I Highly Recommend Listening to Belinda Carlisle's Story of Punk, Pop, Coke, and Recovery

Illustration for article titled I Highly Recommend Listening to Belinda Carlisles Story of Punk, Pop, Coke, and Recovery
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One of my favorite things to do at the moment is to listen to celebrities read their memoirs. This would be a pricey habit but for the ability to check them out for free and virtually via the library. I both recommend trying it (I was able to sign up for a Brooklyn Public Library Card online within minutes) and am imploring you not to, as I don’t want you to jump in front of me in line for the hundred or so celebrity memoirs I plan on reading during my long daily pandemic walks. But whatever, I guess it wouldn’t be fair of me to hog all the fun. Walking and listening to celebrities describe their lives (at times, just babbling away, really) is a hobby I picked up as a direct result of quarantine living, but I can’t imagine ever giving it up “when things go back to normal” or whatever they go back to. I’m hooked.

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I’ve been consuming celebrity memoirs like Belinda Carlisle apparently did cocaine throughout much of her career. I ingest fat rails of confession and humble-bragging daily. Jessica Simpson’s memoir was amazing and endearing (she cries so much!). Leah Remini’s is great not just as a history of an unorthodox Hollywood career, but as a Scientology exposé. I didn’t like Demi Moore’s much, because I thought it was largely dispassionate—she moved so much as a kid and she talks about Hollywood being like yet another school where she had to figure out the pecking order and navigate it, which is to say that she doesn’t really seem to take seriously her craft. But I guess it was useful for being so revealing, after all. I’m listening to Rosie Perez’s now, and I’m finding it awfully tedious. It’s 11 hours long (the average celebrity audiobook is about seven hours long, in my limited experience) and it’s padded with anecdotes that bespeak a prodigiously photographic memory. Full conversations from her childhood including shifting expressions and body language, complicated emotional trajectories, and exchanges she wasn’t even privy to take up so much space. I’m three hours into it and she’s still 4 years old. Because memory, especially distant memory, doesn’t work in the way that it’s presented in Perez’s book, listening to her makes me dubious (though I do believe the broad strokes of her incredibly difficult and cruel childhood). Mostly it just feels like a waste of time—a lot could have been cut. I love Rosie, so I’m especially disappointed.

Thus far, though, the 2010 memoir by singer Belinda Carlisle, Lips Unsealed, has been my favorite. I always thought she was the coolest—one of my earliest memories is of staring at the cover of her band the Go-Gos’ first album, Beauty and the Beat. I think it’s why, to this day, a woman with a towel wrapped around her head in a clay masque oozes glamor, in my view. In Lips Unsealed, Carlisle tells the story of ascending from a rocky childhood to become a fixture of the L.A. punk scene, and then promptly selling out to go pop once signed. (She reports that it took the album’s widespread popularity to warm her and her bandmates to the more accessible sound they produced on Beauty and the Beat.)

I posted some clips of her reading on my Instagram stories and people rightly pointed out to me that she sounds like Siri. It’s amazing to hear her so prim and proper as to sound virtually robotic while telling stories of total abandon in which hot guys were made out with and piles of cocaine were snorted. She used to have coke FedExed to her from “a guy in a photo lab on Santa Monica Boulevard.”

I mean, she really loved cocaine. “My capacity to party didn’t seem to have any limits,” she reports. Her book shows what she tells.

So stilted is her speech that she sometimes reminds me of Jan Brady, like when she described a Go-Gos show as a “party hardy frolic.”

And the years did nothing to diminish her popular-girl affect. She recalls her bandmate Jane Wiedlin, the Go-Gos’ rhythm guitarist and key songwriter, wanting to sing lead. “Unfortunately for her, the Go-Gos was based on one lead singer’s look and sound. And that belonged to me,” is Carlisle’s ice-cold response to the very idea of sharing vocal duties.

She talks about her weight a lot. She’d been mocked for it in grade school and then in the press once she was famous. Disordered eating resulted. She says that when Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach” video came out, she was so jealous because Madonna looked so thin in the accompanying video.

But I love how she brings it back around: “I never felt pretty enough, thin enough, or good enough. My fans disagreed.” Here the rock-star ego almost plays like a punchline, and I find it so endearing.

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Carlisle has a knack for the non sequitur. After the Go-Gos had released three albums, she only managed to save about $20,000, thanks to all the partying. “I had blown God only knows how much money on drugs, travel, clothes, and even a racehorse.” She never elaborates on the racehorse; she just wants us to know that she had one. I’m riveted. Similarly, she tells a story about hitching a private jet ride with the Police after opening for them. As they began to taxi on the runway, an engine caught on fire and she trampled members of the Police—including Sting—rushing to get off what she thought was a beleaguered plane. “Hey, the lesson is simple: You don’t want to be near me in a panic because I’m going to run you over.” And scene. The unsmiling way that she reads all this stuff creates a bizarre tone—you can’t even tell what she makes of it. All I could do was laugh.

But Lips Unsealed’s extreme matter-of-factness is ultimately a strength. Carlisle doesn’t shy away from hard truths, and she isn’t even afraid to reveal information that outsiders could easily judge her for (she says she had a glass of wine everyday throughout her pregnancy with her son Duke). She talks about being pissed off by the negative reviews of her fourth solo album, Live Your Life Be Free (her first to spawn no hit singles in the U.S.), while allowing that the reviews had a point.

I was rather shocked that her low point occurred in 2005—well after her ‘80s heyday—when she holed up in a London hotel room for three days on a coke binge. After that, she got sober. Before, she went as far as to snort coke in the kids’ bathroom when she dropped Duke off at school. “I knew I was in a nightmare as I towered above the fixtures meant for children and got high, but I couldn’t stop,” she recalls. “I had to do a line before I walked home. I couldn’t deal otherwise.”

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I thought it was responsible to portray both sides of the drug that she loved and kicked—you understand much better how it became such a problem when you understand why it was so much fun to do in the first place. Mature, well-balanced stuff. I think the measure of a memoir is often how you come away thinking about its author. I’ve always loved Belinda Carlisle and now I love her a little more.

P.S. This story about her running around Rio for coke and eventually procuring half an ounce is fucking wild:

Some Pig. Terrific. Radiant. Humble.

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DISCUSSION

Only a celebrity mother, or a rich woman like Cindy McCain, can do this shit with drugs and not have CPS knocking down their door and taking their kids. Hell, Cindy McCain even got to adopt a child at the height of her addiction.

Kids take 24/7 of our lives. Unless grandma has them for the night. You are seeing this play out during this quarantine. And all the angst and frustration of having to actually be with those kids. Now, add heroin, booze, meth, and in Belinda’s case, cocaine. And drinking every night during her pregnancy. Ugh.

And why am I surprised that her husband is a politician? Maybe Belinda and Cindy should get together and compare notes.