series of vignettes that I hope will make people laugh and will make people think about celebrity's light and dark sides. Plus it's a good chance to gossip about all the about-to-be-famous people I encountered when I was in magazine publishing, including my previous career at a porn-magazine publisher and all my encounters with stars at these incredible autograph shows I love attending and dissecting. After that, also sometime in the spring, will be when "EM20" will come out. Beyond that, I'm just looking for the next career re-invention. Unlike Madonna, I'm not doing it to make a statement, I'm doing it to make rent!

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