Sunday, May 9, 2021

"Vision Of Love": All The Mariah I Ever Needed (But If I Want More, I Know Where To Find It)

Perhaps a year or so ago, my former co-blogger Yoggoth posed a quick pop music game to me, via random text:

"Name a song you really like which is the only song by that artist you actually like."

His choice, Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing," left me scratching my head a bit, I have to say. I promptly asked him if he'd ever heard the album Making Movies, to which he said no, to which I said, "You can't claim you don't like any other Dire Straits songs if you've never heard Making Movies." Whether he eventually gave that album a spin is unknown to me, but he did tell me that later on he gave Dire Straits' debut album (the one with "Sultans of Swing" on it) a spin: "Actually, the whole album is pretty good. Sure, he's kind of just doing a Dylan imitation ... but it's a pretty good Dylan imitation!"

At any rate. My choice? It was a bit of a toss-up between A) Echo & the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon"; B) Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun"; or C) Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love."

She sure ain't lacking for hits, I can tell you that. If Mariah ever ends up breaking the Beatles' record for most US Billboard #1 hits (she currently sits one song behind), I feel like that record should carry a nice, thick Roger Maris-style asterisk next to it. I'm sorry, but having a #1 hit in the 2010's does not mean the same thing as having a #1 hit in the '60s. Didn't that freaking 25-year-old Christmas song recently become a "new" #1 hit? Balderdash and malarkey, I say. Frankly, I wish her well in every other career endeavor she decides to undertake, but I hope she never breaks that record. Or how about this: maybe the Beatles could simply top the charts again with some random album track that never topped the charts before? Maybe some hip new TV show features "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" in a climactic, meme-worthy scene, and suddenly it sets streaming services on fire? Ah-hah. There may be hope yet.

Hard to say why I haven't taken the Mariah Carey catalog to heart. I don't have an intense dislike for Mariah Carey. That "Fantasy" song ain't bad, but wasn't that mostly built around a sample of the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love"? I always chuckle when I think about how insanely popular "One Sweet Day" became. Take the insanely popular Mariah Carey, team her up with the insanely popular Boyz II Men, and what do you get? The super double extra insanely popular "One Sweet Day." It was like Coke and Pepsi teaming up to make a new soft drink, or Nike and Adidas teaming up to make a shoe. You couldn't lose. But I thought it was ... I dunno, Mariah's just not my style. I'm the kind of guy who prefers Brenda K. Starr's version of "I Still Believe" to Mariah Carey's. But I'll tell you what. Sometimes, there's nothing quite like your first.

When I revisited "Vision of Love" a few years ago, I heard the opening seconds and thought, "Hmm, why did I used to like this song again?" It sports the questionable one-two punch of synthesized gong followed by several seconds of sparkly keyboard dust and ambient vocal droning, placing it squarely in the realm of late '80s MJ/Quincy Jones production snafus that, in my opinion, probably didn't help improve "Man in the Mirror," "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," or "We Are the World." Well let me say this about "Vision of Love": what it lacks at its opening, it sure as hell makes up for with its ending.

See, when Mariah Carey made "Vision of Love," she didn't yet know she was "Mariah Carey." She was unformed, raw, inchoate. And although the song introduced her unparalleled set of pipes to the masses, in retrospect, it hardly set the template for the overall musical style she would generally follow. Despite launching the career of the most popular singer of the '90s,  I feel like "Vision of Love" is actually a stylistic throwback to a more gospel-influenced type of R&B. Cheesy production aside, in its bones "Vision of Love" resembles the kind of church-heavy number that could have been recorded by, say, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Irma Thomas, or Candi Staton. The finger snaps give it a street corner doo-wop quality. No one thinks of early Mariah Carey as being "retro," but "Vision of Love" is ... retro?

Based on the use of past tense ("I had a vision of love") and given that the melody and arrangement isn't particularly upbeat, I used to assume the song was a "My man dumped me" type of ballad, but instead, it's more like an "I had a vision of love, and that vision came true!" type of ballad, which I don't find quite as interesting, although Wikipedia does a nice job of making it seem potentially more interesting:
Some have noted the relationship between Carey and God, while others point out one with a lover. Carey has yielded to both, while claiming them to have a connection to her childhood and to obstacles encountered while growing up. Michael Slezak wrote "Though it's not clear if she's celebrating a secular love or her relationship with a higher power, this exuberant ballad is a near-religious listening experience."
Amen sister! I'll take the religious interpretation. "Prayed through the nights/Felt so alone/Suffered from alienation/Carried the weight on my own/Had to be strong/So I believed/And now I know I've succeeded/In finding the place I conceived"? "Feel so alive/I'm so thankful that I've received/The answer that heaven/Has sent down to me"? I mean, if it smells like God, and if it tastes like God, then it's a song about God. "Vision of Love" is like the "Let It Be" of the '90s - with melisma!

OK. So. The song doesn't get too crazy until the third verse, where Mariah's "You treated me kind" is answered by Mariah's evil twin, who chimes in with a lusty "Yeahhhh," and thus commences the Attack of the Multiple Mariahs. She duets a fiery duet with her bad self for about 30 seconds, until suddenly, after the first line of the chorus, the Evil Twin Mariah transforms into ... a bird? A dolphin? A smoke detector? Jesus Christ, what is that sound? Just as you're trying to wrap your head around that, she belts out an "all," and then holds it, and holds it, and holds it, and then all the other instruments fade out, and then ... well, personally, I like to imagine Mariah tip-toeing along the roof of a 40-story building in high heels, and then suddenly losing her balance, waving her arms frantically, as if in an old silent movie, while she sings "Alll-uhh-allllllll-uh-oh-uh-ah-oh-uh-ahhhh-l-l-l-oh-all that you..." Somebody call the fire department! A big breath, and then ... "turned out to beeeeeeeee." Phew, she made it back to safety.

