Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Belinda And The Brazilian Drug Lords, Part I AKA When They Called It "Rock In Rio," That's Not What They Meant

Ah, the Rock In Rio Festival - a chance to soak in the South American sunshine, learn how to say "I love you" in Portuguese, climb that silly Jesus statue? For most tourists, I suppose. But for a certain female New Wave performer, the same old Rand McNally sightseeing itinerary just wasn't going to cut it. Nope, the Jesus statue would have to take a back seat to a much more important goal: scoring some outrageously cheap coke.

Now, in this series, you may have been hearing a lot about Belinda Carlisle and cocaine. "After the show I did some coke." "I met Jonathan Demme and I did some coke." "I went outside on a crystal clear evening, gazed at the majesty of Jupiter through a telescope, and did some coke." But when, you've been asking yourself, when are we really going to see some serious coke? Let's just say that when Belinda showed up at the Rock In Rio Festival, she had a different kind of "rock" in mind. (Yeah, I know, "rock" generally refers to crack, but it was too good to pass up).

If I said, "Music festival from 1985," you'd probably start thinking of Live Aid. Well, little did you know, but earlier that year there had been another large music festival, and my hunch is that the performers in this festival might have been a little less concerned about the starving children of Africa - perhaps none less so than the lead singer of the newly-configured Go-Go's:
In early January 1985, Paula finally got an eyeful of what it meant to be a Go-Go when we traveled to Rio for the largest modern-day rock festival ever. It was a ten-day event that included Queen, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, Rod Stewart, the B-52's, Iron Maiden, Yes, the Scorpions, and more than a dozen other acts.
According to Wikipedia, she left out Whitesnake, James Taylor, George Benson, Al Jarreau ... and who can forget Lulu Santos, and Os Paralamas do Sucesso?

In the end, for our mischievous narrator, one performer stood out in particular:
Rod Stewart organized a fancy, expensive dinner party one night and invited all of the Go-Go's because, as we were told, he wanted to meet us. It was almost too fabulous for all of us to comprehend that this rock icon wanted to fete us. There was just one small problem. I told the girls not to be mad at me, but I was going to be a little late to the party because I wanted to venture out in the city to find cheap coke ... I had heard cocaine was only $5 per gram compared to the $100-a-gram cost in L.A., and that was too much of a lure.
I mean, how can you pass that up? Five dollars per gram? That's like downloading music ... for free!
So as the other girls got ready for Rod's dinner, I hopped in a taxi and gave the Portugese-speaking driver simple instructions: "Cocaine, por favor."

He gave me a puzzled look in the rearview mirror.

"Coca," I said. "I want coca."
Here's a tip to any aspiring Brazilian cab drivers: when the little white girl says she wants cocaine, she wants cocaine.
He sped away from the hotel and through the city until we were far away from the nice hotels and cruising through the underbelly of the city's dangerous and impoverished ghettos. I didn't know whether I should press my face to the window and stare or hide myself in the back, a young, white American traveling where she had no business.
Uh, maybe you should have thought about this before you told the cab driver to find you cocaine Belinda.
I had no idea where we were or where my driver was headed, but enough time passed without us making any progress that I told the driver to turn around and take me back to the hotel. I didn't want to miss Rod's party ... I mingled for a while, getting introduced to members of Rod's band and various music industry people when I started talking with the daughter of a prominent local politician.

I told her that I had explored the city a bit in a taxi, which amused her for a moment - until she heard my description of the city, realized I had been in the slums, and asked where I had been going ... she gave me a funny look, then leaned close and told me she was tight with some major dealers. A moment later, she escorted me downstairs, put me in a cab, and said something to the driver - the address, I presumed - and I was off.
OK, now we're talking. Let this be a lesson to those you planning to score coke in Rio someday. Don't ask the cab driver; ask the politician's daughter.
The driver stopped in front of a modern condominium building near Ipanema Beach and communicated that he would wait while I went inside. I have no idea if he knew what I was doing there, but I hoped and prayed he would wait while I went inside and, as instructed, up to the penthouse. I gave a hesitant knock on the door, and waited. No one answered. I knocked again. This time the door opened a bit, and a dark-haired man looked at me. It was not a friendly, welcoming look.
What was she expecting? "Oh, what a surprise, it's Belinda Carlisle! I have all of your albums, you know, Vacation is my favorite."
I mentioned the name of the girl I had met at the party and explained she said it was okay for me to come. Before I finished, he opened the door and I stepped in. I assumed he already knew why I was there, and he did. From what I saw as I glanced around, I realized there was only one reason anyone would be there. There was coke everywhere. It was stacked in bricks, and there were several tables where some guys sat in front of scales, dividing piles of coke into smaller amounts.
And this, I think, was the sound that she heard:

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