NOTE: This post was updated March 2015 with a recent radio interview Madonna gave Howard Stern. Go to the end of this post to find the link.
Per the website NYCGo.com, Madonna Louise Ciccone’s NYC apartment stories started at 19 years old when she moved to New York City from her native Michigan in 1977.
She moved into a spare bedroom in apartment 3-B at 270 Riverside Dr.—the home of Saul Braun, whose musician son, Josh Braun, co-wrote with Madonna a few of her early songs. About a year later, Madonna moved into a fifth-floor walk-up at 232 E. 4th St. in the East Village. Her brother, Christopher Ciccone, describes the apartment as “two small rooms, no furniture except a big white futon, and a perpetually hissing radiator.”
Madonna lived here while she rehearsed and gigged with bands like the Breakfast Club. By the time she signed with Sire/Warner Bros. Records and released her debut single, “Everybody,” Madonna had moved to a loft on Broome Street. She turned over the East 4th Street apartment to Christopher, who struggled to afford the rent and soon gave it up.
In the November 2013 edition of Harper’s Bazaar, Madonna shares in her own words some memories of her first years in NYC.
“[Back in high school,] I refused to wear makeup and tied scarves around my head like a Russian peasant. I did the opposite of what all the other girls were doing, and I turned myself into a real man repeller. I dared people to like me and my nonconformity.
That didn’t go very well. Most people thought I was strange. I didn’t have many friends; I might not have had any friends. But it all turned out good in the end, because when you aren’t popular and you don’t have a social life, it gives you more time to focus on your future. And for me, that was going to New York to become a REAL artist. To be able to express myself in a city of nonconformists. To revel and shimmy and shake in a world and be surrounded by daring people.
New York wasn’t everything I thought it would be. It did not welcome me with open arms. The first year, I was held up at gunpoint. Raped on the roof of a building; I was dragged up with a knife in my back. I had my apartment broken into three times. I don’t know why; I had nothing of value after they took my radio the first time.
The tall buildings and the massive scale of New York took my breath away. The sizzling-hot sidewalks and the noise of the traffic and the electricity of the people rushing by me on the streets was a shock to my neurotransmitters. I felt like I had plugged into another universe. I felt like a warrior plunging my way through the crowds to survive. Blood pumping through my veins, I was poised for survival. I felt alive.
But I was also scared shitless and freaked out by the smell of piss and vomit everywhere, especially in the entryway of my third-floor walk-up.
And all the homeless people on the street. This wasn’t anything I prepared for in Rochester, Michigan. Trying to be a professional dancer, paying my rent by posing nude for art classes, staring at people staring at me naked. Daring them to think of me as anything but a form they were trying to capture with their pencils and charcoal. I was defiant. Hell-bent on surviving. On making it. But it was hard and it was lonely, and I had to dare myself every day to keep going.
Sometimes I would play the victim and cry in my shoebox of a bedroom with a window that faced a wall, watching the pigeons shit on my windowsill. And I wondered if it was all worth it, but then I would pull myself together and look at a postcard of Frida Kahlo taped to my wall, and the sight of her mustache consoled me. Because she was an artist who didn’t care what people thought. I admired her. She was daring. People gave her a hard time. Life gave her a hard time. If she could do it, then so could I.”
Madonna goes on in the Bazaar interview to talk about her embrace of Kabbalah, her life in England, and her foreign adoptions. She ends with:
As life goes on (and thank goodness it has), the idea of being daring has become the norm for me. Of course, this is all about perception because asking questions, challenging people’s ideas and belief systems, and defending those who don’t have a voice have become a part of my everyday life. In my book, it is normal.
In my book, everyone is doing something daring. Please open this book. I dare you.
March 2015 note: Madonna shared her rape story on a March episode of the Howard Stern Sirius radio show. It sounds a bit different than what was recounted in the above Bazaar story, but still quite chilling. The embedded code doesn’t seem to work, so go to this People mag page to hear her brief account of what took place more than 30 years ago: http://www.people.com/people/videos/0,,20907428,00.html