Right then and there, apparently every female singer on Earth decided they needed to sound exactly like Mariah's roof ledge balancing act, and I guess that's when Little Earl checked out, but I doubt I was the only one who wasn't too excited about it. I'm sure Whitney Houston was quite complimentary to Mariah Carey in the press, but in private, I've always imagined her, in June 1990, sitting on her couch, perhaps in a ratty old bathrobe, remote control in hand, Bobby slicing up some sausages or perhaps grounding up hamburger meat in the kitchen, feeling like the queen of the R&B universe, suddenly catching this video on MTV, making it all the way to its conclusion, turning to Bobby and shouting, "Who the hell does that little canary-imitating bitch think she is?"

Sunday, April 11, 2021

David Letterman And Belinda Carlisle: A Love Story, In Nine Acts

Sailing through the Seven Seas of YouTube, one can find clips of Belinda Carlisle on every conceivable interview program known to man, from The View and The Joy Behar Show to BBC Breakfast and Good Morning Australia. But boy, either she couldn't get enough of David Letterman, or David Letterman couldn't get enough of her. Two '80s screwballs met in the potent New York night, and awkward television romance blossomed. How blessed we are, decades later, in that the residue of their torrid affair is here to see in all its grainy VHS glory. Join me, if you will, on a detailed retrospective I would like to call "David Letterman and Belinda Carlisle: A Love Story, In Nine Acts."

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 1:

Belinda's first encounter with Letterman, as far as I am aware, was in 1984, when she was still the lead singer of the Go-Go's, and when he was still a gap-toothed comedic curiosity, and it only gave the merest hint of the passion that would soon engulf them (and us). A few years back, I had hoped to embed the clip in a previous blog post discussing Belinda's affair with Michael Hutchence; however, I was forced to write the following: "It looks like somebody took the clip down from YouTube, but despite that obstacle, I have to say I watched it so many times, I can probably recall the entire interview from memory." Lo and behold, the clip has miraculously resurfaced, which means that the internet can see for itself just how accurate my expertly witty summary, composed without the aid of the clip at my disposal, truly was.

For our purposes today, what I'll say is this: 1) Although Dave and Belinda seem to develop a nice rapport here, he essentially treats her no differently from how he might have treated the majority of his guests (an attitude that was not destined to last); 2) Belinda is still in her coked-out Rue McClanahan phase and has not yet become, shall we say, "late '80s Belinda" in physical appearance.

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 2:

Two years was a lifetime for our freshly-minted Mrs. Mason AKA Queen of Yuppie Rock, and by the time Belinda returned to Letterman in May of 1986, she was in full-blown blonde bombshell mode and promoting her first solo album. Practically the first words out of Dave's mouth are "Boy, you look great!" Not having been privy to the details of their breakup, he asks what the hell happened to the Go-Go's ("I know it's none of our business, but..."), and her initial answer, while grossly oversimplified and rather uninformative, perhaps contains a kernel of truth to it: "It just got to be real boring." He sticks at it:
Dave: Was it one decision or did everybody collectively make it?
Belinda: No, it was sort of, uh, two people's decision. (giggles)
Dave: And who were those two people?
Belinda: Charlotte and myself.
Dave: Oh. (chuckles) Oh, I see, so you guys just kind of ... you walked.
Belinda: We just kinda, yeah, we said, "See ya later."
Another exchange features Belinda's typically self-censored responses:
Dave: So how is it different now travelling because, for eight years, you were an all-female organization and now you're with, uh, men and women in the group, is it a big difference for you?
Belinda: Well, um ... it's kind of weird like on the bus, we can't exactly parade around in, uh ... you know ... what we used to. (giggles)
Dave: And what exactly was that? (audience chuckles)
Belinda: Well you know, underwear, and uh ... undershirts, and that kind of thing. (more giggles)
Dave: So when the Go-Go's were out touring ... (audience hoots and hollers) I just want to make sure I have the proper mental image of this ...
As Belinda/Dave interviews go, this one is fairly tame, for reasons unbeknownst to me, Belinda, or Dave. However, feel free to check out the sultry version of "Mad About You" featuring Paul Shaffer on back-up vocals (at 32:47).

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 3:

And now let's cut to October 1987, with Belinda promoting "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," sporting the Wilma Flintstone black dress/green skirt outfit as seen at the Prince's Trust Concert. Apparently either Letterman hadn't been paying much attention the year prior, or he is particularly horny on this night, but let's just say that Dave has finally seen the light. The realization has hit him like a diamond bullet in the brain: Belinda Carlisle has become laughably gorgeous. Dave has essentially decided to rename his show The Let's All Gawk At How Attractive Belinda Carlisle Is Hour. Samples:
Dave: How you doin'?
Belinda: I'm all right.
Dave: Well you look great. (mile-wide gap-toothed grin on his face) You do, you really, I mean you really look great.
Belinda: Thank you.
Dave: Yeah, uh ... well how is it (possibly pivoting to a new subject, but finding himself unable to do so) ... that you look this great?
Belinda: Um ... I run about 25 miles a week ... and I ... (shrugs her shoulders) I dunno, I eat healthy...
Dave: Now when you were with the Go-Go's you didn't ... I mean you looked great then. But now ... Paul what am I lookin' for here?
Dave then proceeds, like Johnny Carson before him, to ask Belinda about her new pet pig (Belinda clarifies, "It's a suede-back potbellied Asian pig"):
Dave: Do you have it in the house with you?
Belinda: Yeah, it's a house pig.
Dave: You know, I was accused of that once in a divorce settlement, but that's a uh ... Do you have other animals?
Belinda: I have four dogs and a parrot.
Dave: And what is the interaction like between the dogs and the pig?
Belinda: Uh ... they all seem to get along all right. And the parrot likes the pig too.
Seriously, who comes off weirder here, Dave or Belinda? Finally, Dave returns to the theme of the evening:
Dave: I just can't get over it, you are stunning.
Belinda: Well God that's ... thank you.
Dave: Well you're certainly welcome, I mean, you deserve it, I mean, why not? ... Well you come back as often as you like, come back tomorrow night as a matter of fact.

