Eat, Pray, Love is the sequel to Coyote Ugly.
Piper Periboo grows up to be Julia Roberts.
I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, which I can’t recommend enough, and I vaguely remembered she had written whatever source Coyote Ugly was based upon. I probably had something else important to do, so seeking it out became First Priority. I found it easily, and as I read, the silver screen and written word jumbled around in my head. I realized: Violet Sanford is Elizabeth Gilbert.
I knew Eat, Pray, Love had been followed by a second memoir, Committed. Turns out both books are technically sequels to Gilbert’s 1997 article for GQ, “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon.” Nobody seems to mention this. I did a quick web search, polled friends, heard only crickets. I carried the knowledge inexplicably; I have no idea how I knew. Maybe it’s because I tend to read the trivia of movies I like on IMDB.com? It’s mentioned there briefly, but Gilbert gets no writing credit. When I started looking for it, I thought I was searching for a short story. It’s not.
If you’ve seen the movie Coyote Ugly, “The Muse” will feel awfully familiar. Imagine Violet without all the catchy-song writing stuff or the endearing family in Jersey, but keep all the singing and dancing on the bar. Remove the romantic subplot, almost entirely; manage to keep most of your favorite lines of dialogue. And then realize everything that remains actually happened. The same woman who spent months in an ashram in India scrubbing floors and failing to meditate poured tequila from the bottle straight into the throats of her acolytes. I love it.
By the end of “The Muse” she’s met and married her first husband. Fast forward in time a bit. Cue Eat, Pray, Love, which starts with a painful, difficult divorce. Her happy ending in one medium became the devastating catalyst of another.
You can follow the breadcrumbs further if you want. Committed picks up where Eat, Pray, Love leaves off, at least in terms of the characters and gorgeous descriptions of travel. Committed is a thorough meditation on marriage, a union she is hesitant to enter again. I don’t blame her; in 2015, she wrote an article for the New York Times called “Confessions of a Seduction Addict.” In it she writes:
“You might have called me a serial monogamist, except that I was never exactly monogamous. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality: sobbing arguments, shaming confrontations, broken hearts. Still, I kept doing it. I couldn’t not do it.”
In 2016, she announced on Facebook her marriage had ended.
Don’t feel bad for connecting all the dots, finding the overarching narrative, noticing discrepancies, for deliberating which source is more likely to be the most true, the articles or the memoir (I say articles)– she’s putting all this out there for a reason. Writers like her, like me actually, put slices of our lives out there for the world to read, not even veiled as fiction. It’s an invitation. Permission. You’re allowed to try and get to know her by paying attention to what she tells you and to what she doesn’t. Somewhere in there is the real woman, and you can get as close as she’ll let you. Honestly, she wouldn’t have published it if she didn’t want you to read it.
Once, I envied her. Now I simply admire her. I admire the messages she seems to be peddling, like the one that insists we all have something creative to give and that it’s worth it to try. I find it comforting when she assures me that the Universe loves me as I am. To me, she’s a reminder that nobody is the sum total of a first impression, that it’s okay to be liked and disliked, and that a human being is a beautiful-if-flawed conglomeration of experiences.
I don’t have a job right now. I’m occasionally terrified by this. But then I find Big Magic, and it says I’ve fucking got this. Eat, Pray, Love tells me something literally awesome wants me to be who I am, and “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon” proves that we all start somewhere. These are solid forms of inspiration, scattered throughout her portfolio. Leading me somewhere I’m following.