Donovan, Jason. Between the lines: My story uncut ______________________ O’Brien, Lucy. Madonna: Like an icon

Oh, Jason. You had it going on, but it wasn’t enough, was it? You just weren’t cool, and you really wanted to be.

A kinda cute soap star, a pop star selling truckloads of albums to teenage girls. Unencumbered by artistic credibility, but making enough money to get hold of something that’d make you feel cool, anyway.

Cocaine, they say, is the universe’s way of telling you you’re too rich. Or too famous.

But, as Jason Donovan writes at the beginning of his autobiography, having a drug-induced seizure in public is pretty uncool. When it’s during a party at the Viper Room thrown by Johnny Depp for Kate Moss’s 21st birthday, it’s cringeworthy.

I’m a fan of neither Donovan nor Neighbours. Never really been fond of Anthony Lloyd Webber, either, so Jason’s stint as Joseph did little to excite. So I’ll admit, yes, that was something like a sneer on my face when I embarked upon the simple prose of Between the Lines.

It’s a basic tale beginning with Donovan’s fairly normal single-parent childhood (even if that parent is actor Terence Donovan), at least until Jason lands a role as Scott Robinson in Neighbours. Enter the lovely Charlene.

Kylie Minogue’s reaction to the kiss-and-tell memoir of her first (on and off screen) boyfriend hasn’t been sunny: She’s axed Jason’s interview for an upcoming TV special celebrating her 20 years of pop. But it’s all rather tame and ordinarily teenage: dinner, movies, flotation tank sessions… Unless there’s deeper meaning here? Take Kylie’s coffee.

“Kylie and I had just got into cappuccinos at that time, and she was simply mad about them.”

Apparently she didn’t like them too strong, but they had to have a lot of froth. Hmmm. Between the lines, indeed.

Then Kylie broke his heart, and for Michael Hutchence, too. Jason continued to titillate teenage fans and started dating glamazons (including Jamie Packer’s wife, Erica Baxter), but cocaine was his true sweetheart.

Jason Donovan says he has no regrets, but there are a few decisions he probably wouldn’t repeat, given the chance. He blithely admits to some dodgy choices, in films and in life. Like turning down a lead role in Priscilla. Or suing The Face. Or wearing pink satin pants to Kate Moss’s 21st.

Fully aware of his limitations as pop singer, Jason discloses how his studio, the hitmaking Stock Aitken and Waterman, didn’t tour their artists because songs had been worked so much in the studio that most acts couldn’t sing them in public. Although one of the biggest selling artists of the time, Jason Donovan plainly says it had little to do with his voice or his music: “the chances are that if you ever did own one of my records you donated it to the charity shop around the time your braces were removed and you landed your first proper boyfriend”. (It was reported that at his concerts a girl fainted every 12 seconds.)

And with this honesty, Jason Donovan gradually wipes the sneer off my face. About halfway through BTL I have to admit: I’m really into this tale of decline and redemption. Surely such directness can’t be just cynical, clever manipulation by a branding-aware pop star rebooting his career?

Jason’s road to redemption makes an easy and enjoyable read.

O’Brien, Lisa. Madonna: Like an icon

If Jason Donovan’s autobiography is a BBQ at the beach, then Madonna: Like an icon, O’Brien’s wordy Madonna biography, is Babette’s Feast.

Here lies a bio that’s keen to be taken seriously, a thorough journey along Madge’s life. It’s all here in the detail, from losing her virginity (age 15, high school heart-throb Russell Long, 1966 Cadillac) and fellating  a bottle (in the movie “In bed with Madonna”) to rebirth as Kabbalah-flavoured children’s author.

Chapters grouped into three “Books”: Baptism, Confession, and Absolution, deliver pop psychological, pseudophilosophical, and queer culture scrutiny of Madonna’s rise over the past three decades, Every Madonna album is presented track-by-track, usually with reference to what’s been going on in Madge’s life at the time. Tours are given similar blow-by-blow description, from costumes to lighting.

Like Madonna homing in on contemporary culture for influences, this biography mines the wide field of Madonna-study to bring a mashup of life influences for Mrs Ritchie as she approaches her 50th birthday next year.

Hyper-thorough in her research, O’Brien remains star-struck . It may be written by a well-, and widely-, read fan, but at its heart this is still a book written by a fan. Madonna’s behaviour is extensively observed and reported, and when that behaviour is nasty, selfish, or callous, O’Brien is uncritical to the point of excusing her subject.

This wannabe scholarly tome, weighing in at around 400 pages and subtitled “The Definitive Biography”, references everyone from Barthes to Paglia. But where is the love? For my money, it’s in bed with Jason Donovan.

2007

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