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 4:

Despite Dave's suggestion, Belinda did not, in fact, come back the next night. Rather, she came back two nights later - possibly without intending to. Apparently, at the start of the show (which was to feature Buck Henry, screenwriter of The Graduate and other films, as well as noted character actor), Dave and Paul got wind that Belinda Carlisle was coincidentally in the building, and they decided to track her down "just say hello to her" because, as Dave put it, "she looks great."

With cameraman in tow, they accost her in the hallway:
Paul: Belinda you really, you really ...
Belinda: Is it tomorrow yet?
Paul: Nice to see you.
Dave: We wanted to to tell you that you just look great and ...
Paul: You look fabulous.
Dave: You want to spend the rest of the evening with us? Would you like to ... it's hard for you to say what you're really thinking right now which is, you'd like us to leave you alone, I'm guessing. Do you have plans, where are you going now?
Belinda: Um ... I have to go do an interview.
Dave: Yeah, with who?
Belinda: Slice Magazine. (giggles)
Dave: Slice Magazine. Oh it's the prestigious ... Slice Magazine.
Paul: Blow that off, babe, and come spend the rest of the evening with us.
And so, with a roar of approval from the studio audience, Belinda walks onto the set and takes a seat. He asks her if she knows Buck Henry, and, hilariously, her eyes grow wide with surprise as she exclaims, "Yeah I do know Buck Henry!" Apparently Buck, Belinda, and Morgan had spent some time together at the beach in LA. When Buck comes out, he explains to Dave, "I have a photograph I took of her a few weeks ago in a wetsuit that I'll be glad to send you - for a reasonable fee," before adding, "I know Belinda, I know her husband - he'll be pretty angry when he sees this mess." Dave proceeds to interview Buck for five minutes, while Belinda sits there and says absolutely nothing. After the commercial break, Dave welcomes everyone back with "All right, Buck Henry is here and Belinda Carlisle is here and," turning to Belinda, adds "you're hating every minute of this, aren't you?" After Dave and Paul proceed with one more round of "You look great" and "She hates us all," Dave asks, "But you'll come back eventually, won't you?" Belinda responds with a nakedly sincere, slightly clueless, "Well yeah, definitely."

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 5:

Clearly, she meant what she said. Now in her leather biker chick phase, Belinda returned to the program in March 1988, riding high on "I Get Weak." Dave mentions that she's been nominated for a Grammy and asks her if it means anything to her, to which she replies, with a typical hint of self-loathing, "No, not really." He then asks her about her wardrobe plans:
Dave: What kind of dress did you get?
Belinda: It's just sort of a ... uh ... strapless ... kind of ...
(Several audience members whistle and holler)
Dave: (To the audience) Oh please.
Belinda: Just, you know, sort of like a showgirl-type dress.
Dave: Oh a showgirl-type dress!
Belinda: Well it's not like that - it's like a partygirl-type dress.
Dave: A showgirl/partygirl-type dress. Where does one go for these accoutrements? ... And do you have things prepared to say if your are a trophy winner?
Belinda: No, I don't think I'm going to win, so I'm not preparing anything. (Audience groans with disbelief and sadness.) I know I should have a better attitude, but ...
To be fair, I believe she was up against Whitney Houston, so, she probably possessed a clear-eyed view of her chances. He asks her how her pet pig is doing, and when she responds, "I don't have it anymore," the audience once again groans with sadness, prompting Dave to ask the audience, "Now wait a minute, whose show is this?" It goes on:
Dave: What happened to your pig?
Audience member: Breakfast!
Belinda: No I didn't eat it. Um ... it was, um, it sort of was kind of messy in the house.
Dave: Well I don't think you should be keeping the pig in the house anyway.
Belinda: Well it was sort of messy outdoors too.

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 6:

She returned for more punishment in 1989, knee-deep in her Nicole Kidman circa Days of Thunder phase, to promote "Leave a Light On." Dave asks her why she recorded a bulk of Runaway Horses in France, and she responds, "Just to get away from it all, and get away from distractions." "What kind of distractions were you trying to get away from?..." "Well, we were trying to get away from phone calls, and ... um ... distractions! I don't know." One might consider this a prelude to what follows:
Dave: And you worked in Monaco for ... you did a TV show or an awards presentation, what was that?
Belinda: The Monte Carlo Music Awards. I was up for an award, but I got there and found out I was hosting it (giggles), so ... yeah.
Dave: Now see, if you'd been near a phone, there wouldn't have been this mix-up.
Wrapping things up, Dave says, "Boy you smell terrific," which inspires Belinda to quickly sniff her own wrist in an attempt to establish precisely what she smells like. Whether she succeeded or not is difficult to discern.

