book reviews, celebrities, music

Repost: Belinda Carlisle unzips her lips…

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.

A bizarre anti-drug PSA by Belinda Carlisle. She had cute hair, though.

I’ll admit…

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.

Overall

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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book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: Review of Scouts Dishonor: A Personal story of God, Abuse, Recovery and Truth

This book review appeared on my original blog on December 10, 2016. I am reposting it as/is. This topic comes up because the Boy Scouts are in the news again because of rampant sexual abuse.

It’s time once again for another exmo lit book review.  It’s been awhile since I reviewed any books about the LDS church, but I decided I had to read this book when I saw it referenced on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site.  Written by Tommy Womeldorf and published in June 2015, Scouts Dishonor is Womeldorf’s true story of getting involved with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America.  Although many boys grow up Mormon and enjoy Scouting, Womeldorf’s experiences as a Boy Scout were extremely traumatizing.  Although he’d been a promising athlete who had dreams of playing sports professionally, what happened to Tommy Womeldorf would cause him to abandon athletics and turn to alcohol and drugs.

In 2012, Womeldorf decided he wanted to seek justice against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America.  He was living in Arizona at the time, along with his wife Arlene, and daughters Sophia, Julia, Fiona and Lola.  Sophia was Arlene’s daughter from another relationship, but Womeldorf treated her as his own.  The family had been attending the LDS church for awhile, although Womeldorf had fallen away from Mormonism for about twenty years. 

One summer day, Womeldorf was working as a laborer for a job at a Marriott Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.  His job was to unload a truck.  On the side of the truck were the words “Boy Scouts of America”.  Twenty-nine years earlier, Womeldorf had been a Boy Scout, where his nightmare began.  Unloading the truck had apparently awakened something inside of Womeldorf that made him want to seek justice for what had happened to him when he was a thirteen year old boy.  He was in the care of Craig Mathias, a Mormon Boy Scoutmaster who happened to be a pervert. 

Tommy Womeldorf’s parents had both been raised in alcoholic households.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had seemed like a wholesome and stable environment for their family.  Womeldorf’s father was especially impressed by the church, though his mother seemed less interested in it.  She eventually came around and the family became regular attendees. 

Like many young male Mormons, Womeldorf joined the Boy Scouts, where he first met his abuser.  Mathias was a methodical, meticulous man who easily spotted the vulnerable and exploited them.  Womeldorf’s father had had to take on extra work and gave up his position as Boy Scoutmaster, giving Mathias more opportunity to groom his victims.  As he was growing older, Tommy was less interested in scouting.  He and his parents had been fighting about it.  His parents finally said he could skip church if he would go to Boy Scouts.  He relented when they also threatened to take away his Ozzy Osborne and Motley Crue posters.  It’s my guess that the tension at home, along with Womeldorf’s father’s extra work hours, had made a perfect storm for Mathias to strike.

Just a warning.  Womeldorf goes into graphic detail about what happened to him when he was alone with his abuser.  I had to stop reading a couple of times because it was sickening to read.  Womeldorf’s mother was totally trusting of Mathias and never had a problem with letting her son visit him alone.  She figured he was a Mormon who was divinely called by God to be a Boy Scout leader.  He had to be safe, right? 

Although Womeldorf and his father reported Mathias to Bishop Brent Griffiths, Griffiths discounted Womeldorf’s story.  Instead of being helpful and supportive, Griffiths changed the direction of the meeting by bringing up Womeldorf’s sins.  Five years later, Craig Mathias was convicted of sexually abusing five Boy Scouts.  However, Womeldorf did not get justice, since his claims were unacknowledged.  Womeldorf writes that had the bishop taken him seriously, those boys would not have had the experiences they did.

In the wake of the abuse, Womeldorf descended into drug addiction, drug dealing, and alcoholism.  His life began to turn around when he met Arlene Ryan, a single mother of an infant daughter.  They eventually started attending the LDS church again and were even profiled in a 2012 issue of the Ensign.  But Tommy soon started feeling very uncomfortable in the church and went inactive.  Two church members came over to his house to assign him a calling…  assistant Boy Scoutmaster.  It was at that point that Womeldorf told the two members that he was pursuing legal action against the church due to their negligence when he was himself a Boy Scout.  And then he sat down to write his book.

