I Think It's Me
A Personal History of Belinda Carlisle's Personal History
On our very last day of Catholic high school, my best friend Mary and I earned 12 hours of detention for skipping morning classes to play golf with cute boys. (The attendance master, a miserable, ancient man I'd nicknamed Brother John of the Dead, hated us.) As punishment, we spent the day before graduation setting up all the tables and shit for the ceremony. Afterward, we got some college guys to buy us beer and spent the night drinking, smoking, and driving around (I KNOW) in the big truck Mary's family used to do farm business. That truck had a tendency to idle forward unless you kept your foot on the brake, but it had an awesome stereo, and the soundtrack of the evening, as it pretty much had been since it came out nearly a year earlier, was the Go-Go's Beauty and the Beat. We loved every single song on that album, but especially "Tonite," because the lyrics about getting dressed up and messed up and seeing the night through till day pretty much summed up our friendship. I vividly remember it playing as a whiff of More menthols (I KNOW) burning through upholstery led us to realize that not only was curfew coming up, but for at least a few minutes, we'd been passed out as the truck had idled forward in the school's empty parking lot, where we somehow, by the grace of god and the Go-Go's, ended up (WE KNEW).
I look back on my life and regret pulling stupid juvenile shit as long as I did. But WOW, Belinda Carlisle! She pulled stupid juvenile shit for so long that her new memoir, Lips Unsealed, shocked even me. As lead singer of the Go-Go's, a band with the distinction of being the first with a chart-topping album written and played by women, Carlisle has an exciting, important story to tell. Two of Go-Go's guitarist Charlotte Caffey's younger siblings were classmates of mine, and another—a total stoner with hair down to his butt—worked at my favorite record store, so I'd known early on about the drugs-and-party-stuff that went down when the band first got famous. I hoped the book would be an old-fashioned celebrity tell-all bursting with history and dirt, but like it says on the cover, it's a MEMOIR. The history's there, but (perhaps admirably, damnit) Carlisle sticks pretty close to her own dirt and only occasionally reveals the exploits of her bandmates. Maybe they have their own memoirs in mind. Personally, I'd love to read one by Jane Wiedlin, who precipitated the Go-Go's first breakup after leaving the band in disgust.
So gossip? Yeah, but. However, Carlisle's blow addiction? Holy shit. And I'll be the first to admit that I'm furthering the existence of a double standard here by shaking my head as I read about a rock-star parent who didn't slow down in the least after she had a kid. But that Carlisle's son, Duke, was nearly a teenager by the time she realized she didn't want to end up like John Entwistle—dead in a hotel room after too much cocaine—is super-depressing entertainment. An earlier bit about snorting lines off the mini-fixtures in the bathroom of Duke's London kindergarten was so cringe-inducing that I nearly quit the book right there. I'll say this for Carlisle: She doesn't hold back on ratting on herself, and Lips Unsealed is certainly a tell-all of the singer's worst behavior. It's just that it's hard for a reader like me to glean much of the vicarious thrill I was anticipating. Although it has been fun looking up clips on YouTube of Carlisle claiming in various interviews to be done with the blow, knowing now that she's lying through her numbed teeth.
When she does get sober (some five years ago, which means I didn't need to blind that item about her asking for some "white lady" at a Capitol Hill club in my column in The Stranger in 2001) and the recovery part of the memoir begins? Boring. Carlisle again goes the AA route (no rehab: "I couldn't stand the thought of seeing my dirty laundry unfurled in the press," she'd told herself after Caffey had got sober in a facility several years earlier), bolstered by spiritual enlightenment culled from trips to India and chanting and things like that, which is fine. I just feel that people with serious substance-abuse problems, especially those with means, should undergo extensive cognitive behavioral therapy after attaining sobriety and try to mend the psychic rips. Get some power over all that powerlessness, you know?
Maybe she has, but to hear her tell it, yoga and a dippy rebirthing experience at an ashram led Carlisle to discover, as with so many creative people, that she felt like a fraud constantly on the verge of being found out. I've read this dawning awareness so many times, most recently in Cherie Currie's Neon Angel (the beefed-up reissue that came out after the release of its big-screen realization, The Runaways). So Belinda Carlisle handled her creativity first with wine, followed by tons of blow. And then with a book whose title sounds less interesting every time I type it.