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 7:

Here she is in her proto-Lauren Holly phase, and it feels like the love affair might have grown just a touch more lethargic at this stage of the game, with Dave more preoccupied by some gag revolving around the construction of wooden shelves, as well as the next night's guest, three-year-old golfer Brent Palladino, and yet, a few sparks still remain. When she explains that she's been touring all summer, he asks her which place was the best and which place was the worst:
Belinda: The worst place was ...
Dave: Not here, don't tell me here.
Belinda: Uh ... Malaysia. It was kinda scary.
Dave: People nice? Food not good?
Belinda: Mmm, no, no, I got food poisoning.
Dave: Really, what were you eating there?
Belinda: Curried something.
Dave: Curried something. See, you need more information on the menu, before you order. "I'll have the curried something."
Speaking of meals: he comes right out and asks her, "What are you doing tonight?" She explains that she plans to have dinner with a few friends somewhere in Little Italy:
Dave: Could I stop by?
Belinda: Sure, come on over.
Dave: Would that kill you if I stopped by?
Belinda: No you can come on by.
Dave: You'd die if I walked in the restaurant, it would be like one of these (proceeds to pull his sport coat over his face), "Oh geez, oh my God."
Belinda: (unconvincingly) No I wouldn't do that.

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 8:

Now it's 1991 and Belinda is in her "Jackie Kennedy on November 22" phase, promoting what she and Dave do not know will be her (US) flop single, "Do You Feel Like I Feel?" In retrospect, this renders their seemingly innocuous banter slightly more tragic:
Dave: Yeah! That sounded great. Now will that, will that ... that sounded so good here, you know, that's got, like "hit" written all over it, don't you think?
Belinda: Well I think so.
Dave: And that's the one that's gonna sell the album, and it's gonna be a huge hit.
Belinda: I hope so.
Dave: And also, I understand congratulations are in order, because you're, uh, you're pregnant ... And are we far enough along now to know much about it, do we know if it's a boy, do we know if it's a girl, do we want to know?
Belinda: No, we call it The Blob.
Let me note that, while the audience does not even emit the slightest hint of laughter at Belinda 's answer, I, for one, find it magnificent.
Belinda: 'Cause that's what it looks like.
Dave: Good parenting. But do you want to know, ultimately ...?
Belinda: Yeah, yeah, I do want to know. Um ... my husband doesn't want to know, but I'll ... figure it out. (giggles)
Dave: Are you just ... wild with excitement about this?
Belinda: Well I'm kind of horrified actually, but, um ... yeah I mean I get more excited about it every day, I'm getting used to the idea. I guess I'm not 15 anymore.
Dave: No. Uh ... how old are you?
Belinda: I'm 33.
Dave: Are you - 33? Wow, that's, that's great. How old do you think I am?
Belinda: 25.
Dave: Aww, bless your little heart (kisses her hand). And what do you think I weigh?

Dave vs. Belinda, Round 9:

By the time of 1993's single "Big Scary Animal," perhaps Belinda's US standing had fallen so low that she didn't even merit an interview segment? (Looks like Letterman had moved to CBS at this point; maybe that extra airtime would have cost her record label more money than they were willing to shell out.) Let's call this round a draw. Hell, let's call every round a draw.

Please note that I am also excluding three (!) appearances by the reunited Go-Go's in 1990, 1994, and 2001, respectively, none of which feature interview segments with either Belinda or the rest of the band.

Postscript: Lord knows where I saw it, but I recall reading, in one of many numerous interviews with our fetching heroine, the interviewer asking her what qualities she found attractive in men, and her answer was something along the lines of, "A great sense of humor, you know, like Howard Stern or David Letterman." Two thoughts: 1) What, precisely, would become of David Letterman's brain if word of this ever got around to him? 2) A great sense of humor? Am I crazy to think I would've had a chance?

Sunday, March 7, 2021

How Many Days In Paradise Are We Talking About Here? AKA David Crosby, Vegas Bad Luck Charm

But it's not just another day in paradise at all. Because there are homeless people! Oh man. Feel the burn. Irony so thick you could stick a fork in it.

In the long and lengthy history of sappy charity rock, perhaps the easiest target for critical scorn that has ever been produced - easier than "Ebony and Ivory," "We Are the World," even Elton's "Princess Diana" remake of "Candle in the Wind," for crying out loud - would be "Another Day In Paradise." You want to know why? I'll tell you why:


There, I said it. I feel better now. OK. Take a breath.

Here's how I'm guessing this went down: One festive evening, in between caviar dinners and red carpet ceremonies, Phil happened to notice some scraggly-looking ruffian living in a box and eating out of a leftover Chinese take-out container, and thought to himself, "Oh, this is terrible. Hasn't anybody noticed all these homeless people around? You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to write a song about it. And then I'm going to bring in David Crosby, patron saint of old hippies who love telling everybody how badly they should feel about stuff (even though he's probably just a couple of late royalty payments away from being homeless himself), to sing backing vocals." Cloying. Obnoxious. Sanctimonious.

And yet.

Do you know how many views the video for "Another Day in Paradise" has on YouTube? 370 million. Sweet Jesus. "In the Air Tonight" only has 219 million. Do you know why so many people, including your humble '80s blogger, enjoy listening to the hypocritical guilt-fest known as "Another Day in Paradise"? Because the man ... just had a gift.

