Sunday, April 28, 2019

Belinda '88 Interview Highlights AKA Who Knew Identity Crisis Could Be This Much Fun?

While late '80s corporate gloss may have dulled Belinda's musical rough edges, it certainly didn't dull her cagey, self-loathing interviewing habits. Here, for example, is a clip from an unknown Australian program with a suave male interviewer wearing a "peace sign" t-shirt who actually seems to have been following Belinda's career and isn't merely babbling on and on about how great she looks, although I wouldn't have blamed him if he had done so (personally, my first question to Belinda would have been "How was the Polynesian wedding you've apparently just returned from?"). The most amusing moment is when he assumes that she left the Go-Go's in order to establish her artistic independence, and she gazes up at the ceiling awkwardly for several seconds before clarifying that, actually, she left the Go-Go's because ... the Go-Go's imploded and she didn't have anything else better to do:
Interviewer: You've had a fairly successful solo career already, are you doing the things that you wanted to do? I mean, you left the Go-Go's to become a solo artist, are you, you know, are you getting those thoughts and ideas down?
Belinda: Well I left the Go-Go's because we weren't getting along and -
Interviewer: Oh.
Belinda: - and I knew (giggles) and I knew that, um, I'd eventually be able to have a solo career and um, I feel very fortunate to have come from a successful band and have success on my own now.
Yes, Belinda, are you getting those crucial "thoughts and ideas" down? Thoughts like "Why is Madonna thinner than me?" or "Am I lying if I say that I don't have a drug problem if I'm at least not doing coke?" (Fortunately, the day would come when Belinda would get those magical thoughts and ideas down, but surprisingly, the medium of song was not the form those thoughts and ideas would take.)

Here's Belinda at a press conference giving a fresh spin on the old tale of how she met Morgan. This particular telling seems to be equal parts candid and loopy:

Money quote: "We met and he walked away and I thought, 'He's not interested,' but ... uh ... in actuality it turned out that he was just sort of shy but I thought that he thought that I was, you know, better looking in pictures."

Like Dracula, '80s Belinda always looks mildly uncomfortable whenever she's being interviewed in daylight. Here she is squinting her way through what feels like more of an interrogation than an interview, in sunglasses and an oversized white t-shirt. I don't know what question she's just been asked in this clip, but based on her answer, I'm assuming it was something like "Why is your music so disposable?" Her hilariously defensive reply:
"There are some pop acts and pop artists that are great at ... uh ... giving messages and providing messages for people, and I wish I could do that but it just seems more natural for me to provide an escape, and ... um ... to uh sort of ... you know it's not mindless music but it's escape-type music and that's just as important sometimes as, you know ... being political, or, uh, listening to message-type music."

Translation: You got a problem with my music? Well kiss my ass. The thing is ... she's right! I cannot begin to tally the amount of hours Belinda's music has helped me escape the gnawing dread of modern existence. In another portion of that same interview, she reveals that even she is not that into hearing herself on the radio twenty-four hours a day:
"I think that I've been on the radio for almost a year now, and that's a long time. I can afford to take a little bit of a break. I don't want people to get real sick of me ... I know how it feels as a fan to hear, like, the same voices on the radio ... it keeps a career healthy to give people a little bit of a break from you."

Well, Belinda certainly wouldn't have needed to worry about becoming overexposed on U.S. Top 40 radio for very much longer. Hi-Yo! But seriously, can we go ahead and give this woman a "Pop Star Humility" award? It's like she's flipped the script. You're supposed to say, "I want to be the biggest star in the world!" Instead, she's saying, "Eh."

There's something about the Swedes - I don't know what it is, but they always manage to add an extra bit of zaniness to Belinda interviews. Smack in the middle of a discussion of Belinda's drug problems, a fire alarm goes off. The message: Belinda's drug problems were a four-alarm fire. I love the tone of her answer, and the look on her face, when the spiky-haired Swedish interviewer asks, "What do you have to say about drugs today?": She pinches her nose slightly, as if someone has handed her a plate of moldy cheese, and blurts out "Just don't even start!" Well there you go, folks. Belinda Carlisle's 12-step plan for dealing with drug addiction: Don't even start! Boom, easy, done.

This segment from People Magazine practically writes itself. "When Belinda Carlisle sings that heaven is a place on earth, you get the feeling that she really means it. This is a woman who's found heaven. The darling of college campuses across the nation, a fraternity house favorite has emerged as the Princess of Pop." First of all: "college campuses"? Would the interviewer put the bong down? I am not aware of Belinda having achieved any particularly high levels of popularity on college campuses. Was the host getting Belinda mixed up with ... 10,000 Maniacs? Second: "Princess of Pop?" No, no, no. The correct title is "Queen of Yuppie Rock." Who was writing this copy? The interviewer's lack of concern for anything other than the juiciest details of Belinda's struggles is admirably apparent; her facial expression as she asks "How did you justify your drug use?" suggests a hint of arousal. After Belinda rattles off a list of all her favorite support groups with breezy nonchalance ("Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous"), the host explains via voiceover, "She herself had become almost totally anonymous, but now she's regained her own identity and her self-confidence." Smooth segue! I've rarely seen Belinda rocking the ponytail look as she does here, but dear me it's cute - particularly when she pairs it with ... hold on a second, are those skull earrings? You can't make this shit up.

So as 1988 turned to 1989, even the ever-skeptical Belinda had to admit that she'd finally done it. She'd managed to step out of the shadow of her former group to become an equally popular star in her own right, if not more popular (certainly globally). Well, how did it feel? Did she bask in the triumph? Did she stick out her tongue and tell all those naysayers "Neener neener neener"? Did she bathe in the blood of her victims? Not exactly. From Lips Unsealed [note: although she refers to herself by her stepfather's last name in the passage below, her birth name is indeed Carlisle]:
As I kicked off the "Good Heavens" tour, I asked Morgan if it was real or if I was dreaming. It seemed like a mistake. I figured it had to be. He didn't know how to deal with that kind of mind-set other than to tell me to realize that these things were not accidents; I had worked hard for years.