I paid 99 cents for the Kindle version of this book and I think it was money well spent.  I noticed a few minor editing glitches.  For instance, sometimes Womeldorf mixes up words like council versus counsel and prey versus pray.  Overall, though, Scouts Dishonor is a remarkably coherent account, especially given that Womeldorf abused many drugs and drank a lot of booze in the years after his abuse.  It appears that although he’s given up on Mormonism, Womeldorf is now living a clean and sober life with his wife and daughters.  I recommend his book.

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book reviews

A review of Long Way Home, by Cameron Douglas

I’m not sure what prompted me to read Long Way Home (2019), written by Cameron Douglas, son of Michael Douglas and grandson of Kirk Douglas. I think it’s because I read an article or maybe even a book by someone who met him when he was a child and thought he was a nice kid. Nice kids, unfortunately, go off the rails sometimes, particularly when they grow up too privileged and lack discipline. That’s what happened to Cameron Douglas, who has spent a significant part of his life behind bars.

I grew up watching Cameron’s dad, Michael Douglas, in movies like Romancing the Stone, The War of the Roses, and Fatal Attraction. I always liked Michael Douglas. I especially liked him in Romancing the Stone, though the sequel to that film, The Jewel of the Nile, sucked donkey balls. It’s hard to believe that a movie star like Michael Douglas, who is also the son of the late movie star, Kirk Douglas, could produce a son who would get in so much trouble with the law. But Cameron, who is also the son of Diandra Luker, chose a different, destructive path. Now aged 41, he seems to have turned over a new leaf with his partner, Viviane Thibes, and their daughter, Lua Izzy Douglas, who was born December 17, 2017.

What the hell happened?

Cameron Douglas seems like he should have had an easy life, but by the time he was thirty years old, he was a drug addict, a thief, and in deep trouble with the law. When everything came crashing down in Douglas’s life, he was sentenced to five years in prison. Five more years were also added to his sentence due to incidents that occurred while he was in prison.

There were signs Cameron was going to be in trouble long before he wound up in federal lockups around the country. When he was growing up, he went to private schools, a couple of which were known for dealing with disciplinary cases. He mentions Provo Canyon School, which was recently in the news because Paris Hilton was sent there when she was a teen. Hilton said that the school was “torture” for her and Cameron Douglas also mentions that it’s a place where kids don’t want to be sent. He went there in handcuffs as a teenager, encountered the mostly Mormon staff, and ended up having an affair with a staffer named Cynthia who had initially invited him to play chess.

From there, Cameron’s life only got more complicated. His stints in rehab and arrests became more and more serious until he was finally busted for dealing drugs in 2010. At one point, he was even the subject of an intervention by famous interventionist Candy Finnegan, who is well-known for being on the show, Intervention, on the A&E network.

Through it all, Douglas describes how his family reacted. Michael Douglas seemed to want to help his son, although sometimes he did so in bumbling ways. For instance, Cameron had a dog named Junior that he shared with his then girlfriend, Erinn, who apparently shared his drug problems. Cameron’s dog was bred with a female dog Michael owned. Michael tried to keep Cameron’s dog, claiming that Cameron was too messed up to care for the dog properly. Naturally, that pissed off the younger Douglas. Junior, whom Cameron loved very much, eventually died of cancer. Cameron broke up with Erinn, in part, because she hadn’t properly taken care of his dog by getting him to a vet before the cancer got too bad.

Michael Douglas also tried tough love, interventions, “kidnapping” his son and taking him to rehabs… none of it worked. Finally, he sort of withdrew, after divorcing Cameron’s mother, who had caught him cheating. He married Catherine Zeta-Jones and had two more children, Dylan and Carys, while his eldest son, Cameron, was incarcerated.