That keyboard hook. Whoa nelly. It's gentle, but insistent. At this point Phil was farting out keyboard hooks like a man who'd eaten five "keyboard hook" burritos the night before. And the chorus - so hypnotic, so relaxing. Phil and David's harmonizing really lulls your ears into that sweet, arrogant, middle-class complacency the lyrics are apparently trying to warn you against. Reclining in your Cape Cod hammock, you slip into a sedate, comforting junkie nod as you think to yourself, "Yes, Phil, it is another day in paradise ... wait, what's this song about again?" It's like a soft, velvetty pillow of shame. Select instrumental highlights:
  • Throughout the first half, the entirety of the track's percussion appears to be supplied by a drum machine (thwacking slightly louder during the keyboard hook than during either the verse or the chorus) until the 2:47 mark, when His Gated-Reverbed Majesty makes his grand entrance on the skins. Sometimes the best tricks ... are the oldest tricks.
  • Phil lays off the drums during the third verse, giving ample room for a tasty flamenco guitar flourish to steal the spotlight at 3:45, only to come crashing back in on the final chorus, his anger at the cosmic injustice he's been forced to witness between limo rides clearly boiling over.
  • I feel like the outro goes on just long enough; with Phil now inventively singing the chorus lyric over the previously unaccompanied keyboard hook, you really get a chance to wallow in your privileged indifference for a good extra minute or so.
But here's the funniest part. I don't merely admire the song on its musical merits alone. I think some twisted, confused portion of me actually likes the lyrics. They're just so ... unapologetically sarcastic. He's really throwing your apathy in your face, gleefully getting off while watching you squirm. And the details are spot-on - give or take a bit of dramatic embellishment. For instance, anyone else find it pretty convenient that the homeless lady in the first verse happens to speak in rhyme? Also, "Starts to whistle as he crosses the street"? How many businessmen whistled as they crossed the street ... in 1989? Plus, Phil left out the most important detail: what was the man whistling? I'm going to go with "The Colonel Bogey March."

At least Phil doesn't pretend to have a solution. It's not like the lyrics are, "If we all just worked together, we could end homelessness forever, la la la la." Instead, he's merely painting the scene, then offering a wry joke about how "wonderful" everything is. "No answers here, folks." In fact, on the bridge, he outright asks, "Oh Lord, is there nothing more that anybody can do?," before adding desperately, "Oh Lord, there must be something you can say." But God doesn't seem to be telling Phil Collins jack squat. Besides, I don't think "Another Day in Paradise" is asking the listener to "solve" homelessness anyway; it's just asking the listener to "think about it." And, you know what? For five minutes and twenty-three seconds of my precious existence, I think I can do that.

It's still the cheesiest piece of cheese that any Yuppie Rocker ever cheesed, of course. I like how the video features shocking "facts," rendered in big bold letters, such as "ONE BILLION PEOPLE HAVE INADEQUATE SHELTER." Define "inadequate." I mean, you should see some of the apartments I've lived in. I also like the shot of the homeless guy wearing a "Don't Worry Be Happy" beanie. Take that, Bobby McFerrin.

Surprisingly, at least according to Phil, the initial inspiration for the track stemmed from an incident far removed from the plight of the street dweller. From In The Air Tonight:
Common misconception: I can understand why people thought I was talking about "paradise," you know, like an ironic reference to heaven or something in relation to the whole homelessness issue, but actually, when I wrote the demo back in the mid-'80s, I was talking about Paradise, Nevada. See, when you think of "Las Vegas," what do you think of? You think of the Las Vegas Strip, right? But what most people don't realize is that the majority of the Las Vegas Strip technically resides in the unincorporated census-designated community of Paradise, Nevada, and that Las Vegas proper is to the north. For demographic purposes, it's probably best to think of Vegas as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Anyway. So it was about 1986, fresh off No Jacket Required, and I'd just gotten back to my room at Harrah's at 3:00am, returning from my favorite Vegas strip club, Cutie Pie's, when the phone rings. Crosby's in town. You know shit's about to get crazy.

So we meet over at Caesar's and head to the blackjack table. He's high on a mixture of ... I want to say PCP and Robitussin? Given that he'd just gotten out of Texas State Prison for drugs and weapons possession charges, you'd think he would've been taking it a bit easy, but then you don't know Croz. And of course I'd just injected a couple of kilos of horsie juice laced with some WD-40 (for that extra kick).

So we're in a pretty good mood. I get on a bit of a roll, and suddenly I'm dealt a 10 and a 6. "I think I'm gonna go for it."

Crosby looks at me, with a clarity belying his mental state. "You sure about that Phil? Think twice."

So I respond, just off the cuff, you know, "Cause it's another day for you and me in Paradise." And we both emit these enormous, Cheshire Cat grins. Anyway, I go for it. "Hit me!" I get a 7. I tell you, Crosby's energy is just unlucky all around, that's what I think. I guess I probably saw some homeless bloke standing on the corner as I stumbled back to Harrah's but ... didn't really feel that bad about it, honestly.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

"I've Got The Power" To Guffaw At Three Anonymous Early '90s Jock Jams

Ner-Nn ... Nn ... Nn ... Nn-Nn-Ner-Nn ... Nn ... Nn ... I've got the powah! (-owah, -owah ...)

And so, at the dawn of the '90s, a strange new genre arose: Eurodance songs featuring American R&B singers and American rappers where nobody knew who the hell any of these people were and nobody really cared, with the odds that the singers appearing in the music videos had anything to do with the sounds being generated on the recordings standing at about 17.5%. Wikipedia attempts to call it "hip house," but I'm skeptical. The official artist credits gave little indication as to who were the genuine brains behind the operations, or even which countries the artists originated from. The producers of these singles could have been international spies, for all we know. "Snap!" "Technotronic." "C+C Music Factory." Even a name like The Beach Boys, unrevealing as it was, at least hinted that young males were somehow involved in the creation of the music one was purchasing. These group names conjured up images of kitchen appliance brands.

