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.