Monday, January 30, 2012

Lips Unsealed: The Greatest Book Ever Written

OK, fine, Lips Unsealed is probably not the greatest book ever written. However, it is The Greatest Book Ever Written.

If I had to come up with a subtitle for Lips Unsealed, it would be something like this: "How I did coke for thirty years (all the while somehow managing to look fabulous the whole time), practiced witchcraft, morphed from a hardcore punk rocker into a power ballad superstar, became washed up in America but some sort of Europop dance diva in England, went on a trip to Thailand where I shoved opium up my ass, finally got sober for good, had my son come out of the closet, recorded an album of songs entirely in French with Brian Eno, and lived to tell about it."

Lips Unsealed is like if the Pyramids could talk. Lips Unsealed is like if Abraham Lincoln came back from the dead and wrote a book about what he was thinking during the Civil War. You're sitting there wondering, "God, what was going on in Belinda Carlisle's head?," and suddenly, there she is, telling you.

Look at her, on the cover, with that sweet, smiling face. Seems like your typical suburban mom. And I suppose she is, in a way. But don't be fooled.

I had some pretty high expectations for Lips Unsealed. The book surpassed them. Sure, you're thinking, another rich drug addict rock star tell-all memoir. Come on, these things are a dime a dozen. Yeah, but ... it's Belinda Carlisle. Her career was absurd. It's like if the cigarette-smoking goth chick suddenly became the head cheerleader. It would be ridiculous. It's like if you or I became some sort of MTV superbabe. It never happens. Except, this one time, it totally did.

Although during my early research I became convinced that Belinda Carlisle was my '80s Dream Woman, I still had some nagging fears. What if Carlisle didn't really "get" her career? What if she didn't really understand the absurdity? Upon reading Lips Unsealed, I promptly put those fears to rest. The author of this book is a riot. She is sharp as a tack. After all her personal highs and lows, you couldn't put much past her.

Here's a segment from the book's introduction - the very first page:
I came home one day from a friend's house holding a book that seemed like it might help me change my life. I hid it under my sweatshirt and went straight to my bedroom. I felt a tingle of excitement as I slipped it out and looked at the cover: The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. I read bits and pieces, and although I understood very little of the author's rant against Christianity, I focused on terms like "exorcism," "evil," and "black magic," thinking I could find out how to cast spells and take control of my life.
Yes, it's true, fame can be a difficult burden to - wait, what? Belinda! What the hell are you talking about?

You want your sex, your drugs, and your rock and roll (particularly the drugs)? Lips Unsealed delivers. It's one of those books where "I was on drugs the whole time, and yet somehow I remember everything" (funny thing is, I believe her). But Lips Unsealed is so much more. Go ahead and laugh. But this book is a work of stunning depth and insight.

For you see, Lips Unsealed is a tale of escape. It is about a woman who wanted to escape from her depressing, dysfunctional childhood. She did so in two ways: through music, and through drugs. One method served a greater public good; the other, not so much. She kept trying and trying to escape, until one day she realized her life was actually fine and she didn't need to escape anymore. It's just that this "one day" happened to be a day in her late 40s.

So what was it really like? You know, having the most awesome career of all time? Well, according to Belinda Carlisle, it was ... kind of shitty.

A representative section of Lips Unsealed might read something like this: "Then I went on another tour with the Go-Go's, and I thought my singing stank and I don't know why anybody even wanted to see me perform, and then I sat in my hotel room for two days and did coke, and then I did a bunch of interviews where I said I felt great but I was lying out of my ass, and then I obsessed about my weight and I thought I needed to go on a diet even though everyone said I looked great, and then I did a solo album and I liked a couple of the songs but I thought most of it was crap because I was too high and lazy to make it better, and then I lied to my husband about my coke use, and then I met the Duchess of York, which was pretty cool, and then I did some more coke and I felt like shit."

It's great!

In Belinda Carlisle, we seem to have had that very rare, special creature: the ultimate self-loathing pop star. Here was a celebrity who, despite what everyone else kept on telling her, never thought she was very attractive, very interesting, or very talented. Compare this to many of the pop divas of today, who don't seem to be able to get enough of themselves. Instead, Carlisle sounded an awful lot like ... me.

Maybe the author would take this the wrong way, but I found Lips Unsealed to be ... really encouraging. I mean, here I was, working day after day at a shitty temp job, trying to make a short film that nobody was really going to watch anyway, writing on some blog that nobody was going to read, feeling lonely and unfulfilled. And here was this woman, who seemed to have had everything: wealth, talent, beauty, you name it. At first I thought, "Man, I wish I could be like Belinda Carlisle." But after reading this book, I thought "You know what? Actually, I'll stick to being Little Earl, thank you very much." To hear this woman, who seemed to have so much going for her, talk about how she mostly felt like a pathetic loser her entire career - well, it made me feel a little better about myself. The grass is always greener, as they say.

It was also refreshing to hear about the rock star experience from a female perspective, particularly since I don't actually know anything about females. In fact, I discovered that Belinda Carlisle and I have almost the exact same taste in music. Here is a woman who is equally fond of Iggy & The Stooges and the Bee Gees. But if you're wondering whether Carlisle is fully aware of how schizophrenic her musical output has been, well ... so am I. She sounds equally fond of her punk years and her adult contemporary cheese. But you know, why shouldn't she be?

This book also contains the best description of the L.A. punk scene I have ever read. Granted, it's the only description of the L.A. punk scene I've ever read, but that's beside the point. Seriously though, who even thought that a vivid portrait of such a grungy musical moment would have come from Belinda Carlisle? It's like if Neil Diamond wrote a book about what it was like hanging out in Haight-Ashbury in 1967. I remember reading an interview with Hollywood director Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Some Like It Hot, etc.) conducted in the '90s, and he started talking about his youth in Austria, and he mentioned that as a young newspaper reporter he briefly met Sigmund Freud. I thought, wow, what was he even doing there? Some people manage to straddle different worlds.

So there you have it. No work so perfectly captures the wild ride that was '80s mainstream pop: how energetic New Wave lost its energy in a cockfight and bargained with the Tijuana police for the right to continue on as Yuppie Rock. I can think of no more suitable tour guide through the wreckage than this slightly jaded, slightly amused, but mostly relieved survivor. We all know about the Madonnas, the Michael Jacksons, the pop superstars of the era. It's time we take a look at the less heralded careers, the frontage roads of the '80s pop highway. Through the magic of YouTube, this epic life has been captured in magnificent detail. Also, I am desperately in love with her and cannot stop obsessing over her hot, hot body.

Join me, if you will, on a journey like no other. It shall be another series in my ongoing parade of '80s pop music series. I shall sprinkle it in between Cosby Rock, Fun New Wave Surprises, the soon to be initiated Country Goes '80s, and any other series I damn well choose to initiate. Join me, now, on a journey that shall be known as "Adventures With Belinda Carlisle."


Herr Zrbo said...

Your obsession with Belinda is starting to border on the obsessed. Are you perhaps.. addicted to her?

Little Earl said...

I need to go to Belinda Carlisle rehab.

My name is Little Earl...

And I'm a Go-Go-holic.

Anonymous said...

Little Earl, I really enjoyed reading your posts about Belinda Carlisle. You are such a vary talented writer! I remember her as the adorable cutie singer in the "We Got The Beat" video a great tune even getting the attention of a heavy metal Black Sabbath guy like myself. Enjoy your journey about Belinda Carlisle and remember the journey is really about what Belinda can teach you and I see one very important lesson you learned from her book: "You know what? Actually, I'll stick to being Little Earl, thank you very much." that is what it is all about my friend. - Peace