Let me say this about "The Power," by Snap!: I love the synthesizer riff that sounds like an extremely shy and hesitant table saw. Credit must also go to the guy in the background continuously smacking the hell out of the wind chime he probably lifted off his neighbor's porch that morning. And kudos to the brains behind Snap! for recognizing that they could not showcase the lyric "I've got the power!" without using a vocalist who truly demonstrated said power. According to Wikipedia, the singer on the recording is Penny Ford, the singer in the video is Jackie Harris, and ... honestly I stopped caring about five seconds ago. She's got the power! Who gives a fuck who the real singer is?

I wonder how much street cred rapper Turbo B generated for himself back in his hometown of Pittsburgh with his appearance on "The Power." I want to make fun of his rap, but hell, he's probably got better flow than MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice combined. (His moment of crowning glory: "Of the mic... rophone ... that I ... am holdin/Copywritten-lyrics-so-they-can't-be-stolen.'") I mean, for 1990, he sounds pretty tough! He is, after all, the lyrical "Jesse James," which means that he, a black man from Pittsburgh, is the lyrical "unrepentant ex-Confederate train-robber," but whatever, it sounds menacing. Another nice touch: the trilling saxophone that calls to mind the opening of the Mission: Impossible Theme. What I'm trying to say is that "The Power" is one of those seemingly tossed-off dance singles where any of the individual elements, taken in isolation, would sound kind of stupid, but when put together, do they not add up to an unstoppable jock jam of the highest order? I mean, this song has really got the ... energy? No, that's not the right word. Wattage? No, not quite it. Centrifugal force? It'll come to me.

The video apparently takes place in a terrifying post-modern future where black people give press conferences. Admit it, breakdancers with flat-top haircuts gyrating in the background is exactly the kind of choreographic touch our new VP's speeches need.

A couple of elements of Technotronic's "Pump Up the Jam" that I've always found mildly annoying: 1) The rapper sounds like the second cousin once removed of either Salt or Pepa (sorry, I never figured out which was which), with a grotesquely thick New York accent and a delivery that lags more egregiously behind the beat than the lead singer of Cake's; 2) The opening lyrics of the chorus. What the hell is she singing? It sounds like "Ow-oh-wah, a place to stay." It's irritated me for years. According to various YouTube comments, she is singing "I don't want a place to stay." Come on now, does it really sound like "I don't want" to you? Look, I don't need Cary Grant-level pronunciation here, but when the lyrics are this repetitive, it wouldn't hurt. Some of the vocalist's awkward affectations might be explained by the fact that, according to Wikipedia, she was Congolese-Belgian recording artist Ya Kid K (birth name Manuela Barbara Kamosi Moaso Djogi), and probably grew up on a street corner in Kinshasa, not Brooklyn. Could've fooled me. Those who watched the video were also fooled, but in a different way: they were fooled into believing that the vocalist was actually Congolese model Felly Kilingi instead. I can see what the producers were thinking here: "Well, as long as the girl in the video is also Congolese, it's all good, right?" Here's what I'm thinking: "Pump Up the Jam"? How about "Pump Up the Video Budget"? This thing looks like it was filmed inside a Game Boy.

Surprisingly, the powers-that-be behind C+C Music Factory were more or less American, although, unsurprisingly, they were not actually a factory. Talk about things that make me go "hmmmm." At least they got one key piece of the formula right: the rather heavy-set Martha Wash's vocals for "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" were mimed in the video by strikingly less heavy-set Liberian "model-turned-singer" Zelma Davis. Apparently Zelma could sing, and she did perform on the aforementioned "Things" and "Here We Go (Let's Rock & Rock)," but after Martha raised such a fuss about "Gonna Make You Sweat," everyone assumed Zelma was just another Milli Vanilla and was promptly stigmatized accordingly, so, it's hard to say who the biggest victims in this terrible saga truly were.

In retrospect, it's funny how much "Gonna Make You Sweat" comes across to my ears as "The Power" Lite. If Turbo B and Frederick Brandon "Freedom" Williams ever faced off in the street, my bet would be on Turbo B. "Make the twirl, it's your world, and I'm just a squirrel/Tryin' to get a nut to move your butt"? "I paid the price to control the dice/I'm all precise, to the point, I'm nice"? Oh Snap!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Runaway Belinda Interviews From The Runaway Horses Era

Like a novice equestrian riding an untamed stallion, any interviewer of Belinda Carlisle circa 1989/1990 might have found themselves treading a thin line between galloping majestically through the unspoiled countryside and being violently catapulted into the gooey mud. Maybe she'd stay the course, maybe she'd end up kicking the jockey in the balls - who could say?

I've always been familiar with USA Today as a newspaper (one which ... still exists?), but I've been unaware of its existence as any sort of television entity; until being asked to do this interview, my guess is that Belinda would have been equally ignorant. Regardless, just prior to the release of Runaway Horses in late 1989, here she finds herself reclining in the passenger seat of an old Cadillac across from a Universal City Nissan dealership, alongside an interviewer armed with a camcorder, a boom box, and hokey narration. I have to say, somehow this ends up being more substantial than it had any right to be. Highlights:
Interviewer: When you went out on the road with the Go-Go's, you had this clean-cut, wholesome image. Did that bother you at the time?