His comment caused me to flash back to a time when I was on tour in the early days of the Go-Go's, just as the band was first taking off. It all seemed too fantastic; I had a moment right before we went onstage when I wondered where I was going to be ten years later. Now I knew. A couple of days into the tour, I had another similar sort of moment. I was standing behind the curtain, atop a small platform, getting set to descend the three stairs as the spotlight hit me, and yet instead of breathing, focusing, and doing all the things I normally did in the seconds before the show started, I was thinking about how weird it was that I was doing this.

Me? Belinda Kurczeski from the Valley? What was I doing here?

I felt an odd and slightly unnerving disconnect between what I was doing and ... and me ... whoever that was.
Who are you, Belinda Carlisle? Who are you???

Sunday, April 14, 2019

"Kissing A Fool": George Unleashes His Inner Rat Pack

From Track One, Side One all the way up through "Monkey," one could not have exactly accused Faith of being an album lacking in top-tier material. Four #1 singles, a #2 single, some solid album cuts ("Hand to Mouth," "Hard Day") ... hell, I wouldn't have blamed Georgios if he'd just shaved that stubble, hung up the ol' leather jacket, and called it a day.

But no.

The man wasn't satisfied. He still needed to throw one more killer song onto his album - a song performed in the kind of style that no one in their right mind would have ever thought he would have been capable of mastering. Not just a ballad. Not just an adult contemporary ballad.


Strap on that cummerbund, slip that valet a $100 bill, and check your coat at the door, because with "Kissing a Fool," you and George are about to spend an elegant evening uptown. Say hello to Georgios Connick, Jr.

As if Faith hadn't already been enough of a mega-blockbuster, career-redefining album, he slips in a little "Kissing a Fool" at the end and makes it even mega-er, even more re-defining-ing. "Kissing a Fool" was George's way of saying, "I can even do this, y'all." Here's my main thought: most of the material on Faith, while excellent, certainly sounds ... of its time. Let's face it: it's an album smothered in synth sauce. Most of it has managed, in my opinion, to also transcend its time, due to the passion and playfulness in his singing, the inherent melodic sturdiness of his songwriting, and the craft in the production.

But "Kissing a Fool" is another beast entirely. It's the Dorian Gray of George Michael songs. It still sparkles like the top of the Chrysler Building on a breezy autumn morning. Granted, it doesn't sound like a recording from the '50s, which I imagine was the primary vibe George was aiming for. But it sure doesn't sound like a recording from the '80s either. This could have been recorded for a Tony Bennett comeback album circa 1993, I'm thinking. It could have been recorded for one of those Rod Stewart Great American Songbook albums from the '00s. It could have been recorded bloody yesterday. In other words, he didn't just write a standard. He made it sound like a standard. For instance, when the horns come in toward the end, they don't sound like, say, "I Want Your Sex, Part II: Brass In Love" horns. They sound like snappy, full-bodied, swingin' supper club horns. The piano rings and shimmers around the stereo spectrum like the refracted light emanating from the candles presumably resting on top of it. And those vocals! The vibe on this track is so smoky, I feel like I'm getting cancer just listening to it.

"Kissing a Fool" was Faith's coup de grace. As the last jazzy notes of an electric guitar bring the track to close, one can almost feel the final remnants of Wham! firmly and irrevocably dissipating into the night air like the helpless victim of an Evanesco spell. How the single got to #5 in the U.S. I'm not entirely sure; who hadn't already bought the whole album at that point? Maybe they really needed the instrumental version on the B-side? And until our friends at Vevo get around to acquiring the rights to the video, I'll have to embed this version that features subtitles in Spanish. My favorite lyric in "Kissing a Fool" - excuse me, "Besando a un Loco" - has always been "La gente nunca puedes cambiar como piensan." Don't tell me I'm the only one. Also, notice how George uses his guitar as a literal prop. He doesn't even bother to pretend-strum until the end of the bridge. Anyone "fooled" by that faux-playing only deserves to be "kissed" by death. From Professor Higglediggle:
Michael iterates the codification of Shakespeare on the concluding track to Faith, twisting the accumulated symbolic capital of the Bard's oeuvre into the seemingly anodyne lounge jazz ballad "Kissing a Fool," a maladroit melange of interpretations of various "Fool" characters found in Shakespeare's canonical works. The opening couplet, "You are far/When I could have been your star" (re)positions Feste's promise in Twelfth Night, "What is love? 'Tis not hereafter/Present mirth hath present laughter" as an astrological farce, while the following lines, "You listened to people/Who scared you to death/And from my heart" re-contextualize the mocking plea of Falstaff, "Master Gower, if they become me not, he was a fool that/taught them me. This is the right fencing grace, my lord; tap for/tap, and so part fair" in Act II, Scene I of Henry IV, Part II. However, Michael appears to misunderstand, if nobly, the Fool's wry observation "The man that makes his toe/What he his heart should make/Shall of a corn cry woe/And turn his sleep to wake" in King Lear when he croons, "Strange that I was wrong enough/To think you'd love me too," although this might arguably be intended as a nod to Costard in Love's Labours Lost, rendering it less malapropos. Avoiding a  reference to the Fool's smooch-laden banter in Twelfth Night ("What's to come is still unsure/In delay there lies no plenty/Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty/Youth's a stuff will not endure") may have either been a noble gesture of restraint on the singer's part, or an exclusion properly foolish.