Cameron’s mother, Diandra Luker, is described as sort of a free spirit who grew up in Mallorca, Spain. She married Michael Douglas when she was just nineteen, having only known him for six weeks, and they stayed married for seventeen years. Throughout their marriage, Michael abused alcohol and had “flings”, including with his former co-star, Kathleen Turner. I got the sense that Diandra is a bit flighty, although she had Cameron when she was very young and they sort of “grew up together”. Basically, it sounds like Cameron’s parents were focused on a lot of other things, rather than raising their son properly. But it’s hard to judge them, given the lifestyle they had. Maybe it would have been noble for Michael Douglas to stop acting in movies and take care of his son, but it probably would not have been realistic.

My thoughts

Much of Long Way Home, written historical present tense, is about Cameron’s time behind bars. He admits that he’s intrigued by prison culture and attracted to it. Prior to his time in prison, Cameron kind of played around at acting without much success. He tried to be a D.J., too, but he often messed up those opportunities by abusing drugs and blowing his professional obligations.

I didn’t really like Cameron’s use of historical present tense, although the book is pretty well-written. I don’t know why that style was so irritating to me. It’s the way I used to write papers about books I read when I was an English major. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like it.

I was kind of impressed by Cameron’s comments about his parents and grandparents. I was especially impressed by what he has to say about his dad, who really does seem to care a lot about Cameron, as well as Kirk Douglas, who was proud of Cameron, even though he’d done seven years in prison. Cameron had a tattoo made of himself, Michael, and Kirk. Michael was reportedly uncomfortable with it, but Kirk, who died a few months ago at age 103, reportedly thought it was very cool.

Cameron Douglas has apparently changed his way of living. He got out of prison and is now working to better his life. The change seems to have occurred when he was in prison and he realized what a waste of time it is. He started keeping more to himself or hanging out with people who didn’t want to go back to prison. He started to meditate, quit drinking prison booze, stopped using heroin, and began reading excellent books by renowned writers. It was as if he learned to use his time wisely as a man in his 30s instead of in grade school, when most people learn.

Overall…

I mostly liked this book. I think Cameron Douglas is very honest about his struggles and I never got the sense that he doesn’t realize how very privileged he is. He admits that he has advantages the most people will never have, and getting out of prison and integrating into a more law abiding lifestyle is easier for him than it is for most people who are incarcerated. He includes some photos, too, which were interesting.

Although I know that he has a lot more help than most people do, I’m glad that he’s trying to change his ways. It would have been better if he had shown more respect for his privileges when he was much younger. A lot of people will judge him because of all he has. Personally, I find it hard to judge him. I don’t know what it’s like to be him, or what it was like to grow up with a father who is a movie star. It may seem like that would be awesome, but the reality of that lifestyle may be that it’s empty and fake. Money can’t buy happiness, and the more money a person has, the more likely it is that he or she will be surrounded by people who aren’t “real”.

I think some people failed Cameron when he was growing up, although I find it hard to judge them, too. They were caught up in the chaos of fame and money. Ultimately, it’s sad, because so many “normal” people look at the wealthy and envy them. But they have problems, too… and that kind of an empty existence can make the escape to drug use attractive, particularly for someone who lacks discipline and strong role models. I commend Cameron Douglas for waking up and changing his life, even if he wasted years in prison. On the other hand, maybe the time wasn’t really wasted if he learned something and straightened himself out. I’m glad to read that his parents and stepparents didn’t abandon him. Catherine Zeta-Jones, in particular, seems to have been pretty decent to Cameron, even though he was incarcerated. His family did visit him while he was in prison, including his much younger half-siblings.

I’m not one of those people who thinks people who get in trouble should automatically be thrown away. I think most people have some redeeming qualities and deserve a chance to change their behavior. I have noticed a lot of people think Cameron’s book is “self-serving” and “whining”. Frankly, I’m not sure why those people would read this book in the first place. They don’t seem to have any empathy for people who screw up– (and everyone does, to some extent). As long as he’s done dealing drugs and committed to raising his daughter, I don’t begrudge Cameron Douglas for sharing his story. Maybe someone will learn from it or relate to it.

I would recommend Long Way Home, but only to those who aren’t going to dismiss Cameron Douglas out of hand for being born to “Hollywood Royalty”. He can’t help that. And yes, he should have spent his time as a youth more wisely, but again– as long as he’s learned from his mistakes, it’s all good, as far as I’m concerned.

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