Belinda: Yeah, it was sort of, you know, I think people feel comfortable with labels, and they just happened to slap the "cute, bubbly, and effervescent" label on us, which was fine, it was really annoying, and uh ...

Interviewer: At the time, were you rebelling against that?

Belinda: Oh yeah, definitely. Definitely privately, not publicly, but privately we were definitely rebelling.
Details? Not safe for USA Today? Saving those up for the book, I suppose. The interviewer plays "Leave a Light On" from a tiny little boom box and asks Belinda if she likes it. "Oh yeah, I love it," she responds between giggles. "It's good. I better like it, I did it!"
Interviewer: Is it hard for you to listen to your own music?

Belinda: Yes it is. Especially after I just got through singing that song at least 200 times. Yeah, it is. You know, I love hearing it on the radio though, I remember the very first time I heard my voice on the radio, it was really ... thrilling and it still is, I have to admit when my song comes on I do turn it up.

Interviewer [in voiceover]: When she goes this long between performances, does the thought of a live audience make Belinda nervous?

Belinda: Even when I'm used to it, it freaks me out if I think about it, so I just try not to think about it, and I pretend that they're there to see somebody else. 'Cause it is kind of ... a couple times I've been on stage and I've sort of looked out and you could see profiles from way in the back going like this [waves arms] and you start thinking about, well they've actually paid money to see me, and then it starts, uh, playing tricks on your mind a little bit.
Impostor Syndrome, thy name is Belinda Carlisle.

Here we have a solid performance of "Summer Rain" from the Arsenio Hall Show (featuring at least a few live strings?), followed by a typically amusing interview. (Apologies for the audio that only plays on the left channel; there is a clip of simply the interview portion that features better audio, but I wanted include the performance as well, so, deal with it.) The surely neon-and-spandex-clad audience appears to approve of both the song and Belinda's majestically lengthy fake eyelashes, as I detect a few patented "Whoot! Whoot!" chants among the gathered throng.

I've forgotten how nice Arsenio's couches were. He really didn't skimp on the couches. I've also forgotten how perceptive and empathetic of an interviewer he could be. After Belinda confirms an upcoming Go-Go's reunion (to be discussed by yours truly in a future post?), Arsenio remarks, "You look good. And when I say 'good' I mean, not, yeah, you know..." The audience inevitably hollers. "I mean not in the sense of 'Why don't you come on back to my place later' ... I don't mean it like that, I mean, I'm looking into your eyes and I know you did have some problems and you've gotten 'em together and you look real healthy and happy and I'm happy for you." Belinda smiles, nods, and responds "Thank you, I am happy." Yeahhhh. According to Lips Unsealed, she was just keeping things together at this point and was merely a few months away from hitting an even rougher patch, but, you know ... it was probably wisest just to smile, nod, and say "Thank you, I am happy." The next exchange is a keeper:
Arsenio: Let's talk music. AMA's this past week?

Belinda: (giggles)

Arsenio: What'd you think, did you go?

Belinda: No. Uh-uh. I was in Vegas.

Arsenio: What do you think about, like, the direction of music, Milli Vanilli being the hottest thing in music? (laughs gleefully)

Belinda: (mangles her words but essentially says, "Mother always taught me, 'If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.'") They're not my favorite. But I know they're not your favorite either.

Arsenio: I'm just amazed by it.

Belinda: I am too. I am too! What can I say?

Arsenio: I mean, some place, Tom Petty, and Paul McCartney, and great writers like Luther Vandross and Elton John, they're sittin' around and sayin' "What the hell is goin' on?!"
Well how 'bout them apples? I guess even at the time, before their terrible "secret" trickled out, many in the entertainment business were already rather unimpressed with Milli Vanilli. Catchy tunes though. Later, Belinda goes into detail about her process for picking her material, something she hardly ever talked about:
Arsenio: How do you choose your material, I mean, what do you look for? 'Cause I think, people sing your songs constantly.

Belinda: Well I know lyrically, you know, by looking at it, whether it's right for me or not and, um, I have a good sense of what I do, and uh, I just know really basically within 30 seconds whether the song is right for me or not, doesn't really take me that long to figure it out.
This might help explain her glorious demo of "Waiting For a Star to Fall," although it certainly lasted longer than 30 seconds. He asks her if she writes a lot, and she replies, without too much exaggeration, "I'm starting to write, I have a credit on the Graces album [one of Charlotte Caffey's projects] and I have a half-a-credit on my album, so I'm tryin'." When Arsenio repeats, "Half a credit," she responds, playfully, "That's better than no credit." He asks her which song she co-wrote, she answers "Shades of Michaelangelo," and when she hears crickets, Belinda raises her arms and shouts, "Yeah!" like a girl in school who just ran for class president, failed to receive a single vote, and is attempting to laugh it off.

Just when I thought I'd seen it all, here's Belinda on what appears to be a UK children's TV show called Going Live! The host begins by handing Belinda a Platinum award for Runaway Horses (or rather, forcing young Hayden and Genevieve to do the dirty work), which she pretends to appreciate but ultimately seems to understand she has no real use for. Then, upon being prompted, she shares the following story: "I was jogging in the park in Australia, and I love dogs, and I stopped to pet a great dane, and he liked me a lot and he attacked me in the park." She proceeds to raise her eyebrows with sardonic glee.

