Vacation may have been all she’s ever wanted—from slick record industry execs that is—but now that Belinda Carlisle has nurtured the celebrity hangover of her ’80s Go-Go’s fame and has basked in the afterglow of her own smashing solo career in the ’90s, the one-time “Dottie Danger” has a lot to be jazzed about.
For starters, she’s just launched a 15-city American tour, her first since the early ’90s. Carlisle hits the stage locally in Redwood City’s Fox Theate, where she’ll sing a collection of her hits, backed up by former Go-Go’s cohort and friend, Gina Shock, who handles percussion duties. Then, of course, there’s already a buzz about another Go-Go’s tour, slated for August.
But what, exactly, has pop music’s spunkiest chanteusse been up to since she disappeared off the Entertainment radar in the late-’90s? A lot, actually. That is if you consider freedom a full-time job. For Carlisle it is. She’s been married to hotshot producer Morgan Mason (Sex, Lies and Videotape) for more than 15 years—the two have a son, James Duke Mason, who’s 10—and divides her time between a home in the south of France and London, where Mason’s London Films is based.
Like most celebrity success stories, Carlisle’s is filled with colorful ups and downs. She blasted the punk rock scene in Los Angeles in the late-’70s with the name Dottie Danger and spent some time as a drummer for the Germs until she finally corralled a few other high-energy gals together to birth The Misfits. Future Go-Go’s Charlotte Caffey and Shock eventually joined the band and the musical group found themselves opening for Madness (“Our House”). The gig lead to the creation of the Go-Go’s, also featuring Jane Wiedlin and Kathy Valentine on bass, replacing Margo Olavarria. In 1981, the group released their first album, We Got the Beat—it went double platinum. Over the next few years, they devoured the music scene with bouncy, feel-good singles: “We Got the Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Head Over Heels,” “Vacation.”
Then fame became the sixth bandmate—and everything changed. There were tales of bitchy backstabbing, rumors of sexual trysts with Rob Lowe—in one interview Carlisle admitted that Lowe was definitely a “share the experience” thing for the band—Carlisle’s own public outbursts with MCA record chief Al Teller and, oh yes, cocaine binges with John Belushi. But these are the delicious things that make headlines and sell magazines. Dig deeper, and you’ll find Belinda Carlisle, the person, not the manufactured icon the media and all her beloved Go-Go’s fans make her out to be—just a woman who’s always had a passion for music and, like everybody else on the planet figuring out life, did the best job she could coming into her own.
I recently caught up with Carlisle via phone, she sounded happy and accommodating. Of course, she was enjoying the stellar view from her kitchen window in her home in the south of France. (She’s been living in Europe for about a decade now and loves it.)
Good Times: Where are you at in your career now, and after so many successes, what’s your vibe these days?
Belinda Carlisle: Well, I work all the time and make more albums in Europe. My career here has gone on. At the same time, I have gotten to this place where I have an amazing body of work to pick and chose from. So I feel I am reaping the rewards from working my butt off since I was 17. I get to do things that are fun for me and if I decide to do another album, I can, without the stress of being the hampster on the record company habitrail. And to 44 and still have a career that I think I should have—that’s nice. I don’t think I really want to have all that pressure [again]. I would lose it if I had the pressure to look a certain way and feel I have something to prove.
GT: What was your biggest concern 20 years ago?
BC: Hmm. Without going into it—because I’ve talked about it at length—I’d have to say my biggest concern 20 years ago was how to get off the drugs.
GT: 10 years ago?
BC: How am I going to deal with this move [to Europe] and make it work.
GT: And now?
BC: (Pauses.) I don’t know—maybe putting together a schedule for the year. Of course there are bigger things to be concerned about in society, like the wear, but on a personal level, it would be to continue making solo albumns.
GT: What do you love most about performing; music?
BC: I love the whole creative process and being in the studio and I love the singing vibe. All the other stuff— I hate photo sessions and I don’t like making videos.
GT: What’s the biggest misconception of you?
BC: I never read anything written about me. I make it a rule, but I don’t think people think I am stupid. I think in England there’s a perception that I am superficial, but really, I have no idea what people think of me.
GT: What makes you the most happy?
BC: I Love being at home and reading and being with my family.
GT: What is the best thing you learned from being with the Go-Gos?
BC: To never say never—in every sort of way.
GT: And as a solo singer?
BC: I would say ‘enjoy the moment.’
GT: Which do you prefer? Being in a group, or working alone, and why?
BC: I love them both the same and they are two completely different things. With the Go Gos, you get the commeradery of being with a band, which is great, and with my own thing, it’s that I get to make my own schedule and get to do what I want to. But I love them both.
GT: Who’s been the biggest influence in your life?
BC: My husband’s mother, who passed away 5 years ago. She was an amazing, wise women—the things she had to say about life. She was 83 and had such an interesting way of looking at things.
GT: And the biggest musical influence in your life?
BC: I grew up with the Beach Boys—Brian Wilson—that’s what I love. That’s me!
GT: What’s the one thing you want to do most?
BC: Honestly, at the moment, it’s planning, and trying to find somebody to go to Bolivia with me in May. I have this secret pleasure in archeology. I went to Peru couple of years ago and loved what I found there. But it’s hard to find people who want to do that sort of thing. I’ve loved archeology ever since I was a young girl. I was so into it. I love South American and I love the Incan culture and Lake Tipicaca .
GT: What’s the best thing pop music has going for it these days?
BC: Not much. Well, I think Pink is really good—actually she’s great. I think that’s probably it as far as females. That’s what interests me at the moment. Coldplay is great and Richard Ashcroft is great, but most of the other stuff I don’t care for, to be honest.
GT: What’s the nest thing pop music has going for it 20 years ago?
BC: (Laughs) The Go Go’s.
GT: Meat or Veggies?
GT: Britney or Madonna?
GT: ‘We Got the Beat’ or ‘Vacation’?
GT: Best advice you’ve gotten?
BC: Live in the moment.
GT: Best advice you’ve given?
BC: No—don’t do it!
GT: So, like your popular song, is heaven really a place on earth?
BC: Oh no—probably not. Not the way the world is now. Maybe a few years ago. But really, I think I live in one of the most heavenly places on earth—really. Where I live in France is pretty damn heavenly.