Here’s a repost of an Epinions book review I wrote in July 2010. It’s currently reposted on my music blog, Dungeon of the Past, but I’m giving some thought to discontinuing that blog soon. Since this repost has gotten good views on my other blog, I’m going to preserve it as/is here on this one.
Summer seems to be the time for celebrity memoirs. I happen to love a good celebrity tell all, so I’m always game for reading and reviewing them. I’ve just finished reading Belinda Carlisle’s Lips Unsealed: A Memoir (2010), having picked it up a couple of days ago, thinking I needed something more lightweight to read after the somber subject of my last book review. *Sigh* As it turned out, Ms. Carlisle’s memoir didn’t quite fit the bill for easy, breezy reading material.
Who is Belinda Carlisle?
Here’s an explantation for those of you who did not grow up in the 70s and 80s or did not listen to pop music back in that era. Belinda Carlisle is the lead singer of the 80s era punk/pop girl band The Go Gos. She’s also done quite a few solo albums over the years, though her hey day as a solo artist was in the late 1980s. Since that happened to be the time I was in high school, it made me part of Belinda Carlisle’s targeted group of fans. However, while I did like Belinda Carlisle when she was a Go Go, I never liked her as much as a solo artist.
So why did I read her book?
I read Belinda Carlisle’s book for several reasons. First off, while I wasn’t a big fan of Belinda’s music, I did always think she was kind of cute, likeable, and perky. I liked the Go Go’s; when they were popular, they were among very few all girl bands. Reading Carlisle’s memoir opened my eyes to the host of personal problems she’s struggled with, apparently throughout her life.
Blame it on dad…
Belinda Carlisle grew up in southern California. She was her mother Joanne’s firstborn child out of a total of seven kids by two different men. Belinda was born when her mother was 18 years old. Her father, Harold Carlisle, who was Joanne’s first husband, was about twice his wife’s age. He was out of the house a lot when Belinda was growing up, due to his work. Harold and Joanne were terribly incompatible, yet they still managed to have two more kids before Harold Carlisle permanently left the home. Belinda was seven years old and very upset about the split. However, Joanne had been keeping company with a neighbor named Walt. He eventually moved in, married Belinda’s mom, and took over daddy duties, fathering four more kids.
As Belinda tells it, they were always very poor and her bio-dad wasn’t around at all. Apparently, he never paid child support or visited. And Belinda’s mother had encouraged her kids with Harold Carlisle to call Walt “Dad”. Belinda writes that she still calls him that and thinks of him in that way, even though Walt was abusive and an alcoholic.
As the oldest child, Belinda had to take on a lot of responsibilities around the house. This was in part because her mother suffered from a mental illness and because with seven kids in the house, there was a lot to do. Belinda also had a very fragile self-esteem. Because her family was poor, she didn’t have a lot of cool clothes and she had a less than svelte body. Her classmates made fun of her.
As she came of age, Belinda Carlisle went from being an awkward, chubby kid to a wild teenager. She writes of hanging around her friends at concert venues in Los Angeles, drinking, doing drugs, and occasionally shoplifting. She developed an affinity for punk music and eventually ran into the other women who would help make up the Go Go’s.
Making music and getting laid and snorting cocaine and getting drunk… lather, rinse, repeat
Once the story progresses into Belinda Carlisle’s music career, an unpleasant image of her begins to emerge. She describes herself as a very troubled person, not particularly talented as a songwriter, not able to play any instruments, and not even the greatest singer. But she was the lead singer for the Go Gos, despite those shortcomings. Her status as a lead singer opened doors for her, created resentments for some of the other band members, and apparently made her feel very insecure.
As Carlisle writes it, she was constantly snorting cocaine and drinking because she didn’t like herself. She also didn’t like her bio dad, who, once Belinda became an adult and was famous, tried to reconnect with her. She writes of an incident in which he showed up at a concert with his second wife and their daughters, whom she claims he “replaced her with”. Belinda met them while extremely high on cocaine. She says he tried to explain his side of the story. She tuned him out, claiming that he was just blaming her mother– who no doubt was responsible for at least some of went wrong. Then she expressed bitterness that he would try to contact her “just because she was famous”. I daresay if she was that high on cocaine, her perceptions of what was actually said in that meeting are probably very skewed.
Later, bio dad and Belinda’s sisters from his side of the family tried to reconnect again. She refused to see them and eventually told her dad she didn’t want a relationship with him. And yet, throughout this book, it’s pretty clear to me that his unexplained departure when she was a little kid had left a huge void. As far as I can tell, that psychic wound is still very painful for her. Yet, as she proudly proclaims her sobriety and newfound sanity, this is an area she evidently still refuses to address.
My husband is one of those dads who left his children when they were young and no longer has a relationship with them thanks to extreme parental alienation. Because of that, I feel some empathy for Belinda Carlisle’s father. Granted, everybody’s situation is different. Harold Carlisle might very well be the jerk Belinda Carlisle makes him out to be. But, I do think it says something for him that he tried on several occasions to reunite with her. Yes, he did find her when she was famous, but this all occurred at a time before the Internet. Maybe that was the only way he could track her down.
I don’t get the comment Belinda Carlisle made about her dad “replacing her” with daughters from his second marriage. First off, it would be impossible for Belinda’s father (or any other parent) to replace one child with another. And secondly, clearly Harold Carlisle wasn’t all bad. He did apparently stick around and raise his younger kids. If he was a total bum, he would have left them, too. Finally, Belinda’s mother had four kids with her second husband and she considers them her siblings. Why isn’t her father allowed to have a life post divorce? Clearly, her parents didn’t belong together, but Belinda makes it clear that neither of them were angels. Why heap all the blame on dad?
Like father like daughter…
Another issue Carlisle never seems to address is that for all her complaints about her father’s absence, she was apparently often absent from her son Duke’s life. She was using cocaine and alcohol frequently when Duke was a small child, traveling a lot, and partying a whole lot. Yes, she was still married to Duke’s father, but by her own admission she was not around much and was certainly no paragon of parenthood. I’m sure she’d blame that on her bio father, too.
Beyond Belinda’s daddy woes…
There’s an awful lot about drugs in this book. It seems that Belinda Carlisle spent about thirty years of her life high on cocaine. For that, she was rewarded with fame and fortune. She doesn’t make fame out to be as great as it seems, except when she starts name dropping all the celebrities she’s met over the years. Since this is a celebrity memoir and the nature of a celebrity’s work puts them in contact with other celebrities, that’s to be expected. But it does seem to me that Carlisle got more than her fair share of second and third chances. More often than not, she comes off as a bit self-absorbed and selfish.
Despite my griping…
I will admit that Lips Unsealed is well-written and interesting and, for that, I’m giving it four stars. Belinda Carlisle must have a guardian angel, since she found a husband that she describes as “saintly”. They’ve been married for over two decades and their son has apparently grown up healthy and functional. They live in Los Angeles and the South of France. They must be doing something right.
Belinda Carlisle’s memoir did annoy me on more than one occasion, but I think it’s worth reading if you’re a fan of hers or the Go Gos. She claims that now that she’s in her 50s, she’s clean and sober. I truly hope she is and has learned from her mistakes. Judging by this memoir, however, I think she’s still got a long way to travel on the road to recovery.
And here are the comments left on my Dungeon repost. One was from Belinda’s sister.
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