Next comes a segment in which children across the British Isles call in and ask Belinda questions, which she is supposed to be able to hear through a giant 1990-era cell phone, but her phone seems to malfunction and she can't make out a damn thing. Utilizing that quick British problem-solving know-how of his, the host simply repeats the questions for Belinda, but she is obviously wondering why the program doesn't just pipe the caller audio into large studio speakers like a normal TV program would. A technician speedily pops up and hands Belinda a new cell phone, but this doesn't necessarily make the cell phone gimmick seem any more justifiable. After a pair of softball questions from Claire Chisholm and Zoe Lawrence about fear of live performance and animal rights activism, respectively, Nicholas Payne asks what should be a softball question, but gives Belinda the chance to puncture the magical veneer of pop stardom:
Nicholas Payne: Why did you choose the ... musical career?

Belinda: Why did I? Umm ... well I sort of fell into it accidentally. I was with a bunch of friends one night at a party, four of the girls, and everybody we knew was in a band and they were terrible, so we thought, that we could be in a band and be terrible too.

Host: This is the Go-Go's.

Belinda: Yeah, uh-huh. But that was the great thing about the punk days, you know, you didn't really have to know how to play your instruments.

Host: Would you say that you've now changed, and maybe changed your singing and vocals?

Belinda: Oh I've since, about four or five years into my, you know, singing career, I started taking vocal lessons.

Host: Right, right, did they make any difference? I mean, did you think halfway through, "Oh this is a waste of time"?

Belinda: Oh it makes a big difference, I still go to vocal lessons, yeah, yeah.

Host: And what is that, stretching your ...

Belinda: It's learning how to sing properly and not singing through your throat, singing through your diaphragm, your stomach, and it's, umm, you know, they sort of stretch your vocal abilities out a little bit.

Host: Sounds very painful to me.
So there you go Nicholas, you could be a pop star too - with or without vocal lessons. James Gilbert then asks Belinda if she has ever been to Marseilles, given that the town is mentioned in the lyrics to "La Luna," and Belinda spends about thirty seconds uninformatively repeating that her time in Marseilles was "interesting," leading one to conclude that whatever did happen to Belinda in Marseilles was probably very interesting indeed, and probably NSF-Going Live! She and the host then show off the glorious package of Runaway Horses paraphernalia that lucky viewers could win if they correctly answer the question, "What is the term used to describe the height of a horse?"

The show finally switches to an awkward segment where the host and Belinda grab postcards out of a giant basket, read out questions and answers, and then announce the winners of various prizes, with Belinda essentially acting as Vannah White. She attempts to be a good sport (and she somehow knows how many colors there are in a rainbow!), but clearly has a look on her face that all but says, "When I finally get out of here, I'm going to have a talk with my agent about this."

Last but not least, here's another interview from, I presume, only a short while later during the same tour of Britain, and this poor UK TV station appears to have caught Belinda on a ... less-than-optimal day. If Belinda isn't high on coke here, she certainly appears to be high on something (in Lips Unsealed she mentions lugging around a tasty cocktail of Valium, Halcion, and Rohypnol at this time). Either she'd been singing herself hoarse the entire week prior, or she'd been drinking one pint of lighter fluid too many, but her speaking voice has been reduced to a craggy ball of razors. Notice, also, how her speech is extremely rushed and tense, with hardly any pauses. She barely looks at the interviewer, and she only laughs when she recounts the depressing details of her drug use. The answers all sound slightly rehearsed and canned. Basically, she looks kind of ... fucked up. Which makes this clip utterly mesmerizing and turns all the talk about her "past struggles with addiction" into something alternately sad and hilarious. It's as if the station had prepared a segment based on a bunch of marketing info they'd received from Belinda's record label, and then Belinda walked into the studio almost certainly under the influence of one chemical or another and completely undercut the narrative, but the anchors pretended not to notice and simply stuck to the script. It's gold, baby! Best segment:
Interviewer: Well how did you decide to stop then?

Belinda: I met my husband, and I knew that I couldn't carry on with a relationship with him, um, if I continued the way I was going. He had no idea that I was a drug addict when he got involved with me. And, um, he didn't give me any ultimatum, I just decided that, if I was to, you know, I wanted to marry him.

Interviewer: When did you tell him that you had this problem, when did he guess?

Belinda: No, I think he figured it out when he found all the coke underneath the sofa. (Laughs uncontrollably.) I think that's ... I think that's ... (can't seem to stop laughing) when he figured out, "I've gotten involved with a drug addict." Um, but, I mean, I could hide it pretty well. You know. I'll never forget that morning when he found ... (bursts into uncontrollable laughter again) ... he dumps it over the balcony and I was like, "Oh no! My drugs!" But um, I realized then that I had a choice, that I had to either get my act together or, you know, I wouldn't be where I am now.
And where, exactly, are you now, Belinda? Props for her skillful re-enactment of Morgan tossing her coke; I feel like she really took us into the moment. The zaniness continues:
Interviewer: So what did you do then, Belinda, what route did you go then to stop it?

Belinda: I had a friend that just got clean, and I called her and she took me to a meeting. I'm not a program person because I still drink occasionally, it was never a problem with me, um, you know, drugs were a problem with me. Um, so, for a while I was going to support groups, and now I'm in, um, sort of an offspring of a support group that deals with a different addiction which is food. And so now I'm working my steps through the drugs too. Um, but if it's not one thing it's the other.

Interviewer: Can I talk to you a bit about your music?
Oh that's right, her music. I'd forgotten about that. Once it's all over, the camera cuts back to the studio set, where the two unflappable anchors do their best to ignore what they'd seen and mostly focus on what they'd heard. "She's been very honest about all that." "But it's brilliant what she's been through, to come out of it like that, and to have a wonderful career." Oh yes, to "come out of it" like that. Totally the impression I got.