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A Tribute to Madonna's Early 80s Post Punk Past

In wake of a new biopic, we remember what was really happening before Madonna became Madonna.

by Alexandra Serio
May 2 2017, 6:15pm

Credit: Michael McDonnell / Getty Images

Universal Pictures just scooped the rights to a Madonna biopic titled Blonde Ambition. It covers the megastar's rise to fame in New York City in the early 80s. However, Madonna herself is not onboard with the project taking to Instagram to denounce some creative liberties (read: factual discrepancies) taken by writer Elyse Hollander, who Madonna slammed in a since-deleted Instagram post as someone who "should write for the Tabloids. Anyone who supports this film is supporting lies and exploitation. lies have no legs!!"

However, Blonde Ambition isn't the only film adaptation of Madonna's make-or-break years sprinting its way to a theater near you. Emmy and the Breakfast Club—a purported "documentary" with live-action reenactments played by uncanny Madonna-look-alike Jamie Auld—is based on the singer's relationship with ex-lover and bandmate Dan Gilroy who, as reported by Page Six, "has turned over hours of video and stacks of letters and photos to director Guy Guido for the project." Yikes.

But perhaps the biggest tragedy of all this, besides a bunch of opportunists laying claim to the origin story of a living legend, is that neither project bears the Madge seal of approval—meaning we may never know the whole truth surrounding key moments in Madonna's early career. And believe me, this is a tragedy because in her pre-fame New York period alone, which lasted from 1978-1983, Madonna lived more life than most octogenarian carnies, performing in two post punk bands rife with their own kitschy brand of new wave, touring Europe with a disco one-hit-wonder, starring in an 8mm student film that boasts an orgy scene with a transwoman, and bedding art world prodigy, Basquiat. She accomplished all this before she became household-name famous.

So before either of these films have a chance to sully Madonna's rise-to-fame narrative, here's a look at milestones in the Queen of Pop's early career, many of which may surprise even some of her most true-blue fans.

1978
•Drops out of the University of Michigan and relocates to New York City
•Secures a job at Dunkin' Donuts in Time Square and is allegedly fired for squirting jelly on a customer during an altercation
•Poses completely nude for photographer Bill Stone in a spread that would make its way into a 1985 issue of Penthouse magazine

1979
•Chosen as a backup dancer for disco one-hit-wonder Patrick Hernandez's European tour
•Becomes romantically involved with Dan Gilroy and moves into a synagogue in Corona, Queens with him
•Joins Gilroy's band Breakfast Club as a drummer and vocalist
•Stars in A Certain Sacrifice, an 8mm student film, playing a dominatrix who, along with her sex slaves, performs a satanic ritual on her rapist (-_-)

You can watch the entirety of A Certain Sacrifice here but I'd recommend going straight to the orgy scene which starts at 8:48, which is the least offensive part of the film.

Madonna's first foray into music was firmly rooted in a post punk sound as evidenced on Breakfast Club tracks "Little Boy" and "Shine a Light." On "Safe Neighborhood" she segues into ska territory.

1980
•Ends her romantic involvement with Gilroy and subsequently leaves Breakfast Club to form a new band called Emmy and the Emmy's with fellow Michigander Stephen Bray
•Releases 15 songs as Emmy with the help of Gotham Management manager Camille Barboni who tries to mold and market Madonna as a Pat Benatar-esque artist
•Starts performing at venues like Max's Kansas City and the Roxy to hone her performing skills

Madonna's sound moves in a more new wave direction on Emmy and The Emmy's tracks like "Hot House Flowers," "Love for Tender," and an early rendition of "Burning Up."

1981
•Continues to release Emmy and the Emmys tracks under a Gotham Management contract
•Hones her live performance skills playing at any gig that will take her
•Starts looking for other management behind her current managers back in order to take herself to the next level

1982
•Leaves Emmy and the Emmy's to embark on a solo career
•Records solo demo tracks and starts her quest for a record deal
•Allegedly begins a coat check job at New York club Danceteria and eventually lands a performance at the club's weekly cabaret night called "No Entiendes," hosted by Howie Montaug and DJ Anita Sarko, her first solo performance
•Begins a torrid love affair with art world superstar Jean-Michel Basquiat
•Signs a singles deal with Sire Records and releases her first single "Everybody" through the label in October of 1982

In 1982, Madonna and Basquiat began seeing each other, however, the details surrounding how they met are hazy. The relationship was an important one for Madonna, as Basquiat was a serious and established artist at the time with important, monied connections and she was still, as yet, just an aspiring entertainer.

By the time she snagged her first solo gig at Danceteria in 1982, Madonna was already a seasoned performer incorporating choreography from New York's underground club scene into her act without skipping a beat.

1983
•The first two singles Madonna releases on Sire Records "Everybody" and "Burning Up" become club hits in the United States
•Bolstered by the success of the singles, she releases her eponymous debut album "Madonna" on July 27, 1983 with the help of Warner Bros. producer Reggie Lucas and John "Jellybean" Benitez
•Meets stylist Maripol who begins to craft Madonna's signature look of black rubber bracelets, excess jewelry, bleach-blond hair, and crucifixes
•Tours to promote the album, performing on television in the United States and Europe throughout 1983

By the time Madonna made it to American Bandstand on January 14, 1984 she was greeted by a litany of enthusiastic hoots and hollers from a New York audience excited to see her perform. Her performance was captivating but it was her answer to host Dick Clark's question about her long-term goals that made her one to watch. She casually, without so much as batting an eyelash, retorted "to rule the world." Later that year she would cement her identity as the world's reigning pop icon with her writhing performance of "Like a Virgin" at the first ever MTV Video Music Awards. And the rest, shall we say, is history.

Alexandra Serio is listening to Madonna on Twitter.